Belfast Telegraph

Scottish independence: Whether Yes or No, we can learn lessons from the Scots

By Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Calm down, dears. It's not all bad news from Scotland. Weekend polls have caused much consternation and quivering. As the referendum draws closer, the Yes camp is going up in the polls and, according to a YouGov survey, may have a narrow lead.

Just a few weeks back, after the first televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, it seemed all but over for the SNP. Several businesses, the Bank of England, the Chancellor, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Tories – all want Scotland to stay in the Union and warn of dire consequences if it goes its own way.

I, too, would like the British nation to stay as one, because it is a sustainable polity within which various histories have a place. Yet I also understand Scottish independence hopes and so admire the Yes side's spirit. We should thank them for shaking up natural British complacence and inertia.

Scots wanting out are not Ukipy, or lazily nationalistic. They are buzzing, talking, thinking, debating, really looking at the past and future. They are looking at democracy, what it is and what it can be. How can we not be impressed by that?

Western democracy risks being destroyed by internal torpor and cynicism, as well as by external forces, among them Islamicist zealots and Russian imperialism. The Scots put to shame the career disgruntled and disengaged. And they remind us how vital it is to fight for political ideals.

This is not just about kicking the Tories, or provoking the English. Many Yes voters decided to join the camp after months of patronising and at times horribly insulting statements and warnings from leading lights in England.

At the weekend, for example, these choice words were published in Right-wing newspapers: "[A Yes vote] will usher in a 'banana republic of tax and turmoil"; "Scotland will be poorer, more unstable and will require deeper cuts in public spending than if it remains part of the UK".

In the meantime, Ed Miliband was praised for wanting to build a new Hadrian's Wall and the Queen and Prince Charles were said to be "horrified" by the very thought of Scottish independence.

David Cameron was due to meet the monarch at Balmoral, perhaps to hatch further, inept plots. But you cannot fool, or scare people into remaining in a partnership.

There is now some talk of giving big concessions and powers to Scotland. So, whatever happens, the SNP wins. It will have been worth all the aggro and drama.

This exercise is more than simply a grab for more power. It is a battle of ideologies, too. In Scotland, though big business behaves badly – and there is an Edinburgh elite which is just as self-serving as that in London – few people seem to want the manic and ruthless Anglo-Saxon social, or economic, model.

They incline towards the Scandinavian nations, which various studies have found to be more equal and more content than the UK and US. They also believe in the EU project and don't share the sour views of many anti-EU Englanders.

I spoke to several Scotsmen and women who do not want to leave the EU and who ask, pointedly, why they are lectured on the benefits of the Union by the same people who hate being part of Europe. Good question.

Unions are good for all of us and it would be a shame to give up on the historical hopes and aspirations that made the United Kingdom.

But I think we should give due respect to the Scots for this political probe, test and new settlement. And learn from them about heartfelt citizenship engagement.

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