Reading through David Torrance’s recent travails in which he had a (slightly self-satisfied) Road to Damascus ‘the UK is great!’ moment, I had my own revelation as to just why I’m not bought into the No campaign that DT now seems certain is on its way to victory.
Having asked where I was from (I always say Scotland with the caveat that I work in London), his face glowed and the compliments flowed. After salvaging a disappointing situation by booking a cheap flight from Borispol Airport to Georgia, again I was struck by how others see us. On the corridor linking my Aerosvit flight to Tbilisi’s International Airport, posters proudly proclaimed that the Bank of Georgia was listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Then, on the high-octane taxi journey into the Georgian capital’s charming Old Town, I noticed European Union flags everywhere. Later I learned this was a manifestation of a (probably quixotic) Georgian desire to join the EU. Although London’s banking sector and the European project might appear bruised and battered to us – perhaps irreparably – to Georgia’s political elite they represent something to strive for.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that some chap in Georgia is enamoured by the London Stock Exchange but for me personally, well, I honestly just don’t care. This guy might as well have a penchant for the French Euronext or the Stockholm OMX exchanges. Good for them. I simply don’t recognise the London Stock Exchange, and most other such institutions, as being something that I and my forebears helped to create. Indeed, the London Stock Exchange is a shining example of why I want to opt-out of the United Kingdom and into an institution that I feel a part of and feel excited to be a part of. Furthermore, the Stock Exchange has 3,000 companies listed on it from 70 different countries and LSE itself is a plc owned by major shareholders Borse Dubai (21% owners), Qatar Investment Authority (15%) and Fidelity International (5%, based in America or Bermuda, depending on which holding company is the ultimate parent). The CEO is Xavier Rolet from France.
So the London Stock Exchange is an odd company to make one go all goose bumpy about being British, unless one just likes the name.
Anyway, the argument that we should vote for the United Kingdom because our institutions are so great is fatally undermined when people have no attachment to said institutions. The two main exceptions that I personally make to my ambivalence to most things British are the NHS and the BBC.
The NHS, taken first because it’s the easiest to dismiss, has already been severed in two at the border with Nicola Sturgeon responsible for a wholly Scottish and distinctly more public health service than her counterpart Andrew Lansley who, for now, covers England and Wales. There’s no overlap there, the NHS’ are, for want of a better word, independent. There is no reason to fear the end of NHS post-independence.
The BBC is an entirely different kettle of fish, and Brian Wilson clearly took merriment in pressing Alex Salmond’s many available buttons on this very issue in the Scotsman recently, the killer line perhaps being: “I have heard of setting the aspirational bar low, but this really does take the shortbread. “Cry Freedom! Our telly will be like RTE”!” The man has a point.
The BBC is wonderful, it carries a global gold standard and for the price of a few beers a month one gets internet, radio, news and an abundance of excellent TV and sport. I can’t say I’ve ever watched RTE, but a Scottish equivalent in place of the BBC would surely be a poorer result.
If voting Yes to independence means saying farewell to the BBC, then many sitting at home will be thinking again.
For me, the straightforward solution is simply to keep the BBC post-independence. “But there’s no longer a Britain” people complain, which is factually incorrect aside from anything else as it is the political entity ‘the UK’ that is at risk of being broken up, not the geographically sound Britain. The British Broadcasting Corporation will still have a natural home whatever the outcome in 2014 is.
Nowhere in the rules for what faces us over the next couple of years is a diktat that independence must involve shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. We can keep the Queen, keep the pound and keep the BBC if we want (and rUK wants). We can decide for ourselves how we run things. See how much fun this is? Sure, it’s independence-lite, or Devo Max heavy, depending on your point of view and/or party colours, but there’s nothing wrong with going for the optimal deal rather than the black of white visions of a future that is being sold to us. If it’s the BBC that is worrying you about voting Yes, just head to any European country and gaze in wonder at the healthy cross-fertilisation of TV networks across the many, many borders on the Continent.
I have to say, to address the other aspect of David’s article, the flurry of flag waving that has been going on since several weeks ago, I am similarly confounded by the suggestion that all these gold medals will mean Scots will rush to vote No to independence. Now, I happen to think that a flood of No votes will indeed be one unhappy direct result of the Olympics, but I’m as happy for Mo Farah and Vicky Pendleton winning their medals as I am for the US’ Ryan Lochte and Aussie Sally Pearson.
Even though Scottish successes for Chris Hoy etc did give me that patriotic rush of delight at the time; at the end of the day, they won their success through working their backsides off in their own time and on their own dime. It’s got naff all to do with me and naff all to do with Scotland’s constitutional setup, though people are of course free to vote for whatever reason tickles their fancy.
So, unionists are seemingly already backslapping themselves on a job well done but their current high standing may well be built on shifting sands. There is nothing tangible behind an Olympic feel good spirit (other than a £24bn price tag) and there is no reason why Scotland should necessarily feel any attachment to London institutions, irrespective of how popular they may be outwith our current borders.