For some time it has been my contention that every English person “gets” a Celtic country. By this I mean that he, or she, ends up in a tangled association either with Wales, Ireland or Scotland. I ended up in bed with Scotland. Literally, since I married a Scot.
But despite this, while I never had much difficulty learning to love its landscape, its culture, or its whisky, the Scots have, I confess, been more of an acquired taste. Perhaps the definitive modern remark on the English by the Scots is voiced in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s fine novel Trainspotting, when the hapless Edinburghian junkies seek to kick their habit with a healthy spot of hill walking. Against the frozen peaks of the Cairngorms, one of them remarks: “It’s not the English I mind so much. Sure, they’re wankers, but it’s being colonised by a nation of wankers that I really object to.”
It’s this objection that seems to be overtaking the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. Instead of a Royal Tattoo or two, we’re being treated to the spectacle of a resurgent Scottish Nationalist Party. If the SNP gains a majority at Holyrood in the May elections, they will press for a referendum on the Union and if a majority of Scots vote for independence, then – according to the Scottish Secretary, Douglas Alexander – the Government will have no option but to honour their democratic right to secede.
It’s a prospect that appals the Labour Party – and not simply Brownite kings-in-waiting, who would see their new Prime Minister’s legitimacy cut from under him. Others on the Left recoil from an independent England, for it would very likely turn a darker shade of blue. Of course, the majority of English Right-wingers are also opposed to Scottish independence. With the Scots gone – and presumably, like Ireland, likely to embrace the euro – what future for our own isolationism?
But I say: bring it on. No considerations of short-term ideological advantage should prevent a revision of the current antidemocratic state of affairs. The West Lothian question is not trivial. It isn’t that Gordon Brown, John Reid and Douglas Alexander are Scots that troubles me when they formulate legislation that applies exclusively to England it’s that they haven’t been elected by voters in these constituencies. If we wish to live in a proper democracy, a fair electoral system must have primacy. As I see it, Scottish independence is of a piece with proportional representation, a written constitution, a non-hereditary head of state and an elected second chamber.
To those in the north who bleat about regional English assemblies I say: forget it. If there’s any case for a federalised British Isles, it’s within the context of a federal Europe. Far from Scottish independence increasing what ill feeling there is between our two peoples, my suspicion is that it will dissolve it. Who knows, once the Scots stop feeling colonised, they may even feel better about us.