Those storms down in Devon and Cornwall look atrocious and I feel for the people on the telly, almost nightly, being forced to move out of their once safe, dry homes to a place of refuge. The same goes for the people in Somerset with those floods that seem to have been with them longer than the rains that caused the ark to be built.
To me, they are my fellow countrymen and women. To me they are family; their suffering is my suffering, their joy is my joy, their success is my success, and although we may from time to time be in competition with each other – like Edinburgh can be in competition with Glasgow – I know that in the scheme of things we are all working to make a better place of our island nation.
We get far more by baking a bigger pie than fighting over the share of the existing pie that is meanwhile likely to go stale.
Regular readers of this column will know that I get around a bit. As a traveller I do not think I am unusual when I say that in the years I worked in London I found myself more patriotically Scottish and missing Auld Reekie than when I was in Edinburgh. I shall never forget being at Twickenham to see Scotland beat England in 1983. Although I developed a liking for hoppy English ales I would seek out Scottish beers and single malts and champion them whenever I found them.
Similarly, when I was in Pakistan, Trinidad or Botswana I was often nostalgic and patriotic towards Britain and the British way of life. I never visit a country without meeting people that are warm to me because I am British, that love our cultural heritage from Kipling to Kelman or The Beatles to Burns, that admire the laws we left behind or the opportunities Great Britain has given them or their families.
I’ve met Germans that have thanked me for the work of Britons in drawing up their constitution; Icelanders from the president down that have benefited from our universities; Nigerians that have lived and prospered due to our delivering of vital utilities – often on occasions when others would not help. When we were together, us expats liked to make jokes at each other’s expense and laugh at ourselves, it was part of our humour that the locals often found odd and unrecognisable amongst themselves. A colleague from Leeds might introduce me to clients as like a Yorkshireman but without a sense of humour – and I would respond and introduce him as like a Scotsman but without any generosity! Later I would use the same joke with an Aberdonian as we would again rib each other.
And when I have worked, lived and holidayed in all parts of the United Kingdom – and these days maybe too many of us rush to go to Spain or other warmer climes before getting to know our own country – I have always found Scots or husbands and wives or sons and daughters of Scots in the smallest nook and cranny as if they had always been there. Some 300 years ago that would have been thought of as highly unusual, dangerous even. Now it is commonplace, so much so that it’s taken for granted.
The fabric of Great Britain is rich and beautiful, it is a tartan tweed jacket with blood and beer stains and leather patches on the elbows. It occasionally needs a repair, maybe a clean but it is at once protective and warm in the cold and cool and airy in the heat. If it were to lose a sleeve that was then only pinned back on or, worse, stuffed in the pocket, it would be less than the sum of its parts.
I retell these experiences because it is very easy to think that all the debate about Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom is about currency, pensions, supermarket prices, border controls, interest rates and the general standard of living. Just as it is a racist conceit to suggest that English folk are Dickensian John Bulls wanting the poor in the workhouse and immigrants sent packing.
So this week when we heard from three Scots economic professors that an independent Scotland could suffer 25 years of hardship, or from the highly successful chief executive of Sainsbury’s that grocery prices in a separate Scotland were bound to be higher, or from the Scottish accountants’ body that the future of Scottish pensions was unknown, I raised only two cheers for them making everyone aware of the issues at stake.
What I reserved three cheers for was when the chief executive of BP, Bob Dudley, waded into the debate – not because he said his company’s investment might be at risk but because he said “Great Britain is Great” – for it is not said enough.
It is not the bean counting that will sway the majority of people about how they vote, it is how they feel about continuing to be British in a closer way than independence will ever allow. It’s about creating and spreading opportunities and the sharing of risks.
Being in Great Britain gives us more and it will cost us less.