Allan Massie: The UK’s value is immense

Campaign for Scottish Independence might prove to be so much hot air. Picture: Getty
Campaign for Scottish Independence might prove to be so much hot air. Picture: Getty
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In any democracy, many people endure a government they didn’t vote for. There is still time to think, writes Allan Massie

I can understand why many will vote Yes. I can’t fathom the thinking of those who say: “Let’s give independence a try.” This is like saying, “Let’s try suicide”. If you bring it off, there’s no way back.

Independence is not an experiment we can abandon if we decide it isn’t working. It’s not like resigning from a club because you’ve fallen out with the committee and then re-applying for membership a few years later.

I’m lucky. I’ve never had any difficulty deciding how to vote tomorrow. I’m a Unionist, always have been. Of course, like almost every Scot, I’ve had my nationalist moments, sometimes sparked by momentary indignation when I’ve muttered “Bloody English”, other times patriotically proud or boastful when I think that no small nation except, one admits, the Jews and the Ancient Greeks, has given more of value to the world than the Scots.

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But this sort of nationalist feeling is essentially non-political, and anyway, I’m as likely to find myself on occasion saying “Bloody Scots”.

When Jim Tough, director of the Saltire Society, asked me to write a referendum pamphlet, I gave it the title Nevertheless, partly because, as Muriel Spark said, the word represents a characteristically Scots habit of mind, partly because it sums up my position on the question of the day. “I’m Scottish, nevertheless I’m also British.” “I’m British, nevertheless I’m Scottish.”

I value Britain. I look with wonder and admiration on what the four constituent nations or national groups that make up the United Kingdom have created over the centuries: a polity distinguished by tolerance, moderation, and a sense of fairness.

The United Kingdom is not perfect. Nothing is. But on the whole it’s pretty good, a country where no extremist party, Left or Right, has ever come within a sniff of power. That’s something to be proud of. I think the Better Together campaign should have been readier to speak more often of the virtues of Britishness.

Those who want to break up Britain say we are faced with a choice between “hopes and fear”. This is nonsense. There is hope on both sides and fear on both sides. The nationalists with their scaremongering about the future of the NHS have engaged in their own Project Fear. Yet they know that responsibility for health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Alex Salmond could privatise NHS Scotland; David Cameron can’t.

Alex Salmond has said the referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond. Of course it isn’t. He’ll be gone some day. But nor is it about the present UK coalition government. It too will be gone, perhaps even sooner than Mr Salmond.

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His favourite argument is that after independence we would never have a government we hadn’t voted for. In one sense this is true. Whatever the electoral system, there would normally be a government that commanded a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Technically 2007 to 2011 was a minority government surviving through regular deal-making with other parties. But in any democracy, lots of people must endure a government they didn’t vote for. Mr Salmond is First Minister because the SNP won the support of 45 per cent of the 50 per cent of the Scottish electorate who voted in 2011.This slim mandate has enabled him to divide the nation. If he wins the referendum, almost half of us will be in an independent state we didn’t vote for.

There is still time for people to think. I’ve been reading some articles on an internet site, Wake Up, Scotland. There’s an excellent one by Ewan Morrison, described by Stuart Kelly, one of this paper’s book reviewers, as “the most fluent and intelligent writer of his generation here in Scotland”. He used to be a member of the SNP and originally joined the Yes campaign. His experience of its working disillusioned him, and he says he will vote No on Thursday.

His analysis is compelling and disturbing. The Yes campaign reminded him of the Trotskyists, “another movement who believed they were political but were really no more than a recruitment machine”.

There’s a piece on the same site by Denise Mina, outstanding crime novelist. She will be voting No because “people with few social resources do not benefit from rupture in the short term”. In other words she believes that the poor will suffer first from the break-up of Britain.

Then there is the journalist Jackie Kemp, daughter of the late, and still much missed, Arnold, editor of the Glasgow Herald. She has moved from Yes to No, because she realised how much she loves England as well as Scotland, feels her “right to claim citizenship on either side of the Border” is precious, and doesn’t want “to throw it away for what might prove so much hot air”.

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The site also offers a fascinating piece by the historian Carol Craig. Her natural inclination is to be in the Yes camp. But she will vote No. She describes herself as “a cautious optimist” who is disturbed and repelled by “the blind optimism of the campaigners for independence”.

It reminds her of Fred Goodwin at RBS who “never wanted to hear about problems till it ran out of money”. Her own view is that “no matter who governs Scotland post-independence the country will become harsher and more right-wing… Scotland has a large public sector which is likely to suffer significant cuts, whatever currency option we pursue”.

These writers I quote have come to the No position with hesitation, reluctance and even pain. Their journey has been difficult, the honesty of their self-examination impressive. Ultimately they are unimpressed, even repelled, by the Yes campaigners’ refusal to look reality in the face. If you are still in doubt as to how you should vote tomorrow, I urge you to read these four articles on the Wake Up, Scotland site in full. Unlike so much that has been said on either side, they are thoughtful and honest.