Oh, to be young and Scottish! I wouldn’t have the slightest hesitation in putting my St Andrew’s cross next September in the “Yes” box, and I hope – for their sake – that this is what a majority of Scots decide to do. This is a time that offers an opportunity without precedent, and one that will be gone for a very long time, if not for ever, if it is not seized. I do not write this out of any perverse English nationalism, any desire to be shot of pesky Scotland and the Scots – though such sentiment undoubtedly exists south of the border. Nor is it for self-interested economic reasons: the net outflow of cash from the UK Exchequer, and specifically, on a miniature scale, from my taxes, that helps to subsidise every Scot.
It is because in Scotland you can divine a long-standing sense of nationhood and a strong sense of national identity that have flourished under devolution. Some say that Scotland is by now so separate, de facto, that there is no need for full independence; it would make no difference. Or if there were a difference, it would be an increased sense of precariousness and risk, outside the warm security blanket of the UK. I disagree. Scotland is a nation. It has a well-developed sense of common purpose and it has a chance to be formally recognised as a nation state. I say: dare to be optimistic.
That view was only reinforced when the First Minister, Alex Salmond (with his increasingly impressive deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, beside him), presented the White Paper on independence this week. More than 600 pages that document may be, but it answers many practical questions that Scots might have, including some of the apparently flippant ones, like the detail of television, that could, however subliminally, influence a vote. Contrary to many condescending English comments, this represents a serious programme, and its presentation was equally serious. This was a statement by a government with a purpose, about a country with a coherent idea of itself. Why should Scotland not enjoy full international recognition, take a seat in the UN Security Council and have its own say on regional issues of the day?
If I needed any further convincing that Scotland not only can, but should, go it alone, it came from the grudging and simplistic attacks on the day from Alistair Darling. Superficially, Darling is an inspired choice to front the “No” – or “Better Together” – campaign. He breathes gravitas; he survived a spell in a failing government with his reputation intact, even enhanced.
When you look at Darling now, though, and you listen to what he says about Scotland, and you hear him saying petulantly, as he did on Monday, that he was “angry, very angry” about what he insisted was the loose way of the Salmond team with its economic figures, did you believe him? Or did you think, as I instinctively did, that Darling, with his clipped phrases, his mock scorn and his negativity, were the past, and the future was somewhere and someone else?
Of course, there are holes in the blueprint for an independent Scotland, but Salmond and his crew have far more going for them that can be set out in mere words. With a population of 5.2 million, around the size of Norway, Scotland is the optimum size for a governable nation – which probably comes in somewhere between two million and 10 million. Size, small size that is, offers advantages and those include advantages of administrative costs.
When Salmond and his economists say they will improve the social safety net, keep a state pension age lower than elsewhere in the UK, keep higher education free and raise the minimum wage, there is no reason why this should not be possible – not least because they are also promising a simplified tax system. Simplification should mean less evasion, less avoidance and leakage to tax havens. Not only that, but Scots might decide, like their Scandinavian cousins, that a certain level of personal taxation was tolerable in return for certain benefits.
This should be a national decision. It is not one that Scots can currently make, but the logic of the ways in which they are now separate from England suggests that this is a direction they could take – and prosper. And if, as Darling and others have appeared to threaten, an independent Scotland is curtly told by London that it cannot keep the pound, it should not fret, but apply to join the euro – which it might be required to do anyway, as a new member of the European Union.
You may argue that my vision of an independent Scotland is irresponsible or, at best, idealistic. But in my mind’s eye there are precedents – and not just the established countries of Scandinavia – but the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where national flags fly confidently in the streets and the buck stops for national decisions with the national parliament, and people – for the most part – look not just happy, but at home.
This is something that only independence will bring. So I say to Scots, with more than a little envy, Take this opportunity of a lifetime, and run with it.
No one can wear a scarf as well as Mourinho
Let me offer a rare Dejevsky fashion tip, and please accept it in the well-meaning spirit it is intended.
What short memories you British men have! The last time Jose Mourinho was managing Chelsea, less than 10 years ago, his way with a long scarf spawned a myriad imitators, to the point where it was no longer stylish any more. Here’s a reminder. Some people, mostly Continental Europeans, of whom Mourinho, a Portuguese, is a stellar example, are born with an ability to make a loop with their long scarf, put the other end through it and look modishly cool. Most of humanity isn’t born that way, and that includes most Brits.
Not a day goes by without my spotting a dozen or more 30-plus gents on the streets of London with their too-short striped scarves knotted à la Mourinho. Just leave it to the Special One, OK?