Scottish independence would disturb our identities profoundly, in ways that few of us yet grasp. Though I remain confident that independence will be rejected, talk of the lead for the No campaign having dropped to 5 per cent is a moment for sober reflection. I shall offer you my own story – each of you will be different, but do not underestimate the implications for yourselves.
I am a Scots Briton from New Zealand. My name is “Andrew from Linlithgow”. My father was David, his brother Malcolm, his father James. One grandmother was a Porteous, the other a Campbell and her mother a Lyon. When I came to live in Britain as a boy, I was not eligible for a British passport (though I have one now), as my family had been in New Zealand for many generations, but there was no doubt that I was British and that this was the Mother Country. (Such an attitude is probably rather old-fashioned amongst those that live in New Zealand now, but most would still at least recognise the sentiment even if they didn’t share it.)
I was raised in Chester, near Wales not Scotland, but as a Scots Briton from New Zealand that seemed no less natural a way to “return to the Mother Country” than living anywhere else in Britain. I have never thought of myself as “English”. To me “English” has always been a racial designation, and the English a tribe – perhaps even a slightly foreign, Germanic, johnny-come-lately sort of a tribe – though undoubtedly another tribe of Britons like my own Celtic ancestors. We Celts, Anglians, Saxons, Danes, Normans and the rest constitute the ever-evolving spine to which the ribs of new generations of immigrants – French, Indian, Afro-Carribean, Polish and so on – are attached. My Britishness has never been questioned, and I cannot imagine what sort of person would attempt to question it.
If Scotland were to become independent, who would I be? Would Scots colonists from across New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere then be Scots abroad, not Britons abroad? As a Scots Briton born in New Zealand who happens to live in England-and-Wales (Northern Ireland would presumably depart to join Scotland in due course), why would I think of myself as English, then, any more than, say, European?
My politics are Whiggish, favouring the theories and practices that evolved in the formation of the British constitution. I have a strong attachment to the Anglican Church, and of course the British constitution is modelled upon and arose directly from Anglican theories of governance. But it is British, not English. Perhaps because her name begins with E, Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is sometimes thought of as an English monarch. But she is Elizabeth I of Scotland, of a German family introduced to rule in Britain not just in England. We have little, if any, reason to imagine that, absent the joining of crowns in 1603 or the Union of 1707, the constitution of England (or England-and-Wales) would have evolved remotely to resemble the British constitution as we have had it. Even the name “Whig” comes from the term “whiggamor” meaning a Scots cattle-driver.
I am a passionate supporter and advocate of the British, Whiggish constitution and its long proud history as it has evolved these past three to four hundred years. But if Scotland leaves, that constitution and its history are over. There is little reason at base to imagine an English-only constitution any more (or less) likely to evolve in a future direction I would favour than, say, a European constitution. If Briton is literally finished – if the Union is broken and our constitution is no more – why would an England-alone future be any better than, say, membership of the Single European State? England survived perfectly happily as a component of a larger Union within Britain. Why should it be any less content as part of a larger union in the EU Federation?
I am a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party, the party of Britain, the inheritor of the Whiggish tradition and appointed protector of the Whiggish constitution. But if Scotland leaves the Union the Conservative Party would be finished in its present form, because it would dominate England so overwhelmingly that it would inevitably split. To be sure, it would perhaps last two or three more General Elections, in which with huge majorities it would govern in England (Wales doubtless becoming semi-autonomous and Northern Ireland departing to join Scotland forthwith). But no party that won 75 per cent and more of the seats in the House of Commons could last for long. Our adversarial politics needs an opposition as well as a governing party. So the Conservative Party would split, perhaps into Tories and the rest. Maybe the Tories might keep the “Conservative brand” – though that is not certain. I suspect I would be with the rest.
And if the Conservative Party were no more, with no more Britain and no more Britons, and no more hope of resurrecting a Whiggish constitution or forming an alliance of Britons across the world, why should we not seek a pan-European centre-right political identity instead?
Fortunately all the above is currently just morbid reflection on what might be if all goes badly. Let us hope – fervently – that the Scots independence vote goes the right way and we need never reflect upon these sorrows again.