Breaking Britain: Scotland’s choice


Above: Scotland’s Future launch. Photo: Scottish Government

Fifty years ago, the idea that Scotland would leave the United Kingdom would have been almost impossible to imagine. But this week the Scottish Government launched a white paper, Scotland’s Future, setting out the case for just that in next year’s independence referendum.

For a party proclaiming the case for divorce, the SNP seem curiously keen on many aspects of the United Kingdom. The Queen would still be head of state. The pound sterling would still be Scotland’s currency. And the white paper even reassures Scots that they’d still enjoy Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing and CBeebies – even though the BBC would be replaced by a Scots equivalent. Heaven help us if Waybuloo is the only thing holding back the break up of Britain.

As many have said, it’s far from certain if the remaining UK countries would allow all this to happen. But it’s a clever ploy by Alex Salmond to suggest Scotland can have it all outside the union.

Scotland is, of course, right to decide its future. The fact the vote is even happening is an indictment of the failures of successive Westminster governments to govern for the whole of these islands. As I wrote a year ago, there are echoes here of the way British malevolence and incompetence led Ireland to independence rather than home rule.

I still hope that Scotland chooses to help us reshape Britain, rather than break it. Scotland has played a hugely important part in our nation’s history. It, like Wales, has shown that we can enjoy multiple identities: Scottish/Welsh and British. That diversity is a great model for life in these islands. It would be a great shame to diminish Celtic influence in Britain.

Will Scotland leave the UK?

Signing away the union? Salmond and Cameron. Photo: Number 10

The people of Scotland will decide the fate of the United Kingdom. Within two years, they will vote on whether Scotland should become an independent country.

The agreement between the British and Scottish governments over the independence referendum ends months of wrangling. Both Alex Salmond and David Cameron seem pleased with the outcome.

The polls suggest that the Scots will vote for the union.

I hope they do. Britain is something to be cherished, not dismantled. It is a more diverse country than in 1955, when the Tories won a majority of votes in Scotland. We will all be diminished if we go our separate ways.

In many ways Britain is paying the price of the bitterly divisive Thatcher years. They were the years when the Tories treated Scotland as a laboratory for disastrous experiments such as the poll tax. As a result, an alliance of organisations created the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which paved the way for the Scottish parliament. We may be living through a repeat of Britain’s disastrous mishandling of Ireland’s demand for home rule in the 1880s and after. Home rule in 1886 might have cemented Ireland’s place in the UK. The bone-headed defiance of the Tories killed home rule and meant that Ireland was independent (in all but law) within 35 years.

If Scotland does vote to go its own way, the very name of our country will be uncertain. Can we still call our state the United Kingdom or Britain without Scotland? As a Welshman, I fear that Scottish independence would reinforce the tendency of ignorant foreigners to call the UK England. England will certainly be even more dominant than today.

But Alex Salmond is taking a great gamble. If he loses in 2014, independence is likely to be a dead issue for a generation or more.

Time will tell.

I was there: the night Jock Stein died

Ticket to tragedy: the night Jock Stein died

Wales are playing Scotland in a FIFA world cup qualifier tonight. It’s a fixture freighted with ill luck for Wales and tragedy for everyone. On a September night 27 years ago, Scotland’s revered manager Jock Stein collapsed and died at Ninian Park after his team qualified for Mexico 1986 at our expense. As Max Boyce would say, I was there.

I had a pitch-side view of the events of that extraordinary night, although I didn’t see Jock himself. I described the experience in my blog five tears ago:

“My friend Anthony Beer and I sold programmes at the dramatic Wales v Scotland World Cup qualifier game at Ninian Park, Cardiff. My diary notes that we were the only sellers inside the ground; we went down the players’ tunnel as the Welsh national anthem was played. We had to exchange programmes for cash through the netting that kept fans from the pitch – not so easy when many fans wanted five or more! We soon ran out of our initial 500 – the Welsh FA had printed just 20,000 programmes for a crowd of 40,000.

“We saw Mark Hughes give Wales an early lead before Scotland snatched a draw through a very dubious penalty, ending Wales’ hopes of playing in the 1986 Mexico finals. Afterwards, we passed Scotland’s Willie Miller being interviewed live on ITV as we took our takings in to the offices under the grandstand next to the dressing room. It was there that we heard that the Scotland manager, Jock Stein, had collapsed. Later, we heard the tragic news that he had died. We collected our £10 seller’s fees and walked out of the ground as an ambulance driver manoeuvred to avoid a Securicor van. Scottish and British football had lost a legend – the first manager to lead a club from these islands to victory in the European Cup.”

PS: Wales won! Cymru am byth. That will help overcome the painful memories of 1977 and 1985.