hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Hands across the Border

Alphen, Netherlands.  3 September.  The Great Gretna Auld Acquaintance Cairn of Unity sits on the border between England and Scotland and reaches to the sky, a symbol of popular appeal to and for all of us who love Scotland and love Britain.  It is a monument to the real, ordinary people who built this land together and who believe deeply, passionately in our old, battered, beautiful country - Britain.  It is also a stony monument to political denial for all of us denied a voice in the Great Scottish Question – to stay or to go.  Why?  The Great Scottish Question is in fact the Great British Question.  Together or apart?  Britain or the end of Britain?

On 18 September some three million Scottish voters will have the right of decision over the future of my great country.  It is a decision that will affect not only the five million or so Scots who dwell north of the border, but all sixty-five millions of we British.  And yet I will be denied a say along with the massive majority of Britons including many expat Scots over the most important constitutional decision my country has faced since the Union of Crowns in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707.  

Like many English people Scottish blood courses through my veins.  My sense of identity with Scotland as a country and and as a people runs deep and true, even as those who would have us separate try to plant the idea that somehow Scotland’s woes are England’s doing.  Ironically, much of the frustration Scots have with incompetent Westminster is shared by English, Welsh and Northern Irish alike.  For too long Westminster has ignored the voice of all the peoples locked as it is into a vicious and ever-decreasing circle of its own pompous out-of-touch, politically-correct irrelevance. 

The Great Cairn is thus a protest on behalf of all against the incompetent political machines that brought us to this moment and this place; a plea - please Scotland do not punish the rest of us for the folly of power that is Westminster.  Do not destroy the great bond that binds us as peoples, for that is what a vote for independence will do make no mistake.  Division will exist where there was none and a price will need to be paid – a big price.

Not that I doubt that an independent Scotland could make a go of it.  The Scots have a tough genius that will prevail against all odds and no amount of Establishment threatening will extinguish the light of Scottish pride.  Indeed, it will more likely pervert it.  Equally, nor should those Scots beguiled by the idea of independence think that they can awake on 19 September having voted to destroy the United Kingdom and that it will be business as usual.  Scotland will have decided to become foreign and by March 2016 when the final break is made the rest of us will ensure and assure that independence means independence for we will be deeply hurt, angry with a profound sense of rejection.  

My only option will be to vote with my feet.  Whilst I will wish the people of Scotland well, I will turn my back on Scotland and never again set foot in the country of my forebears.  I will not be alone.  Millions of us made suddenly unwelcome north of a new iron curtain that would run improbably across our small island will join me for we are tired of being cast as villains in this tragedy just because we are English.  Scotland will be on its own. That is no threat for I would not presume, but it would be Scotland’s new reality.

Denied a voice there is at least one independent-minded and decent politician who is at least trying to give all of the Great Denied a positive say and who is not trying to hide the import of this moment.  Rory Stewart is the MP for Penrith and The Border.  As his name suggests he is a man that bestrides the great but unspoken border that today does not separate England from Scotland.  A political Reiver if ever there was one whose sense of shared identity runs as deep as my own.  Stewart has created a movement called Hands across the Border with the aim of sending a heartfelt message to the people of Scotland that we all care for and believe in both Scotland and the Union we built together over centuries of sweat, often blood and sometimes occasional tears.

Therefore, all I can do is to add my lone Anglo-Scottish voice to those building the Great Cairn in the hope that decent Scots everywhere will hear our plea.  It is a plea of solidarity, of togetherness, of mutual respect that symbolises all we have been through together as peoples and as a people. 

Seventy-five years ago today Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.  It was not England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales that declared war to fight tyranny, oppression and evil – it was Britons together.  Angles, Celts, Normans, Pacts, Scottos, Yorkshire Vikings and all the rest stood together in what was the ultimate statement of the values that have come to define who ‘we’ British are and which carried us all to eventual victory.

Come the morning of 19 September I will be in Riga, Latvia thinking about the defence of free Baltic peoples in the face of new tyrannies.  If I awake to find my country is no more, torn apart by romantic separatism I will be heart-broken, not a little shocked and deeply worried.  Indeed, Britain, for all its many past faults has learnt over the centuries how to make the world a safer and better place.  The end of Britain will make that dangerous world just that bit more dangerous. 

Please, if you too can make your way to Gretna – from both sides of our shared history - add your stone of unity so that the Great Cairn can be seen and heard across all parts of Scotland for we are you and you are indeed we.

To lose Scotland would be to lose a part of myself and I will never forgive that.

Julian Lindley-French

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