I have been almost silent about the Scottish independence campaign. Not just because, like a lot of British people, I had assumed that this terrible matter would never have been opened unless people who know more than me were certain that the union would continue. But also because there has been a stifling of debate which has even carried me along.
Since the start of this campaign there has been a whittling down of who is and who is not a suitable person to speak about it. Anybody who doesn’t live in Scotland at the moment – even if we have in the past, or were born and brought up there – has been encouraged not to take part in the debate. ‘Who are you?’ the Nats say with that familiar mixture of contempt, chip and menace. ‘This is only a matter for Scots currently living in Scotland.’ That’s rubbish, of course. A vote for independence for Scotland will not only affect people living in Scotland. It will affect all of us – and make some of us foreigners in our own country.
Likewise it seems to have been decided that you can’t really contribute to the debate unless you have a Scottish accent. Anybody who was in any way identifiably a ‘conservative’ was also encouraged to see that they would do more harm than good. Some months ago Theresa May said something about Scottish independence and the furious nationalist response was heard again: ‘Who is Theresa May to think she can…?’. The only real answer was, ‘She’s the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, you ****.’ But non-Nats are too polite to play the Nats on their own terms. At any rate, at some point it was concluded that your presence would not be helpful in this debate unless you were a pure-blooded ethnic Scot, with a Scottish accent, currently living in Scotland, of the political left and preferably a Scottish National Party supporter. A neat trick in a way.
I have listened carefully to the Nationalists. And I have heard them endlessly say things like ‘The Scots need to get their pride back’. And I still cannot quite believe that they have carried so many people along with them. Not just because it’s so such an undignified, ahistorical and self-pitying claim, but because mere aromas like this are so insubstantial compared to the risk of losing our country and breaking up one of the most successful unions in history.
But what is almost worse is that it is so obvious where this ends, isn’t it? I was living in Scotland the year that devolution came in. I thought devolution was a mistake then and think the same now. And not just because it added yet another pointless layer of government, but because of what I noticed around the debate – even then.
It is remarkable to watch just how easily national feeling can be turned. I have spent a fair amount of time trying to work out what Scots nationalism is, at root. I don’t mean pride in being Scottish or pride in Scottish achievements. I mean the desire to separate Scotland from the rest of the Union and move into some glorious, burden-free future. Perhaps, being half-and-half, I have one less layer of skin than many other people who watch this. But I can honestly say that in my experience the kind of Scots nationalism which Alex Salmond and his party play to is not pride or principle but a simple hatred of the English. In recent years the official Nat narrative has been carefully crafted to clean up the public pronouncements. But it is there. It is the only real thing that is. And with hatred of the English comes all the class warrior rubbish, and the sentimentalism and the suspicion that the English who have somehow been holding the Scots down all these years are also poofs and toffs.
I loathe this. Not just because of what it does to the Scots (and what more it will do to them in the years ahead) but because, unrestrained, all this will, eventually, do only one thing to the English. If the vote tomorrow is ‘Yes’, or if it is a narrow ‘No’, the English will respond. If around half of all of Scots want to assert their own nationalist pride and independence then I cannot see how anybody could stymie the growth of a form of ethnic nationalism in England to that they see north of the border. It may well be, like that invoked by the Scots Nats, a form of nationalism based on hatred of another (with its precise target to be decided). But whichever way the verdict goes tomorrow I suspect that this will be the legacy of Alex Salmond and his cohorts – a gang of chippy, chirpy men and women who after hundreds of years have grinningly returned our country to the most base form of politics.
And their future vision, like their past vision, is fantasy. Last year the Henry Jackson Society published a report looking at the SNP’s proposed defence policy post-independence. To cut a long story short the policy is non-existent. There was a typically thuggish response to the report’s careful findings, and in the months since then the SNP has not once tried to answer the serious questions about what an independent Scotland will do to keep its people safe. Will they really be able to that no defence staff lose their jobs? And get rid of Trident? And get a ‘better’ defence capability than they have at the moment for, miraculously, less expenditure? And have a new intelligence agency and counter-cyber warfare programmes which are good as those at present? The truth is that the SNP doesn’t care.
Because they have only ever been interested in winning this referendum. They have said as much. Two years ago at their party conference the SNP over-turned their decades-long opposition to an independent Scotland joining Nato. Why? Because as Angus Robertson told a booing SNP conference, 75 per cent of Scottish people feel favourably towards Nato and the SNP had ‘a referendum to win.’ So the SNP changed their policy and became pro-Nato. It is the same with every other area of SNP policy. It is not policy. It is an effort to win the referendum, whatever the contradictions, contortions or u-turns along the way.
Debating some of this yesterday with a Nat on Sky it was put to me that one benefit of independence might be that Scotland could become a kind of Switzerland. Perhaps that is what the Nats are after. But that idea is what upsets and angers me most. There is always a question of what we want to be in the world. And I know what the Scots Nats appeal to. It is the same thing petty nationalists the world over appeal to – the parochial, the inward-looking, the idea that we can avoid the world and believe that the problems of the world are not our problems. In fact everything they appeal to is precisely the opposite of what has made the Scottish people and the Union great. It seems to me that it would be an unspeakable tragedy if at the end of centuries of leading the world – and even, on occasion, let’s not forget, saving the world – the end-point of Britain was to be a hybrid of the Balkans and Switzerland.
I don’t want my country to stand back from the world and decide it’s no business of ours. I don’t want us to reside in a magnanimous self-satisfaction while the world slides by about us. I want us to be engaged in the world, to contribute to the world and, when we can, to be a force for good in the world. I hope that my British, Scottish countrymen see through the crap tomorrow. I hope they vote to keep our Union.