I have come in for a bit of flak today (and a few -- but rather fewer -- pats on the back) for signing THAT LETTER about the Scottish referendum.
Let me say that I am usually not a great signer of round robins or on-line petitions (I admit that have seen them work but I still have a slightly puritanical view that it is a rather "no effort" way of getting your point across). So why did I make an exception?
The truth is that I have been feeling very ambivalent about the referendum discussion. On the one hand, I have winced every time Cameron et al have put their oar in to the debate, to urge the Scots to vote NO. It has always sounded condescending and -- to be honest -- would have sent me instantly voting in the opposite direction if I had had a vote to cast. The bottom line is that this decision is for the Scots: and that's that; non-negotiable.
On the other hand, there are obvious ways in which England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be affected by a Scottish vote for independence -- in my view for the worse. And I do feel some obligation to say (take it or leave it) that I would miss Scotland, and think that the society of what had been the UK would be impoverished by the split. (I'm thinking, among other things, about political, cultural traditions and pressures; about the distinctive contribution of a particular form of Scottish intellectual socialism and political radicalism, and so on.)
My reaction is partly a selfish one, I admit. I think that "the rump" would be worse off without Scotland, and the political decisions we take would be liable to be less enlightened. But I also think, less selfishly, that the force of our joint combination on the European and world stage is likely to be more effective if we are together; that we are a good team.
I know full well that it is not for me to decide. And it's precisely because this letter said exactly that ("the decision is yours alone") -- and because it said clearly that the signatories valued the union (without going on to tell Scotland what was good for it, or how the Euro wouldnt work, or how Salmond's promises were unsustainable) -- that I felt I wanted to sign.
In a funny way, it seems to me a bit like a strange, blown-up version of a non-acrimonious divorce (I'm sure I'll get into trouble for this analogy, but I will use it anyway, as it does capture a bit of my motivations. The fact that it is a domestic comparison is not intended to trivialise -- precisely the reverse.).
It feels rather as if my long term husband was going ahead with a separation. We haven't been getting on all that well, and my own behaviour hasn't been perfect. Things aren't all that bad, but he thinks he'd be better on his own -- and anyway, he's only going round the corner, so we can still have the odd meal together, Christmas with the kids etc. No total split. We've been talking a lot about the practicalities, paying off the mortgage, splitting the bank accounts. All very civilised. One thing I have not said is that I am going to miss him like hell and dont want him to go, Maybe, I eventually reflect, he doesnt even know that I'd love him to stay. I fully accept that leaving has to be entirely his decision, but shouldn't I just have said out loud that I'm really sad about it (and not just about the money).
I signed that letter because I wanted to say just that: it is none of my business to interfere but, speaking from the heart, I really hope we stay together. Nothing more sinister (or profound) than that.