Mr Cameron’s speech had some wonderfully crafted sections, with real poetry and some nice imagery. But, like candy floss, it was all fluff, with no real substance. And, after the initial sugar rush of sentiment, the hunger for change remains.
There was one section of his speech that was of particular interest to me – the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the case for independence is weakened because many Scots live south of the border, and many English people north of the border. I lived in England for over 10 years and worried about the state of the English NHS and voted in local elections and cared about the quality of the school my (English) partner’s son went to. But none of this made me think that Scotland should not be independent.
Indeed, I think the fact that so many Scots live in England and have built a life and a family in England should lead us to the opposite conclusion.
First, Scots living in England is clearly not an argument against independence. When I last looked at the figures there were, proportionately, as many people from the Republic of Ireland living in England as Scots – and clearly Ireland is not ruled from Westminster.
Second, it is also not an argument for closer union. The fastest growing and largest group of people now living in England is EU citizens. A UK government parliamentary answer in 2009 suggested that almost 900,000 people from the EU 15 states (i.e. not the new accession countries like Poland or the Czech Republic) live in the UK and Channel 4’s fact check quotes an ONS figure of almost 1.8 million for 2008-09. So, if the Prime Minister’s argument is correct, he should be telling us about the need for even greater European integration – which clearly he is not.
Finally, the reason why the PM has unwittingly undermined his own anti-independence case is that the number of Scots living in England (and vice-versa) is confirmation of the strength of our social union, which will continue with independence. What will end is the residency in London of the 59 Scottish MPs sent to the House of Commons (at a cost of £50 million). We will no longer have a political union which sees a Tory PM we didn’t vote for, running far too many of our affairs.
The connections that bind us together as part of a family of nations will remain. How do I know this? Well, it was in the 1980s that Westminster lost its final legal power to legislate for Canada and Australia (what we seek for Scotland) and yet, this doesn’t stop tens of thousands of Canadians or Australians setting up home in the UK. Add to them the New Zealanders or South Africans, the Indians and Pakistanis (and more) who live in and contribute to England. The same parliamentary answer I referred to earlier, shows 150,000 Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders living in the UK.
These Commonwealth citizens reside happily in England and they are proof that yes, independence means the end of Westminster rule, but it does not mean the end of the close bonds of history, family or residency that link us together. The fact that so many Scots live in England is proof, if it was ever needed, that the social union will flourish with independence.