I am British. My homeland is the collection of Islands in the North East Atlantic that include the mainlands of England, Scotland and Wales as well as a glorious array of smaller, windswept, salt-sprayed islands. My story is that of Britons, Picts, Celts, Angles, Romans, Saxons, Norsemen, Normans and millennia’s worth of immigrants who made these places their home. I love, as home, the warm seas of the Channel and the golden sands around Cape Wrath, the violent rocks of Tryfan and the rolling hills near my Midlands birthplace, I love Bennachie which I can see from my window and I love London, Edinburgh and Birmingham in which I have worked or played. Therefore I do not consider myself thoroughly “English”, for my adult life has been spent almost entirely in Scotland; and I cannot consider myself exclusively “Scottish” for my formative roots lie elsewhere. I am, I feel, British.
But with a year to go before we vote on the matter, I am increasingly persuaded that the 300 year-old political union we call the United Kingdom is not for me. In debates about independence we are faced with enough red herrings to start a fish market of petty diversion. ‘Will we be more prosperous?’ goes the most well-rehearsed refrain, as if we can make anything but flimsy short-term predictions. How will our long-term relationship with Europe and the outside world develop? As if we know the answer either for Scotland or the UK. And at its most banal, which currency will we use? Seriously. We know, as even Darling has conceded, that Scotland can thrive economically as an independent state, and we can't know to what extent.
These questions are couched in the pursed-lipped rhetoric of “voting with head not heart” while they disguise a much more decisive question for ourselves and for our neighbours: what nation-state face or faces do we want to present in the world? This is a question that strikes to the heart of who we think we are. For all my Britishness, there can be no denying that Scotland has a radically different political culture from Westminster and that this is simply unrepresented in the international arena.
Perhaps more important is that which is represented there. Some will look at the map of the world showing the countries the Britain has invaded, most of which occurred under the Union Flag, and revel in our influence. Whether or not these countries have, in general, been positively influenced by our interventions (and I think not) is beside the point: our long-lost imperial might has left us with an anachronistic, habitual recourse to force which has seen us involve ourselves most recently and catastrophically in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and, but for a reluctant war-weariness of the Westminster parliament, Syria, all of which have been great for the UK arms industry and disastrous for the people affected. We make our dealings with Europe a matter of short-term self-interest rather than a project of community-building. Worst of all, the UK preaches as if its prosperity emerged out of mere good fortune or divine right rather than the force of the gunboat. As anyone knows who has lived in countries whose miserable fates were written by British colonial administrators, the UK is seen sitting in the corner of the international community like an aggrieved and unpredictable drunkard, derided in hushed tones, occasionally feared because of his strong pals and fearsome tools, but rarely respected.
Britain, however, by which I mean the people of these islands with their cultural wealth and history of negotiated neighbourliness, does command a measure of respect, as do its English, Scottish and Welsh constituent communities. I therefore believe that independence not only allows for Scotland to project itself more respectably in the world, and thus generate much greater self-respect at home within its political culture, but that the same could be true of England. A British land with its peoples, represented by different nation states, known for their good neighbourliness, for their participation as equals in the international community rather than their tedious bluster, for their artistic, mercantile, intellectual and (perhaps especially) political creativity: this is the vision of independence I support and it is a vision that could belong to Brits like me as much as thoroughgoing Scots.