It’s the day before Scotland goes to the polls and I cannot keep quiet any longer. The independence referendum is a subject I’m passionate about. If you’ve had to tolerate listening as I talk about it, then I apologise. I’ve undoubtedly bored you senseless.
For my family, this is an incredibly personal debate. As I often allude to, my wife is a Scot. My in-laws are Scots and my daughters therefore have strong connections north of the border with family members voting both ways. While I have no close blood relatives remaining in Scotland, many of my relatives were from Lanarkshire and I wasn’t allowed to forget this while growing up.
What impact would a yes vote have on a family like mine? On the one hand, it’ll have very little impact. The personal relationships will still be in place. I think we can also rest assured knowing that a post-independence Scotland would have porous borders with the rest of the UK. It would be in no one’s interest to put check points on the frontier or to put barriers in the way of travel, trade or commerce.
On the other hand, if independence actually happens, my wife and children will, according to the SNP’s white paper, qualify for citizenship the day the two nations separate. For my kids, I suspect this would be a good thing. It would leave their options open to work, live and seize opportunities on either side of the border.
One example would be higher education. If Scotland continues with its policy of free higher education, our daughters would be well advised to consider it. The huge debts English students build up are frightening. If, as Scottish citizens, my children had the opportunity to avoid starting their working lives tens of thousands of pounds in debt then I’d be all for it.
I can think of other fringe benefits. It’s too early to say whether Scotland would be a perpetually neutral nation, but I can imagine travelling on a Scottish passport would ensure you had a friendly welcome wherever you went (rather like using an Irish travel document).
I can see potential benefits for my offspring, but for me personally there would be complications. According to that white paper, I wouldn’t qualify for citizenship until I’d been resident in Scotland for several years. If my wife and I ever choose to live north of the border this could cause difficulties. It would be very odd, I’d be a migrant in what used to be my own nation state!
It’s at this point I’m going to out myself as a unionist. If the referendum goes the way of the yes campaign then of course, independence must happen. I have no doubt that Scotland would make a success of itself. I think it would be financially difficult and the country would be heavily reliant on its Southern neighbour for may, many years, probably generations, but I’m sure it would mature into a small, successful country.
That said, I’m deeply suspicious of all nationalist movements. Some of the rhetoric used in England and Scotland in recent weeks has been frightening and incredibly insular and petty.
What worries me more than anything is that my daughters are growing up in a United Kingdom that is becoming more nationalist, be it UKIP and its British nationalism, the SNP with its Scottish nationalism or any number of the fractious English nationalist parties (for now we’ll leave Welsh and Northern Irish / Irish nationalism)
Whether the UK of the future includes Scotland or not, I find this an issue of great concern. I’m going to tell you a little story from my past to demonstrate why.
First, a bit of background. I’ve never self-identified as English. I’ve always described myself as a Brit. I may be English-born but I have Scots and Northern Irish heritage. As a young boy my Northern Irish grandmother was my main carer. It had a big impact on me and left me with the idea that England was just one part of a larger country. It also left with with a life-long love of potato cakes, but that’s another matter (potato scones as they’re called in Scotland).
That represents just one side of my parentage. The other side of my family isn’t British. Although I’ve lived in Blighty pretty much all my life, the other side of my family hails from a French-speaking country.
Almost 20 years ago I was visiting an acquaintance. He’s something of an English nationalist and had a St George’s cross painted on the wall of his living room.
I commented on it and he told me I couldn’t possibly be English. I asked why. He informed me it was because I only have the one British parent. This, despite having been being born and educated in England and with English as my first language. As an infant I was baptised by a Church of England minister in a Saxon Church just a few miles away from a graveyard where my English ancestors have been buried since 1689. Even so, I couldn’t be English.
At that moment I discovered how horrible and pernicious nationalism is. If, with my background, I’m not good enough to be English then I don’t want to be a part of it. It would be naive to assume individuals that aren’t pure-blooded Scots (if such a thing exists) haven’t faced similar attitudes over recent months as the independence referendum has neared.
This Scots independence debate and referendum has had to take place. Whatever way the vote goes, I just hope it brings an end to petty squabbling and backbiting between the various people of the UK, or whatever it becomes. I’m big enough to look after myself. It’s not me and my generation I’m worried about, it’s all our children.