Scottish independence: Could the referendum be settled by the English?

Nearly 400,000 English-born people live north of the border, and they all have a vote

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The Independent Online

Could the decision over whether or not Scotland leaves the UK to become an independent country ultimately rest with the English? The proposition is not as ridiculous as it sounds.

With less than a fortnight to go until the referendum, the result is increasingly difficult to predict, as a recent opinion poll showing there are now just six points between the two sides has demonstrated. There are an estimated 370,000 English-born people living in Scotland – and unlike the 830,000 ex-pat Scots now living south of the border, they get a vote.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that most of these voters are likely to support the No side of the argument: why, after all, would an English person want to sever existing ties to their home country? Polls have tended to agree, with a Panelbase survey in May reporting that 66 per cent of English voters in Scotland are against independence.

However, in recent months the Yes side has increased its attempts to win this troublesome group over. One group specifically focused on this is English Scots for Yes, which uses as its slogan a quote from Bashir Ahmad, the late SNP politician who became the first Asian member of the Scottish Parliament: “It’s not where we came from that’s important, it’s where we’re going together.”

Math Campbell-Sturgess, who was born near Cambridge but has lived in Scotland for 13 years, is the organisation’s co-founder. “I felt that there needed to be a group because I was speaking to people who were English but had lived in Scotland for most of their lives who didn’t feel like this was their referendum,” he said.

“We’re trying to get across to English Scots voters that it’s not about where you’re from – this is about your future, your children’s future, and if you live and work here you’re a Scot and should be taking part. It’s not about ethnicity, it’s really not.”

He added that the group seemed to be effective in winning over some voters because as English nationals, they could not be accused of blind patriotism. “People tend to respond to the idea that we’re not even from Scotland but we still want this,” he said. “They get that we’re being sincere.”

One of the group’s supporters is Naomi Stewart, 32, who is originally from Devon but has lived in Scotland for 10 years. “A lot of people are surprised that I’m a Yes voter but independence has never been about an anti-English vote. I stay in Lanarkshire now and it’s incredibly deprived. I desperately want life breathed back into it. Scotland deserves to be run by a Government that cares about its people,” she wrote in an online post.

Although he admitted that the group had attracted some nasty online comments from “a few idiots” and had witnessed “some unpleasantness” on the streets, Mr Campbell-Sturgess said that generally there had been very little negativity towards their cause. But there is no doubt that many English-born Scots are fearful about the prospect of independence and feel it would be a retrogressive step.

Linda Stein, 64, was born in Hallsworthy in Devon but moved to Scotland in 1977 and now lives in Edinburgh. A firm No voter, she is concerned that the debate around independence has stirred up anti-English sentiment. “I’m very worried about whichever way the vote goes – already I feel it’s been very divisive,” she said.

“Although I’ve been living here since the 70s I’ve had a few hard times about my English accent. I’ve definitely experienced anti-English feelings, but I think it would be much worse if it’s a Yes vote. All my friends are worried about the fallout afterwards – I think the aftermath is not going to be nice.”

She said her reaction to a Yes vote would be “profound disappointment followed by complete panic”, as she does not believe that Alex Salmond and his supporter have a well thought-out plan. But she said she would also feel a sense of alienation having lived in Scotland for so long.

“I chose as a single girl to come and live and work in Scotland and bought a flat because I prefer it here,” she said. “I’m here through choice because I love Scotland so much. It’s not just imbued in me – I didn’t grow up with William Wallace and all that – I’m here because I think it’s a wonderful country with excellent ideals.”

Another English-born No voter, a retired teacher from Somerset who has also lived in Scotland since the 70s but declined to be named, said she would consider leaving the country in the event of a Yes vote to rejoin her children in England.

“When we arrived 36 years ago and went to a small village in West Lothian I was called a ‘foreigner’. That was the feeling then, but I thought as the years had gone on that Scottish society had got a lot more open and accepting of English people than it was then. I feel that now we’re returning to a more polarised point of view,” she said.

“All through the years you are I was aware of a certain racism towards the English. I was always very much made aware that I was English, and people surprised me with their very strong stereotypes. I thought it was getting better, but now I feel that it’s going backwards again. One is going to change from living in your own country – Britain – to being a foreigner, an English person in Scotland.”

The English Yes voter

Clare Ferguson, 33, was born in Lancashire but now lives in Dundee and runs a gift shop in St Andrews.

“It’s nothing to do with nationalism for me – I’m very happily English and don’t consider myself Scottish at all. I felt I had to really look into the details and look very openly at both sides, because I’ve got three children here and I’ll never leave Scotland; it’s a wonderful country.

I do like the UK – I’ve never had any issues with it – but when I looked into the finer details I found that there was no other vote other than Yes. I think an independent Scotland will be a far less plutocratic country, following the progressive socialist ideals of the Scottish people, which really appeals to me.

I’ve never had any out and out negativity from other English people about my decision, but I have had many quizzical looks. I think some have the idea that I’m letting down the English people, but I don’t feel that’s the case at all. I’m a resident of Scotland and it’s a vital decision for Scotland. I love England, but I don’t see how that’s of any relevance.”

The English No Voter

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Anya O’Shea, 23, was born in London but went to university in Edinburgh, after which she started volunteering for the Better Together campaign.

“I first became aware of the debate over independence two years ago while I was still at university. I was living and studying in Scotland but all my family were down south, and the whole notion of building new borders and barriers just didn’t make sense to me. So at first it was an emotional motivation: ‘I don’t want to be broken up from my family’.

Since then I’ve made the decision to stay in Scotland and make a home here, which has made me think about the other arguments too, the uncertainties and the risks. I think the expectation that people should take a blind leap into the unknown is totally unfair on working families. I also think nationalism is a fairly outdated concept in a world of globalisation, social media and the internet.

I’ve never had any issues about my nationality – people move to Scotland from all over the world because they want to make a home here. But if there is a Yes vote I would worry more about my prospects here, because I’m only just starting out in my working life.”

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