A couple of years ago I was in Glasgow, a city I used to enjoy a visit to every year for a trade fair. One year a new colleague joined us, an American gentleman. The sight of him, wide-eyed, surveying the breakfast bar at the hotel is an abiding memory. He took in the vista of delicacies ready to be piled on a plate, virtually all of it fried.
‘Hey, buddy,’ he asked the lad behind the steaming tins of bacon, sausages, black pudding and fried bread. ‘Don’t you have anything healthy here?’
‘Healthy?’ Came the immediate answer. ‘In Scotland?’
Although we inhabit the same fairly small island and speak much the same language, Scotland is different, although there’s plenty more to it than the food. There’s a long history of enmity and rivalry between England and Scotland, both the friendly and the less amicable varieties. This week Scots get to vote on whether or not Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom and over the last few weeks and months there’s been plenty of rhetoric flying back and forth on both sides of the argument, some of it based on common sense, much of it deeply emotional and some of it completely batshit crazy, while passions are running alarmingly high.
I have no particular opinion either way. I’m not sure that after three hundred years together and so much shared history and heritage that an independent Scotland will be great for Scots or for the rest of us. My gut feeling is that if Scots vote to go their own way, this is going to be a far more complex and acrimonious divorce than either side of the debate seems to think. But it’s getting to the point that there’s no going back and it has to be tried.
It looks like the pro-independence camp has been gaining ground in the run-up to the vote. My ill-informed guess, based purely on the news coverage that I haven’t been paying a great deal of attention to, is that the result may well be the worst possible outcome; a vote that’s so close to being split equally between yes and no that neither one side nor the other comes away with a crystal clear mandate, which leaves the field clear for endless bickering and recrimination that could go on for years, and with the spectre of demands for another vote in a couple of years. A 75-25 vote one way or the other would be a fine outcome that leaves no room for the argument to be carried on endlessly, but I have the feeling that this isn’t the last we’ve heard on Scottish independence.
Where next? If Scotland can go it alone, who’s next in line? There are movements in favour of independence all over Europe. The Basque country, Galicia and Andalusia in Spain would all like to break away. The Flemings and the Walloons of Belgium don’t like each other a great deal and a divorce would probably suit them both. Where else? Would Corsica and Sardinia be happy to break away from France and Italy? What if Shetland or Orkney decide they fancy going it alone as well, and don’t want to be part of either the UK or Scotland and feel like being Norwegian instead? How about Sicily? Or Brittany? Crete? Bornholm? Cornwall? The Isle of Wight?
Without wanting to get caught up in the quagmire of EU politics, all these regions are part of the European Union anyway with much of their affairs already dictated by Brussels, for better or worse.
Good luck, Scotland, if that’s the way you decide to go. Deep inside, I’m hoping that Chilly Jocko Land decides that it wants to remain British, but I won’t blame them in the least if they want to go their own way. It’s always preferable to be ruled by your own buffoons than by someone else’s idiots, and from what I’ve seen of the debate so far, the political animals on both sides of the debate aren’t exactly confidence-inspiring. There aren’t many of them I’d want to buy a second-hand car from, or would trust to run a whelk stall.
As it happens, I’m venturing north of the border later this coming weekend for Bloody Scotland and I’d better take my passport, just in case.