Scotland says no: The nationalist can of worms is now well and truly open

The Scottish 'no' vote has stoked up the disgruntled English still further and will inevitably play into the hands of nationalists here, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 30 Sep 2014

Phew. Well, that’s a relief. I was so filled with foreboding last night that I turned in before midnight. This morning the platitudes are coming pouring out: ‘Something has ended over night but something else has definitely started.’ ‘The Union is now going to be a different thing. The Union of 1707 ended in 1999 and became even more different over night.’

You can bet that I’m going to add to them.

I was against independence during the campaign, but what worried me was my motives for feeling this. They were selfish. As an English person I suspected that if Scotland left then it would be bad news for me and my English family. A least in the short term.

It’s good for people to be politically engaged - and what a great idea to involve those as young as 16 in the process - but the effect of the whole fervent debate was to get an Us and Them mode of thought going that was new for me and quite unattractive.

Also, by the end, I decided that if I’d been a Scot then I would have been strongly tempted to back Salmond. OK it would have been a rough and thoroughly dicey negotiation over the next couple of years, but Scotland would have been able to use the pound. There is little way Westminster would have hung one of its biggest trading partners out to dry.

Compromises would have been reached because they had to be. The Romantic in me was attracted by giving going-it-alone freedom a go. You cannot fight either Putin or ISIS with a Trident missile.

I made a trip to Edinburgh during the campaign and, having not been back for more than 25 years, was thrilled to be reminded what a wonderful city it is. So not only have I decided to ditch France and take my family on holiday to Scotland next May half term, but MT is having two conferences in Edinburgh next year: Inspiring Women and MT Live. All Yes-ers, No-ers and Undecideds from both sides of the border welcome.

London, from where I write this, is bigger than Scotland in terms of people and economic output. It became clear during the campaign that while many Scots Nationalists clearly despise England and everything they believe it stands for - feckless Eton toffery, nasty residual Thatcherism, neoliberal economics - they loathe London even more. They made it sound as if they were conquered Poles in 1940 under the Berlin jackboot or black South Africans suffering under apartheid. This was and is utterly ridiculous.

Last night I walked from the MT office just North of Oxford Street down to the River Thames. I don’t know if yesterday was payday for the capital’s masses but for most of the way the pavements were jammed with people, as if they’d just opened the doors at Wembley at the end of 90 minutes. It was teeming.

London is wildly successful, some would say too successful. It has the most energy in the 50 years I’ve known and lived in it. It’s superbly multi-cultural, by and large tolerant and successful. And it’s willing to subsidise other, less prosperous parts of the UK. It’s the place vast numbers of people and businesses want to flock to to improve their life chances. Not Pitlochry or Govan.

There are those who would seek to hobble London. Many wish to trip it up in any way they can by forced job-exports, mansion taxes, denying it the chance to expand further. You can duck and resist markets for so long but in the end there is only so much government can do. The proportion of those in Northern Ireland - a place with far poorer medium term economic and social prospects than Scotland - employed by the state is now 27.1%. (In Scotland it is 20%.)

Fraser Nelson wrote a good piece in The Spectator yesterday talking about the new Age of Rage. ‘The Westminster system is broken, because it has been taken over by professional politicians who focus on their opposite numbers rather than on the people they’re supposed to represent. That this led to mass apathy and resentment did not trouble them at first: to a professional politician, those who don’t vote might as well not exist. But now the abstainers have found new champions in the insurgent parties.’

What has happened in Scotland has stoked up the disgruntled English still further and will inevitably play into the hands of nationalists here. I’ve written before of my distaste for Farage and UKIP. Scratch the surface of the pint-and-a-panatella bonhomie and some very nasty, ignorant and shameful stuff lies underneath.

I don’t think rage is a good way to conduct politics or business. A cool, reasonable head is infinitely preferable. Rage leads to book-burning and other, even worse, decisions. But something unpleasant is stirring not just in this country but around Europe. Feel-good factors are in short supply and prospects look bleak.

If there were a presidential election in France tomorrow Hollande would be ousted by Le Pen - a racist crypto-fascist. So phew indeed, but the nationalist worm can is now wide open.

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