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Indyref: why the English will still love Scotland, whatever the vote

Do the English love Scotland?

Did Margaret Thatcher? David Cameron says he does - amazing the effect a reputation-defining event can have on the heart strings of a career politician! George Osborne and Ed Balls? All that love-bombing didn't last long, did it?

But enough of the Establishment. What about ordinary English folk? I'm reasonably well-qualified to throw in my tuppence worth here.

I've lived in England, London and the north, for over 30 years. My children have lovely Lancashire accents. I wouldn't wish London on my worst enemy but I can heartily recommend the north-west of England. Lancastrians must be among the nicest people on the planet.

But, first of all, some data.

In the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey of 2012, 25% of English respondents supported Scottish independence (compared to 14% in 1997). Some 43% thought Scotland should remain part of the UK with its own parliament (down from 55% in 1997), while 23% wanted Scotland in the UK without its own parliament (the same as in 1997.)

These results suggest that English support for Scottish independence matches that of Scots themselves as recorded in the same survey. I wonder though about the reasons behind this. I suspect many of these 'supporters' share the outlook of the parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart, who sadly passed away recently.

He backed Scottish independence because it would spare the English from Scottish whining and save them money, but still allow them to spend great holidays in our beautiful country. (At least no nonsense there about border controls.)

To back up my conjecture, there is evidence of a hardening of English attitudes to Scotland since devolution was achieved.

The BSA survey indicated that English respondents strongly agreeing that Scots MPs should not be allowed to vote on English matters rose from 18% in 2001 to 29% in 2012. Moreover, the 44% of English respondents who in 2012 thought that Scotland received more than its fair share of UK public spending was more than double the figure recorded at the start of the decade.

Last week's unilateral rejection by the three main UK parties of the SNP's proposals for a currency union might have been designed to cow the Scottish electorate. But it also appeals to those down south who feel the time is ripe to 'stick it to uppity Jocks'.

Still, I wouldn't want to exaggerate England's interest in our independence debate. The trouble with surveys is that they only gather responses to the questions asked.

A You Gov poll in January this year posed a more unusual line of inquiry. It found that, among residents in the UK outside Scotland, 46% "wouldn't mind" if they woke up to find Scotland independent, 34% would be "dismayed" and 11% "delighted."

In contrast, while 25% of Scottish respondents would be "delighted", 46% would be "dismayed". According to this one poll then, the rest of Britain is more relaxed than Scots about Scotland leaving the UK!

These two polls roughly equate to my own, wholly unscientific, impressions: a solid majority of English people don't want Scotland to become independent but they don't feel strongly about it. If it actually happened, many more "wouldn't mind" than would be "dismayed."

I'd also like to see more analysis of the 66% of English who want Scotland to remain within the UK, with or without its own parliament. My own perceptions are that this support splits two ways.

On the one hand, many people down south, some but not all of Scottish heritage, have a genuine affection for Scotland. Many also want to keep the Scots' instinctive social democracy in the UK to counter the rampant neo-liberalism of the London plutocracy.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Little Englanders who want to retain the Scottish bit of their Empire and who fear a diminished status on the world stage for England (because that's what they call the UK when not minding their ps and qs) if Scotland breaks away.

I thought there were more than a few hints of this in Cameron's 'love-bomb' speech. Symbolically, that speech was delivered at the site of the London Olympics - hyped up emotion for Scotland, but all practical benefits going to the South-East.

Overall, my experience is that when the English are not being asked questions by researchers, their dominant emotion about Scottish independence is ……indifference.

People down here are much more likely to talk to me about Scottish weather or Scottish holidays than the Scottish referendum. My neighbours have more local matters to worry about - such as unemployment and the cost of living as well as other things that the Edinburgh government has provided Scots protection against like the hated bedroom tax, the privatisation of the NHS and the dismantling of state education.

So my advice to Scots is to ignore all the patronising faux Valentines from the politicos. The sentiment on the street down here is this - whatever you Scots think is best for yourselves, just get on and do it.

Whatever the outcome, we'll still love you - if we ever think about you, that is.

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