The recent televised debate on the Scottish independence referendum reminded me of the actual date of the vote: 18 September. Soon. With less than one month to go, I feel like the date has crept up on me, despite bubbling in the national consciousness for more than a year. As a good Brit I've been following the ongoing arguments, but still I feel very detached from the whole process.
Although I am English, when I say I feel British, I really don't mean just English. Much of my family are from Scotland, and like all good emigrates, they held onto many national curiosities that I'm sure lots of Scots don't observe. Growing up my New Year's Eve family traditions extended beyond Aud Lang Syne - it was followed by theSong of the Clyde. I don't think that was especially to do with NYE, we just really liked Song of the Clyde.
This is just one of many tiny ways I feel rooted to Scotland. I grew up washing my puddies (hands) before dinner, slipping into my tippy canoes (slippers - yes, really - at least my Great-Grandma insists). In my lazy teen years I was labelled a fouter. This isn't just a novel connection to another country - this is very much part of my national identity, just as when I think of Wales I think of my brother's impressive aptitude for Welsh and watching the sunset from Mumbles pier, down the road from my Dad's home in Swansea. It is all very much part of my country, as a whole. The idea of losing that saddens me more than I can really explain. It's not really about the risk of an unstable currency union, or my doubts about the Scottish Secret Service. It's a visceral feeling, borne out of my experience growing up British.
If you are Scottish, I don't know if that sort of feeling is enough to make you vote for the union, but it would seem desperately sad if such a long-held tie was broken in the end by a few floating voters saying 'ah sod it, let's give it a go.'
Image by The Laird of Oldham on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence
Meanwhile elsewhere in the UK, the debate feels all too far away to make a difference. I feel powerless to influence the survival of the country I grew up in, and distanced from the decision made by others. From London the most het-up moment of the campaign seems to have been whether or not David Cameron should resign in the event of a Yes vote. As Hugo Rifkin concluded in The Spectator at the time: Who cares!? The United Kingdom will have just broken up. Millions of people have chosen to leave - the most significant single change to the country since Irish independence. Honestly, who cares - the rest of the parliament will be the credits rolling on the modern United Kingdom. Perhaps more interesting would be the implications for the next parliament, partly made up of Scottish MPs, who will have to leave partway through the parliament on a yet-to-be-determined transitional date.
That's because the transition won't be instant - the years of deciding the details of a split will be a grim and drawn-out sigh. English public opinion is already becoming adversarial on the subject of negotiation with Scotland, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Redesigning the cover of our passports will be like dividing up the CD collection, and that Dido CD of sovereignty will leave us teary. The division of national assets will take years, and I fully expect we will still be arguing over odd items decades down the line. Does Scotland get a chunk of the British Museum archives? It's all up for grabs.
Possibly amidst all of that detailed argument there will be a brighter future for the remaining UK. A BBC documentary recently considered the possibility, and came up with some good points - basically we'd all get to stop worrying about Scotland, and regional England, Wales and NI would get some more room for attention. Citizens of the former Czechoslovakia seem to think the Velvet Divorce was a good idea. That's what I am clinging to at least, as long as it doesn't cause a growing movement for an independent Yorkshire. That and I'll be calling up my Scottish relatives and giving them a nudge towards the polling booth. I already know they're not fans of Alex Salmond, but it's nice to feel like you can do something.