Sunday, 21 September 2014

United we stagger

This past week has seen one topic dominate the news and the coffee rooms throughout the UK, and most especially in the northernmost area of the region. And just for a change I'm not talking about football.

The debate has raged - and that's not to strong a word - about the Scottish Independence vote. Or in other words about how many countries will continue to comprise the United Kingdom.

It's temptation is to tell you I wrote this on Thursday morning and that my prediction is that the 'No' vote will triumph by somewhere around 400,000 but I have a feeling that an action like that would not be believed by even my most gullible followers. (By the way, the most gullible award goes to the person - you know who you are - who actually went and checked the new version of the Oxford English Dictionary to see if they really had missed out the word 'gullible' from the definitions...)

The whole topic of Scottish Independence is no joke of course – although a comment about a 'Yes' vote meaning that the average life expectancy of a smaller UK would increase might have been thought to fall into that category. And I'm sure I heard someone comment that the average IQ would rise as well - not nice, but vaguely amusing from an English point of view. Scotland has provided the UK with many great things (beyond deep-fried Mars bars - and not just deep-fried Curly Wurlys) and there have been any number og great Scots.

Writers like the late, lamented Iain Banks, with or without his M, and Chris Brookmyre spring to mind as among my personal favourites, although I do exclude a certain R. Burns from that list. There have been - and continue to be - great sporting personalities such as Andy Murray and Jackie Stewart (no matter that 'personality' is rather stretching the term). On the invention front there's whisky, road tyres, television and tarmac.

These days, though, the best whisky is Japanese, we can carry a thousand books by our favourite Scottish authors on our (very American) Kindles, watch a TV that might have been invented as a concept by a Scot but has spiraled through the American, European and now Far-Eastern cycles until the monstrously flat screens of today abound (we have three TVs in our house) – and even then the PC is talking over as a control device for images.

There are some things that we continue to credit the Scots with inventing but things like the haggis have been more recently claimed as English in origin. As an Englishman I'm really not sure whether we actually want that sort of accolade, but what else are we to do with those bits that normally reside a long way inside sheep?

Even the 'modern' kilt has been credited to a Quaker from Lancashire - and although us Londoners might say that's still very Northern, I have the strongest impression that calling a Lancastrian a 'near-Scot' might result in some highly Glaswegian reactions.

You might notice that I haven't mentioned bagpipes - to be fair, they might well be another non-Scottish invention that is always linked with the Scots but sound-wise... ouch.

Despite the danger of alienating 45% of my UK audience I must admit that I was very much in favour of the Scots remaining part of the whole. The United Kingdom without Scotland is akin to Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson - not nearly as successful and colourful. I even spent the last few weeks avoiding all mention of Gordon Brown in case that swayed English opinion towards the 'you can keep them all behind Hadrian's Wall' camp. Ditto Billy Connolly. And would Andy Murray's triumph at Wimbledon last year still count as a British victory?

Back in the  early nineties I lived in Scotland for the best part of a year and it was for the most part great fun. My then girlfriend and I worked in the Columba Hotel in Oban and believe me, an Englishman working a busy hotel bar on the West Coast of Scotland certainly allows said Englishman plenty of interaction with both true Scots and alcohol. Far from damning me as a foreigner I was made welcome (as long as the beer-pumps and the optics kept pouring) and although it was raucous at times, there was no violence or rancour directed towards me. I even gained some respect since, as an Englishman, I could convince the occasional American tourist that the haggis was a real animal and could be spotted among the steeper hills.

That's a true story, by the way. The tourists might have thought that a Scot would concoct a haggis-based tale but a fellow 'foreigner' like me surely wouldn't... I know that at least two couples hiked off in search of the 'small woolly creatures with one pair of legs shorter than the other pair so they can go round and round the steep hills without falling over'. I know I shouldn't be proud of that but...

Like a great many members of the English population there's some Scottish blood lurking about in my genes (my maternal grandmother's surname was originally Kilby, derived not that long before her generation from the Scottish region of Kilbride). Even though I thoroughly believe that the Rose is a much better national symbol than the Thistle I still like to think of myself as part of a multi-national nation that continues to include the Scots. They add colour, invention and art to the party, not to mention the white-on-blue Saltire that constitutes such an important part of the Union flag.

I think it's a great idea to allow a proud nation like the Scots to determine their own future through debate an vote - if only a few more countries would take note of the near-perfectly peaceful manner in which this was carried out - but independence?

I wouldn’t mind but the Union was their idea in the first place…


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