The state of our Union


By Sue Lyons

I am a mum and a wife. In point of fact, I’m an English wife married to a Scottish husband with three English children from my first marriage and two Scottish children from my current marriage.

Why would I even bother to mention that at all you might wonder, surely it doesn’t matter where my children were born, surely I love them just the same and you would be right.

What makes it worth mentioning is that my husband is a Scottish nationalist. He is such a Scottish nationalist that were the UK government to say: “You can have independence Scotland but you have to pay for it yourself”, he would say, “Where do I sign?”

He describes himself as ‘rabid’, and he is absolutely right.  If you cut off his leg he would have a saltire running through it like a stick of rock – but not Blackpool rock because that’s in England.  Not for him the sitting on the fence that others might do, not for him the idea that you can vote for the SNP and yet still be undecided on independence.  John is for an independent Scotland absolutely.

That sometimes causes fun and games in our own personal Union – our home.  The Scottish children are a wee bit young to know how they would vote, being 4 and 2. Despite this when the four-year old was asked to sing a song he liked at nursery he sang Flower of Scotland.  The two-year old has a favourite story which includes the words “a blue bunnet with a bricht reid toorie on the tap”, although both are partial to “Albert and the Lion” or “The Battle of Hastings” related in my dulcet Lancashire tones.

The English children are older, and all of them will vote in the referendum. The younger one will be 18 by 2014, and at university he hopes.  The eldest boy is a welder and living in his own home with his girlfriend and wee girl.  The middle one is still humming and ahhing about what to do with his life, although he is working full-time.

I have often been heard to joke that our house is like a microcosm of Scottish society. My husband is champing at the bit for independence at any price.  Meanwhile Thomas, the 17 year old, gets more ‘Engleesh’ by the minute.  How much of that is to wind John up, I’m not sure, but it is highly entertaining.

Not having lived in England since he was two and having a mother whose accent is gently Lancastrian, I have no idea where he gets his deeply middle class English tones from, maybe the play he is studying for his Highers – The importance of being Earnest – has gone to his head, or perhaps his heid.

Graham is 21, full of the arrogance of youth and sure of his own self-importance. At 21 he is sure he knows pretty much everything, he has an opinion on everything regardless of whether he is right or not. Caution and deliberation are not for him. He decries all politicians as a waste of space and anarchy is his preferred option of choice. Hey ho!

Craig is 23, working hard, earning plenty and spending it all.  He and his girlfriend have their lives full with the wee one and his work and they have just moved into their own house. He has no interest in politics at the moment. He hasn’t yet realised that it influences everything in his life he holds dear and so his eyes glaze over at the mere mention of independence and he has been rumoured to ask “Referendum? What referendum?”

And what about me? Well I moved here in 1997, I love living here in the Highlands.  It’s the most beautiful place in the world as far as I am concerned.  Scotland is my home, my life, the place where I live and love and where I am loved in return.  I am happy here.  I want what’s best for this place and I want the best place for my children to live happy, healthy, secure lives.  I’m still to be convinced to put my cross in the yes box but I am getting closer to that decision.

Being undecided and married to a Scottish Nationalist in this daft household is no mean feat.  The news, Newsnight and Question Time all have found themselves on our favourite list since the referendum was announced.  Scotland Tonight and This Week also feature highly.  They have replaced MTV, VH1 and Kerrang as the noise in the background, they are recorded and rewound and the source of incredulity as we watch politicians of various hues bluster and babble over the Yes’s and No’s of the independence debate.  Generally the No’s as there is very little in the way of SNP politicians on these programmes.

The lack of quality in the Unionist debate is turning out to be a cross I have to bear. I despair almost every time I hear David Cameron open his mouth about Scotland. I find that no matter where you look there is no quality, intellectual point of view for continuing in the Union.  The main thrust seems to be:  “It’s worked for the last 300 years.”   To be honest, politicians, that isn’t enough.

I want to hear how in the future a United Kingdom will work to do its best for Scotland and I’m not hearing it.  I want to be able to trust and believe the politicians when they say they will consider more powers for Scotland within the Union.  I want to hear how they will support and help the poor, the weak, the disaffected, and work towards a better Scotland.  So far all these things have been missing.

All the stuff we have been fed about border controls, the potential bombing of Scottish Airports, the UK taking Orkney, Shetland and Rockall and the comparisons of Alex Salmond to Gaddafi or Hitler, make me roll my eyes in despair. It all seems to be the incoherent ramblings of an elderly Union which is unable or unwilling to look ahead. The recent ‘Skintland’ map on the cover of the Economist is a great example of that.

Many people – many friends – who are still undecided about independence dismissed that article because of the patronising and wholly inaccurate picture that the front cover painted.  Any salient points were lost because the Economist chose to take a cheap jibe instead of a measured point of view.  When you resort to that sort of cheap jibe then you risk losing the argument entirely.

I find that some people assume that because of my Englishness I am somehow required to support the Union with no questions asked. Either that, or they think that I am some sort of put upon English wifie. People mistake my support for John’s passion for his tyranny in our relationship as if I have no way of making my mind up when subjected to the complete support for independence that John has.  They mistake his nationalism for anti-English racism. Nothing could be further from the truth. John is inclusive in his relationships and his political beliefs.

His fundamental belief is that Scotland has the right to govern itself, if the people of Scotland want that to happen.  That’s it – no racism, no easily dismissed patriotic nonsense about Mel Gibson, no hard man antics, just plain and simple human rights.  The right to self-determination.  None of this is anti-English – it may well be anti-UK or anti-Westminster, but that is not the same.  I would expect any nationalist in Scotland to be anti-Westminster.

My nationalist husband gets angry when Scotland is denigrated as too small, too weak, too poor and too stupid to be independent. He dances with rage when Willie Rennie describes the SNP as the lowest of the low – measuring them against what?

He is incandescent when the Conservative party actively seeks out people to stand for council seats where they do not live or do not want to be councillors simply to manipulate a result with no care for the people of the ward and what they might want.

He is furious when Labour leadership fail to condemn the shenanigans of Glasgow city council which led to one councillor feeling like her disabled son’s job security was being threatened if she didn’t toe the party line.

John’s nationalism is about making Scotland stronger and better for the people who live here – all the people – Black, White, Asian, Polish, Chinese, and yes – even English. Making Scotland better is the driving force behind all that John posts on his Facebook page or writes or debates with his friends and those he doesn’t know so well.

I love my husband.  I love his passion and his sense of self which means that he knows where he stands on the important stuff.  I do not always agree with him but I know how much this means to him and I am proud and delighted that our tea time discussions are about politics and not Big Brother or the price of a tin of beans.  Although the rolling of 17-year-old eyes means that this isn’t always appreciated across the board!

And so I live with the rants, the fury, the passion and the politics because John is a Scottish nationalist and whether I decide Yes or No, I know that he wants what I want. The best for our children – all our children, the Scottish ones and the English ones.