Forget that hackneyed line from G. K. Chesterton about the people of England never having spoken yet. As they mow their manicured lawns, our southern neighbours are finally beginning to find their collective voice. At least they’re starting to mutter quietly about us behind their high garden hedges. A new opinion poll in the Telegraph suggests that only a fifth of southern voters now “strongly oppose” Scotland becoming independent. A finding which prompted its associate editor Camilla Tominey to report (with only English readers in mind, obviously): “In a worrying development for the Prime Minister, it seems attitudes toward our Caledonian cousins are apathetic at best.” How else to interpret the further findings that 30% of English voters aren’t at all exercised about the future of the Union and a quarter are actually in favour of us seceding?
Jackie Doyle-Price didn’t need any newspaper survey to tell her that Brexiteers are becoming Scexiteers. The Tory member for Thurrock has been detecting signs of Scotophobia among her constituents in Essex like she used to encounter rampant Europhobia. “The kind of conversations I now have on the doorstep, that used to be fruity conversations about Brussels, are now fruity conversations about Scotland,” she told a parliamentary committee a few weeks back. Her message to the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was clear: “We could end up losing the Union by benign neglect just as happened with Brexit.”
The Telegraph’s man at Holyrood has no doubts about what has led to this most distressing state of affairs. Alan Cochrane’s analysis of the poll findings pandered to the prejudices of his paper’s core subscriber base in the Home Counties:
The words ‘whingeing Jocks’ trip off English tongues much more readily nowadays than they used to. And when you think about it, how could it be otherwise? Successive nationalist governments in Edinburgh, and especially that headed by Nicola Sturgeon, always insist that they don’t deliberately seek to get up English noses in their perpetual search for slights – real or imagined – from London. But poisoning the well in relations between the two countries, however inadvertently, as they’d claim, is one of the most favourite shots in their locker.
Poisoning the well seems to be a fair summary of what the Telegraph sought to achieve with its survey about the current state of Anglo-Scottish relations. It whipped a whole set of loaded questions out of its locker, including this one:
To what extent do you support or oppose the UK Government giving Scotland more financial support to persuade it to stay part of the United Kingdom?
Surprisingly, despite the way this was framed, only a third of respondents (34%) were opposed to killing separatism with kindness whilst a quarter (26%) were quite happy to splash the cash. Presumably the other 40% didn’t know or care about what the people with the clipboards were wittering on about. Given the state of the Treasury’s finances following the UK economy being induced several times into a semi-coma to defeat Covid, what’s another hundred billion here or there to any of us?
A mini bio probably needs insertion at this point. The Telegraph’s Scottish correspondent is a sort of journalistic ghillie, who has spent decades tugging his forelock and joining Tory grandees for a bit of game shooting on the odd occasions they deign to venture northwards to quell the restless natives. In a diary he kept during the 2014 referendum campaign, this arch Unionist recorded his disappointment when David Cameron told him he’d left his gun back in the Cotswolds. Call Me Dave judged it better not to be photographed like Harold Macmillan on the grouse moors. “It’s changed days if a lad from a council hoose like me can go deer stalking but the Old Etonian PM can’t!,” observed this embodiment of upward mobility. But he took some pride and consolation in the Tory leader weaving a few of his choice phrases into a prime ministerial speech he delivered on behalf of the No campaign.
Somehow I cannot imagine Boris Johnson – a star columnist with the Telegraph for many years – calling upon his word wizardry in the same way. But, if the PM ever feels a need for some complacent reassurance, Mr Cochrane can always supply it. His take on the aforementioned poll concluded:
Personally, I reckon that most English voters would prefer things to stay as they are. Of course there are irritations between such close neighbours, money being one of them, such as the favourable deal Scotland gets from the Barnett formula.
Because of the Coronavirus crisis, I have barely crossed the Border for over a year. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, I cannot remember a single conversation with anyone in an English pub about the mechanism used by the Treasury to adjust the amount of public expenditure allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and I’ve had to deal with a fair amount of gentle, Jock-baiting banter over the years. When Rory Bremner quipped that the Barnett Formula was Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite hair shampoo, it probably went over at least 90% of his audience’s heads.
Here’s something else that needs set straight: contrary to the popular myth peddled by the liberal-left commentariat, next to no one in England still laments the loss of Britannia’s imperial possessions. What animates far more of them is their own personal possessions – particularly property. Nowhere in Western Europe has such an obsession with bricks and mortar. So it was no surprise when, a few years back, the Cambridge historian Robert Tombs adopted the language of an estate agent to paint an affectionate portrait of this blessed plot:
England is a rambling old property with ancient foundations, a large Victorian extension, a Sixties garage and some annoying leaks and drafts balancing its period charm.
What this pro-Brexit don forgot to mention in his high-brow sales brochure is that England also has an attic. It’s called Scotland. A large, rambling storage space with plenty of room for oil and water tanks to keep the posh living quarters below ticking over comfortably for its affluent residents. It can get a bit freezing at times, but the owners don’t need to climb up to it often.
What if we Scots want to undertake a radical attic conversion? Would the English submit any stern planning objections? Having worked as a media academic among them for a number of years, becoming a bit of an Anglophile in the process, I reckon the vast majority could live with that – so long as we keep the noise down. What R. B. Cunninghame Graham observed back in 1928, when he became a founder of the National Party of Scotland, is plainly even more true today:
The enemies of Scottish Nationalism are not the English, for they were ever a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our real enemies are among us, born without imagination.
Actually, along with the faint hearts and trough hogs at Holyrood, we do have another enemy now. An enemy whose awesome, chilling might the originators of our National movement could never possibly have anticipated – the Anglo-American Deep State. There is something this transatlantic superpower is definitely determined to keep stored up in England’s attic – Faslane. As the defence minister Ben Wallace confirmed last week, the Royal Navy’s fleet of Trident nuclear submarines on the Clyde – loaded with warheads designed and supplied by the US military-industrial complex – is absolutely central to the preservation of Britain’s geopolitical status and the maintenance of the ‘Special Relationship’.
The British Establishment cannot say, as Margaret Thatcher’s man in Belfast, Peter Brooke, said of Northern Ireland as far back as 1990, they have “no selfish, strategic interest” in stopping a Scottish secession. The UK would need to relinquish its permanent seat on the UN Security Council if it lost its nuclear weaponry and a third of its landmass.
However much southern resentment about the Barnett Formula may be stirred up by the likes of the Torygraph, our neo-imperial overlords in Whitehall and Washington won’t just sit back and watch Brexiteers become Scexiteers. If pressure continues to build up to break up Britain, be in no doubt they will do everything in their power to torpedo any attempt to decommission a major element of NATO’s nuclear armoury. The Secret People we need to worry about aren’t those fine, laid-back English folk about whom G. K. Chesterton wrote in his poem of that title.