There are times when the world starts to give off little end of days signals, as though something big is coming and it isn’t going to be pretty. Sure, it’s finally stopped raining, but we’ve gone headfirst into a ridiculously mild spring adding further fuel to the impression that we broke the world a while back and the warranty has run out. Then you’ve got the North and South Koreans having their annual festivity of rockets being launched is getting a little out of hand, Turkey’s authority disintegrating in a ridiculous petty banning of modern life, the hell that life must be in Syria, Russia flexing its muscles and reclaiming lands it never really let go of, half the Sahara is blowing through the country, people bothering to listen to Nigel Farrage and the Tories creeping up in the opinion polls despite making a hash of the last four years. It all feels a little desperate.
Oh, yeah and then there’s Scotland.
The top half of the country – as in the current union of the United Kingdom – will be given the option of deciding whether it wants to detach itself. This makes me sad, not least because, given the above, if I was Scotland, I’d leave and abandon the asylum to the lunatics.
If Scotland votes for independence, then I’ll think it’s a huge shame, but I understand their thinking. It’s like Renton says in Trainspotting: ‘Some hate the English. I don’t they’re just wankers. We on, the other hand, have been colonised by wankers...We’re ruled by effete arseholes.’ Thinking those in charge are useless is not the same as wanting violent revolution, but it does mean you probably think you can do better yourself.
That was never quite the plan when James VI agreed to be Elizabeth I’s heir in 1603. Unifying the old enemies with a Scot on the throne must have felt like a triumph, but over the ensuing centuries it’s the English who have a stack of things to apologise for. The guy at the top may have been, for a couple of generations, Scottish but the ruling infrastructure was still English. From military and economic oppression, from nicking all the north sea oil money and investing it in projects which benefited the south-east to the disgrace that was Culloden, from pretending that most of the great minds that powered us to being the world’s first superpower were English when so many of them were Scottish, to taking too long to rescind the poll tax legislation, from turfing your ancestors off their land and then using their descendants as cannon fodder in expansionist war after intervention to which you never agreed. I guess there’re plenty of things we should have handled better.
At the beginning of the century – after I’d done most of my travelling around Europe – it felt like the continents borders had become fixed. The wars had been won. Democracy, of a sort, was established everywhere. The EU was a friendly, parental hand to guide the newcomers. I guess things were more fluid than I realised.
Part of me wants to quite like Alex Salmond. He talks a good fight. He sounds like a socialist. He’s promising a better world in a way that hasn’t been heard from someone in power since the Atlee government. Even taking into account that hypocritical thing he does of pretending not to be a politician despite being in politics for decades, if I was Scottish, I’d be tempted to join him.
Except, aside from some distant maternal ancestry, I’m not.
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing that the chaos that still rippling out from the dissolution of the USSR twenty-five years ago shows, it’s not enough to just have ideals. I’m sorry. I wish it was, I really do. I really wish that thinking and saying the right thing was enough, but it’s not. And from what I gather, it sounds like Salmond’s white paper is kind of short on detail and makes a few founding assumptions (sterling retention, EU membership) that increasingly appear to be laid on unstable ground.
So, don’t do it Scotland. Don’t leave us alone. Don’t give us – the normal, considerate people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – don’t leave us with something else to apologise to you for.
Because it’s being stitched up, isn’t it?
The government is getting all aggressive. They’re making threats and sounding vaguely patronising, like a parent who has just about had enough of nuanced, rational argument and wants the discussion to end so they can get back to their newspaper without realising that their child is a teenager now and wants to argue because they think they’re right. We’ve going to have to do more than threatening to stop Scotland’s pocket money to persuade it to stay.
It’s almost like they want Scotland to break free, as though the Conservatives are okay having less country to boss around. Maybe they’re so convinced it’ll be an unmitigated disaster that Scotland will come crawling back or maybe it’s just because they’ve done their sums and, well, there are no Tory voters in Scotland anymore are there? They all vote Labour and SNP and Liberal. Much easier if they just remove those non-Tory MPs from the equation and maybe they’ll have a majority.
If I were resigned to it all, then I could say this is all part of the cycle countries go through. Borders will always be fluid both because of the past and the future. Our boundaries are man-made, forged by conflict and bloodshed, people under another’s rule because of aggression hundreds of years ago. These memories don’t fade, either for the conquered or the conqueror. Just look at how many times the Ukraine has been in and out of the Russian Empire. Democracy makes it easier and as long as people can dream of a better tomorrow, they’ll be wistful for a yesterday blurred by nostalgia.
Despite knowing that it is only the natural order, I don’t want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. It has some of our best qualities – fantastic countryside, great humour, full of amazing creative people in music, literature, art and film. It has whisky for God’s sake. You can’t take that away from me. I’m sorry I haven’t spent more time with you recently, but please, don’t leave us. We need you.