Some thoughts on the Scottish referendum from a disenfranchised idealist


Craig Barker
Craig Barker

Whatever you do, please shed a tear with me for what we have lost

I have thought long and hard about posting anything to do with the referendum and I am not seeking to influence anyone’s vote. I’ll say something about the substance of the debate below, but initially I would like to make two preliminary points, first about the fact that this referendum is held, and second, about the entitlement to vote.

I feel genuinely sad that the politicians on both sides of the debate have led us to this. The referendum simply forces thousands of people to emphasise what makes us different, instead of embracing so much of our shared values. No matter what the vote is tomorrow, I think we will have lost a little bit of something that is very dear to me, and that is our shared identity and our shared values. Even a “No” vote will, apparently, result in more power being devolved to the Scottish Government – this in fact looks like a win-win, and the ability to call the Westminster Parliament’s bluff may yet work out to be the final vote swinger away from independence. But yet again the message is one of difference, of separation.

Why can we not simply be Scottish and British, like French-Canadian, African-American, or British-Caribbean, for that matter. Split identities are almost always challenging, but they are what makes a diverse society fascinating. I have been Scottish and British all of my life, and many generations of my family have been before me. I don’t want a “Yes” vote tomorrow (sorry to all of my family and friends who do). If there is a “yes” vote, I admit that part of me will feel proud, because it will have been done for the right reasons. On the other hand, most of me will feel rather sad and empty, and a little bit lost. But neither will I be celebrating a “No” vote – I really firmly believe it should simply not have come to this.

The second meta-issue concerns the fact that, like other Scots living and working in England, I’m actually not entitled to vote. I was initially very angry about being disenfranchised as a Scot living and working in England – someone told me it was not any of my business. That hurt and it was wrong. I was born in Scotland, educated in Scotland, sang, danced cheered and cried in Scotland for 27 of my 48 years. I care about the future of Scotland, and about the rest of the United

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Kingdom. Surely some evidence of birth in Scotland and a willingness to return for the vote could have been agreed?

I am a proud Scotsman in every sense of the word. My “Scottishness” has increased, as it usually does with the Scots, the longer I have been away from home. It is still my home, my place, my heart. And that will not change with or without independence. I don’t need to be from a different country in order to feel proud of who I am and where I come from.

I promised to say something about the vote itself, so here goes: Pinning my colours to a mast I would have voted no if I had been given the right to vote. Simply stated I do not want to wake up on Friday morning and be a foreigner to my wife, to my children (for they are English), to my in-laws, to my many friends in East Sussex and beyond. The thought is saddening and I ask you all to consider it for a moment. But of course that will not actually change anything. We will still love and care for one another, in our family and among our friends.  Independence to me, in that respect, may be little more than a nuisance and I would not expect anyone to shed a tear for that.

I understand the desire for independence, the need to control one’s own destiny. If I had lived in Scotland I may well have been more pro-independence. I admire the passion of those who are fighting hard for it, especially those in my family. I know many will say that the fight against “English rule” has been long and can never be won. I personally think the notion of “English rule” is misjudged and unhelpful, and wonder sometimes how different being ruled from Edinburgh will be to those, for example, in the Highlands, to being ruled from London. But that is a different question.

There are, undoubtedly, some things that bind the Scots together. Those fighting for independence are proudly expressing some of the things that make us Scottish: the resonant call for a fairer society; for social justice; for money to be spent on the things that matter, like health and education rather than weapons and foreign conflicts. I get it and I share those values and desires. But get this – these are not Scottish values alone – we cannot claim them only for ourselves.

Of course the Scots have never voted for a Conservative government (a common refrain in favour of a “yes” vote). I have never voted Conservative and I never will. There are millions of good, honest, caring, loving wonderful English, Welsh and Irish people living the UK alongside people from all around the world, who share these values and fight for them each and every day. We should be fighting together and we should be fighting for a system that at least tries to ensure that the government works for the majority of the people reflecting the social democracy that most of us want to see.

I recently wrote a book chapter about “caring” in the context of international law, linking it to the notion of shared responsibility to provide support to the “others” after humanitarian disasters and in order to avoid massive human rights abuses. One of the major foundations and problems with international law, and that mitigates against caring in these contexts, is sovereignty and the division of the world into separate independent states where each nationality is an “other” even to those who are effectively “the same”.

Whatever the outcome tomorrow, I, for one, will be fighting to keep us together, if not in fact, at least in spirit.

Professor Craig Barker is Director of the Centre for Rights, Responsibilities and the Law at the University of Sussex.

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