Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion, published in 1808, contains this famous but oft-misattributed (usually to Shakespeare) phrase:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive” (Canto Six, lines 532-533).
As I study the cut and thrust of the Scottish independence debate, I am minded to say how applicable that axiom is to the articulate, messianic and delusional leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign.
And having practised a good long while, oh how they did improve their style! What they offer is a dazzling, highly tempting but largely undeliverable fantasy, with so much being conditional and beyond their influence or power to give.
And talking of tangled webs, do the Scots truly realise the extent to which our nations are intertwined? If Yes wins, the euphoria will soon be tempered as the sheer minutiae of the divorce settlement becomes apparent. The negotiations on how to divide the family silver will, I predict, become mired in complexity, rancour and delay. They will likely continue after 24th March 2016, the date chosen for the formal separation. Scotland would have become a competitor vying with its former partners for those things that characterise and sustain an independent country. As for the rest of the UK, having been scorned, why should it play nice? In so many areas, the remains of the UK would have the whip hand.
Even if the queen is retained, the new country will resemble a socialist republic. But people, money and businesses can move quicker than any politician and they will decide which side of the border they wish to be. Those who go south will deprive the new, insular nation of a vital asset but to the benefit of England, with its world view; their need for property would fuel a rise in house prices and stimulate new build; unemployment could fall as companies transfer; capital will continue to relocate. Some of this may advantage the northern counties in particular.
If the Yes camp loses, this Englishman wouldn’t want to be among them as the results came through. Weary after years of arguing their case but full of a sense of destiny, they will have repaired to various locations to watch the results as they are declared. At first, there would be celebratory anticipation but slowly, as the unwanted news drifted through the mood would change. The sense of loss, of being cheated at a turning point in history, will be all the greater and the reaction likely to be unpleasant. Given the strident nationalism that has been shamelessly stoked and with hopes for independence raised to fever pitch, only then to be denied overnight, I do not see the Yes people being good losers.
In concert with many people I find myself pulled in opposite directions. Aphorisms like “you never appreciate what you have until you lose it” and “better the devil you know than the one you don’t” take me one way. The hard man in me says, “To hell with them, all they do is carp and act like perpetual victims, never wrong but always wronged – usually by the English, of course. Give them their independence and everything that goes with it”. So if I am in two minds, what has it done to the Scots themselves? How many houses are split, father against son, brother against sister, etc.? And you know what they say about a house divided…
However, I feel they should go it alone in order to resolve, once and for all, the question of whether they are capable of being a viable sovereign state. They have been cosseted long enough.
I am disheartened at the way Westminster politicians are scampering around offering all sorts of goodies if Scotland stays (can anyone imagine J-C Junker doing the same to keep the UK in the EU?). Labour’s only real concern is their block of Scottish MPs, the loss of which will likely ensure the party is out of power for years. Given the mess they made of this and so much else, no bad thing I say.
This issue has been dragging on for far too long. Whatever the result, Scotland in particular, and the UK in general, will be badly bruised. I also believe it won’t be the end of the matter. Roll on Friday 19th September when we can start dealing with the fallout.
Photo by the justified sinner