Often have I rehearsed the point that I could, if selected, play for England in this, or in any, World Cup. The chances of my selection are as remote as McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It is a snub I can cope with.
But long ago I concluded that the suggestion most Scots will back “anyone but England” is a myth. I will in the World Cup this summer, once again, support England until they exit. I have more family ties and friendships with England than with any other country and I get no kick out of their defeat or frustration.
I pray for the broadcast commentators to dial down jingoism and dial up the English reputation for fair play. But I also have a volume button for the TV.
And, it may surprise some to learn, my estimation is that more Scots will be rooting for England in this tournament than any other country. But England doesn’t yet know that and her people don’t feel that. This is a pity.
Similarly the current mood in England about Scotland’s potential vote for independence is, where people care to notice at all, one of mild hurt. A sense of “why do you want to leave us?” We don’t. There are no current plans for seismic activity along the Tweed.
When I explain the truth of the story to any of my friends and acquaintances the mood alters and people can understand my motivations at least.
Altering the way we run the state and democracy is just not the same thing as altering the rest of how we organise life. Identity, family, culture, sport, history – and geology – aren’t about the state. And it is only the way we organise the state and our democracy that we are voting on.
To listen to some of the debate you would think that Westminster politicians and Whitehall bureaucrats were like Vishnu the Hindu god with many arms sitting at the heart of our life’s universe determining all. They are not. There is so much more to life than that.
This was brought home to me tellingly recently when one senior Labour MP debated with me on social media suggesting that the Financial Times would no longer be “ours” after independence. Remarkable when you think about it. When I was last in New York I bought an FT and no-one called the police. The FT doesn’t belong to the state, and I am sure they would be alarmed at any suggestion to the contrary.
So should England be offended that we want the government we vote for every time and that they can enjoy the same? Should they be hurt that we will do what nearly 200 other countries have done and determine our own performance and future while sharing and co-operating with others in an interdependent world?
Is it offensive that we should imagine a future where a union in which government has performed ever-changing roles over three centuries is altered once again?
The union of our two nations is much more than what the state does and it will survive no matter what. The idea of designing new institutions and processes to make this work is hardly beyond the countries that have faced far greater challenges over the years than this one.
London politicians are currently arguing that pestilence and famine will beset Scotland when we vote Yes. Some say that England will then seethe and seek to do us down. That is not the England I know, nor is it the act of England’s self interest. But it is possible.
It is possible if the politicians who enjoy a megaphone in the media use their platform to create rancour, division, discord and disunity.
But it would rather suppose that the English people were stupid enough to be duped into self-defeating short-termism. I do not believe that they are.
In each and every area of policy discussion we have to distinguish between what politicians argue now (often quite irresponsibly) as they seek to win the vote, and what they will be incentivised to do once the die is cast.
Scotland’s leaders will require to show long-term vision, financial rigour, discipline and grace. But so will the current government in London. Irresponsible politicians can damage the economy and create capital flight and currency and bank runs. We don’t have to look too far through time and space for the evidence of that. But doing so beggars all.
Join the dots on who gains and who loses from bad conduct and you will see there can be no winners. Consider the conditions required to ensure smooth transition, sustainable new institutions, open trade, co-operation and growth and the real possibilities present themselves.
The Queen recently wrote to the Church of Scotland saying: “We pray that whatever the outcome, people of faith and people of goodwill will work together for the social good of Scotland”. We now only have to add the words “England, Wales and Northern Ireland” and all will say “Amen” to that. «