Graham of Anywhere
Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection

Scotland, England, random thoughts on the UK

The United Kingdom. Born 1707.

When I was young, I identified as Scottish. As I grew up, I increasingly identified as British too. British second, but British nonetheless. I think, as you grow older, you begin to understand what the United Kingdom is, and what it is not. And everyone's free to take their own interpretation. Anyone is free to reject Britishness and many do.

It's a peculiar old set-up. Countries within a country. Each quite distinct in its cultures and its politics but united nonetheless.

I've met many people in Scotland and England who see the other nation as a foreign country. I've always thought that was odd. I've always thought it represented a closed-mindedness in a sense because anyone who has travelled these isles will know how intertwined we are, how much we are the same peoples. The London folks might be an entirely different breed to the Western Isles folks on the surface, but I see the common ground. These nations might be separated slightly by ideologies and difficult pasts but we all share the same problems now.

So it constantly surprises me how many English people have never been to Scotland; never witnessed Edinburgh or seen the rugged beauty of the Highlands. They're probably more likely to have visited France than Scotland despite the latter not requiring passports, foreign currency, or language knowledge. Similarly, I've never really understood why some Scots see England as an enemy land, or even a distant land.

For over 300 years these two counties have been united.

The English will generally show ambivalence towards ole Caledonia and the Scots will often cite that England has ruled Scotland for all these years. Both stances annoy me. The ambivalence is tantamount to ignorance. Each nation should be equally interested in the history, culture, and future of their neighbours. These are small, integrated islands. Moreover, to draw mental boundaries, to disregard all the other parts the UK, is to limit your understanding of your own country. And worse, to view your neighbours with contempt or disdain is to curtail your own prosperity and to undermine your own social ideals. None of us operate in a vacuum and none of us are more or less worthy, entitled, equal.

We're all free to travel and settle anywhere in the British isles (Republic of Ireland included). And I really love that. I've been back in the south now for two months, having moved down "temporarily" at the start of September. I was in Glasgow. I'm now in Greater London. It's just another place to learn, to live, to work. It's another move, another new perspective.

But I will admit that being a Scotsman in England only makes me want to go further. To quote Christopher Isherwood, "I don't belong here. I don't belong anywhere. I rather like being a foreigner. I wonder where we'll end up.".

The shape of the union has been reformed in the last decade and it needs further change. I'd love to see the UK become a confederate. Individual and independent parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all devolving things like national security and customs back to a central UK government. It's unlikely but I much prefer that idea to Scotland leaving the union.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I'm anti-independence. Indeed I think I sometimes mistake myself for a staunch unionist. But that's not really true. While I think the union has had many positive benefits for Great Britain overall, I do recognise that Scotland has sacrificed far more than England. There can be no real equality in a partnership of a 50 million strong country with one a tenth of its size. Scotland's needs are second to England's in some respects.

Moreover, now that Scotland has its own parliament again, the West Lothian question needs a resolution. How can it make sense that Scottish MPs can decide on matters in Westminster that apply to England only?

Change is necessary. And I know I won't get my confederate. Scottish Independence is the only solution on offer that covers all bases. "Devolution max" and fiscal autonomy might be the way forward but it doesn't resolve the constitutional mess.

We, as the general public, cannot be expected to choose until the SNP produce detailed proposals for how things would work under independence and devo-max.

Both options will result in fiscal autonomy I'd imagine, so let's leave that out of the equation. There are too many factors for anyone to really know how it'll affect us in the long term. It's a risk but I'm not adverse to it. Scotland needs a wake-up call with regards to its benefits structure, its public sector, its overall productiveness.

Independence would need to be very carefully orchestrated. Certain things are crucial, in my eyes:

1) I'm not a monarchist per se but I think we need to remain in the Commonwealth with Lizzy as head of state. (pretty certain)

2) We need to retain pound sterling, although we'd need to accept that the Scottish pound would be pegged to the English pound I assume. Scottish notes would finally be legal in Scotland I guess (unsure)

3) The Common Travel Area of the British isles would need to be preserved. There should never be border controls in UK/Scotland/Ireland. There should be no customs checks. We should all retain indefinite leave to remain in each other's nations. We'd really need a common immigration policy with the UK? (pretty certain)

4) Doing business in the UK/Scotland should be as seamless as possible. There should be nothing complicated about a Scottish company trading in England. (unsure)

5) The BBC needs to, somehow, be maintained in Scotland. The UK and Scottish governments would need to iron out agreements regarding funding and output, but we shouldn't lose anything. I'd be keen to see BBC Scotland takeover all news output north of the border. (I'm sure this will be on the agenda)

6) The NHS should continue to be free at the point of service irrelevant of who you are and where you are in the British isles. (guaranteed, surely)

7) Scotland should be active in the EU. (guaranteed I think)

8) We should use the opportunity to shake up local government and the public sector generally. Consolidate and shrink.

9) We should use the opportunity to really address our social problems, health issues and national confidence. We need to be bold and innovative. The aim shouldn't be "make everything free". The aim should be "make everyone work". We need to look at everything that holds us back as a country -- everything we've not really tried hard enough to fix. It'll become more important. We need to find the Second Scottish Enlightenment.

I wonder if a possible problem with independence is the SNP themselves. Although they seem to represent something fundamentally Scottish -- a non-pretentious, almost socialist perspective -- they also appear to lack professionalism. They sometimes come across as emotional instead of logical. They don't always appear intelligent and I'd worry about how they'd represent us on an international stage.

I think, if independence happens, I'll be desperately hoping for a revived, vibrant political scene with newcomers who are both enthusiastic and intelligent. Currently, I'm not at all confident that the cream of the crop stay in Scotland. We'd really need them to.

Perhaps that comes full circle back to myself. I'm not saying I'm the productive, innovative, inspiring individual I want to be, but would I ever be tempted back to Scotland, or more specifically Edinburgh, to play my part in our new sovereign nation?
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