As an English student studying in Edinburgh on the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum, rather than viewing separatist sentiments as appearing suddenly, like the English media and politicians have, I believe they can be seen in everyday life in the capital. Whether it be in bitter sporting rivalry to the existence of separate Poppy Appeal collection for Scottish ex-service personnel, this Kingdom has been far from United for a long time – at least from this perspective.
With the socio-economic disruption and decline of heavy industry under Thatcher still present in Scottish minds, it is no coincidence that this vote is more likely to succeed under the present coalition government headed by the epitomized ‘Tory toff’ Cameron. He himself begged voters this week to not use the poll to give the ‘effing Tories’ a kick and instead realise the permanence and seriousness of next week’s decision. While Salmond’s aspirations for a ‘Yes’ vote have long been overlooked, if polls are to believed this has been a miscalculation with perhaps drastic consequences, like the underestimation of Farage’s UKIP party in the EU elections earlier in the year. Bearing this in mind, the last few days the party leaders have rushed in a state of mild desperation to ‘front line’ battle stations to try and save the union.
It is not just Cameron and Clegg, but also Labour politicians appealing to their strongholds; not only Miliband but old-school heavyweights such as John Prescott and Gordon Brown. No one wants to go down in the history books as losing Scotland. But what about us English? Our opinions on the matter are being largely overlooked. If the unthinkable does happen, questions have to be asked of the practicalities not just for an independent Scotland, but for England too – what becomes of our identity?
To an outsider, life in Scotland doesn’t seem bad at all: free university tuition, medical prescriptions and improved care of the elderly. Yet there is a portion of the population – if recent polls are to be believed, a significant one – that feels exploited and unrepresented by the current governing system, even with their own devolved parliament. A central argument is that Westminster is not democratically reflective of their will, with David Mundell being the only Conservative MP from the region. But this is not a solely Scottish phenomenon: similarly post-industrial Labour strongholds such as north-east England are in a similar position yet aren’t clamouring to build a border south of the Tees.
As September 18 approaches we are forced to cringe through larger and larger portions of national news coverage engulfed in pleas from the party leaders. It’s hard not to feel this is exactly what Alex Salmond wants. While his plan’s particulars are vague to put it politely, he inarguably has in his favour a strength of character and will which is only emphasised when juxtaposed with the paltry pleading we are suddenly seeing from British politicians. Questions are therefore already being asked whether the Cameron government can survive a loss – if a resignation would be forced in the short-term or even if long-term trends in UK politics would follow suit in the direction of nationalism. But with parties such as UKIP and the BNP being the only comparable self-anointed proponents of the ‘English’ identity, we can almost unanimously hope not.