We all need to have a say in Scotland’s great debate

Should Scotland vote yes next month, it will force us to confront our own identity

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The Independent Online

I have a number of Scottish friends, and they encompass all shades of opinion about Scottish independence. For a while, I had to feign interest as they presented their respective, cogent and passionately argued, views, but, as the day of the referendum on independence approaches, I have found myself becoming much more engaged with what happens on September 18. Once I was uninterested, and now I am just disinterested.

Having heard the arguments, and been swayed this way and that, I really can't say which way I'd jump if I had a vote. And by the looks of things, I am not alone, as there are an estimated million Scots who have yet to decide where to put their cross. The only thing that's certain is that the turnout is likely to dwarf what we've become used to in Westminster elections: someone very close to the Yes campaign told me that he reckons it could be higher than 80 per cent.

The viewing figures for this week's head-to-head TV contest between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling would tend to support this view. Although not quite as popular the start of The Great British Bake Off, 1.2 million people in Scotland watched the debate on TV, and so many tried to follow the action online that the website crashed. This meant that exiled Scots, and indeed anyone interested in the future shape of the United Kingdom, couldn't watch uninterrupted coverage of a rather important political debate.

This was madness. We have countless TV channels serving up non-stop cooking programmes, old episodes of Blackadder, or live coverage of Gaelic football, and yet there wasn't a corner of our digital landscape in which something that cuts across all our lives could exist. A spokesman for ITV, who screened the debate, said the programme was shown "in the area where our viewers have a vote in the question under discussion". We in England don't have a vote in the American elections either, but no one would suggest it's not a matter of deep interest from Auchtermuchty to St Austell.

The point is that, while no one outside the borders of Scotland gets the chance to effect the outcome in a direct way, the result is of practical, cultural and emotional importance to the rest of the United Kingdom, and we have a right to understand the issues, and follow the argument. We don't have to watch, and a vast majority will still prefer to watch a Victoria sponge being baked than a discussion about North Sea oil revenues, but broadcasters have a responsibility beyond their remit to infantilise the nation with reality shows (the ITV regions beyond Scotland - allowed a choice - showed Alan Titchmarsh's Love Your Garden instead of the referendum debate).

And while I may be in the undecided camp as far as the substantive issues are concerned, I do know one thing: should Scotland vote yes next month, it will force we English to confront our own identity. Some may think that's a good thing, but I'm not so sure. Either way, there are many reasons why we should care about what happens north of Berwick-on-Tweed, and it's a disgrace we haven't been allowed to join the debate.