David Campbell Bannerman is a Conservative MEP for the Eastern Region.
“Go back to England!”. Yes, I have had abuse. But so did the Irish financial expert from Dublin helping Better Together who was also told to go back to England. And back to the East of England I will indeed go. No time to mention that one in ten living in Scotland are English, and this is a resident’s vote not a citizen’s one, with Romanians and Poles voting No – ironically to keep Scotland in the EU. But I am glad I have made the time to campaign for Scotland to stay in the UK, from Inverness to Ayrshire, Aberdeen to Edinburgh, Glasgow to Perth. And most people are polite.
For someone who is trying to save my country – the UK – from immersion in the European Superstate, I could not sit idly by when the UK itself is in such dire peril. Our international influence would rapidly unwind – in the UN, IMF, World Bank, G8 – with the British Union, the world’s sixth largest economy, breaking apart. I would expect a full blown sterling and debt crisis and interest rate hikes. We might as well be relegated to a compliant state within the European entity, a diminished rump within that alternate Union, the EU. The EU itself has an agenda to break England up into regions and Scots look increasingly to the rival European Union than the British Union.
I regard myself as British – my father was Scots with some Welsh, my mother English with some Irish somewhere. The union flag runs through me. The name ‘Bannerman’ was a title given to flag bearers – and it was the Scottish flag. I support Scotland at rugby, England at cricket, Team GB at the Olympics. But I live in England, dress English and speak with an English accent. That is precisely the strength of not breaking down the greater, more inclusive British construct into nationalistic, even racial blocks – and explains why ethnic minorities in the UK identify more with Britain than England. It just raises too many conflictions and opens up the racially-based nationalist Pandora’s box: just who is a ‘real’ Scot or a genuine Cornishman? The issues and consequences are very real for my own constituents.
It has been a great privilege to have been involved in campaigning. I have telephoned far-flung Isle of Lewis people who remarkably vote SNP in general elections but were very cool about voting Yes. Salmond’s own backyard – the Banff and Buchan constituency – is reportedly up to 78 per cent No. Again, they may normally vote for the person or against Labour domination, but such a rural farming community is instinctively No, as the sea of hoardings outside the cities testifies.
I have doorknocked in Aberdeen, Perth and Edinburgh, and helped with street stalls in Glasgow suburbs and city centres. I have had good company from MSPs Jackson Carlaw and Murdo Fraser, and campaigned with Danny Alexander. I met several retired Colonels of great Scottish regiments desperately worried about a break up, and vigorously debated defence with a Yes supporting ex-Chinook pilot who nearly lost his arm to an RPG in Afghanistan, before we left on good terms. I have been trailed by a Chinese journalist interested in Taiwan – for every country has its own ‘separation’ issues, with Spain likely to veto a Scottish application to the EU lest Catalonia or the Basque country follow, and met Quebecois tourists who voted Yes in their first referendum and No in the second. And I have visited the memorial to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, officially Britain’s first Prime Minister, and the grave of his wife’s father, William Bannerman, both in Perthshire.
I am left wondering how opinion polls of a thousand people with such ‘normal’ weighting for party loyalties or socio democratic profiles can realistically sample what is such a whirlpool of conflicting loyalties and issues, and in such an unusual vote. The turnout is likely to be so high and the registration so extraordinary that the usual electioneering task of ‘Getting Out the Vote’, coaxing and reminding voters to participate, seems almost superfluous. My own election – the European elections in May – only managed a 34 per cent turnout. My earnest hope is that the No vote is understated, a silent majority, and that the large numbers of undecideds vote No.
I have been amazed at how engaged ordinary people are. I assumed the wonderful Heather Watt in Inverurie, with her keen team armed with carefully marked canvass cards, must be a politician; a local councillor perhaps? Absolutely not – a local businesswoman with little regard for politics who just ‘had to do something’. Her team felt the same. Many have been doing this for months – it’s that important. There is serious talk of people abandoning the Socialist Utopia that Salmond promises – leaving jobs, homes, companies and family behind. I saw 16-year-old schoolgirls and senior citizens with no usual interest in politics alike rush into campaign offices to learn how to make canvass calls and scoop up literature. Activists of political parties, normally competing, are working harmoniously together for the greater cause, forming unfamiliar bonds and friendships. ‘No Thanks’ stickers come in all colours.
Passionate debate is openly heard in pubs, on building sites, at bus stops, in offices, and – with 16-18 year olds able to vote – in schools. Often a house has a Yes poster in the window, and the one next door a No. Such is the remarkable level of engagement that this referendum battle has unleashed. This has been good for democracy, and I hope it re-energises politics. That is the reason I believe in referenda. We need more of them.
Overall, it is clear that this is a battle between head and heart. Like many Celtic nations, Scotland is known for being the land of great myths and legends, incorporated into the Braveheart factor, with Mel Gibson’s statue rather than William Wallace at the site of the battle of Stirling Bridge. Whilst Better Together’s campaign communications are factual, authorative and robust (head), the Yes campaign is dreamy, aspirational, emotive (heart). The main image is of a baby’s hand in the palm of the parent. Little mention here of the estimate by the Swiss bank UBS that an independent Scotland would need £100 billion more or the fact that the 600-plus page Blueprint leaves too many unquestions unanswered. Could an independent Scotland end up economically gutted and tortured in the manner of Wallace?
We will all soon know, and we’ll all have to live with the shared consequences.