Despite my first and last name I don't have Scottish roots. Roderick, it turns out, is a Welsh name too. So, like everybody else commenting on Scottish independence you may be expecting me to immediately declare that I have no dog in the fight. But it turns out that in a democracy people get to have opinions about things even if they don't have personal experience of them. As such, people who do not see themselves as drug addicts set drug policy, and those too old to be sent to war decide when to send the sons and daughters of others.
Therefore, I will not preface the following in slippery terms of Only Scots Should Decide for Scotland. Of course, in a democracy, some will disagree with me (that is the point), but as an Englishman I think that Scotland should go.
I understand the reasons why English politicians of all stripes - even after the ratcheting-up of the pro- and anti-campaigns since the start of the year - cling to the mantra that Scots alone must make the decision to be independent; but I can't help but feel that this is a bit of a cop-out. If British sovereign integrity trumps Scottish self-determination then a guerrilla campaign of snide briefings, 'off-the-cuff' professional scepticism, and a general tone of disappointed wistfulness doesn't really reflect the dignity of a debate that everybody seems to agree is the Most Important for Three Hundred Years.
The sight of a Prime Minister and Chancellor from the party of the Union only engaged enough with an issue to be able to make sarky briefings to the media, merely reinforces the impression that for many Conservatives losing Scotland is a small price to pay to permanently shrink the number of non-Tories in Parliament. After spending five years blaming Alistair Darling for the financial collapse, Cameron and Osborne now use him as the front-man for a campaign for the Union so that Tory governments can continue to rule Scotland. Yet their party struggles to understand why it is perceived as arrogant in a country that has only returned two Tories to Westminster in fifteen years.
I spent time in my early career meeting interesting people who had come up in the anti-colonial and Pan-African movements, and so I see why self-determination is not just a matter of economic or social policy but a psychological calculation. I also get why self-determination might seem to be an indulgence if you never really lacked it in the first place.
What is the historical narrative of the last half-century? The Cold War, certainly. Brutal dictatorships, most definitely. Massive strides in technology and wealth creation, undoubtedly. But it is also the story of liberation: more than a hundred nations freed or created and the institutionalisation of the principle of self-determination based on shared history, culture and experience. I wouldn't, as an Englishman, pretend to understand what the Scottish experience is any more than I know about the Peruvian or Malaysian, but it does not take a huge leap in cultural imagination to understand that there probably is one.
Ireland describes itself as Britain's first colony (and the presence of British troops in the North has led to some calling it the last too), but Scotland has an even older claim since Edward I invaded in 1296. Thereafter the histories, and dependences, of the states have become closer intertwined. But as Israel-Palestine, the Balkans and Central Asia prove, there is no statute of limitations on grievance.
The bonds between Britain, The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand demonstrate the cultural affinity that exists among what Churchill called The English-Speaking Peoples. Despite the immediate vagueness, it is probably the closest way to sum up the cultural relations between a superpower and its northern cousin in the Americas, a post-industrial European Island, a polyglottal Pacific archipelago, and an emerging Asian power. Relationships that even for their diversity seem to be politically and culturally more than the sum of their parts. I am very confident that such a relationship would exist between an independent Scotland and Britain. It's not as if we would wake up one day and find we shared a northern border with Portugal or Poland.
Scotland becoming independent could be the shot in the arm that Britain needs. For one thing, I imagine that a successful independent Scotland could be enough to convince Wales and Northern Ireland to leave too, especially if Scotland re-enters the EU. Despite the sabre-rattling from London and Brussels, it hardly seems credible that the EU would permanently exclude a former part of the Union just as a warning to secessionist Basques and Corsicans. Especially a part that is still geographically connected to a country Brussels is desperate not to secede from the EU itself.
George Osborne thinks he has played the trump card in the referendum debate by announcing that Scotland would have to join the Euro and ditch the pound, gambling that Scots hate Europe more than they hate England. But being in or outside of the Euro is a multi-generational decision, and this is a message that the independence debate only reinforces by focusing on long-term aspirations. The referendum question could even have the adverse effect of making the English psychologically more fond of unionism (they could hardly become more anti-EU.)
Besides, Osborne may have miscalculated in his typically lazy way - the Scottish tend to have a more favourable of the EU than the rest of the UK does anyway. The experience of the last couple of years is that currency shocks can happen to anyone (Britain avoided its own by keeping interest rates so low, paying for stability today out of pensions tomorrow) and in an ever more integrating world, the long-term money has to be on being inside the club, not out. An extended public conversation on long-term national interest may provide a more nuanced reflection on how people feel about both Unions than a Daily Mail vox-pop on whatever banana-straightening outrage is being misrepresented this week.
More importantly, Scottish independence could provide what remains of Britain with the opportunity to think about the sort of country we want to be in the future.
The imbalance of a hyper-financialised London and a decaying hinterland will be even starker without Scotland. Thinking that we can outrun the laws of physical entropy by writing clever equations forever may seem an even more absurd industrial policy than it is now. The only danger for Scotland is the presence of the hyper-charged and unreformed RBS, more of a piece with a critically endangered Celtic Tiger than a new Nordic Jewel.
No longer being so dependent on North Sea oil and gas may force a rethink on energy policy and industrial strategy more generally, and the presence of 850,000 new foreigners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may give us new perspectives on how we integrate with and welcome migrants. Besides, I can't see us deporting Andrew Marr or Kirsty Wark, even if Brussels allowed us to.
Equally, I don't buy the idea that submarines can't be moved to Plymouth or Portsmouth. But why not celebrate the forming of two new nations by being the first countries with openly declared nuclear weapons to abolish them entirely, saving £3bn a year at a time when we struggle to equip ordinary soldiers for the wars that they actually do fight?
The only thing that concerns me is the mawkish attachment to the English monarchy. Alex Salmond somehow manages to combine a sentimental imagining of glories past with fondness for the institution most associated with the oppression he wants to be free of. I hope that this is just the populist act of a politician who is canny enough not to alienate his voters, even if they insist on holding two entirely divergent and irreconcilable positions at once. It is a mark of how irrelevant the Windsors are to national life that sentiment triumphs so completely over politics when it comes to how we feel about our Head of State. We don't have a first citizen, we have a bauble.
There are plenty of Britains I would like to defend. The country that gave liberalism and pluralism to the world. The defender of human rights and internationalism. The place that proved that a proud former industrial power could balance capitalism with defence of the vulnerable. And the nation that came closest to leaving an honorable, honest and dignified post-colonial legacy, short of apologising for that legacy in the first place.
But this is not the Britain Scots are enjoined to embrace. Instead, they are fed scare stories of Loony Left profligacy, naïve Nationalist over-reach, the squandering of North Sea oil wealth, and reactionary fears of what might happen if they give up the warm comforts of the pound and the Queen. I can't see any point in defending the scared, cynical, myopic, conservative Britain that Cameron and Osborne seem so attached to. If that is the alternative, I am attracted to the idea of the new nation: part Celtic, part Nordic, wholly independent, and with the richest cultural, political and economic inheritance of any new country in history.
If Scotland becomes an independent country on March 24, 2016, it might be personally sad, but I will bet that you will see very little difference on March 25. We will travel between our nations as easily as we always did, trade will not stop. We share a language, a culture and a media that will cross borders as easily as it does between Britain and America. Auld acquaintance will not easily be forgot - I even bet the BBC will still broadcast from Edinburgh on New Year's Eve.
After centuries of conquest, Empire, a bloody parting with the Irish and the ultimately painful but redemptive processes of decolonisation and European integration, a civilised and affectionate break-up of the Union may be best for all of our nations. It would bring our island story full-circle.Suggest a correction