And here is the twitter of one John Johnston:
“Independence matters,” Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister proclaimed in a statement to Holyrood on January 25th, “because without it we do not have the powers to reach our potential…Under independence, Scotland would take its place as a responsible member of the international community while continuing as a friend and good neighbour to the other nations of these islands, continuing the strong social union which will always bind us together. It is our future and our choice.”
The “good neighbour” has certainly changed his tune from recent exchanges. The man who once accused Margaret Thatcher of imposing a ‘government of occupation” on the honest folk of Scotland and one of the most critical of the British government’s taxation of the oil extracted from Scottish waters has suddenly become one of Merry old England’s defenders. He confided his dismay recently over the tendency within Scottish politics to blame things that go wrong on the English. He now believes that Scottish independence would be good for both parties. It will be the chance needed to reinvigorate brand England.
If this simplistic view of things were mere political opportunism (which some of it is) there would be no need to worry but alas that is not the case. Alex Salmonds’ view of the past is out of date and unfortunately now is the right time to peddle it. It is the England that’s espoused by last year’s wildly popular The King’s Speech or on television by the bewilderingly popular Downton Abbey. The England of stiff upper lips and rolling green lawns, the (supposed) brains of the British Empire while the Welsh mines and Scottish and Northern Irish shipyards were the heart and lungs.
To Alex Salmond, independence would be a progressive act that would allow the English and Scottish to warmly shake hands and free themselves of the luggage associated with Britishness that has caused so much hand-wringing of late. It is dangerous to think that everyone agrees with Mr. Salmond.
Twenty years ago, the British identity was the default identity, swapped with ease when people actually meant England. Today it is a chosen identity, especially among immigrants such as British Muslims or black Britons. To some, to be English carries tribal overtones, football terrace racism and EDL marches. The tribal overtones, at least, carries some truth. In a recent YouGov poll for Prospect magazine, they asked people whether they considered themselves mainly as English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, British or European.
When compared, the attitudes of ‘English’ compared with ‘British’ respondents, YouGov found that ‘English’ voters want to leave the EU by a margin of 58-26% – but ‘British’ voters favour remaining members by 46-37% and while ‘English’ voters overwhelmingly prefer an isolationist foreign policy, ‘British’ voters divide fairly evenly between going it alone and doing compromise deals to tackle world problems.
This gives the EU-loving, Conservative party-hating Mr. Salmond an unfortunate problem. He finds sympathisers in English parliament being Eurosceptic Tory MPs happy to deprive Labour of seats and rid themselves of something they see as a burden on the country’s finances.
The SNP leader has long championed independence as the most important factor to his party and he has a right to argue for it. To argue for it in this way however is wrong. To shed the umbrella of Britishness denies many what they have come to see as home, Britain. Brand Britain has worked hard to make itself the hub of global business, a nation where, although the old class system may sometimes quietly linger, race does not impede as strongly as in other countries.
Mr. Salmond would do better to argue on the grounds that a Scotland micro-managing itself, making it leaner and more agile with the warm hand of friendship always outstretched.