Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Dear Scotland

I’m mostly English but part Welsh and part Scottish, and I don’t want my country to die. If you leave, that will cost me part of my soul.

Well OK, that’s a bit melodramatic. Not very British, eh? Either way, we’ll all survive – but I truly think separation would diminish us all.

Do you really find it so unbearable to be British as well as Scottish? If you do, then I won’t stand in your way. But if you don’t – if there are things about the rest of the UK that you’re glad to call your own – then you don’t have to give them up.

You don’t have to accept the line that self-determination requires independence. Self-determination is you making the choice of what kind of Scotland you want: a part of the UK family, or just apart.

You can stay with the rest of us and still be Scots. Three centuries of being British and you’re still Scots, and you always will be. The question is: are the other parts of this country so bad, so alien, that you need to get rid of them?

Looking at Downing Street, I can see the appeal. If I could flee from this government without moving an inch, I’d be tempted. But I’d rather stand and fight, because I want my whole country to thrive. I want social justice in London, and I want it in Liverpool and Cornwall and Merthyr and Scarborough and Omagh and Inverness.

While I don’t always get the government I want, I would not give up on part of my country for the sake of being able to win easier, smaller victories. So I’m with you – millions of us are – for as long as you want us.

True, Scottish and English politics have their differences, but I think it’s a strength of our union that we can be together without needing to be the same. And we have a hell of a lot in common too. Two episodes from our recent history come to mind.

In 1989, the Thatcher government ignored public protests and inflicted the Poll Tax on Scotland. A mean, unjust tax, its introduction was unforgivably arrogant. But do you know what was even worse? A year later, having seen the undeniable harm the Poll Tax was doing in Scotland, they went ahead and unleashed it on the rest of Britain too.

They screwed us all. A British government, hurting England and Wales as much as Scotland. We were in that same mess together, and eventually we got out of it together.

Sure, democracy’s a wonderful thing and all that, but sometimes an elected government just sticks its fingers in its ears and decides that it knows best. That’s true in the UK, it’s true the world over, and it’d be true in an independent Scotland.

You’d have a sovereign government in Holyrood, run by… politicians. Some of them would be decent people doing their best, but others would be incompetents, cowards, liars, rogues and ideologues. And if you founded that government as a symbol of Scottish pride, they’d have the power to disappoint you more bitterly than anyone at Westminster.

On the other hand, sometimes the Westminster government gets it right.

The G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 still shines like a beacon. It was a time when government policy was in tune with the public mood, shown by a huge popular movement all around the UK.

Some international agreements are warm words that quickly cool and vanish, but this one got results. A big increase in aid to Africa, debt written off, and a longer-term shift in political culture towards fighting poverty. Even the Tories were reluctantly pushed to accept the need for more aid.

This wasn’t the result of Tony Blair’s diplomatic charm or Gordon Brown’s economic arguments. It happened because they were speaking with the whole weight of the UK behind them. We did it, together, and almost a decade on I’m still proud.

For all Scotland’s strengths, you would not have hosted and led a summit of the world’s major economies on your own.

And if Blair and Brown could put their rivalry aside and work to make something good, there’s really no excuse for the rest of us.

I don’t want us to become foreigners to each other. I don’t want to create a new class of immigrants who have done nothing more than move from one part of their island to another. And I don’t believe the problems we all face are going to be solved by creating a new border.

The UK is yours as much as mine. Scots have done so much to make our country what it is, and Britishness is your birthright as much as Scottishness.

I’m glad to share this country with you, and I hope we can manage to keep sharing it.