This morning, in the dreich and the drizzle of my beloved Scotland, I voted.
I voted No.
No has been caricatured, in the white heat of this frantic race, as a negative. But no can be splendidly positive, a cry from the heart. When Rosa Parks said no to the men who told her to go to the back of the bus, she was striking a blow which echoed down the years. When Nelson Mandela said no to bitterness and division on his long walk to freedom, he was setting a shining example of the human spirit. When the Pankhursts said no to the querulous plea that ladies should keep quiet and know their place, they were inspiring generations of women.
Saying no can be a fine and splendid thing. You can say no to bullying or demonisation or prejudice. You can say no, I shall not be silenced. You can say no to received wisdom or cheap assumptions or category errors. You can say no to confirmation bias or lazy thinking or taking the easy way out. No is one of the great words in the language, two little letters which can mean so much. Give me a lever and I can shift the world – no can be such a lever.
I voted for the Union because I think people are stronger together than apart. I voted for it because I hate waste. Something can be wonderful even if it is imperfect. The answer is to change the imperfections, to work on a better tomorrow, not to throw the whole thing out. Preserving this United Kingdom is not saying it is flawless or spotless or without fault. She is an old lady, this Blighty I love, and like all of us old ladies, she has creaking joints and a bashed heart and moments of grouchiness and grumpiness. She sometimes gets it wrong, but that does not mean that wrongness defines her. She can still brush up and put on her dancing shoes.
I voted for the Union because I remember the fine parts of its history. There are plenty of dark episodes, of imperial adventures and social exclusion and nasty prejudices. But the dark does not cancel the light. The clouds do not mean the sun never shone. Today, I think of the Great Britain which outlawed slavery, and repealed the Corn Laws, and enacted Catholic emancipation, and gave women the vote, and changed the law so that two men or two women who love each other may marry.
I think of the Britain which survived the Blitz and fought them on the beaches and never surrendered. I think of Winston Churchill, who once said: ‘Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts’. I think of him standing like a lion and insisting that ‘we will defend our island nation’. It is this island nation for which I voted.
Much less famously, Churchill also once said: ‘Although an Englishman, it was in Scotland I found the three best things in my life: my wife, my constituency and my regiment.’ He fought bravely with the Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front, and earned the respect of his men by insisting that they had dry socks. I love that story. It goes along with my faith in the small things. It speaks of my belief that love is not in flowery words or romantic gestures, but may be found in the most mundane actions. Dry socks are sometimes better than roses.
I voted no because I love the wideness and openness of Britishness, which stands for me against the narrowness of nationalism. I like that you can be black British, or Jewish British, or Welsh British or Scots British. I like the fact that it encompasses so much, from The Last Night of the Proms to the Edinburgh Festival to the Eisteddfod to the Royal Meeting at Ascot. It is the place of Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady and Auld Lang Syne, of Macbeth and Black Beauty and Molesworth. It is the gardens at Kew and the Western Isles, the Peak District and the wild Yorkshire moors, the Cornish coast and the mountains of Snowdonia. It is ‘Very flat, Norfolk,’ and ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’, and ‘We few, we happy few’. It is five days of Test cricket and the mighty roar as champions gallop up the Cheltenham hill and the sound of a massed pipe band. It is understatement and rain.
I like what Martin Bell said about Britishness. He said: ‘It's tolerance, decency and determination to talk about the weather on all occasions and a tendency, when a stranger stands on one's foot, to apologise.’
I voted no because my ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, and I do not want to have to choose between them. I voted for inclusiveness and old bonds of affection and history and culture. I voted for the poets and the playwrights, the jokes and the stories, the landscape and the sea, the wisdom and the folly.
Most of all, I voted for love.
I love this place. I did not realise quite how much I loved it until I feared it might be gone.
I voted in my scruffy doing-the-horse kit, with the muddy earth of Scotland on my boots:
At station three, which will today witness history:
With the lovely Stepfather, who is not covered in mud:
You’ve been WHERE?:
I suppose I had better come and check:
The democratic process, you say?:
And yet even on this glorious day, you still make me work on my canter. I suppose everyday life must go on:
If I were only a bit more flaky than I am, I would believe that she really thought today should be some kind of school holiday. The fate of a nation is at stake, and yet I still insisted that she do her transitions.
I still wrote 2125 words.
I still made soup for lunch.
I still tried to pick the winner of the 4.10 at Ayr.
It is an extraordinary day, but the ordinary still has its place.
All my loves were represented, in that ordinariness – the red mare, the green soup, the fleet racing horses, the English language, the family, the Scottish earth. And in the extraordinary – the cross in the box. And now, there is just waiting, and hope.