How dare nationalists suggest I am ‘less Scottish’ because I’m a unionist – Christine Jardine

The Saltire of Scotland belongs to everyone in this country, not just to nationalists (Picture: John Devlin)
The Saltire of Scotland belongs to everyone in this country, not just to nationalists (Picture: John Devlin)
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I am Scottish, British and European, writes Christine Jardine after a stranger stops her in the street to ask how she can be a Scot but not want independence, then walks off without waiting for an answer.

It didn’t take long. About a week in fact. Someone I don’t know stopped me in the street to ask a few questions and have a chat. That in itself was not a problem of course, I love talking to people and hearing their views.

But there is one question which, over the past decade, has begun to grate. Not because it is in any way difficult or challenging, but because it shows complete lack of respect for anyone who does not adhere to that particular view.

How can I be Scottish and not want independence?

There wasn’t actually an opportunity to answer on this particular occasion, as the questioner turned and walked away, but I also know from experience that an answer isn’t really what is usually wanted.

Somehow that question, more than any other, seems simply to be a challenge to the right of every individual to have a mind, and a view, of their own.

And for me that contradicts a basic principle of democracy. The right to be different. To have your own view.

Some of you may be asking: “Why is she getting so exercised about one question?” But it’s not just that question.

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It is the whole attitude, whole approach, which it reflects, and that leads to people like me, who believe in the United Kingdom, being denounced as somehow less Scottish or less patriotic by nationalists.

Two things to be clear about. First that Scottish nationalists have every right to their belief that we would somehow be better off on our own. But secondly they have no right to claim that only they speak for the people of Scotland.

‘How dare you’

We do not all adhere to the SNP mantra, but that does not make us any less concerned for, or committed to, Scotland’s future.

It’s almost two years now since my party’s Scottish leader, Willie Rennie, challenged that view of a nationalist hegemony by saying: “How dare you question my loyalty to my country, question my right to fly my flag, and question my Scottishness because I don’t believe your politics.”

And in the intervening period those words have come back to me time and time again as I sat in the chamber of the House of Commons, listening to SNP MPs take every opportunity to present themselves as the only voice of Scotland.

They are not.

Neither, for that matter, are my own party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, or the Conservatives, or Labour or any other party which is putting forward candidates in this election.

There is no legitimate single voice of this, or any, other democracy.

Our country is a patchwork of different views which should work hand in hand to produce the best outcomes for our friends, families and communities.

Take for example our different views on the United Kingdom.

Do I believe in devolution? Yes. Do I believe that people should have more say over the issues which directly affect them every day at the level of government which is closest to them? Yes.

Could that mean more powers for the Scottish Parliament? Yes. But independence? No.

A federal UK

The Scottish National Party is fond of telling us that devolution is a journey whose ultimate destination is independence.

I see a different, and much less divisive home at this journey’s end. For me, the best outcome to the development of devolution would be a federal United Kingdom.

It’s one of the policies which first attracted me to the Liberal Democrats and an idea whose time, I believe, is about to come.

The progressive democracy which created devolved administrations for London, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland needs to be extended to the rest of England.

I know there have been failed attempts in the past, but increasingly I find people in different areas of our southern partner are keen to experience the same benefits that we have here.

But it will not be as simple as just saying: “Let’s set up an English parliament.”

England is, in some ways, as diverse as the United Kingdom. Cornwall, Yorkshire and the North West to name but three all have separate identities and needs.

Increasingly that is gaining recognition in the political community.

I was recently invited to become an advisor to a think tank examining how to approach and eventually achieve federalism in the UK.

For me, it has the attraction of allowing me to express that thing about my identity that I love more than almost any other. I am Scottish. But I am also British and I am European.

I grew up listening to bedtime stories from my grandmothers telling how their families, Minto and Reid, had come here from England and Ireland respectively.

I frequently promise myself that I will get to the bottom of whether my Jardine ancestors originally came here from France or Spain, or whether my ultimate roots might be elsewhere.

But whatever the answer to that question, none of it will undermine my Scottishness.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat candidate in Edinburgh West