Supporters rally for Scottish independence in Edinburgh last year, during one of the largest pro-independence marches the city has seen © Andrew Milligan/PA Archive/Press Association Images
I am a Scot by upbringing, education and sentiment, who lives in England, or rather in London, which is not quite the same thing. Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption that the people back home will never actually vote for it; the opinion polls have been quite strongly in favour of the Union, and the general assumption that a vote for the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. “They willnae.” During the very late spring of 2013, as I have started to pay more attention, I have become less certain: next September, they micht.
But whether it happens or not, I have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of understanding of the Scottish impulse to self-government and some kind of independence. People talk as if it is a new thing, conjured out of nowhere, by a political magician called Alex Salmond—more Game of Thrones than ordinary modern politics. This shows profound ignorance; a blind spot to an aspect of the British story that has been with us since Edwardian times, at the very least.
If Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom, it would certainly be an enormous shock. It would go against the opinion polling predictions, the settled predictions of the London party leaders and the betting companies. But life would go on, wouldn’t it? There would be no riots, no violence. Ordinary families would carry on, shopping, squabbling, worshipping, and collecting pensions and benefits. For Scots, who would remain inside the sterling zone, using notes produced by the Bank of Scotland and RBS, and who already watch devolved news programmes and read home-produced newspapers about their own political scandals, life might carry on feeling surprisingly the same.
Yet should the Scots’ vote for independence happen, they will shake the rest of Britain rather more than we are generally told. The remaining UK would have less punch inside Europe and in international terms, quite possibly losing her seat on the United Nations Security Council. The fleet of nuclear submarines on which Britain’s claim to “world…