The strongest argument against Scottish independence is that the rich and powerful in England don’t seem to like it, which is the best reason for cutting the three-hundred year old bonds with Britain.
There are dire predictions that if the “Yes” vote succeeds this week, the Royal Bank of Scotland will move its headquarters to England and GBP17 billion will leave the UK economy. If they go it alone, Scots won’t be able to use the British pound any more and the British and Irish Lions rugby team will have to become the British, Irish and Scots Lions.
So does it matter, especially to colonials with distant ties to the old country? I was moved to consider this after a London-based friend Paola Totaro asked on Facebook last night how much interest/coverage there was in Australia in the Scottish referendum. Very little seemed to be the answer. Most of us seem to take our connections for granted.
I didn’t feel the slightest bit Scottish until five years ago when I began to research our family history, tracing my paternal roots to a little village in Morayshire called Mosstodloch. In 2009, I headed up there for a few days during a trip to London while writing my book “King of Thieves.” I googled bed and breakfast accommodation and found the two options available were both run by members of the Shand family. “I am home!” I announced to my reluctant relatives as I arrived at Castle Cottage. They seemed eager to put even greater distance between me and their family tree. “Oh, we’re actually not from round here. We’re from Keith,” they said. Keith was all of 10 miles away. I got the impression that I wasn’t the first from the Scottish diaspora to turn up like a prodigal son. At least, I wasn’t wearing the family tartan.
Over three days, I learnt more about our Scots heritage than I had in my entire life. Arriving in 1852, our original pioneer John Shand and Mary Barclay were Scottish through and through. All of their offspring were born into the Presbyterian Church and received the maternal Barclay as a second name. However, the next generation tried to erase the family heritage. As I have written before, my great-grandfather Alexander Barclay Shand decided his son Jack would get “Wentworth” as a middle name. It has survived right down to the present generation. It was a fraud. AB Shand, then a leading member of Sydney’s (very English) Bar, decided to appropriate the colonial prestige of the Wentworth family. At some stage, (or at least in death) AB also decided he was an Anglican, eschewing the family burial plot in Rookwood’s Presbyterian section for a niche in a wall at a dreary crematorium in the northern suburbs. It seemed an awfully drab thing to do, though I’m sure it was important in getting ahead in colonial Sydney. It was an advantage to be English.
We had begun our journey in Normandy France, joining the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. After a short stay in Bath, the family was given land in Scotland and there we stayed for 700 years until the English took over Scotland in the 18th century. By this stage, all the continental airs and graces were gone, we had become hoary, whiskery Scots. Even the men too. We lost our lands to the English aristocracy, the new power in town.
By the early 19th century, John Shand’s family members were poor tenant farmers and travelling merchants. However, they caught a break when the absentee landlord, the Duke of Gordon, awarded them the concession to run the toll bridge over the River Spey. They made enough cash in two generations to get the hell out of town. In Australia, they could be anything they wanted to be.
Once I learnt all this, I could only ever support Scottish nationalism. The story of the Scots is one of subjugation and dispossession. Even if the economic future for Scotland looks bleak, roll on independence. This is not just a question of money, how revenue from North Sea oil reserves will be divided or who will shoulder the burden of outstanding public debts. It’s about shared identity and purpose. It’s that, more than money alone, which determines national progress.
“We come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and set our country free. Let your masters come and attack us: we are ready to meet them beard to beard.” William Wallace’s statement before the Battle of Stirling Bridge 11 September 1297.