Robert Hampton

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7th September 2014

Yes, no, maybe / I don’t know / Can you repeat the question?
Posted by at 11.38am | 2 responses | In the News

We’re less than a fortnight away from the Scottish Independence referendum (indeed, postal votes have already been sent out) and the latest opinion poll has shocked a lot of people.

A poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times sent shockwaves through the political establishment north and south of the border as it showed the yes camp had 51% to 49% for no, excluding the don’t knows.

Of course, it’s only one poll (others show No still ahead), but there does seem to be a swing towards “Yes” in the final days of the campaign. It’s a far cry from the situation just a few months ago, when a No victory was thought to be a foregone conclusion by all concerned.

I’ve followed the campaign from outside with interest. I watched the TV debates (except the first one because the stupid STV player didn’t work) and have been impressed with how engaged ordinary people have been with the process. Turnout is expected to be very high, perhaps 80%. It’s a far cry from the typical British election, where a lot of people simply can’t be bothered.

I can empathise with the Scots who want to break away. From my vantage point in the glorious north of England, London looks increasingly remote and disconnected from the rest of the UK. It’s a giant vacuum sucking in the wealth, jobs and talent, at the expense of towns and cities elsewhere. Our political leaders, meanwhile, are increasingly out of touch with life outside the Westminster bubble – Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have never had a job outside politics, while the main entry on David Cameron’s CV is the hardly impressive “PR for Carlton Television”. I don’t think any of the three main parties properly understand the problems of ordinary people, and the less said about UKIP, the better.

That’s my feeling, living in Liverpool. Scotland is already a separate country within the United Kingdom. There’s a line on the map, signs on the roads and everything. It has its own legal system, banknotes and parliament. If I feel disconnected from London and its institutions, that feeling must be even greater north of the border.

Building on this sense of disillusionment, the Yes campaign has set out an optimistic vision for Scotland as a successful independent country. A written constitution? Renationalise the Royal Mail? Abolition of the bedroom tax? Sounds good to me. On the flip side, a lot of important details (currency, the Trident submarines, EU membership) haven’t been fleshed out satisfactorily. Some of the people associated with the Yes campaign could be quite off-putting to some people – Brian Souter, who in the past has funnelled a lot of money to anti-gay campaigns, has pledged £1 million to Yes Scotland.

Despite all this, the campaign seems to have been resonating with people. The idea of an independent Scotland is an enticing one. In the words of Barack Obama (and Bob the Builder): “Yes, we can!”

The Yes side has also been helped enormously by the uninspiring “No” campaign. “Better Together” is their slogan, but the message has come across in such a way that they seem to be painting Scotland as some feeble country that is incapable of succeeding without England’s warm paternal embrace. They’ve tried to appeal to sentimentality, they’ve tried scare tactics, but ultimately what their message boils down to is this: “Yes, we could be independent, but wouldn’t there be a lot of paperwork?”

The low point for the No campaign came during the last STV debate, where Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives (yes, they have Tories in Scotland – I was surprised too) tried to compare an independent Scotland to the Ukraine, seemingly implying that Russia might try and invade a nuclear-free Scotland.

Outside the official no campaign, some of the other attempts at wooing the Scots have been fairly dire. Getting Simon Cowell and Cilla Black to sign a pro-union letter, then launching said letter in London? Yes, that’ll work. “We want Scotland to stay with us, but the train fare to Edinburgh is so expensive!”

The final roll of the dice from the pro-union campaign is the “Devo Max” offer, where more powers will be devolved to Scotland. But if Scotland is going to be granted more powers, why not go the whole hog and become completely independent? That’s what I would be thinking if I had a vote in this referendum.

If I were Scottish, I’m pretty sure I would be voting “Yes” on September 18th. But I’m not, and from this side of the border, Scotland breaking off from the UK is not an appealing prospect.

I like Scotland. I’ve been to Glasgow, Fort William, Knoydart, Inverness. I have travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper; I went to sleep around Preston, and pulled back the window blind the next morning to reveal majestic lochs and looming mountains. I peered out of ScotRail train windows, enthralled by the beauty of the countryside and the engineering marvel that is the Forth Bridge. I encountered unfailingly friendly and lovely people at every turn. I want to go back there, and I don’t want any borders (even an easily-crossed one as exists now between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) getting in the way.

There’s also the prospect of what’s left of the UK having a seriously diminished presence on the world stage. Quoted in the Scotsman, several senior academics believe that a Rump UK will lose influence within the EU and with the US. Rump UK will not be taken seriously – especially if we keep using the word “Rump” to describe it.

At this point I’ll point you to the UK General Election 2015 blog – run by my friend Ian Jones – to clear up one commonly-held misconception: the outcome of most general elections would not have been different without Scotland. I am not concerned that losing Scotland would mean Tory rule forever.

At the same time though, part of me does want Scotland to vote for independence on the 18th September, purely because I’m interested to see what would happen. How often does the average person get to experience an earth-shaking moment such as this in their country’s history? It would certainly cause massive ructions across the UK. It would be embarrassing for David Cameron, who would go down in history as the Prime Minister who “lost” Scotland (even though he’s wisely taken a back seat in the referendum campaign). It’s been a while since we had a good old-fashioned crisis in this country, and I think we’re long overdue another one.

A “Yes” vote would, I hope, inspire a lot of soul-searching within Rump UK (there’s that word again) and maybe our political leaders would finally wake up to the disillusionment that exists around politics at the moment. It’s a shame that a wake-up call of that magnitude is needed, but there you go.

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2 Responses
  1. Comment by Steve
    7th September 2014 at 11:51 am

    Scotland presently seems to be separate. They have Scottish Gas (not British Gas), the Scottish Pound (rather than the British one with British bank notes), Scottish Slimming World (rather than just Slimming World), etc, etc, etc. Everything north of the border seems to need Scottish as a pre-nominal, rather than just letting it be.
    It’ll be interesting if the vote goes for staying in the UK. What will we hear from Alex Salmond then? “We was robbed”, “Scotland, you’ve made a mistake so we’re going to go again – please vote for me next time!”, “Scotland, what have you done?”, or, the one that would be best, “Scotland, you’ve made me look a fool so I’m resigning!”
    Oh, I forgot, he looks a fool anyway…

  2. Comment by peezedtee
    7th September 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Like you I feel divided. I wish we could have a properly decentralised federal UK in which talk of nationalism and separation would seem irrelevant. The North of England needs decentralised powers just as much as Scotland does, in my view. At least here in London we already have a regional assembly, albeit with far too few powers. The Scots have persuaded themselves the problem is “England”. Actually the problem is Westminster and Whitehall and we are all suffering from it.