I am a Unionist at heart. I see the union of Scotland with England and Wales as a marriage. A happy marriage beats all the alternatives. It is an institution that has stood the test of time.
But many marriages fail. Sometimes one of the partners finds that their role is unfulfilling. They believe that they would be happier elsewhere. There comes a time when they can no longer hide their feelings. That is when the nagging starts. At that stage, the continual bleating of the discontented partner becomes an irritant for their mate. Squabbles become quarrels. Each says the other is doing them down. The situation starts to become intolerable. They toy with the idea of divorce.
It looks to me as if the marriage of England and Scotland has reached that stage. In a recent survey, the polling firm Survation put the following question to a random selection of English voters, “Should Scotland quit the UK?” In answer to that, 40% of those English people said, “No.” But then 29% said, “Yes,” and 31% said, “Don’t Know.” Which seems to mean that 60% of English voters either want Scotland to quit the UK or do not care one way or the other. Dodgy!
It was not always like that. I remember when the English were proud of their partnership with Scotland. So, why has English enthusiasm for the Union cooled in recent years?
Well, in a marriage, the gripes of the discontented partner eventually begin to grate on their spouse. And, over the last 25 years, there has been a constant clamouring by the Scots for evermore independence. Which, put another way, is for more separation from England. At the same time, the media has continually bombarded the English with a stream of Scots, bleating about the raw deal they get. Nationalists, elected to Westminster, would announce that they were off to London, “To see what they are doing with our money.” Along with this, came the accusation of the English stealing Scottish oil. Which was very confusing for the average bloke in Salford and Plymouth, who did not realise that it was Scottish oil or that he had pinched it. He resented the accusation.
In the end, after years of complaining, some of it justified, the Scots got Devolution. The blokes in Salford and Plymouth thought that was the end of the matter. But it was not. The Scots, through that same media, appeared to be forever crying out for a bigger chunk of the cake. At the same time, they wanted the English to have less say in how they devoured the cake. From the English point of view, the Scots were a crowd of malcontents. You could never satisfy them.
Now the Scots have put their cards back on the table. They are clamoring for a divorce. The cheekier ones are even muttering about Devo Max – which, on the face of it, is an independent state funded by England. The response to that might be as amusing as the suggestion.
South of the border, a YouGov poll found that people think the Scots are already getting a better deal than the English are. They think it has already gone far enough. The English, through that same media, see spending in Scotland mushrooming at their expense. They see a Westminster government overloaded with Scots. They resent the West Lothian Question and the fact that English students have to pay to attend Scottish universities when others do not. I am sure that all these points are arguable and that the Scots can make a good case. But the English will take a lot of convincing. That is the way it goes in a shaky marriage.
So what can we do about it? Well, once a marriage is in trouble the only way to save it is by a massive change of attitude by both parties. Instead of insisting that I am X and you are Y and this bit is mine and that bit is yours, the couple must ask themselves, “What can I put into this partnership to make it work? How do we move forward as a team?” If they are not willing to do that, they might as well start discussing the divorce now. What is the point of winding each other up any further?
In my view, only a transformation in the way people, on both sides of the border, view the UK, will save it. To achieve that, the message would have to be broadcast relentlessly about the strengths of the Union and what, as a United Kingdom, we have done for the world during the last three centuries. For starters, we delivered freedom by being a major force in the defeat of Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Adolf Hitler. We were the powerhouse that gave the world the Industrial Revolution. Through our explorers and adventurers, we developed the biggest trading empire the globe has ever known. In turn, that empire gave the world a language that has broken down international barriers. And to this day, the legacy of that empire is the biggest movement and mixing of people in history. The UK taught the world how to establish representative government. It gave them banking systems. It gave them team games and taught them team spirit. British do-gooders, together with the Royal Navy, were instrumental in defeating the Atlantic slave trade. The British Empire broadcast the idea of liberty and equality to the point where its own subjects, across the world, demanded freedom. But they did not disown it. They did not go away. They became The Commonwealth.
That idea of liberty and equality should strengthen a partnership not break it up. We need a sea change in approach. Unfortunately, the wind and tide are wrong.
Charlie Gregory is a published author and poet. His latest publication ‘The Under Manager’ can be bought online through Amazon. Alternatively, read some of his poetry on his blog. Charlie is an Englishman who, prior to devolution, lived in Wick, Caithness, for 16 years. He has a Scottish wife and three Scots-born children. He is a non-political floating voter, but does have opinions.