They say that a lot can change in a year. When the notion of a Scottish independence referendum was suggested and passed in November last year, there was barely so much as a murmur of consternation or indeed interest from the English public. Our northern neighbours have kept a relatively low profile in comparison with those to the west and across the sea in Ireland, and the 5 million or so who live in Scotland form a nation that is accepted yet rarely recognised or considered. This is not to the discredit of Scotland, a nation not embroiled in a bitter history of sectarian violence and dispute. Rather it is a reflection of a Britain dictated and structured by English self-absorption: so much for a United Kingdom. But here we are, less than 48 hours away from the first independence referendum in Scotland's history, and it seems like everyone from Northumberland to Newquay has something to say about the future of Scotland.
The Yes-No paradigm that has come to represent our divided attitudes to this geographical division has spawned a myriad of views and opinions on the reasons why Scotland will either prosper or fail in its bid for self-determination. The only certainty in a vote for YES being announced on Friday morning is that Scotland will have taken a leap of faith of its own admission, unassisted by this England-centric United Kingdom; nothing is certain in this eventuality. For every claim of Scotland's fragility cast loose from the warm embrace of the UK, there is a determined rebuttal advocating Scotland's independent strength, and vice versa. Economic worries are at the heart of the issue and make a good case in point: Whilst the NO party argues that an integrated UK economy is the only hope for a sustained Scottish economy, analysis from the Financial Times supports the YES campaign in showing an independent Scotland to be a top 20 country by GDP, with or without recently discovered oil reserves in the North Sea. The debate rages on with no clear winner, and the closely matched polling prior to the referendum reflects the seeming strength of both arguments.
Leaving nations outside of our borders to their own devices is not something that we English have been very good at over the last thousand years or so. A nation shaped by centuries of marauding Vikings, Romans and Saxons became a product of its own environment, conquering and marginalising so many cultures, histories and religions of the world, a practice that can still be seen in the Middle East today. Scotland knows this only too well, with several wars fought to secure their independence from England in times past. Whatever your views may be on British nationalism and our extensive imperial history, there is little doubt that Scottish independence hurts England's national pride. English people speak from a position of relative privilege, in the sense that we have never experienced a deferred political voice. We are a nation that has refused to reassess our position in the wider global political landscape, a very small one with a disproportionate sense of entitlement.
So should it really come as a surprise that there is such defined support for unification in England? Of course there are more pertinent political motivations that guide Ed Miliband and Cameron towards the NO campaign, for the former fears the loss of a key percentage of the labour electorate, whilst the latter looks to maintain his position as Prime Minister until the next elections. Neither of which provide reasonable grounds for preventing a nation's search for genuine political autonomy. The clowning irony of Farage's claims of 'excessive nationalism' in the YES campaign runs twofold, for who are we English, especially those who sit in parliament and preside over British foreign policy, to cast judgement over those other nations that might utilise national pride to further their own ends? The same hint of irony hovers over the words of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy this week, whose derision of Scottish independence draws a sharp parallel with the on-going struggle of Catalonian separatism.
Ultimately however, this referendum is about the Scottish people, a facet of the discussion that has been criminally overlooked by the British press and government. Even if NO prevails on Friday morning, we will be faced with the reality that a large proportion of the Scottish electorate are unhappy with a British geographically displaced parliament which fails to address their needs as a member of the United Kingdom. Why does it need to come this far for our government to show genuine concern and prioritisation for Scottish needs? That being said, it has been genuinely encouraging to see people enthused and concerned about this time of potential change. There are strong arguments to be made from either side. Yet surely in taking the risk there is more to be gained for the Scottish people in realising their own capabilities as an independent nation? As Miliband's Labour Party know, Scotland maintains a historic and proud social conscience that would be realised, free to form its own unique political identity for its own people. This is where true democracy lies.
As far as the English people are concerned, a Scottish split ought to mobilise a much-needed look closer to home, where the skewed political and economic landscape of a London-centric England shows a growing need to address our own socio-economic problems. Perhaps the collected counties of Northern England ought to demand a similar referendum; try telling the average northerner that their voice is heard down in Westminster.