Whether Yes or No triumphs, the 1707 Union is overby Neal Ascherson / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
My uncle was an officer in the Royal Scots, “the First of Foot.” The tartan trews on his long legs made him magnificent. As a child, I once asked my mother, his sister, “But what are the Royal Scots for, if it’s peacetime?” “They’re there to stop the English taking away the Loch Ness Monster,” she said. Married to a naval officer and fiercely loyal to the White Ensign, speaking a cut-glass English she’d learned in London at Miss Fogarty’s drama school, she was also the touchiest Scottish patriot.
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself hath said/ This is my own, my native land!” As children, we often heard that ringing round the kitchen. From Miss Fogarty, my mother also learned the art of outrageous, spellbinding exaggeration. It was only the outbreak of the Second World War which made me wonder if the Royal Scots really had been patrolling the Great Glen to watch for cockney monster-kidnappers.
But my mother had political instincts as well. She voted No in the first devolution referendum in 1979, declaring that “a Scottish parliament will make Scotland more English.” This extraordinary remark staggered me. Maybe she was the only voter in Scotland who thought like that. But could there be something in it—a warning against replicating Westminster…