Yesterday was the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, which brought England, Wales and Scotland together to form the United Kingdom. So it was that last night, the BBC’s Newsnight programme organised a debate about the union and the question of Scottish independence, which I watched with great interest (apart from them having Kelvin McKenzie, a man who should crawl under a rock and die, on again).
One thing did annoy me slightly however: quite apart from English chauvinism, pretty much all of the Scots in the audience fell into a trap regarding the notion of who the “English” are. It seemed to me, sitting in my house in Whitby, that many Scots have a view of England that is stereotypically Home Counties and, for want of a better expression, Southern.
To be honest, that’s not a view that resonates with me at all. In fact, considering where I was born and where I now live, I feel I have far more in common with many Scots that I do with much of the South. What do I mean? Well, for example, consider the fact that I was born on Teesside. Middlesbrough was a major centre for steel, chemicals, shipbuilding and heavy industry of all kinds. It is still a major petrochemical centre. It was surrounded by the Yorkshire and Durham coalfields and, at one time we mined iron there ourselves. So, much of this looks similar to the west coast of Scotland, round the Clyde especially. Now, I live in Whitby, a North Sea fishing port that is feeling the effects of fish quotas and fisheries policy, like a lot of coastal Scotland. I’m surrounded by the kind of wild and rugged terrain that characterises the northern part of Britain. For these reasons I don’t think I share much with the largely metropolitan agenda being set in national politics, and why I find myself more in tune with the Scots.
Many of the arguments about union and independence take their cues from this poverty of thinking regarding national identities. There isn’t a discrete England to split from, when much of the north, from The Lakes to the Humber, shares more in outlook and character with Scotland than with London and the South East. and I don’t think an “English” parliament would help that either, for many of the same reasons (and it’s not often I agree with Tony Bliar!).