Hugh Reilly: A chance to end artificial alliance

Bruce's success in a 'square-go' heralded freedom for the Scots. Picture: Greg Macvean
Bruce's success in a 'square-go' heralded freedom for the Scots. Picture: Greg Macvean
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After more than 300 years of political union, a Scots army, this time made up of voters, has a date with destiny, writes Hugh Reilly

It is June 1314, the place is Stirlingshire. The English army has tramped up the Middle Ages version of the M74 to sort out some treasonous Jocks who have challenged King Edward’s right to rule over his Scottish serfs. The rebellious Scots to be crushed are led by Robert the Bruce, a warrior king whose destiny could have been oh-so-different had he suffered from acute arachnophobia. Earlier, he had taken up residence in a damp cave, an ideal location for the fugitive on the go, and watched a hapless spider endeavour to swing Tarzan-like across the grotto’s entrance. On its sixth attempt, it finally succeeded.

Bruce interpreted the dodgy acrobatics as a sign that he could defeat the English. In terms of symptoms of a certifiable mental illness, waging a war based on the trapezium-type exploits of a spider was right up there with listening to the ranting of a burning bush.

Nevertheless, Bruce managed to gather a small army. Those who had answered his call to arms with a resounding “Yes” knew the dire consequences of defeat; yet, they felt the fear and did it anyway. They let out a huge groan when Bruce replied in the affirmative to Henry De Bohun’s demand for an equestrian square-go but how they cheered when Bruce stood tall in his stirrups and gave the English knight the pure malky with a battle-axe. Once the corpse was shuffled off the battlefield, the mortal combat began in earnest.

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Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Scots prevailed, forcing Edward to catch the first cruise ship departing Dunbar for London. Across England, town-criers employed by the BBC declared it an outstanding English success. Sadly, the sacrifices of the men and women who fought for Scotland’s freedom were betrayed with the signing of the Act of Union 1707. The treachery of the ruling class is wonderfully encapsulated in the Robert Burns song, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation. The people of Scotland were not consulted on whether they wished to give up the country’s sovereignty; indeed, when the terms were revealed, riots erupted in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

On Thursday, Scots have a once- in-a-lifetime chance to end 300 years of a being a junior partner in the artificial country known as Britain. I say artificial because, despite three centuries of trying to weld four distinct peoples into one homogeneous race, the traits and differences persist. Ask a Londoner his nationality and he’ll answer “English” – likewise, a guy from Glasgow declares himself to be “Scottish”. No-one, with possible exception of hard-line Ulster Orangemen, states they are “British”.

Back in 2012, only around 26 per cent of voters supported independence. Last week, on accepting that the referendum result was on finely sharpened knife edge, Alistair Darling claimed that “it was inevitable that the gap would narrow” as polling day neared. He rather unhelpfully didn’t explain why it was somehow unavoidable that the pro-independence vote would gather momentum. I think I can give Mr Darling some clues.

Firstly, the scaremongering tactics haven’t played well with a highly educated, highly sceptical electorate. Project Fear has backfired spectacularly on the pro-Unionists as, one by one, the doom and gloom scenarios have been ushered into the light and exposed. Should Scottish voters have the cheek to back independence, Scotland would be evicted from the EU, said the nay-sayers. Nato wouldn’t want Alba either. Worse, the cost of sending worthwhile mobile phone texts such as “Ah’m oan the bus, c u in 10 mins” would rise due to roaming charges imposed by avaricious telecommunications companies.

The bluff that Scotland would not be permitted a currency union with its southern neighbour was called when the value of sterling fell on news of the possibility of Scotland regaining sovereignty. It’s abundantly clear that the penchants of the financial market will have a greater input on a currency union than the anti-independence utterings of Gideon Oliver Osborne (yes folks, that’s the Chancellor’s name as it appears on his birth certificate). Denying Scotland the use of the pound would be cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, akin to Van Gogh cutting off his ear to stop folk pestering him to wear spectacles.

Secondly, once the bluster and froth disappeared from the debate, Scots began to observe that objective evidence exists that their country will not descend into a land resembling the set of Mad Max. A league table of GDP wealth produced by the OECD – the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development – puts Scotland 14th in the world. The discussion between oil experts as to how much fossil fuel lies around our coastline told us that even the most Jeramiah of black gold drillers admits there are at least 16 billion barrels. Consequently, the unique attempt by Britain-firsters to paint carbon fuel assets to be burdensome liabilities failed to convince those cursed with possessing critical faculties.

A Yes victory would mean no more wars of adventure. Disastrous British foreign policy has led to the deaths of hundreds of UK soldiers and the maiming of thousands of others. And for what? Afghanistan is still a mediaeval basket case and IS rules large swathes of Iraq, a country we “liberated”. At home, a new Scotland would build on the sense of social justice that sets it apart from its southern neighbour. Despite the off-stage grumblings of arch-unionist Johann Lamont, the notions of free university education, free prescriptions and free personal care resonate with the majority of Scots who agree with a collectivist approach to helping those in need.

On Thursday, we have a date with destiny. I urge voters to seize the moment, to give us back full sovereignty over our affairs.

The alternative – more years of Westminster governments led by Cameron, Miliband or, heaven forbid, Boris Johnson – fills me with dread.

At Bannockburn, the “wee folk” bled for liberty. We need only place a cross in the Yes box. Cry freedom!