If you follow me on social media (especially Twitter), you’re probably aware of my answer to this question already. But I think it’s about time I explained why.
I was born and raised in England. I didn’t move to Scotland until I was 24. I grew up just outside Hull, in what was first called “Humberside” — an administrative decision imposed on the people of East Yorkshire by a London government trying to make things easier for themselves. My dad was a draughtsman at the local shipyard. My mum worked part time in a supermarket.
When I was a teenager, it never really felt like home. I went to university in Stafford after fucking up my A-levels with too much escapism. That didn’t really feel like home either. My first summer, I went to visit a friend up in Edinburgh. That was the first place I’d stayed that felt like home.
I may only have moved here nine years ago, but I do not want to leave. When I think about living somewhere else, it’s got a tacit “in Scotland” pegged on to the end of it. The thought of not just going to England to see family but of staying there, with a house and a job, is something I have nightmares about. I’ve never considered myself English. Sometimes, I’d say I was from Yorkshire. Sometimes, I’d say I was British. But neither label reflects who I am.
I live in Scotland. That’s who I am.
I didn’t really get into politics when I was at home. The few times we talked about it, my parents told me they voted Lib Dem, but never told me why. I’ve got an idea, though — Labour was for people living in council houses in Hull, people who frittered their money away smoking and gambling, and who wanted handouts. My parents lived in Hessle. It’s not like you could tell the difference without the signs pointing out the boundary, but it’s important psychologically. They’re not from Hull. Hull’s lower class. Despite that, they wouldn’t vote Tory. Not when the Conservatives robbed the rest of the UK to make the London buble richer. Not when they attacked striking miners. The Tories weren’t our kind of people either.
Despite that, my dad used to read the Today — an upscale Murdoch rag pitted against the Express and the Daily Mail, each of which he moved on to reading. He lost his job when the shipyard closed, and was told that because he had savings, he wouldn’t get any help with the mortgage. The people he’d worked with who had gambled and smoked their money away got more, to help with their rent or mortgage. In his eyes, he was being punished for being responsible. That this was exactly the sort of rainy day his savings were for never crossed his mind.
When I went to university, the system had changed — again, in a way that my dad saw as victimising him. Previous generations of students got a grant that they didn’t have to pay back to help with living costs. I didn’t. Instead, I’m saddled with a loan that I’ll probably never repay. Previous generations got university education for free. My dad had to pay £1,000 a year. This idea, springing from the Labour party — supposedly the champions of the poor and downtrodden — felt like an insult. My dad had paid for twenty years of students to have a free education and money for rent and beer, but he had to pay all over again for me.
I’m the only member of my family to get a degree. A lot of that is because of how much it costs.
I see a lot of people in England talk about Scottish independence as though they should have a say. Even the supposedly-leftist side of the press regurgitate the words of a right-wing government and right-wing think tanks. The London-centric champagne socialism of the Guardian and the New Statesman don’t give a shit what’s right for Scotland. They want what’s right for Britain. And what’s right for Britain usually means "what’s right for England".
Down in England, the arguments against all stem from the same thing: the English feel that Britain is their country, and that Scotland becoming independent is somehow a reflection on them personally. It’s not. It’s Scotland deciding that the government that England elects has not got Scotland’s best interests at heart.
Many English people don’t understand that. Even people I otherwise respect say “I don’t want to influence you one way or the other but I’m really upset at the thought of losing part of my country.” Which is silly. If you say that, you are trying to influence things. If we vote “no”, you won’t be upset. It’s a poor reason, but it’s still part of a broader pressure.
And the problem is, “Britain” isn’t your country. It’s a shorthand for “England” with a few regions. People talk about “The North” in a British context, but they only go as far as Yorkshire and Manchester. If you’re particularly lucky they might mention Newcastle. “The North”, in the minds of “British” commentators, is the North of England.
If you set off in a helicopter from the northernmost point of the UK, and flew to the Southernmost point, but you had to refuel half way, where would you be landing? Lockerbie. Halfway down the UK, you’re still in Scotland. Yet Scottish tax money is spent on a project that “will improve Britain by linking London and The North” — by which they mean Manchester. It might improve England, but not Britain.
I lived in Germany for a year and a half as part of my degree. When my parents came to visit, I’d show them around. We went into an Irish bar — they’re everywhere, and I was so hungover I coudn’t remember much German. It wasn’t your typical Irish bar; the owner and half the bar staff had move to Germany from Cork, in Ireland.
Above the bar, the owner had strung all manner of flags of nations. The flags of all the European nations, North and South America, flags of Ireland and Northern Ireland and Scotland and Wales. But not the English flag.
When we left, my mother was properly raging. That they’d celebrated all the other bits of the UK but not England was a grave insult to her. She didn’t care that maybe the Irish didn’t like the English too much. She didn’t think that Ireland was properly foreign. Like Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it was all British to her. Really, deep-down beneath all the politics, it was all England really. Those other bits have their own flags and call themselves countries, but they’re England with a few changes, not their own thing.
I don’t like that attitude.
Is Scotland a country? Yes. We have our own legal system. We have our own banknotes, backed by sterling. We have an agreed border with England. We have our own territorial waters, our own sense of identity distinct from that of England.
Everyone arguing against the idea of Scottish independence paints the current system as each country being part of the greater whole that is Britain. They’re claiming that Scotland isn’t a real country. We’re just England with funny accents, bagpipes, and haggis. Our whisky exports and oil reserves make vast amounts of money for Britain.
In their eyes, we’re not a country. We’re just another region that makes money for London to spend on itself.
My parents think Scottish independence is somewhere between a joke and an insult. They don’t see a difference between wanting independence for Scotland and independence for Yorkshire.
Personally, I’m all for Yorkshire independence. London has done it no favours, and the regional character is such that it makes sense to me. But it’s not going to happen. The last time Yorkshire was independent of England was as part of the Kingdom of Wessex in the 10th Century.
Scotland is a country. It’s not a region, it’s not a group of counties. It’s a whole country. It has some powers for itself, but on important matters like whether sick and disabled people get enough money to live, or how our tax money is spent, or whether we want nuclear weapons, or whether we want any part in an illegal war, or whether we want to privatise the health service, we have no say. London makes those decisions for us.
The UK government has been determined by England alone since 1974. In the past 30 years, the people of a country have not had a say in who governs them.
I think this is wrong.
Lots of people say that one argument or another argument should determine the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. People cite oil, childcare, renewable energy, the NHS, the pound, EU membership, bankers’ bonuses, the bedroom tax, pensions, the minimum wage, and many more things as reasons to vote one way or another.
But ultimately, these issues are points of procedure. In an independent Scotland, we can decide those things for ourselves. What the people of Scotland are voting on this September is a single question.
Should Scotland be an independent country?