Image by Sam Taylor
Britain is broken. Fucked. Make no mistake. Whatever the outcome of next week’s referendum on Scottish independence, the fact is that millions of Scottish people have already taken a vote of "no confidence" in the political project called Britain. Scotland’s mountains will still be there on September 19th, as will Wales’ valleys and England’s rolling fields, but Britain, Great Britain, the polyamorous threesome that gave birth to the welfare state, to universal healthcare free at the point of delivery, to state pensions for all, to the BBC and more collaborative glories than a popular glory hole in a busy service station, will have been given a sizeable middle finger from a large portion of the people it is meant to serve. Whether the union remains intact next week or not, millions of Scottish people have decided they want out. And that's pretty fucking depressing if you ask me.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time a group of people lived somewhere and they argued for hundreds of years over what they were called and who owned what piece of land and who was in charge of whom. The end. Did you like that? It’s based everywhere. Of course I’m pleased that we haven’t gone around killing each other like it’s the fucking War of the Roses, but let’s not pretend that what is happening between Scotland, England and Wales is anything exciting or new. Whatever the history, now it’s just people arguing about land and money and power as usual. We haven’t done it for a while on this particular island but I guess it was our turn.
Britain has been one big house party, and all parties turn to shit in the end. We’ve done shitty things over the course of it, pissed off all our neighbours, even those that are far, far away. We’ve invited pals over, had more than a few gatecrashers and, rightly or wrongly, turned away people we didn’t like the look of. Why do you think they want to join our party? Because it’s good. Some people have had a better time than others, though. David Cameron and George Osborne are hogging the last of the coke in the kitchen. Upstairs, the Scottish crew is trying to lock the door on the back bedroom and divvy up the last of the MDMA before it runs out. The Welsh crew have fallen asleep in the garden. The drugs are running out. We’re all coming down. Things are turning nasty.
I’m not an imperialist. It’s ridiculous that the British flag can be found dotted around the world on tiny little islands thousands of miles from us. We had no business trying to run India. Or America. Or, you know, anywhere beyond our own shores. But Britain is different. We’re a fairly small island. Like, if we were a dick, we’d be about 6 inches or something – average but nothing to write home about. And we’ve been living in union on this puny peen for over 300 years. We should totally have our shit together by now. The fact that so many people at one end of the island feel like the government has failed them, that managing their own affairs is the best thing to do now, well, how miserable. How miserable that we can’t run this island for the benefit of everyone. How miserable that our democracy has failed to deliver a government that makes everyone feel like they count.
It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself Scottish or English or Welsh or British or whatever. None of us are any of those things. They’re ideas, words we’ve been given, passed down to us, ours to accept or discard as we see fit. All we really are is a bunch of human beings living on an island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Seventy million people who say they can’t work together any more.
Of course we're stronger together. Or should be, in a perfect world. Of course we are better off with one currency. And shared defence. And pooled resources. And national institutions. Of course we are. It’s called collectivism. The best of everything shared out for the good of everyone. The thing that really depresses me about all this is that I don’t actually dispute that, for the millions of people who live at the top of this island, breaking away and forming their own political structure really could benefit them. We’ve created a situation where divisiveness looks like a legitimately progressive choice, and we're all to blame for that.
The Scots have been telling us for some time now that they're not happy with the way things are going; the SNP has been gaining ground and held a majority in the Scottish parliament since 2007. The Union is at risk because of patronising little Englanders taking the Scots for granted and trying to boss them around. If English politicians had entered a genuine amicable debate about devolution within the UK from the start, there would have been no motive for Scotland to be voting for a split. If England continues down its ostrich-like, UKIP isolationist path, it is England that is fucked. People are telling us they can’t work with us any more and, as we’re a declining economic power, perhaps we should take that on board.
"Why have we got to the point where Scotland wants to build a psychological border to save itself from us?"
People blame it on “Westminster” but everyone south of the border is to blame. There’s no such thing as Westminster, just individual men and women who we fucking voted in to run the country on our behalf. I’m mad at them. I’m mad at all those privileged fuckers in the Home Counties who voted the fucking Tories in. But most of all I’m mad at myself for not even bothering to vote. If nothing else, the independence debate has shown us that people can make a difference when they stop staring into their phones, get out onto the streets and start thinking about what kind of world they really want to live in. Why did none of us do this sooner? Why is the NHS being sold off under our noses? Why have we got to the point where Scotland wants to build a psychological border to save itself from us?
Good luck to you, people of Scotland. I wish you well but I’d be lying if I said I didn't resent what's happening. As someone who grew up in working-class Nottingham – under the rule of a Prime Minister who went to school in Scotland, and a Scottish Chancellor – I always thought the Scots were in the same boat as me. I pissed a lot of people off with my last piece on Scotland. I guess it was kind of flippant, but then it hadn't occurred to me that even if I'd written something much calmer, many Scottish people would see my input as patronising simply by virtue of me being English. I've always thought the Scottish were an exploited class the same way that the English are an exploited class, exploited by a cross-border elite. So I can’t help but feel like you’re letting down the side I thought we were on together.
It’s not, as other commentators have already pointed out, just you who is getting fucked over. Take a trip to the north of England and tell me if the country is being run to the benefit of the people there. Spend a weekend in the Midlands and see how they’re getting on. Come to Cornwall or Devon, to the hundreds of seaside towns rotting away, to the ex-mining communities in Wales, anywhere, essentially, beyond the right handful of stops on the London tube map. We’re all struggling and we’ve all let it happen.
I wish I could find more to rejoice in when I look at the Yes campaign. Is it great to see a grassroots campaign challenging power? Yes. Is it inspiring to see an apathetic public explode with political ambition? Yes? Is it wonderful to see people engaging with one another about how they’d like to improve their lives? Yes. Yes. Yes.
But if the Yes campaign is about hope, then so is the No campaign. The latter group hope the union will remain. No one owns hope. We all hope. Just because hope is involved, it doesn’t mean something is automatically right, or good, or wise. Nick Griffin hopes he can get rid of black people. UKIP hope we can break free from Europe. I hoped we were all going to be European. I hoped we were all going to be citizens of the world and chill the fuck out about national borders. I guess not. I wish I could be sure, like so many left-wing journalists, that the push for Scottish independence is progress. It looks like nationalism to me. Splitting up, falling out and falling apart. Either way, it's an admission that collectivism is failing in Britain. And that's bad news. If we can’t even make our government work for all of us here on this little island, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
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