Hello, I’m English. And not just English; I’m from the bit where the decisions happen, where the money is, where the streets are paved with gold, I’m from The Greater London Area.
As you may be able to tell from my introduction to the subject, living in London has given me plenty of experience of being a hard-up and voiceless member of society. Getting along on little in a city full of the rich and the increasingly insular circle of the powerful is difficult, especially as it often seems the place is geared towards the needs of its wealthy inhabitants. And life is, of course, particularly trying for those Londoners with families to look after. According to a map showing the number of children living in poverty in 2009, there are many London Boroughs in which more than 50% of children are living in poverty pressed right up against areas where less than 10% are struggling. I doubt that many of these underprivileged families were happy about recent benefit cuts, or that they agree with a lot of what their mayor, Boris Johnson, has to say on things like IQ and the shaking of Cornflakes packets.
Of course the situation in London, shot calling billionaires a few miles up the road from disenfranchised families surviving on not enough hours of minimum wage, can easily be extrapolated to represent the North and the South of the UK. Despite the extreme poverty of some of its residents, London has the highest levels of wealth in the United Kingdom, closely followed by the rest of the South East. At the bottom of the pile come the North West of England and Scotland.
Unimpressively for a creative writer and editor, I missed this easy analogy for a long time. Despite my very personal interest in the situation in London, when Scottish Independence first came up in conversation around me a few years ago, my gut reaction was to dismiss it. In fact I quite violently railed against the idea, my reasoning being that I am not only English but British, and that I would be losing something if Scotland struck out on its own. To an extent this is a logical argument, the rest of the UK will initially lose something if Scotland becomes independent (although it could be argued it’ll be a ‘don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ kind of situation,) but that will be nothing compared to what Scotland could be gaining. I have, perhaps, given up on the South of England for now, on a parliament full of Conservatives who represent none of my interests. However, I also hope (and believe) that an independent Scotland will prove the naysayers, with their rather bitter claims that we will be brought to our knees north of the border by a lack of Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing, wrong. Eventually Scotland may be something of a beacon to the rest of the UK; a close by reminder that things can be done differently and that, even as far south as my home city, everything could change for the better. In the long run, I hope, everyone might gain from independence.
My changed mind doesn’t always sit too well with irritable unionists who haven’t, if they’re honest, thought too much about the issue (I’m not tarring all unionists with this brush of course, I’ve had plenty of thought provoking debates with well informed friends who are voting no, or are on the fence) and play the ‘why do you even care, you’re English,’ card. To this I reply that I think it’s particularly important that I am loud and proud about my Yes intentions. As a born and bred Londoner, no one can accuse me of blind nationalism, and I’ve put a lot of thought and a fair bit of research into my pro-independence position.
So I’m not only voting yes in the hope that it will help the rest of the UK to buck up. I’ve lived in Scotland for more than four years (albeit mostly as an undergraduate student,) and I intend to stay here for many more. I’m aware of the country’s problems, but I think that its residents have a better chance of tackling these problems on their own terms (and even the Better Together campaign seem to admit that Scotland could make it on its own). I’m excited by what we could do in an independent Scotland, by the potential to create something different, better, fairer than the rich/poor, leader/led divide that I am so sad to see when I visit London, and in a wider sense every day here in Glasgow.
In my time in Scotland I’ve learnt about Scottish history, from the Antonine wall to the Enlightenment, I’ve learnt about Scottish art, Scottish architecture and literature, I can now point to major Scottish cities on a map. I am more British than I ever was before. And at the end of the day, I’ll still be British in an independent Scotland if I want to be; there is nothing wrong with looking at close neighbours, with whom you share tradition, language, history and ancestry, ideas and industry, and being proud of aspects of their society. This will remain true whichever side of the border I eventually end up on. I only hope that in the near future the people of the rest of the UK, and Westminster’s politicians, recognise it and follow the example of a socially conscious independent Scotland to improve the lives of everyone in the UK.
Lotte Mitchell Reford