Camasunary Overlook, Isle of Skye, Scotland (1998)


A Plea for a United Britain

Admittedly, as a citizen of the United States, I have no true say over how the Scots should decide their destiny, in a once-in-a-generation referendum for independence from the United Kingdom. Whatever our Scottish friends decide come 18 September, we the non-Scots should respect, and even celebrate, their decision.

That said, here’s hoping that decision is a resounding “No.”

Plenty of sound arguments, for and against the re-establishment of the Scottish nation, have already been aired; I need not repeat them here in detail. Suffice to say, Scotland and the remainder of the UK can stand tall as separate nations politically, economically and socially. Preserving the Union Acts of 1706 and 1707, on the other hand, would maintain the storied cultural fabric of Great Britain as a whole, as well as her position on the globe as an intact archipelago state of considerable real estate, in league with the likes of Japan and New Zealand. (If you think this is a trivial notion, just ask an Irish, a Cypriot, or a Timorese.)

Why, then, should this American tourist be so presumptuous as to take a side?

Scotland, along with the two Irelands, Wales and England, are discrete political, social and cultural entities, and yet their respective histories, their identities, have always been intimately intertwined.. For Eire, the creation of the Irish Republic itself, followed by the nominally-sectarian troubles amidst the northern counties of Ulster, has coalesced into a distinct civil dynamic, now one of peace and mutual respect for at least an entire generation.

Across the Irish Sea, there is another synthesis of profound order, but one not founded upon strife and sorrow – at least not for more than three centuries.

Take a northward (and westerly) journey by rail or car from London, and you will travel over the rolling hills of the Midlands, taking a glancing glimpse of the Welsh and Cumbrian peaks to the west. Before you know it, Glasgow and Loch Lomond welcome you. It is a varied yet seamless landscape, whose continuity could never be marred by the erection of Hadrian’s Wall.

At least twice have I made that journey: scaling the summit of Ben Nevis in 1988, and exploring the Isle of Skye on foot ten years later. Those two exhilarating trips, along with my numerous returns to London and Edinburgh since, have left an indelible impression onto me:

What is this isle they call Great Britain? It is more than an abstraction. It is real, tangible, visceral.

Alba, Caledonia, Scotland: you and Cymru and England are what make Britain great. You may present separate teams for the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, but the land on which you dwell, the air you breathe – it is one and the same.

Just watch the weather reports. Temperature and rainfall may vary from Brighton to Inverness, but it is always the same Gulf Stream that washes over this continent in miniature, bringing it torrential floods as well as the characteristic gray pall that only the British and anglophiles such as myself would appreciate.

A “No” vote on 18 September is not just a vote for Scotland. It is a vote for Britain.

CW, 18-19 August 2014

Argument for an independent Scotland:

Argument for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom:


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