At least 80% of the turnover of the business I now run is generated in England, so it stands to reason that I spend a lot of time there. It’s a privilege, in fact, to do so. In fact, it’s from Yorkshire that I write this.
In all the time I’ve spent in England – and this is the truth – I’ve never encountered a single negative comment about Scottish independence. Honestly, not once. A guy in London asked me if we could afford it, but it was a genuine question from a genuine person. It wasn’t asked in the tone employed by British Unionists in Scotland, who aren’t really asking a question but reminding us that we are, in their opinion, incapable of functioning without the broad shoulders of the senior partner of this most equal and precious family of nations. In England, it is asked, every time, in a spirit of genuine curiosity. It is only in Scotland that my position on Scotland’s preferred constitutional future becomes a problem. If I’m being honest, it’s a relief to be in England to escape the sheer endlessness of unionists whining about the price of Nicola Sturgeon’s taxi fair to a speaking engagement in Washington. We often describe ourselves as “wee”, but sometimes it seems that the only small thing about some folk is their ambition. If you are a British Nationalist in Scotland, it is positively Lilliputian. Nicola Sturgeon? Aye, I kent her faither.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned from my various meetings, lunches, dinners and discussions this week.
1.England wants to leave the EU. I mean, really wants to. Like, today. The Remain campaign’s legitimate warnings about an economy that has now shrunk to levels similar to the ‘08 crash and which is likely to fall further – before the UK has even left – have had zero impact. Nada. A second “peoples” vote will provide the same result. If it’s any different, it will be in the sense that the leave vote will actually increase. I genuinely believe this. Leaving the EU is, for England, an article of faith. Some who voted remain last time would vote leave because they perceive that 2016 was the will of the people and must be respected. When the prize is “taking back control”, whatever that means, nothing else matters. And God help any government that delivers less than a full fat Brexit.
The writer Fintan O’ Toole – who has basically “owned” the alternative (i.e sane) Brexit narrative from the start – tells a story about speaking to a middle aged Catholic man in Northern Ireland who worked as a young man in the seventies during the troubles. At that time, Ireland was struggling economically. You might argue that secession from Britain was a mistake. Ireland was demonstrably worse off. But here’s the thing – the guy in Northern Ireland said that, had be been offered the chance of a re-unified Ireland, he’d have bitten your hand off. You can’t reduce identity to the value of your pension and perhaps we need to see Brexit through that prism. I think we need to stop mansplaining to Brexiteers. They want to leave the EU because they want to leave the EU.
Incidentally, I have a grudging and perverse respect for the English leave vote. I mean, the idea that England is somehow under the yoke of Brussels is a ridiculous notion. Ludicrous. But the point is they thought they were and did something about it. In 2014, when faced with a situation when we actually were under the rule of an unelected body, we told them to keep ruling us. Misplaced courage is still courage. We had neither. We boasted. We cowered. We should have sailed into the sunset by now, away from this bouroch. But we were feart and we blew it. And now we are where we are.
2.Scotland has no right to stop England leaving the EU. While it’s fascinating watching our neighbours tear themselves apart, it’s none of our business. There comes a point when Scotland has to save itself. There comes a point when we cannot sacrifice ourself to help England save itself from itself. They don’t want our help. Trying to help them is a total waste of our time, talents and energies.
3.England would happily wave goodbye to Scotland if it meant getting free from the perceived oppression of Brussels, not least because they don’t really think about us all that much. Westminster does, but that’s because they need our revenues to mitigate the economic clusterbouroch that will be the hard Brexit fall-out. All of which makes it baffling that we haven’t called a second and final independence referendum. Our reluctance to do so looks suspiciously like acquiescence. Frankly, it’s becoming embarrassing. If not now, when?
In truth, there has never been a more propitious set of circumstances in which to call – and win – a second independence referendum. We have a 45% starting point for self-governance. The British Government is in disarray. We have a triple locked mandate to call a second vote, which we would win by a street. Our canniness is beginning to look like fear. The first priority of any leader of any country is to ensure the continuing wellbeing of that country. The continuing wellbeing of Scotland is, demonstrably, not ensured whilst being ruled by someone else.
Therefore by far the most urgent priority of the Scottish Government is to deliver our independence at the earliest opportunity and by whatever means available.
If nothing else, I’d love to know that I haven’t spent the last seven years of my life wasting my time. You can’t start a fire without a spark. To blow this now would be unforgivable.