I did not intend for this article to happen. Instead, I imagined myself commissioning a friend of mine, notorious for his ideological flexibility, to write an I-don’t-give-a-shit article about Scottish Independence. After all, Scotland only comprises 8% of the UK’s population and independence, whilst it would inevitably cause seismic change up north, would not change much down south. Indeed, a recent survey showed that only 55% of English people cared about the referendum and that the majority thought that secession would leave the rest of the UK’s place on the world stage either unaltered or even magnified. Heck, after all the English hate that the most militant yes campaigners express, and their shocking overconfidence in an independent Scotland, it is unsurprising that the reaction of many of my friends to Scottish independence is one of mirth; intrigued by the idea of a constitutional shake up but at the same time ready to laugh when Scotland goes to the dogs. When one considers that independence would get rid of the great inequality in UK public spending whereby Scotland receive £1,623 per head more than the rest of the UK, a case could be made that, if anything, independence would be great for the average Oxford student.
Yet, as with much of what has been said in the campaign, this view is painfully narrow-minded. Both campaigns seem to suffer from an acute case of short-termism. The Yes campaign’s biggest asset undoubtedly is hatred and distrust of Westminster as epitomised most poignantly by the twin evils of Thatcher and Cameron. Their economic case is predicated on oil revenue that can only be predicted with any certainty in the short-term future. So the reference points for this campaign only really extend 30 years either way. For sure, the present is important and it is very easy to see the case for independence in the light of the damage Thatcher wreaked upon Scotland. Never again would be seemingly a good enough motive for any Aye voter.
Even the No campaign have been focusing quite rightly on the technicalities of what a split would actually entail for Scotland in the next 10 to 20 years. Yet, there is so much more to it than that. The Union has not existed for only 30, or 60, or 150 years, but for more than 300. Its importance transcends generational problems, the problems that both campaigns seem to be focusing on. Nothing annoys me more than when Alex Salmond pops his head up and says that this is a ‘Once in a generation’ choice. It is not and to say so mitigates its importance. Constitutionally at least, its not even a ‘once in a lifetime’ choice but a ‘once in half-a-millennium’ one. So, the very notion that the outcome of the referendum could turn on a hatred of David Cameron is a rather grating one.
I am not saying, however, that the two campaigns are wrong to take such a short-termist approach. Nothing motivates the voter more than the immediate future. I am rather saying that despite the temptation to view the referendum as a far off distraction, when looked at through a longer-term lens it becomes very important indeed. There has always been a curious tension between our national identities (English, Scottish et cetera) and the supranational Britishness, one that this campaign has brought to the fore. Yet, after 300 years of Union, the interconnectedness of the Scottish, English and Welsh is undeniable. I am but one of many whose roots are as Scottish as English, having been born in Edinburgh and in possession of Scottish ancestry.
Indeed, whilst Scotland itself has five million residents, 800,000 further Scots live in the rest of the UK, disenfranchised in the upcoming referendum. Politically, the last Labour government counted a Scottish Prime Minister, Chancellor and Defence Secretary within its ranks. It is undeniable, to use clichéd terminology, that Scotland is an inextricable part of the family. We may formally be separate peoples but practically we are anything but. Thus, that is my first reason why the English should care: Scotland going independent would be more akin to our family being broken up than the ejection of a tenant.
A second, and closely related, reason is the extent to which we can achieve more together than apart. Being in the United Kingdom has undoubtedly given Scotland an advantage, not least free trade with the rest of Britain – its main trading partner – one of the primary reasons behind the establishment of the Union in the first place. The UK has given Scotland a platform to do things that it could never have accomplished otherwise, from a pioneering role the Industrial Revolution to extending its influence to all corners of the globe. Yet Scotland has also itself been integral to the great success that we, the United Kingdom, have achieved in the past few centuries. Scots stood shoulder to shoulder with Englishmen in both world wars. The State that we have forged today, as much Scottish as English, is the envy of the world, with a national health service, free for all. Alexander Fleming, a Scot, discovered penicillin in an English laboratory. To use an example closer to home, without the 14 Scottish medallists at London 2012, Team GB would have plummeted down the rankings. Thus, a Yes vote on Thursday would put an end to one of the most successful partnerships of all time.
Admittedly, this all seems slightly romanticised and emotional. After all, isn’t it the future that counts? Well, an independent Scotland would be damaging for that too. Not just for Scotland itself but for England as well. It is predicted that GDP growth for the rest of the UK would dramatically slow as a result of independence whilst the UK would lose 32% of its land mass. A lot of time and money would have to be expended on the transition, thereby forcing the English to neglect other pressing issues such as the rise of Islamic State. Trident alone would cost up to £3.5 billion to relocate. But it is far more than money or time which England would lose due to a Yes vote. It would also lose considerable prestige and power on the world stage. Its prominent place in Europe would be diminished whilst its permanent seat on the UN Security Council would be threatened. It is of no surprise therefore, that foreign leaders across the globe, from China to Australia to the USA, are worried enough about the damaging consequences of a Yes vote to interfere and state publicly their support for the Union.
Thus, in the present, past and future, this referendum will have a dramatic impact on the rest of the UK as well as Scotland: a family member lost, a promising future dampened. For centuries, we have forged our identity with the notion of a United Kingdom at its core. If, therefore, we are no longer united, our very identity is threatened. It is for this reason, above all others, that every part of the UK should care about this referendum.