Could this be the summer that sees the end of Britain? Scots could choose independence on 18 September. Yet the Great British Break Up is getting less attention than the Great British Bake Off, at least outside Scotland. Amazingly, the first TV debate between SNP leader Alex Salmond and Better Together’s Alistair Darling wasn’t even shown on TV south of the border.
It’s time for us all to wake up. Scotland will decide, rightly – self determination must be just that. And I can imagine many Scots find the idea of going alone intoxicating. The dominance of the United Kingdom by the unacceptable face of capitalism is deeply unattractive to many in Scotland, not to mention the rest of Great Britain. The post 2007 crisis of capitalism ironically has entrenched right leaning politics in England, Britain’s most populous country.
Yet the idea of Britain remains amazingly powerful. The 300 year old union of Scotland, England and Wales remains one of the greatest partnerships the world has ever known. This island remains a benchmark for how people from different paths can live together in harmony. Yes, that harmony will most likely remain if Scots choose to go their own way this September. (In much the same way that the British and Irish live together in perfect harmony on both sides of the Celtic Sea.) But the fact that Alex Salmond is desperately trying to retain the pound, the Queen and Doctor Who suggests that even the greatest advocate of independence views a yes vote like a 20 year old leaving home but returning to get his dirty clothes washed and ironed every weekend.
I hope that Scotland decides that Britain is worth keeping. But I also hope the referendum prompts a total rethink of how we run this small island. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have run their own countries for 15 years. Devolution hasn’t been perfect, but it has shown that Britain is no longer a centralised state. It’s time to truly return power to the people, to the nations, to the regions, to the cities. That’s not a new departure: it’s simply a return to the 19th century power of the cities of Britain, when Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow became global powerhouses. The 20th century reduced the British city to servant status, with disastrous consequences. Similarly, the state has glorified robber barons such as disgraced Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin. That must change.