This summer I spent a couple of weeks in Scotland. It’s one of my favourite places – not just because of its mountain scenery but because of its way of doing things. My son-in-law is Scottish. He and my daughter live in Glasgow. Had I been a free agent in my youth I would have emigrated there years ago.
Had I done so, I’d have a vote in the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. If there’s a parallel universe somewhere, in which I did emigrate all those years ago, I wonder how my parallel self will vote? If he’s like me, when he thinks of the run down estates where he used to work in West Yorkshire he’ll want to vote no. He might think that the ordinary people there have more in common with the similarly less-well-off people of Scotland than the latter have in common with the rich people of Scotland. They, in turn, have more common interest with the people who run Britain from the South of England. But, on the other hand, when he’s looking at Alastair Gray’s murals in Oran Mor, (or reading Lanark) he’ll almost want to vote yes.
Trouble is, he probably won’t be a nationalist at heart, thinking of patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. If so, he takes a dim view of borders generally. (There’s a sign near John O’Groats pointing out that you’re nearer to Norway than to London. It’s good to be reminded that the North Sea isn’t that wide. It’s a reminder, too, that the Russia-Ukraine border isn’t that far away either). He’s an optimist who thinks there’s a light at the end of the tunnel of history and when we reach it we’ll find the world has no borders at all. Respect for cultural identity yes, real democracy, yes, at the very least, but borders, no. He is impressed by Alastair Gray’s advice, to “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” but will think of that nation as the whole world.
But, unlike my parallel alter ego, I don’t live in Scotland so I don’t need to be persuaded, as I don’t have a vote. It doesn’t stop me thinking about the issues, though. A Scotsman who does have a vote (with whom I shared a bottle of Old Bushmills* recently) listened to me discourse on the tunnel of history (and it’s quite a long tunnel after a couple glasses of Old Bushmills) and told me he didn’t think of himself as a nationalist with a capital “N” but wanted more democracy. I could see that if I walked two miles in his shoes I might feel incapable of voting no. However, I’m wearing my own. Unlike him, I live in the North of England. Like him, I look at the way Britain is ruled for the South by the South. If you want to draw a line across Britain then draw it -roughly- from the Mersey in the West to the Wash in the East. You could make that the southern border of, say, a Greater Scotia. Democracy in that country would function better for the people who lived in it than the current arrangement. But that’s not the option on offer – and it’s still a border. Spare a thought for the people of Loughborough.
*Yes, yes, I know. It’s Irish whiskey.