The view from Princes street up towards the Royal Mile and Edinburgh castle is one that never fails to inspire.
The castle is Edinburgh. Imposing on its ramparts, it dominates the city but today it’s the flags around the castle that catch my eye. The (British) Union Jack stands tall fluttering in Edinburgh’s ever present wind. It is flanked by two smaller flags – Scottish saltires, the national flag of Scotland. The blue and white St Andrews crosses hardly visible, lying limp. The Union Jack standing proud, full of wind. The saltires dwarfed and hesitant.
In many ways the flags are a metaphor for the countries they represent. Scots are a proud people but they have a tendency to be defensive particularly towards the English. Aggressive sometimes. Dismissive often. A nation that believes passionately in itself but one that is ultimately wracked with a healthy degree of self-doubt.
That much can be gleaned from polls conducted in the run up to next year’s referendum. Despite electing the Scottish National party to run the devolved Scottish Parliament, voters are lukewarm about its signature policy.
Only around one third of Scots are currently planning to vote for complete independence. In the eyes of many the Union is not broken and therefore does not need to be fixed.
Scotland forms just under one third of the land mass of Britain but is home to less than 1/10 of the population. It has a peculiarly left of centre political culture and it is the tendency for Scotland to vote left and England to vote right that has brought us to this moment. It is perceived wisdom that Margaret Thatcher’s unique brand of conservatism destroyed the Conservative Party in Scotland (the party is still reduced to a rump nearly a quarter of a century after she left office), but since then Scotland has been given its own parliament and while many want it to have more powers the majority of Scots are firmly opposed to breaking up the United Kingdom, around 60% according to the polls.
The irony is that if it were to come to fruition it would likely be the death knell for the party supporting it and a life saver for one of the parties opposing it.
The SNP, currently the governing party in the Scottish parliament, would no longer have a reason to exist. And the Scottish Conservative party destroyed by its association with Thatcherism, (now reduced to just one seat in Westminster ) could re-build unburdened by its association with the English conservatives. For in truth many Scots who support independence do so because they want a divorce from English conservatism more than from the English per se.
Scotland the Brave is the unofficial national anthem, but one year out from the vote it does not sum up the mood of the people. Braveheart this is not.
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