Because I am a goofball, I forgot to send in my electoral registration. Today, there was a wild panic, as the deadline charged down the track like a brakeless freight train. The only answer was a lot of downloading, scanning, filling in and emailing, all things that I am really, really bad at. Luckily, I have a kind friend who is organised, and she helped me with it.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ I cried. ‘I may now take part in the democratic process. This is what Mrs Pankhurst chained herself to the railings for.’
My kind friend laughed, kindly.
I love Scotland. I fell in love with these hills as you might fall in love with a person, and moved five hundred miles north to live in them. I left my old life and my old friends behind in the south. I still miss the old friends sorely; it is the only sadness of this northern life. I wish for a Tardis, and wormholes. But the hills won.
When I cross the border to Scotland, after a trip to the south, I cry actual tears of homecoming. This place is home to me in a way which is stitched into the deepest reaches of my heart. I love the beauty, the people, the wild spaces. Those spaces amaze me still, they are so improbable in this small, crowded island nation.
I do have Scottish blood. ‘Quite a lot of Scottish blood,’ says my mother, staunchly, at breakfast. I also have Irish blood, English blood, and Welsh blood.
Sometimes I think nationality means nothing. It is a human construct, after all. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and nations are often no more than random lines drawn on a map, or recent inventions, cobbled together out of territorial ambition, political compromise and contingency. Italy and Germany were only unified in the late 19th century; they are band-box new. Before that, an inhabitant of the duchy of Savoy was a foreigner to an inhabitant of the Kingdom of Sicily.
All that is intellectually true. It is not emotionally true. The feeling of culture and history and ancestry does mean something. Nationality may be intellectually indefensible, but it is viscerally meaningful.
In the year when the great sprinting mare, Black Caviar, came to Ascot, I went to the Royal Meeting for the first time in years. The place was teeming with Australians, many of whom had never been abroad before, who were following their mighty heroine. I made friends with many of them, at the pre-parade ring and in the stands. I took on, absurdly, the role of ambassador, apologising for the weather, making jokes about the oddness of the British way.
Late on the first afternoon, after spending much time laughing and joking with the great Aussie contingent, I found myself upsides a very British gentleman, one of those old racing types I remember from my childhood. We also laughed and joked, but in a very different way. I suddenly realised I had been very literal with the Australians, because we did not share a culture. With my old racing gent, we fell into the language of our own tribe, dry and ironic, reading between the lines, understanding cultural references without having to amplify. It was not that one was better and one was worse, it was just that with those different nationalities I spoke a different language, even though it was all English. The old gent and I knew each other, even though we had never been introduced in our lives.
I love Britishness, I can’t help it. I love the idiotic obsession with failure, the hatred of showing off, the pragmatism and stoicism, the instinctive saying of sorry when someone bumps into you in the street. I love the queuing and the tea and the understatement. I love the Queen, even though I could give you eight good arguments against a hereditary monarchy. I love the bosky hedgerows and the wild moors, the lakes and tors, the Norman churches and the stately piles. I love the hill farmers and the farriers and the dry-stone-wallers. I love the sucking of the teeth and the shaking of the head. I love that most Britons, when asked how they are, will not answer ‘marvellously well’, but just mutter ‘not too bad’.
I love my Scottish and Irish and Welsh and English blood. I don’t want to have to choose. I could mount a serious, empirical argument for the Union. I could draw on all that history I learnt. I could even break out a bit of economics and geo-politics. But my decision is entirely one of the heart. I want to remain an Ordinary Decent Briton. I do not want to have to carve a slice of myself off. Being British is stamped on my heart.
And that is why, with the utmost respect for those of opposing views, with quiet politeness and reserve, I shall be voting No, thank you.