I was born in the Scottish Borders just over 59 years ago. I have lived in South London for the last 25. Before that I lived in the Solomon Islands for about 3 years and before that I was at sea for about 15 years. During the time I was at sea I lived in Hawick when I was at home. During the time that I lived in Hawick, I was more or less the only member of my High School class who still lived there. Everyone else had gone off to College or University and had not come back. I could continue to live in Hawick because I earned my living elsewhere. I doubt that the situation has altered much since then and if independence will change it I would like to know how.
The first thing that bothers me about the independence debate is that I will have no say in its outcome. The result of the referendum will have a profound and lasting effect on my identity. I am someone who sees himself as Scottish and British (which way round usually depends on the sporting contest that I am watching) and a Borderer and a Londoner1. Following a “Yes” vote on the 18th of September, what will I be? I will still be living in England, but I am definitely not English. Can I still be Scottish? And what becomes of the British part of me?
I had originally given this post the working title “An Expatriate View of the Scottish Independence Debate”. I changed it because I am not an expatriate. I was an expatriate when I lived and worked in the Solomon Islands. I moved to a different part of my country because I fell in love with and then married a woman who lived in London. I was in the Merchant Navy at the time, so where I lived didn’t matter. It was no different to moving to Edinburgh or Inverness.
I understand to a certain extent why I don’t have a vote in the referendum; although I don’t think that it would have been too impossible to allow Scots living in the UK to register to vote on proof of birth.
I am not in favour of an independent Scotland. I think that the past 307 years do actually prove that we are “Better Together”. One hundred years ago when my grandfathers signed up to fight in World War One they joined the British Army. Thirty seven years later, when my father signed up to help defeat Nazism he didn’t join the Scottish Navy he joined the Royal Navy. We fought and defeated Fascism as the United Kingdom. We forged the Welfare State and the National Health Service as the United Kingdom. We celebrated our shared history at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. When Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Murray won their gold medals it wasn’t just Scots who celebrated. Scotland’s story is inextricably linked to the story of the rest of the British Isles.
It is probably worth remembering that the Union came about because Scotland had bankrupted itself on a grandiose ill thought out national ego enhancing scheme (the sort of thing that I am sure Mr Salmond would never contemplate) Over the next three-hundred years we built a new nation that was and is stronger than the separate parts.
A few random thoughts
Tax and Oil
The Yes campaign, or parts of it at least, appears to promise a Social Democratic paradise with Scandinavian levels of social provision and American levels of taxation. It is interesting to note that the only concrete tax proposal they have come up with is a proposal to cut Corporation Tax, presumably Amazon and Starbucks will declare their profits in Scotland rather than the counties they were earned in. Of course the oil, or possibly whisky will supposedly pay for all this.
I don’t know where Brian McNeill stands on independence, probably for it, but his song “No Gods and Precious few Heroes” could have been written about the Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign;
He’ll lead us to the Promised Land with laughter in his eye
We’ll all live on the oil and the whisky by and by
Free heavy beer! Pie suppers in the sky! –
Will we never have the sense to learn?
The reliance on oil revenue to balance the budget strikes me as similar to my ideas about what I could do with my first pay check after I had completed my apprenticeship. I seemed like an almost unlimited amount of money, but I discovered pretty soon that it didn’t go as far as I had hoped.
It also seems slightly incongruous to me that the Scottish Green Party signed up to a policy that relies on an increase in greenhouse gasses to fund it.
I am a Social Democrat and I want to see a more just country but I don’t see the plans being laid out by Tommy Sheridan and his ilk as a practical way forward, and besides what’s wrong with fighting for social democracy in the United Kingdom
Of course an Independent Scotland could keep the pound, the only problem being that a currency union without political and fiscal union doesn’t really work. The Euro doesn’t work very well especially for countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. This is because without political union and unified fiscal policy it is not possible to make the transfers of money that help stabilise the weaker parts. It works for the largest economy – Germany – which gets to dictate the terms and conditions for the others. The dollar does work well because the United States of America is a political union with a unified fiscal policy at Federal level.
When Czechoslovakia separated both the Czech Republic and Slovakia thought that they could continue to use the Koruna in a currency union, it took about a week for them to discover that it wouldn’t work and that they would have to separate the currency.
The real reason behind the Bank of England’ reluctance to allow a currency union ( and the three main UK political parties) is a fear that an Independent Scotland will end up in similar deficit situation (see my previous point), to say Greece or Portugal, with them rather than the European Central Bank as lender of last resort.
One other minor point, a fair bit been made of Scottish taxpayers funding London’s Crossrail project, however as a London Taxpayer I am funding the Border Rail project. I am not saying that the Border Rail project should not happen, it would probably have been better if the Waverly Line had never been closed in the first place, but if you calculate the cost at about £300 million and consider the number of people who will benefit from it, about 100,000 if I am being generous 40,000 is probably more realistic that comes to about £3000 per person (I’m being generous) Crossrail at a cost of about £15 billion will benefit about 10 million people a cost of £1500 per person. Also I am funding free prescriptions, free care for the elderly, free higher education, all of which I think government should be funding by the way, but I don’t get the benefit of any of it.
When it comes down to it I am a Borderer and true people of the borders know that there is no difference between them and the people on the other side of the line drawn on the map.
Everyone has roots somewhere, mine are in the Borders, but I am also Scottish, British, and a Londoner, but above all I am a Citizen of Earth.
I believe we are Better Together and although I don’t have a vote on the 18th I hope that enough of you who do will agree with me and vote to keep the Union.
1 The definition of a true Londoner is someone who lives there but wasn’t born there.
This post was produced while listening to the Cheviot Ranters a band from Northumberland who were popular on both sides of the border.