A Foreign Country

Another common No voters’ worry (or No campaigners’ strategic insertion of problems) that I’ve seen again and again, is that many of us have family and friendship ties on both sides of the border and it might seem that suddenly these people will become ‘foreign’ to each other or will have to choose an identity of Scottish rather than British, in the case of those who live here. That Independence for Scotland will create a border where there wasn’t one before.

Well, firstly, sense of identity is complex and necessarily very personal. I consider myself both Scottish and British and I will continue to feel both as part of my identity. We’ll still be living in the British Isles and there is a huge amount of shared history, culture, language, even political ideology between the people of the different countries of Britain. I am Scottish first, and like many others, I have sometimes found it annoying when my Scottishness has been seemingly discounted, even when forms or questionnaires have only a UK option, or when ‘English’ is used by newsreaders instead of ‘British’. Or when Scottish people are stereotyped or made the butt of jokes in ways that are no longer considered acceptable for most other groups of people.

But the entity which is Britain, the Britain which exists in us, is neither wholly good nor bad, and has undeniably partly formed me and lots of elements of my life and I see no need to ever deny that. Britishness, as far as I’m concerned, will still be a part of my identity even if Scotland votes to become an independent country, which I hope it does.

As for the border, well, the important point to me is that the border does exist and has done for a very long time (although historically it‘s moved around a fair bit…) and it is already, by its very nature, a border between two separate countries with a longstanding separate legal system, education system, health service, currency. We are used to knowing that when we pass the sign that says ‘Welcome to England’, we are in a different country. And crucially, for me, that isn’t a bad thing.

I lived 30 miles from the border for most of my childhood and crossing it was exciting. I would feel about it as I would entering any foreign country, aware of difference, but enjoying that; the different way of speaking, the small variations in culture, all slightly merged very close to the border on both sides, but all distinct too. And knowing that it’s probably relatively safe because being neighbours on the same island, we share a lot – a general desire to be gun-free, enabling a much safer environment to be in, a language or languages, literature, music. Perhaps generally a sense of the importance of society and what politeness, restraint, decency and fairness mean (although these are huge generalisations, and may not be accurate, but I think that they do exist in our own beliefs).

We are pretty well calibrated as well as encompassing many vibrantly different cultures, some of which themselves used to be foreign. But England is already a separate country from Scotland. The border won’t be a new thing.

And I have lots of friends who originate from (or still live) South of the border too, and lots of musical heroes, favourite writers, filmmakers etc. Sure, anti-English sentiment exists, as does anti-Scottish sentiment, and pretty much anti-everything sentiment. People feel all sorts of different things. I can’t see how this country ruling itself would make that worse.*

Obviously, I’m speaking for myself, and not everyone will agree with me. But I think that it is possible to see this not as a ‘breaking up‘ a ‘ripping apart‘ or even a ‘divorce’, but as entering into a more mature relationship. Much of the fear discussed here is around matters which are of the mind and of the attitude and which we can therefore deal with pleasantly if we choose to. So let’s celebrate our differences, our similarities, while at the same time respecting each other’s rights. Let’s be in a partnership of mutual cooperation rather than this strange historical melding which leaves Scotland’s decisions in the hands of the English electorate and Scotland feeling scorned and powerless.

*Although it is entirely possible that the worst sides of the current campaigns have made this worse already, and especially the media spin on the campaigns – however, there is no reason to think that this would be improved by a No vote, especially since the level of misinformation and media bias might make such a result look undemocratic and unfair.

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