Independence essay: John Colquhoun on voting No

This is the latest in a weekly series of indyref essays in which influential figures explore ideas related to the Scottish independence referendum.

John Colquhouns mother returned to Stirling to ensure he was born there and qualified to play for Scotland. Picture: PA
John Colquhouns mother returned to Stirling to ensure he was born there and qualified to play for Scotland. Picture: PA

I am a proud Scotsman. I had no choice really, not after my mother endured a ten-hour journey in 1963 to ensure I could be exactly that. I was conceived in the fine Lancastrian city of Oldham, where my dad plied his trade as a professional footballer for Oldham Athletic.

Like all parents, mine envisaged more for me than they had. This manifested itself even before I was born in a journey from the north-west of England to Stirling from where they both came.

This was pre M6, A74, M74, M73 – a tortuous drive through the towns and cities between Oldham and Stirling.

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My mother did this to ensure I was a Scotsman and, more specifically, so that I could play for the Scotland national team at football one day. This was before the qualification rules to play were changed to allow anyone that has eaten shortbread to pull on the dark blue of Scotland.

Fortunately, that sacrifice she made for me was worthwhile. I appeared twice for Scotland and as I stood listening to the national anthem in the stadiums of Saudi Arabia and Malta I couldn’t have been prouder. I felt Scottish those days and I feel Scottish today. I didn’t feel less Scottish then because I was part of a United Kingdom and I don’t now.

We lived the first 11 years of my life in England so maybe that is why I don’t have the hatred of the English and England that some of my countrymen display.

Of course, the football commentators harping on about 1966 annoy me as much as the next person but I don’t feel oppressed by our neighbours. I certainly do not feel the need to harass and abuse residents of our country who come from England, as is becoming more prevalent as this campaign has gathered momentum.

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Similarly, it disappoints and deeply concerns me that the Yes campaign feels the need to win the argument in this way or that many No signs are daubed with the word “scum” across them. I hope this isn’t a sign of the future we are about to live through, whatever the result. But I have fears.

I am defined by my own experiences. I feel I have been dealt a very good hand living in Scotland. My daughter attended Bannockburn High School. Was I happy with the education my only child received? Absolutely. She left that school educated, with the straight As which allowed her acceptance to every university she applied for.

Education is under the control of the Scottish Government and there is no need to change what is not broken.

My parents who made that initial sacrifice for me died devastatingly young. Both were in their fifties and were treated by the National Health Service right until the end. Was I happy with the treatment, care and attention they received?

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Although happy is not an appropriate word in these circumstances, they could not have had more done for them.

The NHS is already under the full control of the Scottish Government. Certainty the budget to safeguard these precious services can only be guaranteed by rejecting separation because the biggest concern for me is the lack of information on what the real economic consequences of independence will be.

I am being asked to endorse massive political change on the trust of a politician. When so many smart people say we can’t share the pound and Mr Salmond just says, “Yes we can”, I don’t accept it. When so many well-qualified people dispute his claims about the European Union, I take them seriously – because I know so much depends on it.

There is no politician alive who would convince me to take his word alone on matters which will lead to such massive upheaval for my family and our future generations. I need hard facts and I have found them to be in short supply in this campaign.

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We have universal free prescriptions, no tuition fees, toll-free bridges. England has none of these. The tolerance, albeit some of it borne out of ignorance, of hardworking English families who don’t enjoy these benefits should be appreciated if not celebrated by us Scots. If the boot was on the other foot, the whingeing and moaning about what “they get down there” would be deafening.

I have listened to as much of the debate as I can bear (as you get older, shouty people are less of an attraction) and I can’t find one solitary reason to change my mind and vote Yes. It might be different if there was a credible commitment to a living wage or to transferring wealth away from those who have most towards those who have least.

Instead the only guarantee I have found is they they would cut corporation tax by 3 per cent.

As someone who started and sold a business and is now involved with another one in Scotland, this does not impress me. If I needed lower corporation tax rate I would have decamped to Ireland.

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Companies which chase low taxation will not stop at Scotland – and all independence would bring us would simply be a competition in which working people would again be losers.

If, instead, there was a commitment that every company would give 2 per cent of profits to a fund for the greater good of the community, that is something which would appeal to me. That would be redistributing wealth in a caring way but there is nothing like that on offer. There are no commitments that would change things for the better for the vast majority of our people.

My wife and I are at that age you never think of when you are young, awaiting the imminent birth of our first grandchild. If our grandchild is born into an independent Scotland we will have to accept it and get on with our lives. That’s democracy. But I simply don’t know what that future will be.

I do know that we have it pretty good right now. Of course it could be better and there are mechanisms to achieve that but I would be very happy for future generations to be born into. This fine country of which I am so proud, Scotland within the UK.

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• John Colquhoun was a professional footballer for 17 years for clubs including Hearts, Celtic and Sunderland. He was also the chairman of the Scottish Professional Football Association and has served as a member of the Scottish Sports Council.