A guide for people in England who want to get involved in the referendum debate

Yesterday, I published on this blog a reply to the video made by celebrities based in England under the new “Let’s stay together” banner. I was critical of their appeal to emotion based on general opinions without factual support. I went on to criticise their appeal to get us English (Welsh and Northern Irish too) involved in persuading Scots to vote “No”, by tugging the heart-strings.

Today, I started to get a bit worried about the prospect of legions of my compatriots plunging into conversations with Scottish voters about the referendum issues without proper preparation. So I am going to put my money where my mouth is and give some ideas and guidelines on how to prepare for these conversations more thoroughly. Here we go:

1. Don’t be upset if your friend or relative won’t talk to you about it. I’ve done some election canvassing in my time and some people just won’t engage with you as they feel politics is a private affair.

2. If they are willing to talk, be very respectful. It’s a delicate issue, you’re an outsider in the debate and you’re from the neighbouring big nation.

3. Listen to their views and be prepared to re-consider your views in the light of what you hear. No-one wants a marketing-style phone call from a friend or relative.

4. If you have strong feelings which you know you won’t be able to contain, leave the phone call to another time, and sort through your feelings first. Scottish voters have the prerogative of going into the polling booth on 18 September and voting on the basis of emotions and gut instinct. It’s their emotions that count on this one, not yours.

5. Be well-informed on both campaigns’ positions on the key issues. The Scottish Government’s official position in favour of independence is set out in the document “Scotland’s referendum on 18 September 2014 is a choice between two futures.”
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/11/9348/0

The UK Government’s official position in favour of continued union is set out in 12 detailed policy papers. See : https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/informing-the-debate-on-scotlands-constitutional-future

The Yes and No campaigns also have digested versions of these policy positions. See http://www.yesscotland.net/ and http://www.bettertogether.net/the-facts

6. It’s worth also researching some websites that analyse and try to make sense of the conflicting views. For example, see this non-partisan blog from Edinburgh University academic, Michael Rosie : http://blog.whatscotlandthinks.org/2014/07/a-critical-look-at-scotlands-referendum-special-issue-of-scottish-affairs/

7. You might also want to refer to the different proposals for further devolution that the three main Westminster parties say they want to implement in the event of a “no” vote. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25626977 Be aware however of the SNP’s scepticism of these plans. See : http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2013/aug/no-campaign-must-answer-further-devolution

8. Be ready to back up your opinions with relevant facts drawn from your research. Scots can easily read up on the issues themselves so add some value to the standard debating positions based on your own background e.g. if you’re a businessman, what could be the impact on trade between Scotland and the UK?

9. The “No” campaign sometimes uses soundbites like “we are better together” and “we will have the best of both worlds”. Also common are jargon words like “separation”, “severance”, and “family of nations”. If you use such expressions, be prepared to explain what you mean by them and follow your opinions through to their logical conclusions. Again, make reference to some facts or research.

10. Finally, good luck and let me know how it goes. Rather you than me!

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Dear Eddie Izzard and friends, Please don’t go (on). Please listen to why it’s OK for us English to let Scotland go.

Dear Mr Izzard and all the other English contributors to the recent “Let’s stay together” video,

I am English and live in England. When I woke up to the real prospect of Scotland voting to leave the UK in September, like you and like many other English people, I felt an emotional twinge. I felt indignant with Scots who supported independence. So I followed both campaigns on the internet and got up to speed with the political issues that the referendum is about. I was won over fairly quickly to the “Yes” side. And so, I want to challenge the arguments put forward by you and your colleagues in your video of 15 July.

1. You describe the UK as a “family”.

Families are not always healthy. Even if they are, children grow up and leave home with their parents’ blessing. The Yes campaign has set out many reasons why they believe Scotland should leave the UK family. See http://www.yesscotland.net/ None of these reasons are based on any kind of attack against the other nations of the UK “family”. Rather, they represent a different political vision to what they see from the main UK parties. It ain’t personal. It’s political. And that’s OK.

2. You say that if Scotland leaves the UK, it will be a “partnership that ends”.

Independent nations work in partnership all the time. Look at the Channel Tunnel. There will be every reason for Scotland and the UK to continue to work in partnership on a whole range of issues. This is the position of the Yes campaign. The partnership will be on different terms to how it works now. But where there is a will, there is a way.

A vote for independence will only mean an end to partnership if we in the remaining UK choose to see it this way. If we do so, then we need to examine our deeper motives. It may be that we are upset about Scottish independence. If so, we need to work through our feelings first before considering action which damages relations with an independent Scotland.

3. You say that if Scotland leaves the UK, that we will all feel later that we “could have made it work” and that we should “give this a chance”.

“Yes” voters generally believe that the UK doesn’t work for the people of Scotland and that they have given the UK enough chances to to try and make it work. A growing number of people in Scotland have become more and more dissatisfied with the direction that the UK has taken over the last few decades on many key, political issues – e.g. the war in Iraq, the poll tax, cuts to public expenditure, welfare reforms, the bedroom tax, Trident nuclear weapons and so on. Again, these reasons are political, not personal.

4. You say that fighting together in Afghanistan was about camaraderie and not about “why we were out there”.

I don’t knock the camaraderie, but actually, it is about why we were out there. The SNP run the Scottish government with the support of more than 50% of Scottish voters. The SNP took a very different view to UK governments on military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would not have involved Scotland in the last Iraq war, in which 19 servicemen from Scotland died. These are lives which would not have been lost had Scotland been independent. I would be upset if English lives were lost as a result of involvement in wars that, for example, the USA made us enter. Scotland is entitled to take a different political view to the UK on military intervention overseas. It can’t implement its view unless it is independent.

5. You say that together, we have “a powerhouse of creativity that we don’t want to lose”.

Artistic co-operation crosses borders, perhaps more than any other kind of international co-operation. Politics doesn’t come into it that much. We will still be able to visit and take part in the Edinburgh Festival. Scots will still be able to watch and take part in West End musicals. Independence poses no real threat to artistic co-operation across borders.

6. Scotland is “part of who we are” and “part of our identity”. You say that you have family from all over the UK and “feel absolutely British.”

It’s OK to feel that, but this says more about us than about the people of Scotland. If many Scots don’t feel British any more, there are probably some good reasons and perhaps we should find out what they are. The UK only exists if the member countries want it to exist. If Scotland leaves the UK, then we in England will need to work through our feelings on what being British still means to us, as opposed to being just English. We will do well to start that journey now.

7. You say that with Scotland in the UK, we have “a sense of a bigger nation and all that that encapsulates.”

Bigger does not always mean better.

8. You say that we were a sporting “powerhouse” with a “positive spirit” competing together as Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics. You say that “we will never have that again”.

Political change does sometimes involve mourning the loss of some things we hold dear. For some, this will include the loss of Olympic Team GB. But I think we English are a big nation and are strong enough to pull through on this one. We do have experience of the UK nations competing as individual nations in football, rugby and at the Commonwealth Games. Sport is important but does rank below the more serious political issues which underlie the desire for independence.

9. You say that “we love you and we want to be with you”, “and that’s not going to change”.

Love is more about action than words. Perhaps it is worth asking Yes voters for instances of when they did not feel loved by UK governments over the years. We can still love Scotland, and be with them in a multitude of ways. Forgive the imperfect analogy, but when children leave a happy home, they will still visit their parents and have a lot to do with them. But love is also about knowing when to let go.

So I hope that Scottish people, after independence, will still cheer you on when running marathons wearing a Saltire. If you do something positive for Scotland, then I am sure you will be appreciated. After all, it’s not a political activity. But Scots are faced with a choice between two different political futures on 18th September.

If we in England want to get involved in that debate and try to persuade Scots to vote “No”, at the least, we owe it to them to understand the detail of the political issues and opinions which will shape their decision in the polling booth. I didn’t see any reference to these political issues in the video, and the information is very easily available. You are all professionals at the top of your games.  I am sure that you would prepare yourselves highly professionally for a broadcast or sporting event.  If you want to get involved in the Scottish referendum, then the same applies. Not doing so verges on the disrespectful.

I feel very strongly that it’s not on to pick up the phone to our Scottish friends and relatives and give them the kind of emotional pleading that I saw in your video.  It is good to express our emotions on the subject, but in the right forum. We in England owe it to ourselves to keep some national self-respect and first discuss our feelings about being British or losing Scotland among our own people.  If we choose then to get involved with the people of Scotland regarding their own political choices, then we need to be well-informed and remain professional and respectful.

A divided Scotland

I have been following the Scottish referendum polls, the press releases of both sides and the various related press articles. I felt a bit sad today at the now-looming prospect of a very close referendum result, leaving sharply polarised views in Scotland on its constitutional future. What is saddest to me are expressions of genuine disbelief from supporters in both camps as to how people could vote the other way. It’s not even an English / Scottish division. There are plenty of English residents of Scotland voting “Yes” and plenty of “ethnic” Scots voting “No”.

I am English and without a vote but lean heavily towards “Yes”. I can understand why English people (in England or Scotland), and Scots living in England,  mostly oppose Scottish independence. But I struggle quite a lot to understand why so many Scots in Scotland are quite clear that they don’t want independence. I am interested in people’s deeper motivations for their actions and I have a few thoughts on why Scots in Scotland would want to stay within the UK.  (These are just thoughts and not set in stone.  I am interested only in stimulating debate, rather than expressing dogmas.)

1. For some Scots, the emotional attachment to Britishness may still be quite strong. They may have served in the armed forces or be close to someone who has. They may have lived in England for some time and have retained strong links. They may have wide international experience, which they contrast to the perceived parochialism of Scottish “Yes” voters.

2. Some may have a strong personal focus on relationships (more than principles) and so worry about the impact on their relationships with English friends, family and business colleagues.

3. Some may be focused very predominantly on money or financial risk.  The “no campaign material is almost exclusively skewed in this direction which I find quite disappointing.  The impetus for independence in many other countries was much stronger because the average person was a lot poorer than the average modern  Scottish consumer.  If you have a good job, are able to support your family, have a house, enough money to eat, buy clothes, go on holiday and pursue some hobbies, then why would you want the political upheaval that independence will necessarily bring?  If you’re not that interested in politics, then its a “big ask” to make enough head-space to get up to speed with the new political agenda (though impressively, many Scots have done so).

4.  In a similar vein to 3. above, some Scots may have jobs which are very directly linked to UK government funding or business with English customers.  Such people may understandably feel that their livelihoods are directly threatened.

Perhaps part of the problem with the debate is the timing of the referendum.  Scotland has been part of the UK for so long that no-one has even the remotest fourth-hand personal experience of the time before union.  It’s just a chapter in a history book.  Still, every human being has a national identity and an in-built desire for freedom for their nation.  Getting used to the idea of independence is not just an intellectual exercise, but also an emotional journey – and for some Scots, this could naturally be a long one.  The referendum is a decision in a point in time and many Scots may not have had time to make that journey – though at the same time, many other Scots have made that journey much faster than otherwise.

I suspect that, with hindsight,  it may have been better to have had the referendum a few years down the line, in order for a stronger national consensus for independence to be built.     But politics is messy.  The SNP were elected with a clear mandate for a referendum and couldn’t betray their voters.  Who knows if the UK government would have seen fit to agree to one in a few years’ time anyway?

So if the referendum produces  a narrow victory for “Yes”,  where will that leave relations between “Yes” and “No” voters? It’s hard to predict but perhaps we can hope that independence will be such a success story that “No” voters will be won over in time, and that their children will grow up accepting a new normality of independence.

Sending a “love letter” north of the border

Last week, the London Evening Standard hosted a debate in London on Scottish independence between prominent “Yes” and “No”-sayers. Labour peer, Dame Helena Kennedy, for the “No” side, was quoted as saying that we English must send a “love letter” north of the border if we want to save the union. See http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/scottish-independence-the-english-must-send-a-love-letter-north-of-the-border-9576568.html

I am not sure if anyone in England has got round to doing this yet but if it’s not too late, I’d like to make a contribution. To make it easier for everyone down south to do this, I have produced a one-size-fits-all template letter which can be tailored to individual tastes. It can be used by English people who sympathise with “Yes”, with “No” or who don’t know. Scottish posties – get ready for a deluge. Here it is:

“Dear People of Scotland,

I love Scotland because :

[*choose all which apply]

• I like Irn Bru
• I like whisky
• I love walking in the Highlands
• I play Grand Theft Auto
• I enjoy the Beano and the Dandy
• I support Andy Murray
• I eat salmon
• I like Tunnocks tea cakes
• I use North Sea oil
• I enjoy the Edinburgh festival
• I take money out of RBS cash machines
• I eat shortbread
• I like Rennie Mackintosh furniture
• I believe in the Loch Ness monster
• I like Scottish folk music
• I have family and friends in Scotland
• We have close business links
• We have close academic links
• We have a long shared history
[Feel free to add more]

In the event of Scottish independence, [*delete as appropriate]

* my appreciation of all things Scottish and my relationships with the people of Scotland will end. It is therefore better for Scotland to stay in the UK. Scotland – please don’t go.
or
* I will be guided by our political leaders in Westminster as to how this will change my relationship with Scotland. Scotland – I’ll let you know the details after the referendum, but at the moment, it’s not looking good if you go.
or
* I will look seriously into the reasons why Scotland wanted to become independent and the consequences for England and Scotland of independence. Scotland – I am sorry I won’t get round to this any sooner but I have an open mind as to whether you go or not.
or
* I will continue to love Scotland for the same reasons as before. Scotland – I wish you well.

Yours faithfully

[Insert name]”

10 reasons why we English should give an independent Scotland our blessing

1. Independence is normal. It is normal for a nation to desire independence. Most nations in the world are independent. Those that aren’t are usually so because they are tiny or they suffer political oppression. This isn’t the case for Scotland.

2. The United Kingdom is “abnormal”. This is not a criticism of the UK. I mean only that it is unusual that 4 nations have agreed, like the UK, to fuse into one state. All 4 governments need to justify to their own peoples their reasons for giving up sovereignty to a joint nation. They also need to review the arrangements from time to time. In simple terms, the Scottish referendum is a type of review.

3. No-one said that the UK must go on forever. Most good things come to an end. The UK exists only because 3 small Celtic nations have agreed to union with its large Anglo-Saxon neighbour. England can’t make this continue forever. But there will always be an England. England and Scotland don’t need each other to survive as nations.

4. Scotland has only 10% of the population of England and this can make it hard for us to work together in a political union. It is inevitable that smaller partners in a political union will make the bigger compromises. Scotland’s population makes it a very junior partner in the UK Parliament. We can’t be too surprised if sooner or later Scotland feels that the compromises are too much to bear. Rather, we should be more surprised that the union has lasted so long.

5. There is a poor relationship between the current UK and Scottish governments which shows no signs of improving while Scotland remains in the UK. The Scottish government is now run by a party which has the support of more than 50% of Scottish voters. This party (the SNP) operates in Scotland only and wants independence from the UK. It therefore has no interest in balancing the interests of Scotland against the rest of the UK. This is a recipe for political deadlock within the union.

6. We know where we stand better with an independent Scotland. Every independent nation acts in its own best interests. The UK has to act in the best interests of 4 nations. Those interests sometimes conflict. The Scottish government often tells the UK government that it is not acting in Scotland’s best interests. With independence, Scotland and the UK can pursue their own interests openly and negotiate with each other sensibly on this basis.

7. In healthy families, parents give their blessing to children when they grow up and fly the nest. The union has recently been likened to a “family of nations”. In unhealthy families, parents either don’t care about their children once they grow up or won’t let them leave home easily. Mature parents give their blessing to children when they decide to leave home, in spite of any misgivings or their own feelings. Whatever we feel about Scottish independence, we will do well to wish Scotland the best in its new national adventure, and remain on good terms.

8. A majority “No” vote is still likely to lead to an unhappy union. Polls show at least 40% of Scottish voters currently want independence. Many “No” voters will vote on the basis of perceived economic risks or because they don’t want change. However, there are now few Scots who still feel a positive attachment to the UK political system. Following a “No” vote, we can expect the UK political system to be continually attacked by the SNP and other Scots, and for Scottish disenchantment with Westminster to become stronger. We will do better to focus our energies on improving England rather than struggling to keep an unhappy Scotland in the union.

9. We have significant ongoing business links which need not be jeopardised by independence. England and Scotland are major trading partners. We owe it to ourselves not to let political changes put at risk valuable business relationships with Scotland. We also should not put at risk English jobs dependent on trade with Scotland. The SNP recognises the importance of maintaining projects with mutual benefit. If we maintain a positive attitude to relations with Scotland whatever happens in the referendum, we should not fear Scottish independence. If we take umbrage and treat people and businesses in Scotland worse after independence, we will be more to blame for any repercussions on fellow English people.

10. The shared history of England and Scotland means that we owe it to Scotland to let them leave on amicable terms. Scotland has been in union with England for over 300 years. We have fought wars together and helped each other have prosperity, to say the least. That counts for something. If Scotland now decides to leave the union, this won’t change our shared past. But we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to negotiate with Scotland an honourable exit from the UK, if that is what they want, and to build a positive future relationship as national neighbours on new terms.

Letter to London Evening Standard publicising the Reigate Declaration, 2 July 2014

Dear Sir/Madam

I am English and live in England.  I have Scottish family and once lived for several years in Scotland.  When I first realised that support for independence in Scotland was getting really big, I was indignant with the Scots.  I felt a sense of betrayal and that they were being ungrateful after so many years of being united.  So I got up to speed with the issues.   Over time, my feelings subsided and I started to see where the pro-independence Scots were coming from.  It’s not personal against the English. They just want to have political independence like most countries in the world. 

Also, most Scots don’t see eye to eye with recent governments on major issues affecting the whole of the UK or on the UK’s foreign and defence policies.   The “Yes” campaign has done its sums.  It believes that Scotland can stand on their own two feet, and support their own vulnerable and poor people.  As a nation in their own right, they have every right to go their own way if it wants, even if we in England don’t think it’s a good idea.

Our own government and Labour  are doing their best to persuade Scots to stay in the UK.  But I don’t believe they are going about this honourably or in England’s best interests.  David Cameron has tried to get foreign leaders to support the union.  Politicians suggest that Scottish independence could put a stop to all sorts of joint enterprises and result in negative consequences for Scotland.  They  talk unhelpfully of “separation”. 

None of us can deny that sorting out independence will be a long and complicated process.  Sometimes democracy costs a lot of effort.  But it is in the interests of all of us in England to retain friendly and co-operative relations with Scotland, whatever our private feelings about independence may be.  Many jobs in England depend on Scotland and vice versa.  There is no reason why current cross-border projects such as medical research, transport infrastructure and institutions like the BBC can’t continue in a new form.  We work successfully with other countries all the time – look at the Channel Tunnel.  Yes, we will all have to look at the funding and the practical issues. But where there is a will, there is a way.     

We can’t afford to have our politicians getting upset with Scotland and taking a tough line if they vote for independence.   If they do, we can expect the same treatment back and our own businesses and people will suffer, not the politicians.  So if the Scots vote for independence, let’s not be bitter about it or look to get our own back.  Our 307-year shared history should count for something.  Rather, let us English give the Scots our blessing.  They don’t need it but they might appreciate it and it would stand us in good stead in the years ahead. 

With this in mind, I have drafted what I have called the “Reigate Declaration” (below), which sets out the terms of a positive relationship between the peoples of England and Scotland.   Readers can comment on it and agree to it (or disagree) in a poll at the bottom of my blog page:

https://upholdingenglishhonour.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/promoting-positive-relations-between-the-peoples-of-england-and-scotland-the-reigate-declaration/

Yours faithfully    

James Campbell

 

The Reigate Declaration

WE THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND 

wish to show our friendship and respect for the people of Scotland as they prepare to decide whether or not Scotland will become an independent country. 

With this in mind, we DECLARE the following:

  1. We affirm the right of every people or nation, including the people of Scotland, to self-determination, and if they so choose, to govern themselves as an independent state.

 

  1. We do not wish to be united to any nation where the majority of its people oppose or resent this union. We do not wish to be in a union with Scotland if the relationship between our nations is characterised by long-term tensions, mistrust and deadlocked views on major policies. 

 

  1. We will respect a decision of the people of Scotland in favour of their own independence, without bitterness or anger.

 

  1. We object to any efforts by our political leaders to use their position to campaign for a “no” vote.  In particular, we object to :

 a. Using taxpayer’s money to fund advertising

b. Efforts to enlist the support of political figures from other countries

c. Emotional blackmail

d. Veiled threats of negative consequences for Scotland if there is a “yes” vote.

  1. In the event of a “yes” vote, we urge our political leaders to work with the leaders of Scotland in a spirit of co-operation and goodwill to ensure a smooth transition to independence. 

 

  1. We are grateful to the people of Scotland for their membership of the United Kingdom for the last 307 years.  In particular:

 

a. We will be forever grateful to the servicemen and women of Scotland who have served the United Kingdom in war and peace, and especially to those who have lost their lives as a result; may they never be forgotten;

 b. We are grateful for the contribution of the people of Scotland to our prosperity;

c. We are grateful for their contributions to the arts, sciences,  academic life, and political life of our nation;

 d. We are grateful for the families and personal friendships that have formed  as a result of the union and links between our nations.

 

  1. We will not treat Scottish people living in England any differently whatever the outcome of the referendum may be.  We call upon the people of Scotland to do the same in respect of English people living in Scotland.

 

  1. In the event of a “yes” vote, we look forward to the friendship between our nations continuing in a spirit of freedom, equality, mutual respect and collaboration, in every area of life – personal, social, cultural, economic, and political.

What’s going on with Labour and Lib Dem MPs on Scottish independence?

So far the only MP from the 3 big parties who has declared support for Scottish independence is soon-to-retire Labour MP, George Mudie (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27737476).  Once the reality of a possible “Yes” vote sunk in, the parties swung into action to support the Better Together campaign.  But I would love to know the thoughts of Labour and Lib Dems MPs now.  In my case, it took a little while for the pro-indy position to sink in.  It’s pretty clear now how reasonable it is, but at first, I fought against it. 

Both Labour and Lib Dems have long and noble traditions of speaking up for peoples wishing to claim their independence. So, after some months of following the debate, do all Labour and Lib Dem MPs – bar Mr Mudie – still passionately believe in the union?  Even the Scottish MPs from those parties?  Have their ideas on the issues not developed or changed?  Do some of them perhaps privately now feel that they backed the wrong horse and it would be a loss of face to admit it now?  Mr Mudie waited until he announced his retirement before admitting his support for independence.  Does this suggest that free debate among Labour MPs on independence is not encouraged?  

It would be great if individual MPs from Labour and the Lib Dems could let us know where they stand now.