As the row over Scottish independence grows increasingly ugly, LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES – one of our greatest writers and proudly British – reluctantly concludes: Who wants to stay with someone who doesn’t love them?
The debate over Scottish independence hotted up yesterday after former SNP leader Alex Salmond gave incendiary evidence to a cross-party committee at Holyrood.
Salmond accused current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and former colleagues, including Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and SNP chief executive, of engaging in ‘a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort’ to destroy his reputation and career, even to the point of having him jailed.
The increasingly ugly row is now reaching such a pitch that some reckon it could even play a decisive role in preserving the union by eroding support for independence.
But here a literary giant, who would rather be British than English, explains why he thinks the Union has no future . . .
British novelist louis de Bernieres
When I wrote a letter to The Times newspaper recently giving my thoughts on the Scottish independence debate, I was soon made aware that I had kicked a hornet’s nest.
One man who got stung was Professor Sir Thomas M. Devine, the Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at Edinburgh University no less, who described my views as ‘rabble-rousing nonsense’ and a ‘xenophobic rant’.
Well, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. I had after all complained of the ‘smug grandstanding’ of the ‘Yes’ lobby and spoken of ‘the barely concealed Anglophobia of too many Scots’.
But in my defence I had been tempted by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision — in defiance of Westminster — to unveil plans to hold an advisory referendum on Scottish independence if her party wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections.
The exchange reminded me that one’s views on important political issues are usually more to do with one’s personal situation and attitudes than they are to do with common sense or rationality.
This applies to me as much as my detractors and so I had better begin with stating plainly where I am coming from. One English side of my family originated in Wales, and another in Yorkshire. One of my grandmothers was half-Irish, and the other half-Scottish.
My name is owed to a Huguenot soldier who left France in disgust at the religious persecution of Protestants by Louis XIV.
He joined William of Orange’s army, fought at the battle of the Boyne, and settled in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He and his descendants remained very French for at least a hundred years.
‘It is common knowledge that the reason that Boris Johnson (left) is unpopular in Scotland is that he is perceived as that worst of all things, a posh Englishman,’ de Bernieres said
Until recently I had Anglo-Irish relatives, who finally felt they had to leave after the assassination of Louis Mountbatten, the former Viceroy of India, in 1979.
Not long ago an interviewer noted my origins and asked ‘So, what are you?’
Well, in the first place, European. I mean ‘European’ in the sense of my culture, not in the sense of belonging to a failed political and economic project that I once voted to join and then voted to leave. I am a European of the Beethoven/Balzac/Berlioz and Lorca/moussaka/decent-coffee-and-red-wine variety, and definitely not of the Lord Adonis/ Philip Hammond/Michael Heseltine sort.
After that, there is only one possible answer to what I am. I am all of those listed in my potted history above.
I am British.
If you are nothing in particular, what else can you be? I am told that people of colour find it a little strange to declare themselves to be English, Welsh or Scots, so they call themselves British. Britishness is the mysterious abstract adhesive that holds us together.
And now approximately 50 per cent of those North of the Border are trying to force me to be English. I am not keen on this. The English have very little sense of themselves.
The other three nations learn their folk dances, songs and national myths in school. The English don’t even know the words to Greensleeves and have an embarrassing propensity for football hooliganism.
Never until recently did I ever tell a foreigner I was English. If my French friends kept referring to Britain as ‘England’, I would correct them.
My personal irritations aside, the Scots nationalists are trying to force the other 50 per cent of Scots to give up the nationality they were born with.
de Bernieres said: ‘I had been tempted by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision — in defiance of Westminster — to unveil plans to hold an advisory referendum on Scottish independence if her party wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections’. Pictured: Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon
This is the 50 per cent that has no chip on its shoulder, doesn’t blame others for their own failures, remembers that the English monarchy became Scottish when James I ascended the throne, and that the British Empire was largely won by doughty Scottish (and Irish) soldiers.
We all share the guilt for that one. Those Scottish (and Irish) soldiers may have joined up through sheer desperate poverty, but so did the English and Welsh ones.
The 50 per cent is rightly perplexed by the rewriting of history and the new myth that Scotland has been an English colony for hundreds of years.
Worse than this, the 50 per cent cannot speak out. The SNP claims that it is all about ‘civic nationalism’. Well, so it is, in theory. Such ‘civic’ nationalism tips over into fascism in the wink of an eye when you hand it over to the masses. The leadership struts about with an air of aggrieved innocence whilst hoovering up the votes that originate in vulgar prejudice.
I was in Edinburgh a few years ago when a Scottish boy was beaten up for having an English accent. It is common knowledge that the reason that Boris Johnson is unpopular in Scotland is that he is perceived as that worst of all things, a posh Englishman.
‘It is widely suspected that if Great Britain had someone less posh as Prime Minister, then Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) wouldn’t be doing quite so well,’ de Bernieres said
Being energetic, optimistic, dogged, resilient, a bit Turkish and entertaining can never make up for that.
It is widely suspected that if Great Britain had someone less posh as Prime Minister, then Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t be doing quite so well.
I have a letter before me from a doctor in Aberdeen who appears to be of Italian origin.
In reference to my letter to The Times, he says: ‘Your comment re Anglophobia is correct. I have worked in Scotland since moving up from England in 1967 and have both witnessed this and experienced it on occasions’.
Another source with three brothers living in Scotland tells me that if you are a unionist in a nationalist area, you have to keep your lips buttoned.
After the publication of this article, it wouldn’t surprise me if I never again get invited back to Scotland in a public capacity.
de Bernieres said: ‘For years at the Edinburgh Festival there was a large troupe of young people at the end of Princes Street, dressed up as Mel Gibson in Braveheart, doggedly drumming on huge drums. They were fired up with romance’
Exploiting Anglophobia while not overtly promoting it is a great tactic. It alienates the English.
Nobody with any sense wants to stay with somebody who doesn’t love them. If there were a referendum in the rest of Britain, I fear that the majority would vote for independence from Scotland, if only not to have Nicola Sturgeon so much in the news.
How nationalism works is common knowledge. It is a kind of romanticism that achieves traction by mythologising itself whilst blaming ‘the other’ for its own shortcomings. We all know who that worked so well for.
For years at the Edinburgh Festival there was a large troupe of young people at the end of Princes Street, dressed up as Mel Gibson in Braveheart, doggedly drumming on huge drums. They were fired up with romance.
It mattered nought that Braveheart was egregious piffle. William Wallace, the historical figure portrayed by Gibson, was a gentleman who spoke Italian and French, wouldn’t have dreamed of dressing up in a rug, and would definitely have preferred the music of the lute to the pounding of drums. The romance is all.
We know in retrospect that warnings of inevitable economic disaster did not deter the British from voting to leave the European Union.
de Bernieres said: ‘Nobody with any sense wants to stay with somebody who doesn’t love them. If there were a referendum in the rest of Britain, I fear that the majority would vote for independence from Scotland, if only not to have Nicola Sturgeon so much in the news’
Somehow we knew that ‘Project Fear’ was fake, and besides, no one of any sophistication believes that economics is actually a science.
Back when we voted to leave it was predicted that there would be a massive and instantaneous collapse the moment the votes were counted. This was a prophecy that turned out to be as baseless as the myth of the millennium bug: nothing happened whatsoever.
For this reason I see little sense in trying to persuade the Scots to remain in Great Britain by firing dire economic predictions at them. Those who voted in the EU referendum voted not with their wallets but with their hearts, as a matter of instinctual gut feeling, and it must be the same with the Scots if they get their new ‘illegal’ referendum.
All the same, we are left with some puzzlers.
Why do the SNP think that they will be able to continue to use sterling, even for a while? What will they do without the Westminster subsidy known as the Barnett Formula?
What happens to the idea of living off the oil wells, when we are all rapidly abandoning fossil fuels? How will they afford to raise and maintain their own defence forces?
‘To those Scots who wish to abolish Great Britain and give up their role in the Britishness that goes with it, I say ‘Good luck. I hope you do well. I’m sorry you’re forcing me to be English,’ de Bernieres said
What happens to the nuclear submarine base (and its jobs) at Faslane, on the Clyde? Why do they think they will be able to join the EU when this will almost certainly be vetoed by a Spain that’s worried about Catalonian secession and a France that really doesn’t like the Anglophone ascendancy?
Do they understand that accession will take years, during which time they won’t have a currency, let alone any subsidies?
Why do they want to join the Euro when it’s a manifest failure?
Why do they think that an interest rate fixed for a European average would fit Scotland?
How would they prosper under the northern European states’ passion for austerity?
How does it make sense to throw off London, where they have parliamentary representatives with real clout, in favour of a European Parliament of 27 nations which has no power whatsoever?
Can it really be that they’re just hoping for European handouts?
How will a hard border with England, involving tariffs, be managed?
What happens to the Scots who don’t want to give up their British passports? Will their nationality be changed by force majeure?
There are those who think that the current disarray within the SNP over the Alex Salmond affair would count heavily against it in a referendum. I think this is as unlikely as anyone being persuaded by the economic arguments.
If you believe in independence for its own sake, you would vote for it anyway and hope to sort out the details afterwards.
But what happens to the SNP after independence? It cannot have much of a future.
Its administration of Scotland does not seem to be particularly efficient or competent, and it has started to make exactly the same mistake as the Labour Party, which, under its middle-class metropolitan elite, became obsessed with the politics of grievance and identity, and completely forgot its historic role as defender of the interests of the working classes, who have consequently deserted it in droves.
It’s hard to believe that the average Scot is much impassioned by transgender rights, or believes that eminent and effective politicians should be sidelined for not being fashionably ‘woke’.
After independence you would expect Scottish politics to revert to the traditional contest between Labour and Conservative.
No one would want to go back to remote control. The further away one’s leaders are, the less they understand local conditions or deal with them efficiently.
If the English had any nous they would move their political capital back to York, where the Romans had it, precisely because it was at the centre.
It makes absolute sense to have governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh. It seems, however, that half the Scots really do want their political capital to move to Brussels, which, if not at the centre of Scotland, is certainly at the centre of a very gloopy quagmire.
To those Scots who wish to abolish Great Britain and give up their role in the Britishness that goes with it, I say ‘Good luck. I hope you do well. I’m sorry you’re forcing me to be English.’
To those who know themselves to be British, I say, ‘You’re welcome here. You’re a part of us and we’re a part of you. Come South.’
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