By Alec Ross
I was watching that Grand Designs programme tonight – great viewing, and not least because it came from my home village of Portpatrick. For those who didn’t see it, you’ll find it on Channel 4 and it concerns a bunker style cliff top house that rather divides opinion. I love it, personally – probably because it reminds me a lot of Skara Brae in Orkney and therefore brings back a lot of great memories.
They mentioned that it has really thick windows, which given that a) it’s about 20 yards left of the 11th green at Dunskey and b) I’m fighting (and losing to) a vicious hook at the moment, is probably for the best.
This might sound petty, but throughout the programme the presenter talked about this house being built “in Scotland”, or on “the rugged Scottish coast”. Or the guy building it “making the commute from Yorkshire to Scotland”.
A couple of things. Firstly, the Scottish coastline isn’t uniformly “rugged”. Secondly, it’s really, really long and it would have been useful to know which part of the coastline it was referring to.
Thirdly, I found myself thinking that if the guy was relocating to, say, Wiltshire, the presenter would have have said he was building a house in Wiltshire. But he’s building a house in Wigtownshire – so as far as Channel 4 is concerned he’s building a house in Scotland. And that is as specific as it gets. The inference is that that’s as location specific as the English viewer needs it to be. And that got me thinking.
I travel south a lot. I’m always deliberately specific about where I’m going. I’m never “going to England”. I’m going to Worcestershire, or Herefordshire, or Somerset. Or Leicestershire. I love the cultural, linguistic, geographical differences. I once mistakenly referred to a woman farming in Herefordshire when she actually farmed near Malvern. Let’s just say that wasn’t a mistake I ever repeated.
That folk don’t return the gesture more than hints at an unconscious bias.
I heard it all day today – I hear it all the time – on the radio. You hear it when Caroline Noakes says she wouldn’t grant a seasonal pass for migrant fruit pickers in Scotland and more than she would grant one to fruit pickers in North Lincolnshire – suggesting that she believed Scotland to be a region of Britain. A county, not a sovereign nation.
Politicians and media talk about “the country”, when actually they mean “the four countries of the United Kingdom”. As in “the country voted to leave the EU”. When, actually, two countries voted not to leave. For most people not from Scotland, and a minority within it, “England” and “Britain” are the same place. That is a crucial element, I think, of the current constitutional conversation. So when Boris Johnson talks today about “breaking up the country”, I always want to ask: which one? There is no such place as the country of Britain. You can’t break up something that doesn’t exist. You can’t “separate” from something you were never a part of.
It comes down to how you see Scotland – are we a country? Or a regional backwater of Greater England? Do we still see ourselves as the “North Britain” of the Enlightenment and Victorian eras?
Nicola Sturgeon was accused during an interview this week of not respecting the result of the 2016 EU referendum. Quite rightly, she pointed out that she was the FM of a Scotland that had voted 62% to remain. And therefore that her instructions from the people who voted for her were to keep her country – Scotland – in. If you see Scotland as a country – and it is – that’s totally logical and inarguable. If you see it as anything else then it isn’t. That’s the faultline, I think.
Given everything that has happened, support for independence ought to be 80:20. I genuinely think that the reason why it isn’t there yet is that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we aren’t really a country, but a northern county of The Albion. That ignores that Scotland has been independent for longer than it has been in Union.
They genuinely think we’re breaking up a country. That we’re doing something extraordinary when in fact we’re following a well-trodden path walked by dozens of countries who have left the British empire, none of whom have ever come back. Because, come what may, it’s always better to be yourself.
As soon as the majority of us see ourselves as a country we are nearly there.
And the moment we believe we are a newly independent country and act as though we already are is the moment when we become one.