Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Reasons to oppose Scottish independence, #10: the ties that bind us

We've spent the last couple of weeks trying to demolish the analytical, statistical and intellectual case for Scottish independence - this time at least, and on the prospetus we're being offered right now. We'd say that you could get the Yes campaign's plausible policy ideas on a postage stamp, but that would flatter them. A microdot would do.

Even so, something is missing. Something important. A sense of passion, urgency and attachment - an insight into the visceral, familial, emotional and above all personal feelings that make so many of us so depressed and downcast about a possible future as two states, rather than one. The statistics serve often as a front for deeper habits, beliefs and commitments - a justification for, rather than the source of, what we really felt deep down all along. You can get through pages of graphs, reams of tables, binders full of merely dry-as-dust concepts - and get precisely nowhere persuading anyone of anything. Because the first moment, the 'blink', of what you feel and believe cuts through all that. It's all 'we' and 'your correspondent' and 'the present writer' on here all the time, isn't it? All the links. All the highlighting. All the numbers. All the figured rhetoric. It's a useful way of talking, but a poor substitute for the flesh and blood business of actually living with other people. Or peoples.

That's not how nations are made. Or preserved.

So let's try a bit of 'I' as well. Without links or numbers. I - there it is - apologise in advance for this. It isn't the run-of-the-mill way of proceeding. But then it's not a run-of-the-mill moment, is it?

Where to begin? Oh, that's it. I love Scotland. I always have. I have looked out at Muckle Flugga and its far northerly lighthouse from Unst on the very tip of the Shetland Islands; walked in the frigid, snowy summer cold between the peaks of Cairngorm and Ben Macdui; looked out from Sgurr na Stri in Skye's Cuillin Hills on the bright seas lapping around the islands of Rùm and Eigg; stood aghast at the carpets of beach-flowery wild machair on the Uists; laboured under a hot sun on the Fife Coastal Path between Crail and Elie; crawled into the middle of the Maeshowe chambered cairn on Orkney; scoffed down many a cream tea from Braemar and Peebles; huffed and puffed up to the peak of An Cliseam on Harris, to be rewarded by a (very) brief parting of the clouds; been blessed with a scorching hot day at Crape Wrath, massive foghorn and huge lighthouse looking for a few hours as if they were redundant; I've snaked the car up and around the notorious Bealach na Bà pass on the way to Applecross in the far west; and I lifted my midge veil to propose to my wife at the end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in the Highlands. A seal bobbed up to have a look at what was going on, by the way.

And lest I get accused of promoting only the chocolate box tourist Scotland of mawkish Highlands painting, I've researched my way through the wooden-panelled rooms of the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, shopped my way through Glasgow, swooped over Aberdeen in a tiny BA twin-prop, spoken at Glasgow Caledonian University and mooched around on the beach in Stonehaven. It's got everything, Scotland.

But the overwhelming sense of belonging it offered for this Briton of both English and Irish descent was throughout that this was our shared space, our collective place, the grounds for our comings and goings and meetings and leavings. Not 'I' or 'me' or 'we' or 'you' - not Scots and Welsh and English and (Northern) Irish. That was the point. The key. That the higgledy-piggledy people, the patchwork quilt, the grab-bag that makes no sense - in short, the British - were deeply connected in a place beyond and below words. That there was and could be no invisible barrier between Egham and Edinburgh, the Scilly Isles and Shetland, Ipswich and Inverness. That we'd never again raise anything as silly and old-fashioned and conservative and outdated as a border between us, just for the sake of a momentary dislocation in our politics. That our ties of blood and marriage and love and honour were so obvious that they needed no voicing. That's precious to more people than just me, and we shouldn't give it up.

All of which, I guess, adds up to this. With all the respect due another people's choice: if you can vote on Thursday, don't divide us. Keep us together. Stay. Just stay.


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