Island Nation

untitledA country with a moat is very secure.

It would take real determination to conquer a nation so fortuitously endowed with such a natural defense.

Ever since Doggerland disappeared 8,000 years ago Great Britain has enjoyed a natural moat, one which has famously not been breached for coming on to close to a millennia. Britain ruled the waves for one reason; it had to, and it did so very effectively. For a very long time.

But in 1973 the country opted to loosen slightly some of its controls and join the European Common Market; a free trading club which had been going on since the end of the Second World War. Back then, as Europe struggled to deal with the utter destruction arising from two cataclysmic world wars, a common trading pact between the belligerent nations seemed a very good idea. To foster good relations and avoid another repeat of the previous thirty years. The integration of Europe was seen as the way forward, the thinking being that anything would be preferable to what had just happened.

Over the forty plus years since Britain joined the common market this exclusive club has morphed from a trade based union to something much more. It has grown up into the European Union and expanded geographically well beyond where anyone thought it would during its inception at the treaty of Rome. Its legislative reach has also expanded exponentially, to the point where politicians are complaining about having their hands tied and even a perceived challenge to the fundamental principle of self-determination has found its way into the everyday lexicon of our modern sound bite media.

So now, for the second time in two years, Britain will be holding a referendum on the question of integration or separation. In 2014 Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and in June this year the whole nation will be going to the polls again, this time to determine if the nation should remain a part of the European club, or not. The potential for Brexit, as its being called, is starting to gain momentum and in a few months from now the nation will have decided.

If Britain does decide to exit the EU the ramifications cannot be underestimated and I personally find myself in an uneasy situation.

Anyone who knows me knows I have an opinion on pretty much anything. I am very happy to spend time debating the pros and cons of most things. Sometimes I get the odd person who just disagrees with me and being devoid of any good argument simply resorts to Godwin’s law to end the discussion quickly but for the most part its normally good natured debate. I like that, it’s healthy and I am not, yet, so stuck in my ways to not change my opinion should a better argument win the day.

Two years ago I was very much opposed to Scotland voting to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, I argued strongly and enjoyed the debate. It so happened that 55% of the population held a similar opinion and thus Scotland remained an integral part of the UK.

But now I am having second thoughts, I don’t like to admit it but I am grown up and ugly enough to do so. If I am wrong I will stand up and say so.

Let’s be clear, I still believe Scotland should be part of the UK and I firmly believe the UK is ‘Better together’. My second thoughts are nothing to do with the UK as an entity per se but very much to do with the desires of the majority of the Scottish population, which I believe are very much in favour of Scotland remaining an integral part of the European Union.

So let’s fast forward to June and let’s imagine the UK votes to exit. The current polls show that Scotland clearly, by a large margin, wants to remain with Europe so if this did happen it would be wholly undemocratic for the Scottish people. It would be England dragging Scotland out regardless of the wishes of the Scottish people.

I have, in the past, argued for the principle that we are all in it together when it comes to the whole of the UK being managed from Westminster regarding taxation, defence and most of the normal day to day activities of government.

Leaving the European Union is too big a decision and it flies in the face of this inclusive principle. If the Scottish nation were to be dragged out, not through their own choice, then I would find myself seriously questioning my own opinions from two years ago.

But what would happen next?

Well, I think the answer is pretty obvious and if you think about the consequences of Brexit it will quickly lead you down a Machiavellian rabbit hole.

The SNP also know what would happen if Scotland exits the EU because the majority in England voted for it, but the SNP are campaigning to stay in. Or are they?

This EU referendum is a gold-plated, perfume scented gift which has landed on their laps. They win if the UK stays, they win if the UK goes.

So again, really, how hard are they campaigning?

All the SNP would need is to show the majority of Scottish voters wanted to remain and in the blink of an eye we would see a second independence referendum on the table and this time around I would imagine, like me, a lot of the 55% who voted to remain would be having serious second thoughts.

In short, if Britain does decide to become an isolated Island nation once again I would immediately become a strong and vocal supporter for Scottish independence.

Building walls never helps. There are numerous historical and contemporary examples of this and I don’t need to explain why. Berlin, Gaza to name just two.

The EU is far from perfect, it costs its member states a lot of money to maintain and not every member plays by the rules. We all have immigration issues and we all face the same challenges. Britain has managed to negotiate a number of key opt out clauses through John Major and more recently with David Cameron. But even with these special privileges the situation is still far from perfect. I am fully cognisant of its flaws but the solution cannot be to pick up your ball and walk home, the solution has to be to fix it from within.

Whether in or out, Europe is, and will continue to be, vital to the prosperity of the UK and I would argue if you are trying to influence Europe then hiding behind a wall or a moat is probably not the best place to do it from.

So Britain still has its natural barrier but retreating behind it isn’t the answer and I can almost guarantee the Pandora’s box it will open will be almost impossible to close.

And I for one certainly don’t want to be going down that route.

Again.

Size Matters

fork 1I have a son called Cameron.

Its a good solid Scottish name, I think it means beautiful one, or crooked nose, or something somewhere in between, I forget.

But regardless of the etymology I like it.

Cameron has a Scottish name, a Scottish dad and his very own hand made kilt but the reality is he is about as Scottish as Mel Gibson.

He’s also four years old, so minor things like nationality don’t really trouble him just now. Ice cream, Paw Patrol, getting something his younger sister doesn’t have and staying awake after nine o clock in the evening are his primary concerns.

Nationality is something he can neither spell nor say and is very very far from his mind.

But this will change at some point.

I travel a lot and meet all sorts of people. Generally after shaking hands and exchanging banal pleasantries the subject of nationality crops up. In most cases its pretty obvious, accents normally give everyone away. Its hard not to spot an Italian, German, Englishman or Frenchman.

Eastern Europe is a little bit more tricky. I have been known to call a Latvian Russian or a Croat a Serb but this is forgivable.

Well it is, once.

If you travel enough eventually you learn to spot the differences.

I used to find it hard to understand why someone from abroad couldn’t tell the difference between a Glasgow, Yorkshire, Manchester or even a Scouser accent. I knew they were different, don’t ask me what any of them are actually saying but at least I can roughly point out where they come from based on the tone of the unintelligible barrage as soon as they open their mouths.

But this was before I tried to see (hear) the difference between the Bavarians and the folks who come from Hamburg. There is a difference, it just takes some tuning of the ear to hear it. To your average German its like each are speaking different languages, to me they were all just foreigners speaking a funny, bad guy off of the war movies, language.

Only now am I sort of able to recognise someone from Hamburg or someone from Munich or understand the difference between an Austrian accent and a Berlin one. But this has taken me fourteen years of living in the Germanic part of the world to be able to do so.

Cameron doesn’t have a Scottish accent. He also isn’t really Scottish, but if he isn’t Scottish then what is he?

He has a British Passport and an American one.

If we followed the rules of national football he would be eligible to play for Scotland (me & my dad), England (my mum), USA (his mum), Taiwan (his mums parents) and Switzerland (where he lives) so this doesn’t really help him much.

I am sure at some point he will decide on a country and stick with that. Like him choosing the football team he will eventually support.

His choices right now are American or British. I say British here because being  Scottish is more a state of mind than anything else. If you hold a British passport then you could equally claim to be Scottish as much as anyone else holding a similar passport.

There is no Scottishness test as far as I am aware, you just say it and I guess you are it. I could say I was Welsh should I wish. Not sure why anyone would actually do that but I could if I was, say, mad.

What he will not do is claim to be a citizen of the world.

I have actually met some people who genuinely described themselves as this.

‘Where do you come from?’ says me

‘Nowhere, everywhere, I am a citizen of the world’ says he

‘Right’ says me. I then wander off muttering ‘wanker’ under my breath.

No, my son will be guided in such matters and he will need to choose properly.

Come September the 19th he might not be able to say, British and be done with it. He might actually have to say Scottish, British or American.

In fact come to think of it so might I.

I consider myself very Scottish. I live very unhealthily, I like whisky, I own a kilt, my dads Scottish, I support Scotland, I was born in Scotland, I spent all my childhood in Scotland and automatically say slainte whenever I toast someone with a dram. Surely this makes me Scottish?

I left home aged 16 and have been kind of travelling ever since so my accent has eroded but still. Just because I don’t pay tax there anymore doesn’t make me less Scottish…

It seems like the polls are narrowing in the run up to the referendum. The bookies still have the No campaign ahead but the momentum is definitely with the Yes campaign. Everywhere I look there are crowds of people saying, shouting, singing and graffiting Yes.

The Yes campaign are noisy to say the least but then changing the status quo was never going to happen quietly.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog bemoaning the fact there was little information about the issues at hand, the general thrust of my blog was it was generally too quiet. We needed debate, loud debate, front and center. This is such a monumental decision we could not go into it blind.

Seems I got my wish.

There is misinformation all over the place but at least people are talking about it. With such a volume of political dialogue going on I wonder what on earth people will talk about afterwards.

But this is good. This is how it should be and given the emotive nature of the decision the discussions appear to be relatively good natured. There have been some instances of eejits from both sides taking things too far but on a whole most people seem to be accepting, regardless of the result, everyone will need to get on with each other again come September 19th.

So for what its worth. From a half English expat who still considers himself Scottish, here is my last opinion on the whole affair before everyone goes to the polls.

I would be voting No on September 18th. Not because I think Scotland couldn’t manage its own affairs because it clearly could. Not even because I think Scotland wouldn’t be better off, financially, as an independent nation. It probably would. And this certainly isn’t because I am afraid of the unknown or any less patriotic than a Yes voter.

I also don’t believe the sky will fall down whether the vote goes No, or Yes. The scaremongering on both sides is just false and frankly silly.

I would be voting No simply because I believe there is a strength in Great Britain. This strength does not come individually from London or Manchester or Glasgow or even Inverness. It’s the sum of the parts which gives us the strength. As a combined nation we have managed to punch well above our weight for longer than we really should have.

Scotland by itself will be a small, maybe even prosperous, nation. I do not however accept the notion that small always equals good. I don’t accept the studies which look at Switzerland or Norway or another small, wealthy, happy country and claim this is because they are a small nimble country and then simply apply this principle to Scotland. There are plenty of miserable, poor small countries in the world as well.

Small doesn’t always mean prosperity. Its what you do, not your size which matters, or so I have been told.

Switzerland is prosperous, not because its small but because it hasn’t joined the EU, kept itself out of every major conflict there has been, kept its mouth shut when everyone around it was shouting and made sure it stayed friendly with everyone, even the bad guys. How would this sit in the minds of the average Scot?

What about Nato? Scotland would join Nato that’s clear, but Scotland would go from being a major pillar of Nato to a dependent nation of Nato.

We will provide troops and money relative to our size and capability but the whole point of Nato is that the big nations look after the small nations to eliminate the need for nuclear or military proliferation. However unlikely the situation, if push comes to shove, Scotland would be asking for help from South of the border because we would not be capable of defending ourselves.

Great Britain is part of the G8. A yes vote will effectively be voting ourselves off of this top table. I don’t know if this is good, or bad but I for one would prefer to have a voice rather than no voice at all.

An independent Scotland will be a small nation on the fringes of Europe. A bit like Iceland perhaps. Just with less volcanoes.  Now I have never been to Iceland and don’t know any Icelanders so I cant say if they are happy, sad, wealthy or otherwise. I do know though that Iceland is not foremost in anyone’s mind when world issues are being discussed or decided. I know Norway, Sweden or any number of smaller nations are also in the same boat. They don’t really have a say.

Not a proper one anyway.

Scotland as part of the United Kingdom has a voice and is listened to. Scotland as an independent nation will not, no matter how hard we shout.

Governments change, policies change, in fact everything changes given a long enough timeline. This vote is not about now. It’s about forever.

The bedroom tax will disappear, as will Cameron, Clegg and Salmond. Representation in Westminster will be there and then not be there, that’s the nature of democracy. Crossrail will get completed, the trams in Edinburgh will keep running (maybe) and North Sea oil will run out eventually. All of this I can guarantee.

Today Scotland has a voice and is a major player on the world stage because its part of Great Britain. It has a strength it really shouldn’t have on account of being part of the UK. This is something we will lose immediately. We will not be capable of intervening in world issues or anything for that matter. Even if its something we should be intervening in.

We will become a small inward looking nation because we will not have the voice to influence anything outside of our own borders. Now this might not be a bad thing for most of the population of Scotland, we might want to be a quiet nation who keeps its mouth shut and lives carefully and, potentially, prosperously on the fringes of Europe.

This might not matter to people who only think in terms of down the bottom of their street or doesn’t care what’s occurring in Iraq, Syria, Gaza but I’m not sure this is a fair representation of the Scottish people.

Scottish people as I know them want to stand up, are proud and want to shout about it. Normally very loudly. We want to be involved, we want to make a difference. I just don’t think anyone will be listening after a yes vote and we will certainly not have the capability to do anything about it even if they were.

We will have become an impotent nation in world stage terms.

Scottish people are not Norwegian and I for one don’t want to be Norwegian. They might be rich, good looking and have an average live expectancy of 150 but even still I don’t want to be Norwegian. I am proud of the heritage I have, and this is a heritage achieved as part of the United Kingdom. We simply wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near as much thus far had we been an independent nation for the last 300 years.

And I am convinced we will be doing a disservice to future generations by not allowing them to achieve as much in the future.

Anyway as I have said, this is just the opinion of a half English expat who doesn’t even get a vote. I will, along with everyone else in Scotland, be putting in an all nighter as the results come in.

September 19th is going to be ugly whichever way it goes.

And regardless of the result, I will still consider myself Scottish. I don’t care about the colour of the passport I carry and should Cameron have any sort of ability with a football he wont either.

Because the referendum might be important, the future of the United Kingdom might be hanging in the balance, a whole nation might be holding its breath but lets not get too carried away.

Football, after all, is much more important than all of that nonsense.

Back to the Future

imagesCA18TA02

History is a bitch.
That’s because it’s already done. There’s nothing to do to change it. It’s just fact.Every cringe worthy mistake I have made in my life thus far is locked in concrete. Solidly fixed for all eternity and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that.

Trust me I wish I could. But I can’t. So therefore I have determined it’s a bitch.
I can say sorry. I have often said sorry. I can say it was a mistake or just lie; a big boy dun it, it wasn’t me, it was Colin over there.

But the reality is whatever I did, I did it and cannot change it.
I can take some comfort in the fact my life like the vast majority of people is pretty much inconsequential. I know this sounds a little defeatist but it’s true. In a hundred years we will all be dead and unless you are Churchill, Hitler, a king or queen or someone who might warrant a statue in Parliament square whatever you do will most likely be forgotten.

So history as well as being a bitch, is also very forgiving.
It really really doesn’t matter so why worry about it? Take someone famous today, let’s say, Robbie Williams. He couldn’t walk down any UK high street without getting mobbed. But I guarantee in a hundred years from now it will be Robbie who?

In fact Robo could walk down the high street in Ohio today and no one would know who he is. Or Christian Ronaldo. Or anyone for that matter. They will all be forgotten about.
I would argue that for all the people who have existed in my lifetime there will only be a handful of people still remembered in a hundred years from now. It’s a bar room debate who that is I accept, but my three would be; Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Osama Bin Laden. From the last century I would argue only Churchill and Hitler will be remembered and warrant a paragraph or two in Buck Rodgers Primary three history book.

History is also something written by the victors as Churchill once famously said. Just as an aside I listened to an interesting podcast a few years ago comparing Alexander the Great with Adolf Hitler.
Both used similar tactics to further their respective causes but one is remembered as ‘The Great’ and the other well, we all know how he is remembered. The only major difference between the two is that Alexander won.
So history is a bitch and it’s not a bitch. I could do almost anything, I say almost anything because I am sure there is something which would give me a sentence in that future book but it’s most probably something I am unwilling to do. Or incapable of doing.

Whatever I do will most likely be forgotten so it’s not really that bad. But it is fact.
Another historical fact which seems to be conveniently confused right now is when Scotland ‘joined’ the United Kingdom. I know my history is a little sketchy at times but I do know the United Kingdom wasn’t formed in the 1970s. Some would argue that nothing good was created in the 1970s so perhaps this lends itself to their argument. But it wasn’t. So there.
No, Scotland was part of Great Britain a long time before the decade of flares and dancing queens so why is it that the vast majority of current economic studies I seen recently seem to start there?
The answer is pretty simple really. Its because the 1970s happens to be on or around about the time the North Sea started pumping out oil. And thus it’s not a huge leap to realise that pretty much all of these economic studies show that Scotland would have been better off as an independent nation.
Starting there as a stand alone nation we could have kept the oil revenues for ourselves and have grown seriously wealthy as a result. This is assuming we didn’t piss it up all the wall of course…

Ignoring the fact that Scotland had the opportunity to vote for devolution in 1979 and voted no I do like the hypothetical, what if game being played here. It logically ends with the realisation that the poor Bravehearted Scots have been economically raped. It’s just a case of how hard and where.
Come September I won’t get a say in the Independence vote so my opinion counts for nothing.

That said, I do have one.
And I too want to play a game of historical fantasy what if.
What if, for example, we extend the economic timeline back to say the start of the industrial revolution, or what if Scotland had voted for independence at the start of the British Empire?
How would the landscape of Scotland looked then, right before the oil bonanza started?

I’ve seen pictures of the UAE before oil was discovered as I’m sure you have. It was a desert, culturally, economically and, of course literally.
Do you think the thousands of people employed building ships to support the British Empire would have voted for independence 150 years ago? Do you think if they did the ‘English’ empire would have awarded the contracts to a foreign country? How would our major cities have looked in 1965 without the industry and the commerce which had preceded oil and created the foundation for Scotland as it exists today?

It’s an interesting game.

What would have happened if it was England alone who declared war against Germany in 1939 or for that matter 100 years ago in 1914? How would Scotland have reacted to an army of goose stepping national socialists marching across Europe? Would we have joined up with the allies or would we have followed the example set by the Swiss and turned a blind eye.

How would Scotland have looked if it had never ever been part of the United Kingdom for the last 300 years?

Let’s imagine the Battle of Culloden had taken a different direction and the gay Prince had prevailed on the day. And let’s assume, given this is a just a game, that he decided marching on England again was just beyond him so they negotiated independence.

How would Scotland have looked in 1950 if this had happened?
The highland clearances wouldn’t have happened. Tartan, whiskey and shortbread production would have continued unabated.
I don’t know how it would have worked out. Maybe better, maybe worse. Who knows?
It would be bloody different though and pre 1970 probably not economically better. One thing I am fairly certain of is that Scotland has benefited from being part of the United Kingdom. At least for the period the North sea was just a blue-balled, bitchingly cold place to swim. Probably in equal measure to the extent it has been disadvantaged over the last 40 years or so.

Maybe we should stop playing this game. Historical fact makes it an irrelevant exercise anyway.
By playing the game of calculating how much the sim city version of Scotland has lost out in recent times does nothing to further the debate. All it does is add fuel to the anti-English sentiment which can sometimes border on xenophobia. And, at least for me, it’s starting to severely grate.

I read a wonderful piece from Irvine Welsh on why he would vote yes come September (if he has a vote). I say wonderful not because he is supporting the yes campaign, rather because he is a good writer and because he is managing to support the yes campaign without dropping any ‘c**ntish English’ or ‘the no campaign are bloody liars’ into the discussion. Aside from being a sensible grown up, he also believes a cultural union of countries can exist happily within a four independent country grouping and uses Scandinavia as a prime example.
I would on the face of it agree with this but I do know Scotland, Ireland and Wales to a lesser degree are not Norway or Finland when it comes to their relationship with Sweden. They’re just not but a harmonious cultural union outside of a political union could work and could be beneficial to all concerned. Including the nasty thieving English.

I found it strange the other day when the announcement that the UK government would guarantee all sovereign debt was met with glee and high fiving by the yes campaign. I say the yes campaign but what I mean is the unofficial yes campaign. These are the folks engaged in the what if economic game.
The official yes campaign, Alex Salmond included, said it was a sensible thing to do and made no reference to this being a bargaining chip should the vote go yes. They just reiterated their insistence on sterling being the currency.

They did this because they know the move was a sensible one. It was done to save the debt on separation being significantly higher than it should be driven only by the uncertainty a referendum brings.
An independent, unknown and untested Scotland is a risk from a lenders perspective and I too would demand either a guarantee or a higher interest rate to compensate for such risk.

No, the official ‘yes’ campaign to their credit have made no political gain from this because they know they have caused this. For Scotland to not take its fair share of the debt (and assets) of the nation would be beyond the realms of what most people would tolerate. Add to that if it did default on its liabilities on day one, can you imagine how difficult it would be to take on any new debt?

Believe me Scotland’s going to need some form of credit to fund everything the white paper says it will do.
Anyway back to history.

Or rather let’s fast forward 30 years to when 2014 is history because this is all that really matters now. History is fact. But future history is still to be determined. This referendum will have long lasting consequences and will no doubt form part of some future historical ‘what if’ games.

Please, please, please vote only with the future in mind. Someone elses future, our childrens, because thats the generation who will benefit or suffer from the divorce.

In terms of the referendum ignore the past. It’s irrelevant, its bloody, its chequered and no one, not even Bonny Scotland, comes out of it smelling of roses. Also please dont vote with the current or previous government in mind – its our fault they are there and governments change.

Dont think the sky will fall in if it goes no and dont think all of Scotland will be happy clappy rich as Arabs in October if it goes yes.

‘What if Scotland didn’t vote yes back in 2014 dad?’
‘I dunno Son. Lets see’

P.s. If there is anyone out there who can’t be arsed voting, give me a ring – there’s a couple of beers in it for you.