I don’t get to vote tomorrow, but my Scottish credentials are as good as any man’s. I was born and have lived in or around Glasgow for 80% of my life. (A vote tomorrow is denied me only because for the most recent 20%, I’ve been living and working in the US.) I have built sandcastles at Saltcoats, moaned about the rain while on a caravan holiday in Millport, and stopped many times for a break at the Green Welly near Crianlarich as I drove “up north”.
I know the right way to say “Milngavie” ("mul-guy"), and “Sauchiehall Street” ("sucky-hall street"), and know that of Daphne and Maggie Broon, it’s Maggie you’d want to winch. I went to school in working class Johnstone, and then onto yooni, at Glasgow and then “Embra”. I’ve climbed the In Pin on Skye, and Masquerade at Auchenstarry Quarry, where the most dangerous part of the latter was if you fell off into the pond and cut yourself on a submerged trolley dumped there by a local team of urchins from Croy you might catch hepatitis.
And even today I can confuse my local Texan friends by pronouncing “magnet” with its appropriate three syllables (“mah-gih-nit” -- what else?), or just downright scare them by referring to the thing I use to edge my lawn as a (allegedly BDSM-sounding) “petrol-driven strimmer” instead of their “gas weed whacker” (although, I’m still not convinced about the auditory connotation). And I can actually say "It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht."
But If I could vote tomorrow – and given that one of the things that characterizes the typical independent nation is that citizenship rarely depends on residence, I consider it a particularly mean-spirited and cowardly position that I and up to a million or more non-resident Scots are denied that vote – I would vote “No”, and I will be sad to see the split if it happens. I have four reasons.
We cannot know the long-term outcome
First, my experience is that the impact of independence on the most important issues at stake – economic, education, health, and so on – is effectively unknowable. There are two reasons for that. The first is all the shouting. For the vast majority of all of us, this is one big rant fest. It’s to be expected I suppose, because in-family feuds are often the most vitriolic, but the overall effect of clamour and noise is nevertheless obvious. The point is not that either Argument A from the “Yes” campaign or Counterargument B from their “No” opponents is valid or invalid. The point is, we can’t tell. In philosophical terms, this is a problem of epistemology and not ontology, but it’s a profound problem all the same.
But the second reason for the unknowability of the outcome is that, shouting or no, the overall behaviours of country-sized collectives, or for that matter collectives of any size greater than, say, a family or football team, or maybe a village, are just downright impossible to predict with any accuracy anyway. Sure, we know that in general liberal democracies do much better than whackjob-run dictatorships, but other than that kind of difference, all we can say with much certainty is that democracies are the worst way to govern a country, except for all the other options.
We can know the short-term outcome
However, given the practical intractability of the problem of predicting the outcome, there is one thing we can say for sure and that is, there will absolutely be a cost. De-mergers cost time, money, and effort that could be spent on other things. Now clearly the pro-independence argument is that whatever that cost, it will be outweighed by the benefits. And in theory that could be true, but I’ve already argued that the vast majority of the people cannot know that. What they can know is that whatever the longer-term outcome is, there will be an initial short-term hit.
The emotional argument run both ways
But of course, if we Scots are honest with ourselves, we like everyone else, justify with reason what we buy primarily with emotion. Every sales person knows that, and it disnae make us bad people. It’s just how humans work, and it’s how it works here. Sure there are economic arguments to be made as to why independence is the right choice, but they’re not really, deep down, why it’s attractive.
It’s attractive because of all the times on the telly when English sports winners got called English, but Scottish winners got called British. It’s attractive because the Romans beat up all of England, but got so fed up with us and our beloved dreich weather, they gave up and built a wall to protect themselves. It’s attractive because in Scotland we never refuse to accept money with the Queen’s head on it, but even today you might get a funny look in England if you offer them one with a picture of Burns, Bruce, or Scott. And, yes, it’s attractive because a badly-accented Australian once painted his face with blue stripes and cried "Freedom!"
But for me, perhaps with the objectivity of distance, there is another view that denies none of the above, but sees them in a different way. A year ago, I was traveling to a business meeting in Oxford (England!), and I noticed a sign to Brize Norton and I realized what a symbol that was, being the name of a major RAF station. My thoughts then went to old war movies like The Dambusters, and 633 Squadron, and I even remembered the part of the plot of the latter where the pilots trained in Scotland to simulate bombing runs in the German-controlled Norwegian fjords.
From bombers and Barnes Wallis, my musings moved to Churchill, and then to other great figures of history; my history; the history of the people of the islands of Britain. This Brize Norton, is my Brize Norton. Those Dambusters, were my Dambusters. Churchill was every bit my Churchill as he was the Churchill of England, because we are indeed the United Kingdom. The great financiers of Scotland are the great financiers of Britain; the Scottish Enlightenment, from which shone some of the most blinding intellectual lights in the western world is no less a Scottish jewel in our crown because that crown is British. We – we Scots and English together – comprised the heart of the most formidable (it’s on purpose that I don’t use “greatest”) Empire the world has ever seen; not the English Empire nor the Scottish Empire, but the British Empire. (And let’s be honest England, you couldn’t have done it without us. I think it’s noteworthy that of all the countries with thoughts of leaving the British fold, we’re one of the few if not the only one who may do it without a punch up. Perhaps the real physical force behind the Empire was actually Scotland all along.)
We Scots and English have stood side by side for centuries, and I can't help but be proud of that strength of unity. England is a fabulous place, with an awesome, world-class history. But so is Scotland. And so, more to the point, is our United Kindgom. Together, we have been not just brilliant but truly incandescent. These days, the modern USA is in some ways an even better example of the power of unity, but equally in some ways it's merely continuing what England and Scotland (And Wales. Hi Wales! Anyone who can produce Gareth Edwards or J.P.R. Williams is good enough to be in this club of above-weight-punching giants too.) have had going on for a lot longer. (To bug my American friends, I often remind them that the UK is actually the "zeroth" state of their Union).
Choosing your slavemaster
But there is one final reason I’d vote against independence, and that’s because when all is said and done, it’s not really a very good kind of independence. It is independence of one set of rulers from another set of rulers; it has little if anything to do with the freedom of the man in the street. We’ve seen the same in Ireland, in India and Pakistan, in the Balkans, and pretty much everywhere else you want to look. These state-level fights are fights among those who get to wield the whip, not among those who feel its sting.
I would vote against independence because it will give a false sense of security while changing nothing in practice. Oh, sure, in the beginning, Scotland will believe that finally the thing that has been holding it back has been cut loose, and that the way to happiness lies open again. But that belief will be in vain. Our – or I should say “your”, because you’ve excluded me – economics will not be significantly better than they are today. Neither will be your education, nor your health, nor anything that is run by the newly independent government. Sure, such a government will feast for a few years or decades on the fact that they are repairing damages done by the old “dependent” past, but that will eventually fade and you will all realize what Orwell predicted. You will look from the British past to your independent Scottish present, and then from present back to past, but it will already be impossible to say which is which.
So yes, I would vote “No”. And in truth I’d vote “No” because in the end, happiness lies with no earthly power, even though the cruel lie to the contrary is a seductive and persistent one. I am Scottish, and always will be, no matter where I live, nor how I speak. But I am also now a Texan (of sorts – still no hat), and an American; I’m a European; I’m a lover of freedom. But I am, overall, a creature of the one divine, and I choose to focus my efforts on where moth and vermin do not destroy, and thieves of all sorts do not break in and steal.