‘ENGLAND needs to hear that this vote is not about them or our attitude to them’ says Andrew Wilson
Normally I would suggest that if you are seeking to win a vote in an election or referendum it would be a good idea to spend all of your time and resource speaking to the voters in your country who have a vote. This is not what I would call a profound or groundbreaking insight.
However, I am increasingly of the view that the Yes campaign needs to devote a large amount of time and energy speaking to people who don’t live in Scotland or have a vote in September and specifically to our friends and family in England.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that there is a very significant minority of people in Scotland who were born in England, around half a million souls. Polling suggests around a quarter of them appear already disposed to vote Yes which is a remarkable and positive thing when you reflect on it for more than a minute.
But in the same ICM poll, more locally born people support Yes than back No. So there is a job to be done to bring the new Scots who have moved here from England to a place where they have the same views as the average of everyone else.
The second reason is that we need to prepare the ground now for a new relationship within Britain after a Yes vote, indeed whatever the vote. Just as we need divisions to heal within Scotland (and I passionately believe they will) so we also need to reassure our friends and neighbours about why we are doing what we are doing.
At a dinner debate in Edinburgh on Friday night, one very senior and informed business leader from London with experience of politics at the highest level made a telling point. He observed that the debate he witnessed that night was much more subtle, nuanced and frankly clever than what he thought was going on in Scotland. The political and media lens through which he viewed our debate from London suggested a cruder, simpler fight was being had out based on old prejudices and juvenile motivations.
That misinformation does a massive disservice to us all on both sides of the Border and could lead to quite damaging sentiment both now and after the vote, actually whatever the outcome.
What England needs to hear is the truth. And that truth is that this vote is not about them or our attitude to them. It is about us and our attitude to ourselves. In psychological terms we are not seeking to move “away from” anyone. Rather we are moving “towards” ourselves.
It may suit too many to caricature this as about Scottish grievance and prejudice against our big brother. But that is wrong in fact and potentially dangerous and damaging in the sentiment it seeks to sow.
It could damage business interests and therefore jobs. It could be corrosive in every sense and it has to stop.
Helping to make it stop is the job of leaders, and so I was heartened to see the First Minister speaking in Carlisle on St George’s day on just the right theme. More such initiatives would be a very good idea.
As the level of understanding in England catches up with the modern reality of Scotland it should quieten concerns for English people on both sides of the Border. It is completely understandable that the starting point for many is a sense of rejection by us which is insulting and upsetting and somehow needless.
But once people are exposed to the reality of what is going on, hearts and minds open and spirits rise. This will move English-born sentiment in Scotland and prepare the ground for the new union between England and Scotland after the vote.
I giggle at the now hapless sense of negativism oozing from the cultural essence and DNA of the No side.
This Great Britain of ours that has been through so much over three centuries and has conquered so many demons and built and achieved wonders is ready for its next chapter.
The challenge of creating a new relationship in Britain with Scotland independent but sharing in currency, monarchy, joint defence, and joint administrative endeavour on everything from transport to foreign diplomacy is but complex project management following adult negotiation and agreement.
An insurmountable obstacle for the Britain that built an empire an NHS and a welfare state and rebuilt itself after two awful wars? I don’t think so.
So beware arguments about “could” and focus on arguments about “should”. And the love-bombing of England by Scotland needs to be much more effective than the half-hearted attempts suggested by our Prime Minister in the other direction.
Jim Sillars closed his magisterial tribute to his darling late wife this week with a profound call for all sides to heal once the votes are cast and to behave in a way that makes that possible in advance: “If she could debate without venom, so can we all. If she could respect the right of the other side to their opinions, so can we all. That’s what she wanted me to say.”
The mood of change, reform and hope at Margo’s celebration on the Mound on Friday was palpable. Lets export some. «