|One nation, still|
Thank God. Just thank God. I don’t much care at the moment whether God is Scottish, and is glowering approvingly at Great Britain from over His bands and Geneva gown, or whether He is English and is raising a glass of sherry with an absent-minded smile. At least my country is intact.
When I say “my country”, I don’t just mean what it says on my passport. I’m one of those UK nationals – a minority, perhaps, but not an insignificant one – who self-identify as British. In England, Scotland and Wales, older patriotisms generally take precedence (Northern Ireland is a special case, obviously). Although many people across Great Britain are passionate Unionists, a “Yes” vote wouldn’t have forced them to redefine their identity. The UK might have been divided, and they might have been sorry to see it go, but they’d have carried on being English or Scottish or Welsh.
Those of us who are British first had no such fall-back. A “Yes” vote would have meant the end of the country we belonged to – the end of its name, of its flag, of our internal map of home.
I love England dearly, and couldn’t be prouder to represent the Home Counties in the European Parliament. But I’m not English by birth or much ancestry. I’d have had mentally to change my homeland in order to stay at home. As the polls narrowed, I began to sink into a black despair the like of which I have never known. For the first time in my life, I found myself waking in the night from anxiety.
Earlier this evening – or yesterday, as I suppose it now is – I attended a friend’s wedding blessing. The service ended with “I vow to thee me country”, and a piper played “Highland Cathedral” as the recessional. I found my cheeks wet with tears. They are wet again now as I write.
There will be consequences, of course. “Devo Max” – or, as we used to call it before we started mangling our language “Home Rule” – is now a democratic necessity. It’s not just that all the main parties have promised it; it’s that there is no other way to unite the two sides. Home Rule for Scotland will then have implications for the other three parts of the country, forcing massive devolution all round. Good.
But that’s for tomorrow. For now, just rejoice. Rejoice at the fact that we live in a country that wants no unwilling subjects. (Try seceding from France or Spain or Italy or even the United States.) Rejoice that democracy works: we’ve just seen a record-breaking turnout on a record-breaking registration.
Rejoice, most of all, that the nation which, over the past three centuries, has achieved more than any rival on the planet, has a new lease of life. The United Kingdom is a country people want to belong to, and the world is a better place.
Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amang ourselves united;
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!
No! never but by British hands
Shall British wrangs be righted!