I sit here at my mother’s house in Edinburgh on Friday 24th March 2017 reflecting on the events of the past 2 ½ years. The few celebrations that there are do not convey the enthusiasm and the spirit with which we forged a new nation in the heady days of 2014.
So what went wrong? How is it we find ourselves in this intolerable predicament and who is to blame? What could we have done differently? What does the future hold? I write this document as a Scotsman with the observations of an Englishman.
It is difficult to write this article in a positive frame of mind but for all intents and purposes I will attempt to highlight the primary timeline and influences that have brought us to where we are today.
It is probably prudent to mention that I am half English and half Scottish and equally proud of my roots. Sadly my mother now lives in Edinburgh and my father in Newcastle, neither party having had the strength to weather the storm of separation from family and different values and identities.
I suppose I am one of the lucky ones having managed to achieve dual nationality by virtue of the fact I applied early before the changes and used my parents separate identities as the means by which to maintain my neutrality.
In the beginning it was Salmond. It was all about Salmond. What a master. What a phenomenal politician. He galvanised us into the belief that we could all expect riches beyond our wildest dreams with a Eutopian style nation of social values and virtues that would be the envy of the world. Today as he lies in hospital I wonder if he has time to reflect on the absurdity of it all.
I too was captured by the belief. I shared the dream. I am not without blame. I cast my vote as a Scotsman and I am not proud to be reflecting my decision today as an Englishman.
I will always remember the 19th September 2014. Everything started so well. I was in Edinburgh sitting in my favourite local when the news was announced. I heard shouts and car horns outside and I remember the landlord announcing fairly glumly “That'll be it then, Aaye, that'll be the start of it ”. It never registered with me at the time but here was a guy that had not even bothered voting and yet in his words there seemed to be some notion of impending doom. It didn’t make much sense.
I joined the revellers and we partied all night. The polls had been close to start with and despite unreliable highs and lows for the Yes and No campaigns it was a decisive win for Salmond. The Royal Mile was the scene of joyous crowds proudly waving the Saltire around as they shouted at the tops of their voices and sang into the early hours. It was a night to remember.
After that I remember events unravelling at a pace I had never expected. It caught us all by surprise. The Orkney and Shetland Isles just a day later tabled a motion for independence and claiming that they wished to be part of the remaining UK. Scottish public opinion was scathing. The treacherous bastards. How we hated them.
More worrying was the immediate reaction of Industry and Commerce. Initially the pound had dropped 11% in value in just two days and the FTSE 100 Index over the coming weeks was set to lose a staggering 14.3% percentage fall – the largest in its recorded history. However, this disguised the real cause of the problem with many a Scot thinking that this was to the detriment of the remaining UK and could only be of benefit to the new nation. Within days it became very apparent what was happening. True to their word three of the main banks immediately announced their intentions to re-locate across the border. At first it was a trickly. So many tried to tough it out but as we moved towards Independence day on Thursday 24th March 2016 things became a little more scary.
In just over a year we had seen property prices in Scotland plummet and lose 42% of their market value. The number of boarded up shops had increased drastically and negotiations with the UK for jobs, assets and industry were not going particularly well. With unemployment rising and multiple relocations across the border this was only the start of what was to come.
It was blatantly obvious even in the early stages that Scotland was not going to officially be able to use the pound. Neither were we automatically going to be enrolled in Europe. I had always assumed that I would be able to take out dual nationality, something that I eventually managed to achieve but right from the early stages it became apparent that Westminster was uneasy with this and they were forceful in making this point clear. A number of events caused Westminster to be less than lenient in several key areas.
It didn’t take Salmond or the Scottish people very long to understand that whereas prior to the referendum we were dictating to the rest of the UK the terms and benefits of us remaining part of the union. Post referendum this was an entirely different story. The boot was now clearly on the other foot and the English positively revelled in it.
Dictating international laws and sticking to international conventions they appeared to be trying to help Scotland to at least use the pound and to allow Scottish citizens freedom of travel and work in the remainder of the UK. Unfortunately the moment we became independent a catalogue of events changed everything.
You could argue and you would be correct in your assumption that Scotland is predominantly responsible for the success of the UK in terms of the union of Wales, Northern Ireland and England in several significant arenas. The obvious one is the economy but the birth of the Nationalist uprising of England and Englishness was the big surprise and the English Devo Max was to change everything.
Early indications were the rush for extra local powers predominantly in the North of England and in Cornwall. Previously British MP’s were now either Welsh, Northern Irish or English and they wanted to make that perfectly clear opening what we initially thought would be the future break up of what was left of the UK but in essence forging and forming it into the most successful economic western power of recent years.
In what was almost a riot in Trafalgar Square, UKIP supporters were joined by throngs of English waving the St George’s Cross and demanding Devo Max for England. Furthermore they were making it very clear that pandering to Scotland and allowing Scottish MP’s anywhere near Westminster was not an option. With Cameron gone and Boris Johnson the unlikely leader of the UK, things were to get worse for the fledgling young nation to the north.
As we know Cameron had made a quick exit after the referendum and labour were decimated entirely which left the Conservatives in a very strong situation and giving them an easy win at the UK elections on 7th May 2015 with a majority they could only have dreamt of just a few months previously.
What stands out for me is that historic moment when young Benjamin Whittle spoke into the microphone and issued the words; “I am proud to be English as I stand side by side with my proud Welsh and Northern Irish brothers and sisters as we work together to forge the nation of nations in our Kingdom of Kingdoms”. If it wasn’t the applause that gave the game away it was the sudden prolific flying of English flags over the coming days in the Home Counties and London Boroughs that made it look as if an International World Cup was in town. This trend spread like wild fire across the remaining nations. It almost beggars belief that Morris Dancing became the top English trend of 2015 and the most subscribed to topic of that years media coverage.
British subjects were now English, Welsh or Northern Irish and they were building a sense of national identity that would have been unheard of before Scottish Independence. Even the Cornish were now Cornish and not British but they all shared a sense of unity with a renewed vigour. This was to cause further problems as we have seen in recent months.
I always say light heartedly to my English friends – Remember that it was Scotland that gave you your England back! I wonder if they are grateful for this. I doubt it.
The last year has seen the confirmation of the end of UK contracts for shipbuilding in the Clyde, something for which Portsmouth can be thankful for. The closure of the Grangemouth refinery, the surprise announcement of the relocation of Faslane to Dover and its massive military investment under the white cliffs has been one of the success stories for the UK, creating opportunities and jobs far in excess of the losses in Scotland. With call centres and financial institutions packing their bags and heading south we can only sit back and demand answers and hope that Salmond and his cronies have some magical trick or fall back plan for all this absurdity.
It is all very well saying that Scotland is in it for the long haul but you wouldn’t set off on a mountain hike with a pair of trainers and a packet of cigarettes would you? Not unless you are intending to make a quick exit in a puff of smoke!
So where does that leave us? A country will be judged by its population, political situation, military strength, healthcare system, social welfare prospects and opportunities in both wealth and economy. Since Independence can we claim just one success in any of these areas? And things are about to get worse. Much worse.
The UK decision to block dual nationality stems from the concerns about the large numbers of immigrants heading South. Although not necessarily pure Scottish in origin the influx of illegal immigrant crossings from Scandinavia have raised grave concerns that Norway is becoming the New Calais of Europe for those looking for a better life and they are not heading for Scotland!
The recent incidents involving English tourists and the treatment they received from over Zealous, disgruntled and so called proud Scots gained much publicity in the UK, Europe and further afield. Suffice to say that this year’s tourist numbers are significantly down on last year and expected to fall further as the situation deteriorates between Scotland and the UK.
The recent decision to establish the UK Border Agency along the Scottish border has caused much resentment although it is easy to understand why this has come about. Additionally the fact that Scottish workers in the UK are now being asked to make alternative arrangements for employment has been seen as a major boom for the employment prospects of the English. In just six months time a Scotsman will find it more difficult to enter the UK than someone from Lithuania. The Lithuanian who knows nothing of the UK culture will be at liberty to seek employment immediately and will have full access to the facilities and rights previously afforded to every one of us. Had I not acquired dual nationality, as a Scot, I would now be a foreigner in what was previously my own land.
It now transpires ( although we were warned ) that the oil production in Scotland is far less than previously estimated. Add to this the risk of BP and Shell pulling out entirely and shifting their emphasis to the Shale Gas rush to the south we are in danger of losing our one and only major asset that stood any chance of making Scotland financially stable. With oil at just 90$ a barrel and production levels from the USA now flooding the markets we are in danger of falling deeper into the abyss whilst the UK wallows in its new found technology for the safe extraction of shale gas with 64,000 new jobs predicted and a £33 billion revenue that will ultimately dwarf the Scottish oil industry and we have no right to any claim on it whatsoever! Add to this the issues of the Shetland and Orkney Isles, the disputed Median Line and recent International comments and we could be in for a very rude awakening.
With sectarian violence now raising its head in a way that we thought possible only in Northern Ireland we are seeing the ugly face of nationalism in reverse. Loyalists have become a movement in their own right. Perhaps we should have expected this albeit not on such a large scale. Who would have thought that we would have enclaves of housing estates and urban areas with red white and blue kerb stones and the Union Jack flying proudly from lamp posts and roof tops. Let us hope that this does not develop further. Calls for a Unionist Scotland can only compound our problems.
The recent attack on Alex Salmond is a sign of frustration and anger and although I am sure that most law abiding citizens are abhorrent at this act of mindless violence we cannot forget that there are still a large number of Scots who did not want an independent Scotland in the first place.
For all of us the recent inaugural celebrations designed to give Scotland an international presence have been detrimental to our image abroad. What can the world be thinking when they see the leaders of Russia, Uruguay, Argentina and Guatemala all stood round Salmond buttering up to him for no other reason than to spite our former allies, friends and neighbours. Well done Alex. That one went down well. Now we can look forward to the cost of building our own embassies and consulates across the world rather than share those of the UK as was originally intended.
And finally, the most worrying development of all. Salmond’s decision to default on our debt has caused an uproar in Westminster. As our national pride takes a beating, property prices slide and our credit rating tumbles we now have the prospect of higher mortgages and everyday prices hikes almost every aspect of our shattered economy. Where will it all end?
To summarise. Alex Salmond was a canny and impressive politician prior to the referendum even though there were signs then that he had his flaws. Post referendum he is now looking like more of a liability than an asset and as the Scottish elements of the Union Jack are removed from the UK’s new flag and we can only sit back and wait for membership of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations ( We might actually be members of the latter in a few months ).
If we relinquish or use of Sterling in favour of the Euro we might get into the European Union much faster and if we can sort out our differences with the UK on defence and territory disputes we might have a valid case for re submission of membership.
As it stands today the UK has been the only beneficiary of our independence. I watch the international news to repeatedly hear of the UK being mentioned on numerous occasions as if nothing had happened to change her world status. Boris Johnson greets leaders from nations across the globe and the UK economy exceeds all expectations as its impressive 6.9% GDP and influx of cash and employment opportunities reflect its status as the enviable place to be in Europe.
I travel to work in Newcastle and I see cranes of every description hugging the skyline as the race to keep up with demand for space surpasses all expectations. This vibrant and modern city is rapidly becoming the London of the North. Already the Port of Tyne has become the second largest port in the UK as its services the North East and West regions acting as a hub for the transformation of the North of England under the new Devo Max regime. We live in incredible times. At least the English side of me can raise a smile today.
That’s it from me. Time to sit back with my coffee and dunk a few digestives as I watch the Beeb. Ah. No wait. No you can'nae dae that. It’s the SBC now. Oh well, such is life.