Friday, 12 September 2014

Where the heart is.

The Dear Readers will know that one of my great rules in life is: if at all possible, avoid ad hominem. This is a cool, rational position. Usually, rather like with Godwin’s Law, the first one to go personal has clearly lost the argument. It is also a very slightly weedy thing of the sentiment. I can’t stand confrontation and I hate needless hurling of insults and invective. It is also ruthlessly pragmatic. No mind has ever been changed by attacking the human, not the ball.

From the beginning of this mighty Scottish debate, I have never attacked the side of Yes. This is partly because of my rule, but it is also because I see the argument. I see the passion with which it is held. I see the keen desire and the burning hope. I understand that, because I have my own passion, in the other direction.

I do have a private difficulty with Mr Salmond as a politician. I have never been able to think of him in the same way since he used twenty thousand pounds of taxpayers’ money to fight a court case to keep information away from the public. This goes against every inch of his cherished persona as an open, plain-speaking fellow, unlike the weaselly shower in Westminster. He also, in a way, failed my waiter test. There is a famous story of him picking on a junior reporter in front of the press pack, which I can’t get out of my mind. On the other hand, I do like and admire Mr Darling. I think he is a steady gentleman of some integrity. But I have been very strict about not making all this about two different men. It must be about the arguments. This is too momentous a decision. It is not about two individuals, but about the future of a great nation.

As my head clears, I try to take a step backward, and see the thing objectively. There is some fascinating psychology going on, a perfect Freudian example of projection. (I know that all the penis envy side of Freud is entirely mad, but he was right about projection, and I think of it almost every day.) There are people on the Yes side who accuse the Unionists of being negative, of scaremongering, of seeing only the chasm, not the great leap forward. In the same breath, those very same people accuse those on the other side of being traitors and Quislings, cravenly unpatriotic, with no faith in the Scottish people. This could not be more negative. It is not countering the argument. It is not saying if you disagree with me I think you are wrong; it is saying I think you are bad.

The other oddness is that many of those who long for Yes talk of the democratic deficit. All democracies, as Churchill mordantly pointed out, have a deficit. This is even more true today than when he spoke of democracy being the worst of all systems until you look at the others. Globalisation, international markets, geo-politics, the European Union, even the structure of the civil service and the dear old Sir Humphreys – all mean that no politician in the world is quite as in charge as they would like to be. It is why manifesto promises are so often broken. They are made in the wide prairies of opposition, where everything is possible. The hopeful candidates famously campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Realpolitik is a cruel mistress. Even if the electorate gets the party it votes for, it often does not get the results for which it yearns.

But more ironical still is that if separation were achieved, a huge democratic deficit would yawn, bigger than any which obtains after an ordinary election. Half the population would be deprived of their dearest wish. They would have to stand by, powerless, as the country in which they believe is broken up. It is not a deficit of a few years, but of generations.

The head part of me does see what might be called the negative, although I think of it as unacceptable risk. I do fret about capital and intellectual flight. I watch with trepidation as the pound falls and fund managers warn against investing in the United Kingdom and the billion and a half pounds slides away from British companies. To me that translates into real lives and real jobs and real people paying the heating bills. I worry about the currency. I wake at night thinking of the enormous expenses which are not even mentioned. Who will pay for the cost of setting up new embassies and legations around the world? I think about the things very close to my heart – the military towns which will be left filled with tumbleweed as the non-Scottish regiments go south, the racecourses which will be bereft of the Levy and so face closure. To me, it is too high a price to pay.

The positive of all this is that I hope there will be more devolution, which is devoutly to be wished, and that Scotland has the best of all worlds. It gets to be both Scottish and British. Two great identities for the price of one.

But for all the rational, cautious head, it is my heart which wins. My heart is English and Scottish and Irish and Welsh; that is my history and my ancestry. To have to choose one would be like cutting off a limb. I want the old neighbours to stay together, to capitalise on all their mutual strengths, in everything from research and invention, to the arts and the shared sense of humour. I don’t want the cultural ties that run between us to be brutally severed.

There are people who sneer at the heart arguments. I am not among them. The great psychologist Alfred Adler said there were three vital aspects of human happiness. A sense of loving and being loved, a sense of satisfaction and meaning in work, and a sense of belonging. Place, community, comradeship, being dug in – these were so important to him that he included them in his definitive trifecta. My heart argument is all about belonging.

This morning, I went down to the village to get a Racing Post, so I could read about Estimate, the Queen’s sweet filly who is running today at Doncaster. I adore Estimate, because she is a battler. She is a slip of a girl, lightly built, delicately constructed, but she has a huge fighting heart. I saw my friend George, a man of proud Scottish lineage, standing in his shop, arranging the shelves to his satisfaction. He loves racing as much as I, and usually we discuss the intricacies of the 3.30. Today, without being asked, he said, loudly, proudly: ‘I’m no, me.’ He gestured in a southerly direction. ‘I’d feel naked without them,’ he said.

This is instinct, heart, viscera. It does not make it any less important. It has no figures or statistics or financial forecasts to go with it. Humans cannot live on dry as dust numbers alone. The rational is important, but so are the more nebulous things which touch the soul.

My heart, like George’s, cries for union, fellowship, for the ties that bind. If Scotland and England and Wales and Northern Ireland were to unstitch themselves I would be forlorn, diminished, bereft. For me, these island nations are a family, and I say, like lovely Al Green: let’s stay together.


Today’s pictures:

My beloved Scotland, from the archive:

12 Sept 1

12 Sept 2

12 Sept 5

12 Sept 7

12 Sept 8

12 Sept 8-001

12 Sept 8-002

12 Sept 9

12 Sept 9-001

12 Sept 9-002

12 Sept 10

12 Sept 10-001

12 Sept 10-002

12 Sept 11

12 Sept 14


  1. Thank-you for some sensible words on the subject. The name-calling and bitterness from both sides is very sad and tiresome.

  2. Last night on "Mock the Week", these observations were made about Scotland splitting:
    -- the average lifespan in England would go up
    -- the annual average rainfall figures for England would drop considerably

    (Tiny Belgium, total population little more than 10 million, has been debating for years about dividing -- along language lines. I can't fathom this either.)

  3. Either way, you will survive, we (across the planet) will too. But geez, what a shame it would be if all separatists' leanings were reignited because of this. I, too think of Scotland as a unique child of the UK family. Without the family, she is an orphan.

  4. Blether. I think Scotland would do just fine on its own, and I'd like to see all the funds from Scotland's resources, both physical and tourism related, go to Scotland alone. If the vote for freedom wins, that doesn't change the fact that loads of people in England and Ireland still have family in Scotland, and vice versa. The trade and tourism and relationships will still be there. It's not like the day after the vote, all association with Scotland suddenly dries up and Scotland is orphaned from the rest of the universe. Any change that will happen as a result of a yes vote will happen slowly, over time. The way people are acting, it's as if they think the sun will rise on a completely different way of life next day. But it won't. Did the Republic of Ireland dry up and fall off? No, and neither will Scotland. An interesting thing to note is that English officials are jumping all over themselves, begging Scotland to stay, and promising changes and improvements if they stay... which leads one to believe that they haven't exactly been treating Scotland fairly all this time. If they've got all these goodies that they're suddenly willing to bestow, why haven't they been sharing them all along? I say Scotland should have a go. If Scotland can't handle being free, then no one can. The country's tough and beautiful, and so are the people. There's no closer place to heaven on earth.

  5. I've been waiting for you to write about this, as I think of you when reading articles about the possible independence. Interesting arguments on both sides. My sister lives in Catalonia, and so I also read with a view of the larger implications around the world.


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