Tuesday, 2 September 2014

No, thank you.

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.


2 Sept 1


  1. Bravo! Well said! Bought a tear to my eye as you have so beautifully summed up my exact sentiments. I'd be right there beside you if I had a say in the matter.

    1. Correction: "brought" - not a great advert for my editorial services, that! :)

  2. Thank you Tania. Very well said.
    I wish you would mount a serious, empirical argument for the Union. The people who are being paid to be doing so seem to have singularly failed so far. Perhaps Jim Murphy and others are doing a terrific job on the ground, but what's been visible in the national press has been woefully short of positive reasons, and it saddens me, deeply. I am disenfranchised in this decision that matters so very much to me, having made the opposite move to yours many years ago. I'm left just hoping for a decisive result and good grace on all sides in the aftermath.

  3. In the end, though, it's not a decision that should be based on emotion (even as, from my outsider perspective, your emotions are exactly aligned with the better position). I was in Scotland for several weeks in July and I listened to the yes and no debates. I have yet to hear a convincing statement as to why, in terms of the future welfare of your country, oil notwithstanding, there should be a separate Scottish state.
    I was told though not to worry: that the Scottish trait of liking the tried and true over the risky new will ultimately prevail and the "no" vote will carry the day.

  4. I've never been to Scotland, but would love to. I am currently watching Outlander, which was supposedly filmed in Scotland. My children have Scot's blood traced back to Robert the Bruce on my husband's side. And, in Oklahoma of all places.

  5. I feel exactly as you do about the place itself, but I am for every country being free, having their own say, making their own way. And that includes my own country, which I dearly wish would keep its warlike nose out of other countries' problems and stick to taking care of their own, you know, just for a change. 8-) The fact that there's a vote really makes me feel better... so if the majority of Scots want to stay attached to the great royal teat, then they are making a free choice to remain so, which is still freedom, even if it doesn't look like it.

  6. Forgot to mention - I'm American via Scots, Irish, English, and Australian (which could mean a whole lot of other stuff's in there too!). But my heart is all Scottish.

  7. Your wonderful piece brought tears to my eyes too. I couldn't agree more with all that you say. I posted a meagre a few words on my blog yesterday, nothing as eloquent as your words, but written with the same passion and intent. I stand to lose my lovely home if the vote goes the wrong way. We live alongside my daughter and son-in-law, who works in the financial sector in Edinburgh. His company will move to England if independence comes because they will lose clients from all over the world. I have no idea where my husband and I will end up then. I was born in England, grew up there, love it, but my heart really belongs to the wild places of Scotland. Thank you again for your words. I pray that common sense will prevail on the day.

  8. PS : I should add that my father was Scots and my mother was English. I am another of those betwixt and between people who are truly British. I have been campaigning with Better Together in recent days and it has been disturbing to find that families are divided within themselves on this issue. And a number of the Yes voters have been noticeably aggressive. Will these divisions within Scotland ever heal over? I suspect not for a very long time.

  9. Let out a cheer just now : Husband wants to know why. I tell him I follow your blog and you are voting NO. He asks: so who's SHE. I tell him briefly about you, up north, your lovely dog and your lovely horse, how often you make my day. He grunts. I don't get a vote, a Glaswegian, living on the Wirral Peninsula...but I care desperately. We ought to stay together. Thank you, Kate.

  10. I love the way you wrote this - so brave, so direct, so full of real feeling. I have no idea what I think about Scotland. Everyone seems equally convincing and unconvincing if you know what I mean. I would be sad to find myself in a smaller country, but I can't justify that intellectually really. I think it's probably right to hold the referendum though. And I love how you write about Britishness. I lived abroad for years, and now I'm back, it is wonderful to feel that I am at home. It's not better here but it's just familiar. And yes, the love of understatement is beguiling. Thanks as always, Rachel
    oh, yes, have Scottish blood, my grandfather was Scottish but he emigrated. So I don't feel particularly connected

  11. I'm absolutely with you. I'm (mostly) English and (a bit) Irish, grew up on the Welsh border, and spent 8 years of my life (undergraduate, masters and a bit of work) in Scotland. I don't feel English. Most days I feel more Irish or Scottish than English really, and it's a complicated sensation and hard to explain. For me that's what it means to be British. Such a difficult position to articulate without sounding all imperial, but I think you did a wonderful job. Thank you!


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