Confronting the implications of a potential yes vote on Thursday is not something I feel prepared for. I sit here, in my flat in London, many hundreds of miles from Scotland, feeling the distinct sense that the world might possibly change this week, and that had I been paying real attention I would have known that and been more ready to speak up and make my case.
But, much like the rest of England, I wasn’t really paying attention. I knew the referendum was coming up — my mum who lives in Manchester has been talking about it for months. But here, in London, it hardly registered as news, that is until the yes campaign pulled ahead last week, and the Evening Standard finally started covering the political posturing north of the Borders, and all of a sudden we began expressing surprise at the prospect that we might well wake up this Friday and no longer live in the United Kingdom.
I’m not prepared for that eventuality. More than that, I feel wholly disempowered in influencing whether or not it comes to pass. Don’t I get a choice about which country I live in too? Don’t I get a say whether I call myself British or English?
Furthermore, should Scotland leave, I’m dismayed at what I’m left with. A country (what country exactly?) that has so poorly been able to articulate what it means to live in a United Kingdom, that the thrust of the campaign in Scotland is based on fear, scarcity and withholding. Not – ‘this is what you are saying yes to if you stay’, but ‘this is what we’ll take away from you if you leave’.
No more currency. No more BBC. No more jobs in financial institutions who will all flee over the border. No more free movement of people. No more Team GB.
Yes, they say. Take it all, they say. But while you’re at it, take the Westminster politics. Take being ruled by Etonians who have no idea what it means to grow up sharing a bedroom with their brothers or to have to save up pocket money to buy a cassette tape or to need a Saturday job. Take the media who confuse England and Britain in every bulletin. Take the London-centric politics and the austerity cuts and the consignment of the disabled and elderly to the scrap heap. Take it all, they say. We’re better off without you. We can do better.
It’s a debate I want a piece of — I want to have a hand in defining the nation I belong to. It’s a debate I want to have. It’s a debate that’s long overdue and largely ignored; here in London where property prices are raging and recruitment agents are calling. I want to shout about how that reality ends the second you get outside of the M25. I’m furious I don’t get a piece of this nation-defining debate, the affects which country I wake up in on Friday. I’m embarrassed that I sleepwalked through the point when there might have been the opportunity to do so.
And if I did? I would shout about how proud I am that my Welsh father and half English, half Scottish mother have taught me to see the world without borders. Have encouraged me to choose my own nationality. So my brother calls himself Welsh and I call myself British, if I have to call myself anything at all. How we all support Wales in the rugby and England in the football, except when they’re playing Scotland, when my mum slips sides with the agility of someone who knows deeply that these national allegiances don’t mean anything substantial — they’re all just tools we play with and laugh at and that bad people sometimes abuse, stirring up passions and fostering kinship in good times and bad, for better and for worse.
That’s my United Kingdom. A place where there is still an unspoken, very British, understated sense of a truly revolutionary idea — that national identities and ethnic identities and racial identities are all fine and good, but really and truly they’re not what really matters. They aren’t what counts. You can wave your football scarves and sing your anthems, but at the end of the day we can sleep in peace knowing they shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
I hope Scotland sees that. I hope Scotland enjoys the nationalistic passions and posturing, but sees it for what it is — real, but insubstantial. I hope Scotland can still spy the potential for a United Kingdom which says ‘yes, we might be of different nationalities, but that doesn’t mean we’re not better off standing under the same umbrella’. Not so much that we’re ‘better together’, but that we’re better for trying to be.
I hope they agree that that’s an idea it’s worth us all saying yes to – whether we vote on Thursday or not.