Sunday, 7 September 2014

Reasons to oppose Scottish independence, #3: no-one else wants a divorce

Scotland's independence referendum is a matter for Scots alone, right? Well, up to a point. As Public Policy and the Past has noted again and again, it affects everyone in these islands - and further afield, of course, from Catalonia to Northern Italy. You could think of it this way, if you'd like: Conservative governments will be more likely in London; austerity policies more deeply entrenched; any use of the pound by Edinburgh (even if there is formal agreement on that, which is an open question) likely to enforce that in Scotland whatever its constitutional status.

There may be little point in mounting all these arguments, of course. The impression is rapidly growing - though fuelled statistically as yet by little more than polls conducted by a single firm (YouGov) - that the Yes campaign is building up a decisive head of steam. Its personal contacts with voters, its word-of-mouth use of social media, its (apparently) optimistic message, its simple question ('do you want to govern yourselves?'): they might all be too much to resist. It may be too late to save the United Kingdom, and of course if that's right, so be it. It's certainly become far too close for anyone at all to call.

But let's zoom in on what other Britons think of all this, shall we? Breaking up what is after all their country too will involve them intimately, because they'll elect the MPs and the government who'll conduct post-'Yes' negotiations. We used to think that the peoples of this UK's other countries were a bit indifferent to Scottish independence. 'Well', they'd say in our mind's ear, 'if the Scots want to go, let them go. Good luck to them'.

Nothing could be further from the truth. English and Welsh voters have been found to oppose Scottish independence by a gap of 55 per cent to 15 per cent, and Welsh voters (of course understanding what fate has in store for them if they are left alone with England for company) by an even more decisive 62 per cent to 16 per cent.

This is not a matter of Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, sending 'his' MPs 'up' to Scotland to make the case for the Union. It's not a case of mounting some hurried and unconvincing plans for a constitutional convention. It is actually about what is an organic web of thick and dearly-bought relationships: emotional, social, intellectual and personal bonds on many levels that will remain whatever happens politically, but will be shaken to the core nonetheless by this potential upheaval. It's about what will feel like a deep wound and a painful, lascerating rejection to the other peoples of the UK - including those Scots-born and Scots-descended inhabitants of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who might in some cases automatically be deemed to be Scottish citizens without any say whatsoever in the matter.

In short: everyone else wants Scots to stay in this strange, lop-sided, gnarled old confusion of a state. It's not too late. Scots can still heed those calls.

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