• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

'You should do it. Scotland's got it right. No prescription fees, no bedroom tax. You're better off governing yourselves'

LAST week, David Cameron made a plea to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Main picture: Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough is memorialised in the city centre. Top left: Sarah Hughes Centre left: Doreen Fish Bottom left: the current Sheriff of Nottingham Iain MalcolmPhotographs:  Colin Templeton
Main picture: Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough is memorialised in the city centre. Top left: Sarah Hughes Centre left: Doreen Fish Bottom left: the current Sheriff of Nottingham Iain MalcolmPhotographs: Colin Templeton

"Let the message ring out," he said, "from Manchester to Motherwell, from Pembrokeshire to Perth, from Belfast to Bute, from us to the people of Scotland - let the message be this: we want you to stay."

But how do the residents of the rest of the UK really feel about Scotland? I went to Nottingham, in the heart of England, to find out. What message would Notts send to Nairn? Should we stay or should we go?

Nottingham is a very English city - home to the legendary Robin Hood, and the place where Charles I raised his standard at the beginning of the English Civil War.

It is a place with a strong sense of Englishness and particular brand of nationalism. The city is at the heart of English Defence League and British National Party territory. Charnwood - which, according to a WikiLeaked document contained the highest concentration of BNP members in 2009 - isn't far from here. Ripley, the town with the highest concentration of English-born residents, is nearby. We are touching England's heart.

The question I came here to ask is: "What do you think of Scottish independence?" And, though I tended to preface the question by admitting it was an odd one to be asking to ask in the middle of Nottingham, blank bewilderment was a common response. "Don't know anything about it," said one interviewee. "We've got enough of our own troubles, to start worrying about that," replied another. "As long as they still sell haggis here, they can do what they like," said someone else.

A consultant headteacher said her philosophy has always been "stronger together". She said she worked with some schools that are too small and that when they work together they are stronger.

Sarah Hughes, who works for a bus firm, said: "My family come from Wales and I can see how good it is to have your own parliament … Having people hundreds of miles away trying to govern you isn't good."

"I think it's lovely that we are a United Kingdom," noted Pamela Mawston, who is part German. "But I can understand why people want independence. Personally, I'd quite like independence from Westminster. They don't seem to do a lot for many people."

Doreen Fish, aged nearly 90, was in the Wrens and stationed in Tain during the Second World War. "I did enjoy my time up there," she said. Two of her children now live in Scotland.

But she said: "This is the British Isles and I would be sorry if it separated off. I think they should leave well alone really. If Scotland does that, probably Wales will start wanting to do it. And it's sad really, isn't it? But there we are, progress."

One person I interviewed, journalism and politics student Joe Soltysik, had read the White Paper, Scotland's Future. He said: "I don't think they'll vote for it. But if they do I think it'll be a bit of a shame. I like Britain and I like Scotland as part of it. We've always been Britain haven't we? Since James I.

"I think Scotland is a bloody lovely place. I've been to the Edinburgh Festival, been to T in the Park and I've got Scottish friends as well."

Occasionally, people seemed almost envious. "You should do it," said Bill Dobson, who had recently protested against the bedroom tax. "Scotland's got it right. No prescription fees, no bedroom tax. You're better off governing yourselves."

Many, however, were concerned for us. "I would wonder if Scotland could manage on its own," said Jane Craig. And Debbie Welch pondered: "I suppose I would think it would be a bit worrying for the Scots for their economy. I'm concerned it won't be good for them."

Some also expressed fear that Scots might vote Yes for all the wrong reasons. "The truth is," said Mike James, "do the Scots like the English? No. If I go to a pub in Scotland, I am guaranteed to hear English-bashing of some sort of another. What worries me more than anything else is that the Scots will make a decision based on racism."

But Nottingham is also not without its links to Scotland. I met Sheriff of Nottingham, Ian Malcolm - the man who last year pulled off the publicity stunt of pardoning Robin Hood. He agreed to talk to me not in any official capacity, but personally, as a citizen whose grandfather was a Scot, and a man whose view is informed by the fact that he is a self-confessed "history geek".

He said he "would be very sad" if Scotland left the Union. Malcolm's great-grandfather left his job as an Edinburgh waiter in 1898 to set up a restaurant in Nottingham. "That gives me an insight into how the people who are half-Scots, or Scots living in England, must be feeling. It's a bit like your parents or your grandparents were getting divorced."

He also noted that there were many Scots and part-Scots here. I came across a few. Nicola Royan, who grew up in Fife, is an academic at Nottingham University specialising in Older Scots literature. She is also president of the Scottish Text Society. A poster of the film Brave decorates her office door. She said: "This is happening in Scotland and at the moment it's a Scottish debate. But actually, this should be a UK-wide debate."

She was concerned about how little attention the English media was giving the issue. "It's like there's this little thing about to go bang up north and the press need to think through what the implications might be if this country separates … the oil, the water, a whole series of natural resources."

Another Scot, Warwick Adams, who born in Biggar and raised in East Kilbride, is now secretary of the nearby Ashbourne Highland Gathering, the largest gathering outside Scotland. Adams said he would be a Yes, were he north of the Border.

"Personally, I'm sorry I'm not part of it. People down here don't know what the fuss is about - they're concerned about other things. A lot of the discussion you hear is about the sentimental attachment to Great Britain - they don't see why it's an issue for the Scots. I've a friend who says, 'What more is independence going to give you? I hear that the Scots are getting subsidised by England anyway'."

Meanwhile, some feel that the drive for Scottish independence has already had positive side-effects, in galvanising a new sense of Englishness and pushing a drive towards the setting up of an English parliament.

"The stronger Scotland and Wales have become, the more people have started to think about England and England's identity," said Eddie Bone, spokesman for the Campaign for an English Parliament. "The British identity is starting to crumble, starting to die out. The older generation are holding on to British identity, but younger ones growing up with devolution are doing so less."

However, that's not exactly what I saw. The younger generation in Nottingham still seemed keener on being British than English. Joe, a student, told me he identifies with being British, but added: "I think because of the BNP and the EDL we don't want to be nationalistic."

It was also apparent that "English" was not an identity that the immigrant and non-white population find as easy to relate to as "British". People, very often, were rejecting national identities.

"I would say I'm British," said Eshak Adu. "When I'm British it makes me feel more human, when I say I'm English I feel more segregated. But most of all I would say I was human."

In his speech at the Olympic Park, David Cameron said: "For me, the best thing about the Olympics wasn't the winning. It was the red, the white, the blue." He asked people to say "stay".

Judging by my visit to Nottingham, I think they're saying something more like: "You can go if you want, but we'd probably prefer you not to." It's not like a lover who couldn't care less, but one who wants the best for the other. And those who do care want the Scots to choose what is best for them.

One Nottingham dweller, Mike James, put it this way: "It's up to the people of Scotland to decide. I truly believe people should have their own autonomy and if the people of Scotland feel they need to be auto­nomous, then that's their choice."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

211462