I first moved to Scotland in 1994 and have lived here ever since, far longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. My roots are in England, but I have always thought of myself as British, rather than English, something instilled not just by my family but also by my education in various parts of England in the 60s and 70s. I gradually became aware of nationalist movements in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland during the 1970s, but at the time these seemed rather mysterious and remote, and my belief in the essential unity of the United Kingdom wasn't seriously challenged.
True, tensions were occasionally evident, but usually in the shape of football chants rather than anything suggesting any profound threat to what still seemed like a broad consensus of UK national unity. However living in areas like north-east England also made me aware that some parts of the UK clearly enjoyed more wealth and prosperity than others, and that economic well-being waxed and waned as industries came and went, often in places far from the centre of power.
When I moved to my wife's home city of Edinburgh I knew I was moving to a very distinct part of Britain, and welcomed the new experiences this offered. However it was in my eyes just a move from one part of the UK to another. Over two decades on things now feel rather different, something very much brought to a head by the 2014 referendum. In all my time in Scotland I have never experienced any overt animosity towards me personally, despite my very non-Scottish accent. However during the referendum campaign I began to feel like a stranger in my own land, and was very troubled by what can only be described as blinkered inward-looking small-minded bigotry on public display from too many of those spouting nationalist rhetoric. In the eyes of some separatists my “Englishness” even disqualified me from any entitlement to a say in the future of the part of the UK in which I had lived, worked and paid taxes for nearly half of my life. Intolerance of contrary opinions and strident assertion of the superiority of Scottish culture, social attitudes, political consciousness, intellectual life and the like were far too much in evidence and my desire to assert my support for a continuing union was tempered by my wish to avoid having my car vandalised if I displayed a ‘No Thanks’ sticker, or being abused in the street if I wore a badge. I did both anyway, but with a real sense of unease and discomfort.
Sadly statements that this was a “once in a generation” exercise seem to have been quickly forgotten by those unwilling to take no for an answer, and doubt and insecurity continue. Presumably had the result gone the other way any demands for a second referendum would have met with a less than sympathetic reception from the ‘Yes’ camp. Furthermore Westminster political turmoil, doubt and instability now further complicate the political scene, with Brexit casting a huge and deepening shadow over everything as the full implications of the UK’s departure from the EU become ever clearer. Accusations that the current UK political status quo isn't working as it should are easy to make and not without justification. However just because the diagnosis may be correct doesn't make the suggested remedy of dissolution of a union which has generally worked well for over 300 years the correct treatment.
Scotland has contributed hugely to the UK and despite the downtrodden victim status claimed by many separatists I believe the evidence strongly suggests that the union has done Scotland vastly more good than harm. Furthermore progressive devolution of power to Holyrood has given Scotland a level of control over its affairs greater than at any time in the life of the union, while Scotland’s political voice is loud and clear and cannot realistically be ignored in Westminster. In that sense Scotland has never had it so good, but it doesn't follow that complete separation would further improve Scotland’s lot; indeed the opposite is far more likely as the result would be a small isolated micro-state with no international standing and no influence on the workings of a residual UK on which it would remain heavily economically dependent. No doubt Scotland could make independence work to some extent, but the post-independence reality would be a far cry from the land flowing with milk and honey we are asked to believe in by the starry-eyed fantasists.
Having just retired from work in the NHS I inevitably have to make important decisions about my future. One I did not expect to have to make was whether there is a realistic future for me in the country I've enjoyed living in for the past 23 years.
If it ain't working, fix it, don't break it!
- Andrew Mounstephen