The demand from Yes campaigners for the No campaign to be more positive and offer a positive vision of Scotland’s future has been repeated so often that it has now become a tiresome cliché. It is all the more ironic then that the greatest advocates of the positive case for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom are in fact Yes campaigners and politicians themselves.
We see it all the time by the way advocates of independence define what they mean. We shall retain the Queen as our head of state instead of being offered the choice to become a republic. We shall, they insist, remain members of the European Union instead of being offered the choice to be like Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and limit ourselves to being European trading partners. We shall apply to join Nato to have a mutually assured defence structure that will involve exercises with the RAF, Royal Navy and British Army regiments instead of being neutral and outside any military alliance.
We are still being told we shall have a currency union although it can now be seen that it is absolutely beyond the power of the SNP to deliver it formally. We are also told that we shall maintain our social union despite the fact that charging the thousands of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students for university fees is not only illegal within the EU but is also certain to create a significant grievance in the continuing UK if we do not charge Germans, Greeks or Spaniards the same fees.
So there we have it: being in the United Kingdom has given us many strong and positive advantages. We have a highly stable and well respected constitutional monarchy that provides a reassuring and unifying stability, while politicians come and go and fall in and out of fashion.
We have been members of the European Union for some 40 years and Nato for more than 60 – bringing openness, economic growth, democracy and security to which other nations have aspired and queued up to join.
Our own common currency provides a means of exchange redeemable throughout the land that suits us better than using a foreign coinage and gives us a flexibility in the world economy that is the envy of so many nations that made the mistake of joining the euro.
And we have a social union that after not just years or decades, but centuries of wars, battles, and bloody invasions (by either side), has encouraged us to migrate, intermingle, forge familial bonds and establish through perseverance and endeavour great successes in commerce, culture, science and politics. There are communities, even towns south of the Border, that are thought of as being essentially Scottish. The extent to which our social union became possible in the United Kingdom, despite further civil wars where Scots themselves were divided, is taken for granted nowadays, just as the huge role we played in establishing what was to become the British Empire and then latterly the Commonwealth is often forgotten.
Some intentionally provocative and disrespectful nationalists like to call the Union flag the butchers’ apron, conveniently avoiding the fact that if there were indeed any butchers, they were as likely to be Scots as anyone else. Key events in our British history, such as the Battle of Trafalgar, had a disproportionately large number of Scots while we all know the names of great Scots who helped shape the modern world.
The idea we are so subservient, passive and lacking in confidence within our great social union as to be unable to lead men to make the greatest of sacrifices, discover the unknown, develop new ideas, forge new enterprises, build lasting and enviable institutions – and yes, run our country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – because we are Scots and not born to do so is the worst example of the Scottish cringe.
Was I dreaming when that Scottish son of the manse, Gordon Brown, became British prime minister and was widely accepted at the time by an English-dominated Labour Party? Brown was hardly born to run the country.
Maybe I imagined that Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, that humble bungalow lad from Paisley Terrace nestling in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, became the Labour Party’s longest-serving prime minister and the only person to lead that party to three consecutive general election victories. He was hardly born to run the UK: the second son of Leo, an illegitimate child of two English actors who was adopted and raised by a Glaswegian shipyard worker James Blair. Such are the bloodlines of our social union that has seen Scotsmen and women go on through their own endeavour to achieve great things and be accepted north and south of the old Border.
Did Alistair Darling not follow Brown as chancellor, was the late Robin Cook not Foreign Secretary and did George Robertson and John Reid not hold high Cabinet rank along with many other Scots? Would John Smith – that Dunoon Grammar School lad - not have become prime minister but for his untimely death in 1994?
Then let us not forget Edinburgh’s George Watson’s boy Malcolm Rifkind, hewn from Jewish Lithuanian immigrant stock – hardly a traditional Scottish background – who rose to become Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary. Or how about John Cowperthwaite who, in the 1960s, made Hong Kong what it is today?
And it doesn’t just end there, for Scots in Britain are hardly shrinking violets in other fields – from Govan’s Alex Ferguson in sport, who managed possibly the best-known football team in the world, to Stonehaven’s John Reith, who built the BBC into the envy of the world. Neither they nor many others like them – the list is as inspiring as it is long – were born to run or shape British institutions, but they had the opportunity and the Union made it possible.
It is this social union that I fear for most. As we now see that the continuing UK can and will have different interests from Scots and Scotland – and has every right to pursue them – new grievances will tear us apart. What’s positive about that?