18 January 2016

Not everything can be decided with a view to pleasing the Scots


Chris Deerin and Alex Massie have both had a right royal go today at explaining the situation in Scotland to their fellow Britons. They say that if the UK votes to leave the EU – or rather if English votes take the UK out of the EU – then there is a big risk that Scotland will then have another referendum, and vote to leave the UK.

That is a perfectly plausible outcome. I understand where my esteemed former colleagues Deerin and Massie are coming from. Quite a few Brexiteers south of the border seem blasé about what flows in relation to Scotland from an Out of the EU verdict, and there is annoyance in Unionist circles in Scotland about Unionists in England failing to understand the situation north of the border. It’s different up here, they say.

Well that applies in England too. It’s different down here now. The Scottish Referendum campaign was so all-consuming for the native combatants, so nasty and nerve-wracking for people who didn’t want the UK destroyed, that there is a tendency to forget that not everyone in England thinks Scotland staying in the UK is much of a prize any more. To me, this is deeply sad but there it is.

The English are so often misread by the Scots. The last five centuries or so contains numerous examples of this phenomenon, and I was reminded of it the other day when I heard a fellow Scot complain that the southern English don’t talk to each other, or even acknowledge each other, mostly on public transport. That’s true, but it’s not unfriendliness, it’s the only way to make being packed in together work. You respect my space. I’ll respect yours. We’ll all get from Paddington to Didcot Parkway in one piece with our sanity intact. Call it consideration for others. I may make an exception and try to help if you have a heart attack in front of me. Other than that, I’m reading my paper or book. Good day.

That English quietness is often mistaken by the Scots for weakness, but I am convinced that during the final period of great excitement in the referendum campaign of 2014, many English people were watching and listening intently. And what a spectacle it was, although not in a good way.

The way many Scots would talk to the English back then was quite something. On Radio 4 there was a regular group of Scottish floating voters who made me ashamed to be Scottish. The self-regard was insufferable. The look at us preening was beyond endurance. It is an old Scottish tendency to love being the centre of attention – look at us! the eyes of the world are upon us! (no, really, they’re not) – that at best produces brilliance and at worst a deeply unappealing moral superiority complex.

The English – or quite a few of them – seemed to note all this. In the words of an aged and wise Scottish Unionist who has spent his working life in London: “The English worked out in the referendum that the Scots really don’t like them very much.”

In that context, being told to duck out or shut up about some aspect of this EU referendum, on the grounds that it might upset the Scots is going to get nothing more than a giant raspberry. Not everything, in perpetuity, can be decided on the impossible task of keeping my fellow Scots happy, least of all the grievance-hunting Nationalists.

It may be that Scotland will leave in the event of Brexit, although an In vote looks most likely at this stage. But even if the UK does choose to leave the European Union, will Scottish voters want to then plunge themselves into negotiating their way into the EU and the Euro and out of sterling? Perhaps they will. But I suspect not as many English people as the Scots seem to think will give a hoot either way.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX