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London is a world city – so it’s no wonder tens of thousands of Scots like me call it home. Some come to work for a while and then head home; others put down more permanent roots and stay for the long-haul. I can’t speak for all of them, but I don’t know anyone who has considered the move a ‘migration’. Leaving Scotland is a wrench, but you don’t feel you’re moving to a foreign country.
I love this city – I love how busy, diverse and vibrant it is. But when people ask me where I’m from, I don’t hesitate to say Glasgow. As the referendum approaches, it feels as though people are being asked to take sides: are you Scottish or British? Can I be both, and Glaswegian first and foremost?
The point when I felt most British was last summer during the Olympics. Of course I felt especially proud of Hoy and Murray, but I cheered just as long and loud for Ennis and Farah. To hear Scotland’s First Minister urge support for “Scolympians” made me cringe – and rush to assure my friends that he wasn’t speaking for me.
Some 800,000 Scots live outside Scotland in other parts of the UK. We don’t have a vote in next year’s referendum, but we do have a voice. We are a daily reminder to our friends and family back home that the UK itself is a family, and that leaving the UK would have consequences for all of us.
Beyond the bigger picture of the UK family I of course think about what leaving the UK could mean for my own family. Will my son Robert need a passport to visit his granny? Will I have to change my pounds to Euros (or who knows what new currency) for a trip home? I know supporters of independence scoff at these questions and dismiss them as scaremongering, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument to suggest everything will stay the same.
Robert Burns suggests it would be a gift to be able to 'see ourselves as others see us’. Scots living outside Scotland have a distance and perspective on the referendum debate that perhaps our friends and family back home don’t enjoy. We’re seeing Scotland – and the debate about its future – through the eyes of the rest of the UK.
So I wonder from afar what independence will mean for my family back home. Only a few short years ago Scottish banks needed a massive bailout from the UK Government. How would I have felt watching from a distance as an independent Scotland had to deal with the fallout of a banking collapse? Watching the financial crisis engulf Ireland, Iceland, Greece and Spain was bad enough – it would have been unbearable to think of the consequences for friends and family back home if a go-it-alone Scotland had been swept up in the crisis.
Tonight I'll be joining hundreds of my fellow Scots in London to hear Alistair Darling, Danny Alexander and Lord Strathclyde launch the London branch of Better Together – the cross-party and non-party campaign to ensure Scotland remains a strong part of the UK.
We're meeting in the Institution of Civil Engineers and will be looked over by portraits of the many Scots who have served as President of the Institution over the years. They, and the many Scots active in London life today, are a reminder of the part Scotland has played, and continue to play, in creating London and the UK as a whole.
For the sake of my family and the UK family as a whole, I want to play my part in ensuring Scotland continues to contribute to a strong UK.