It is a strange feeling to see and hear people arguing about whether to split up our country or not. It is even stranger to know I do not have a vote over whether the UK survives or perishes. I am told by all the wise commentators that as an English Conservative my view is not wanted, and could make keeping the Union together more difficult if expressed.
I fear for the Union when the debate about a possible divorce is already about who has contributed most to the family silver and who pays the outstanding mortgage. If you want to keep your marriage together, the partner who earns most and pays the mortgage should not bang on about the extra contribution they are making financially to the marriage. They pay the bills to support the rest of the family out of love and as part of that feeling of togetherness. If a wife or husband persists in wanting to split it all up, both are then driven to argue over who owns and deserves which of the assets, and who is to be liable for which of the liabilities. Once you are arguing over that, often with lawyers involved, the last vestiges of love and togetherness are squeezed out by the process of seeking to end the union.
So it can be for countries. England does not normally seek to draw up a balance sheet of what it has contributed compared to what Scotland has added to the Union. England does not normally analyse the figures to see if we are paying more in than we are getting out. England even puts up with apparent injustices over tax based support for Higher Education and long term care in the interests of the union. Most of us do not see it as a trade or commerce driven relationship where you are only interested in what you draw out. I was brought up to see Edinburgh and Glasgow as much a part of my country as London, Birmingham and Manchester.
The genius of Alex Salmond is to fire up English nationalism as the adjunct to his construction of Scottish nationalism. He does want to turn it into a divorce settlement issue. Indeed, he does not even want a clean and full divorce, as his idea of independence includes keeping the Queen, the pound, the defence contracts and much else. He wants separation, and freedom to enter new relationships, whilst the old partner is still there to prop up RBS and provide a common currency.
And that is where his plan goes wrong. He has now kindled enough English nationalism for us to say we do not want an “independent” Scotland sharing our currency, making our warships or expecting us to prop up their banks. Most of us English would still rather keep our country, the UK, together. We will welcome a Scottish decision to stay with us, and seek to make another go of our union. If, however, Scotland does vote for out, they should expect a new tough England to negotiate in its own interests as any spurned partner to a marriage does.
Nor do most of us want a narrow victory for union followed by another run at splitting it all up from Mr Salmond. One vote either way is enough to settle this mighty issue. More difficult is then to get Scottish nationalists to live with the result if they lose. They will find a more independently minded England if they try any tricks. Their successful strategy at firing up wishes for English independence will make their cause more difficult if they lose, as well as creating a more determined English negotiator if they win.
Pulling a plant up by its roots to see if it is growing is never a great idea. Putting partners through a test of their loyalty to each other, and then only letting one of the partners have a say, is not a great recipe for a happy union.