In September 2014, the people of Scotland will vote in a historic referendum. It will decide the future of Britain as we know it. Will the Scots stay with us or will they decide to part from the Auld Enemy?
Modern African states were divided by Imperial European powers during the “scramble for Africa” in the late nineteenth century. Today we see nations with rigid, straight-line, and most importantly; artificial borders that were imposed upon them by a ruling imperial power. There are some horrific stories about the Berlin Wall; men going out on the night of 13th August 1961, only to find their path home blocked by the wall that had been constructed overnight and thus, separated from their families for over twenty years. The same can be said of Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall was constructed as a fortification to separate the Romans south of the wall from what they saw as barbarians in the North. Britons had lived alongside each other to this point and there was no sense of “Englishness” or “Scottishness” that we see today. Undoubtedly families were separated by a fortress constructed by a ruling foreign power and thus, the perceived cultural differences we see today between the English and the Scots were imposed upon us by the Romans. This is a fascinating starting point in the debate for Scottish independence and puts things into perspective; we are one and the same, we are islanders and any cultural differences we may see are largely false.
After the Romans left, England and Scotland were separate, rival states until 1707. The Acts of Union of 1707 saw the first official usage of the term Great Britain. Linda Colley makes the argument that Britain and the idea of being British was forged through warfare and consequently that “Britishness” is a modern concept. Prior to 1707, according to Colley, the kingdoms of Britain were culturally distinctive but the long, hard wars with France and later Germany united alien peoples behind the banner of Britain. This implies that unified Britain was a short-term alliance; much like the so-called marriage of convenience between the United States and the Soviet Union during World War Two. Furthermore, it implies that in a period of prolonged relative peace, the natural order will resume and rekindle the distinct cultural differences between the kingdoms of Britain. Is this what we are seeing today? Is the imminent referendum on Scottish independence a resumption to the natural order that Colley alluded to? On this I am unconvinced, if Hadrian’s Wall was an artificial divide separating culturally similar people then surely the Acts of Union in 1707 was the resumption to the natural order that Colley talks of and thus, we ought to remain unified.
Let us take a step back; the cultural story of Britain is a truly remarkable one. The Romans divided the celtic people of Britain and paved the way for centuries of bitter rivalry and brutal warfare. Yet, recent history has seen unification, friendship and prosperity. I for one would consider it a great shame if the Scots were to vote “yes” on Thursday 18 September. The “yes” vote campaign has raised some valid points and the British political system is far from perfect but fundamentally a “yes” vote would be a rejection of the English and actually a tick in the box for a return to the bitter rivalries of the past. Surely, in 2014 we have moved on from that? However, what has worried me so far is the electioneering of the pro-Union campaign. The threatening stance of Whitehall with regard to the Pound and a rejection of a shared currency with independent Scotland somewhat encourage these fantastical illusions of a modern Anglo-Scottish rivalry. Indeed, the threats actually play into the hands of Alex Salmond and the SNP and provide an opportunity to label the political manoeuvres as English bullying. If the pro-Union campaign allow the referendum debate to come down to such a style of politics, then the chances of a successful “yes” campaign increases. It allows Salmond to appeal to Scottish nationalism as opposed to rationalism; arguably it is his only chance of winning as it rekindles the nationalist spirit of Robert de Bruce. I sincerely hope that, come September, the Scots think rationally and vote “no”. Forget Braveheart, think David Bowie: “Scotland, stay with us.”