Whilst we were sunning ourselves in a Breton garden, the attention of the British media has been focused on the Scottish referendum. I start from the view that no nation should try to hang on to people who calmly decide they want to be in another organisation: if the Kurds don’t want to be part of Turkey or Iran, why should they be ? I also have Scottish blood – which in my case means a great-grandfather that my sister loved, but who died before I was born. However, both of my regular readers will know by now of my contempt for nationalism, and particularly the extraordinary attempt by the “Yes” camp in Scotland to blame all the nation’s ills – whether financial failure or industrial decline, foreign policy adventurism or privatization, inequality or political corruption – on “Westminster”. As if no Scottish MP ever claimed expenses, or voted for the Iraq war. As if Gordon Brown and Fred Goodwin were innocent in the financial crash. What has been almost as pathetic has been the response of the “No” campaign, who have concentrated on the economic case against independence.
Now, I think the economic case against separation is formidable. The idea of customs posts and immigration controls between Berwick and Carlisle appears ludicrous, but, er, that’s what it would mean, as the newly independent Scotland will not be allowed into the EU for at least five years. To demand independence whilst asking to be dependent on another country’s financial policies (as the Nationalists appear to do, with their desire to hold on to the £ sterling) is bizarre. To expect the English taxpayer to bankroll troubled Scottish banks is wishful thinking. Work permits for Scottish workers in London ? Silly objection, eh ? Well, explain carefully why that would not be a consequence of independence.
But the point is that any divorce is about hearts as much as heads. This is why the relentless emphasis by the No campaign on money has been so weak. Think of it like a separation between two people. As the disgruntled and disaffected wife/husband heads for the door, what effect will it have if the abandoned partner shouts “You needn’t expect any money from me” ? Not much, in my view – and quite a bit less than “the kids will be desolate” or “we can work out our problems – tell me what they are for you – please let’s talk”. Many “Yes” voters are repelled by inequalities, disgusted by attacks on public services, see no reason why we should be run by Etonians. These are not at base financial issues. I guess it is a sign of the Toryisation of modern Britain, the neo-liberal corporatism that dominates every debate, that Cameron and co cannot see that the Scottish voter may want to consider other things beside the size of their wallets.
Footnote: it’s ironic that it was Gordon Brown who realised this, and made a speech that many think was influential in swinging the voters away from separation.