The English View on Scottish Independence

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  By Peter Geoghegan
 
“Independence will be good for Scotland, and it will be good for England,” says an open letter penned by English Scots for Yes. The missive, launched at a low-key press conference at the CCA in Glasgow yesterday morning, went on to say that “yes voters in Scotland have no bitterness or resentment towards people in England.”

Around 400,000 English-born people have come to live in Scotland since 1980s. In June, some of those founded English Scots for Yes to encourage their compatriots to vote for independence and to counter accusations that nationalists are inherently anti-English.

  By Peter Geoghegan
 
“Independence will be good for Scotland, and it will be good for England,” says an open letter penned by English Scots for Yes. The missive, launched at a low-key press conference at the CCA in Glasgow yesterday morning, went on to say that “yes voters in Scotland have no bitterness or resentment towards people in England.”

Around 400,000 English-born people have come to live in Scotland since 1980s. In June, some of those founded English Scots for Yes to encourage their compatriots to vote for independence and to counter accusations that nationalists are inherently anti-English.

“It is not about where you come from, it’s where you are going,” said Matt Campbell-Sturgess, 31, who moved to Scotland 13 years ago and is one of the main organisers behind English Scots for Yes.

“We are currently held back, just like the North of England is held back, by a UK economy and political system which supports international finance against all other industry sectors. In the UK we have the greatest regional inequality in Europe. That is a problem for Scotland and the rest of the UK. We want independence to start addressing that problem,” continues the open letter, which is addressed to “Dearest England”.

English for Scots encompasses people who were born in England or claim an ancestral connection south of the border. “We might not have ancestry that traces back to Rabbie Burns but we all feel Scottish in some way,’ said Campbell-Sturgess. The group, he said, have around 1,000 members, with the greatest concentration in the Borders and Edinburgh.

Jennifer Stewart was initially a ‘no’ voter but is now an active member of English Scots for Yes. “I was a no at the start because I’m English,” says Stewart, 33, originally from Devon but now living in Coatbridge. “Then I went to a couple of meetings and started to point yes.”

Stewart says far from being a subject of attack, her accent can make her the perfect spokesperson for independence: “My English voice stands out. People here it and think ‘she’s English and voting yes. Maybe she has heard something we haven’t’.”

An independent Scotland could “be a beacon for England” said Campbell-Sturgess. “After independence people in England are going to see a more progressive Scotland.”

At the weekend, Billy Bragg made a similar case in calling for England to back Scottish independence. Writing in the Sunday Herald he said: “Scottish independence offers the English the opportunity to cast off their imperial pretensions and rediscover their Roundhead tradition – that dogged determination to hold absolute power to account that has surfaced in the crucial moments of our history.”

“[B]y embracing independence you will have given England the chance to be a nation again,” the singer added.

Yowann Byghan, a former Labour party election candidate in his native Cornwall is now a very active independence supporter in Dumfries. He left for the US in 1990, returning to Britain in 2005. “By the time I came back, the Labour party I knew had just vanished, I didn’t understand,” says Byghan, who soon joined the SNP and today sports a “Proud Cornish” badge next to his “Yes” pin.

“The idea that a nation is different to a region is something I have never struggled with,” says Byghan, explaining why as someone born in England he supports Scottish independence. “Some people in Scotland are still struggling with that. What does it mean to be British? What does it mean to be Scottish?”

Not everybody has welcomed English Scots for Yes – although the opposition has come from unionists, not nationalists, says Campbell-Sturgess. “We’ve had death threats and the like on Twitter. It’s just 15 year old lads in their bedroom at night,” he says. “Actually the people giving us the most abuse are Scottish people voting no.”

While Campbell-Sturgess rejects the idea that there is “an English vote” in Scotland – “I don’t think you can quantify an English vote any more than you can an Irish vote or a women’s vote because every English person is different” – the votes of English people living in Scotland could go a long way to deciding the outcome on September 18.

With the polls narrowing, every vote could be vital. In this spirit, English for Yes are organizing a “Border Tea Party” in Berwick this Sunday.