I first became interested in politics way back in the late '60s and I well remember hearing the shock news that the SNP's Winifred Ewing had taken the "safe" Labour seat of Hamilton. Around that time I started reading the Scotsman
and got to know the country far better on my annual visits up from London. Back then it seemed preposterous to think that Scotland would one day become independent.
Not any more.
In the early seventies I discovered libertarianism and remain a libertarian to this day. And now I live again in Scotland but one that has changed completely from the Labour/Tory one that I left so many years ago.
After Ewing's victory at Hamilton I read a letter in (I think) the Evening Standard
. It went something like this:
If Scotland became independent, the next thing is that Yorkshire would want to do so as well.
At that point I knew that "they didn't get it".
The thing's this: everyone in Scotland, whether they support independence or not, thinks that in some sense Scotland is a nation.
No one in Yorkshire thinks that in some sense Yorkshire is a nation.
Yes, Yorkshire's a very fine county - the only place I've lived in England other than London. Its inhabitants are rightly proud of their identity and like nothing better than beating those folk from the other side of the Pennines. But Yorkshire's not a nation and no-one there thinks that it is.
When the Treaty of Union was signed and then approved by the two Acts of Union in 1707 (and yes, there were two, obviously) the Scots insisted on three things:
(1) The retention of the Scottish legal system
(2) The retention of the Church of Scotland
(3) The retention of the Scottish education system
Those three "retentions" are what meant that for three centuries Scots continued to see themselves as citizens of a Scottish nation within a multi-national British state. And without those retentions the Scots would never had agreed to the merger of the two parliaments.
The problem is of course that our English friends never saw it that way. From the English point of view, when they thought about it at all, England seemed to have somehow acquired a strange, wet, mountainous additional bit of land somewhere up north. Although vaguely aware that these new "Englishmen" spoke with funny accents and were rather useful in the military, very few down South had any real idea that Scotland had retained its own different civil society as laid down in the Acts of Union. I well recall coming up here on different occasions with English friends who would exclaim: "I didn't realise that it was so different up here." And they weren't talking about the weather! Well, they ken noo...
But do they? I really don't think so. Last night I spent several hours reading the English comments on the Telegraph, the Guardian and on Political Betting. It really was extraordinary.
Would Scotland have its own embassies?
Would Scotland have its own military?
Would Scotland have its own Inland Revenue? (Hopefully not, but that's another story!)
Would Scotland have its own team at the Olympics?
Would Scotland have a head of state?
etc. etc. etc
Why is it all so mysterious? Those Scots who seek independence do so because they want their nation to be just like others. No mystery.
That incidentally, is the answer to those down south who say: "The SNP doesn't really want independence because they want to remain in the EU." Now I'm not a fan of the EU, but the point is that most Scots want to be like other normal nations. If that means out of the EU, so be it. If that means in the EU, so be it. It's the wanting to be a normal nation that's they key to what happened across Scotland on Thursday.
But Cameron, Clegg, Milliband, the BBC, and the rest of them don't get it, do they? That, in my opinion, is why independence is now inevitable.