Last month I met an exiled Scot who lives in England. He moved there with his job 15 years ago and since has married and made a family in the North of England. Much of his own family still stay in Scotland and he visits regularly, supporting the dark blues at Hampden whenever he can. Andy’s worked in every part of Scotland in his time, spent a couple of years working abroad, and now works between Leeds and London offices. While this was his history, it is not uncommon for the Scots diaspora which continues to grow as generations leave Scotland for work and opportunities.
He and his wife, Lynn, asked us about the referendum after we’d met and chatted for a while. Had we decided how we would vote. My significant other and I confirmed yes, and Yes. Before long, the exile shared his deep frustration at not having a vote on September 18th. I’m Scottish! I still want to have a say in the future of my country. Just because my postcode is south of the border, doesn’t stop me being Scottish!
They also pleaded that the North of England is every bit as marginalised and disregarded by London centric media and decision makers as I remember we used to feel in Scotland – pre-devolution. Perhaps Devolution has changed us culturally. The call for Independence is more mature, both a desire for self determination and a conclusion by many of us that it is the best path to improve health, social, and economic conditions in our country.
And then – “we don’t want you to leave because we’ll be left with the Tories”. Andy and Lynn are regular Labour supporters, and their base reaction was no Scottish MPS would leave the North isolated with too few MPS to counter English Tory votes in the south. They did not realise the Labour governments of both Blair and Brown were elected with majorities that would have been sustained without any Scottish seats. The real frustration of Labour voters in the north, as in Scotland, was that to achieve that, Blair and Brown believed they had to take their ‘new’ project into Thatcherite political territory, leaving the Left behind.
However, they were very ready to concede that Ed Miliband is rubbish. He may be nice, he may be kind (I have no evidence either way), but he is not a good leader for any country. When the Westminster election is done in 2015, whether we are interested bystanders or the marginalised inside, does anyone seriously conceive Miliband will be picked as PM? That’s just how it works, as UK elections have become increasingly presidential over the last 20 years.
That leaves us with a Tory government again after 2015. Perhaps in minority, perhaps with Liberals and/or UKIP. That means a referendum on Europe, Boris Johnson in government and Scotland completely off the radar – unless we vote YES.
The economic case for Scotland had not reached our friends. The narrative they heard was still stuck somewhere around the ‘subsidiary junkie’ phase, but that wasn’t surprising when they expressed their view of the economic recovery. From their perspective, the work, contracts, jobs and energy in the country were all in and around London. While Andy was based in Leeds, his projects and clients were in London, hence the routine commute. In Leeds, they saw empty office blocks and little hope.
To them, talk of driving an economic recovery with investment, of keeping women in work with free childcare and bolstering our health, education and welfare provisions from our national wealth, made as much sense as green cheese on the moon. Free prescriptions can’t be possible – it’s not even on the agenda down there!
Little wonder though. For a major regional capital like Leeds to be devoid of growth and energy is incredible. It’s as if the whole recovery is a myth. Outside of Scotland, and the South East of England, it is a myth! The UK is incredibly centralised – crippingly so. Growth, Investment, Spending, Earnings, Recovery, Economy is all around London, London, London. Unfashionable regional hubs, like Leeds, don’t get a look in. Devolution has perhaps insulated us, but with the Tories primal Austerity drive, that may not last for long.
So the picture emerges of a divided nation. That nation is England. The power is all invested in London, and that is interwoven into the DNA of the UK. It’s a centralised model that pervades the UK and that cannot be changed in another 300 years – London’s influence has only grown in modern times. London is great, but not for those attached to it.
What hasn’t left me was Andy’s passion for Scotland. He had a stake in the future of his country and wanted to have his say – not to be left out. His hopes for Scotland were as personal and important to him as mine are. His concerns every bit as valid as any other Scot. Regardless of a postcode, Andy has never left Scotland.
So when we take the fantastic opportunity to win Scotland for ourselves, I am certain we’ll remember all those Scots in rUK as we negotiate Independence. We will start our commitment to a fairer Scotland right then, with our neighbours, because we share common interests, if not always common ideals. So we’ll see some compromises – but the difference to the Union is that those decisions will be made fairly by us, for us – not as the case now inside this Union.
The dividend of goodwill from friends through the rUK, and the rest of the world, is a fabulous head start for any new country. Perhaps Andy and his family will find an opportunity to come back home and really engage in rebuilding our nation.