My career as a sportsman peaked at age 10, as captain of Alfred Street Primary School first XI (Played 10, Lost 9, Won 1 – take that, Mount Carmel!). If, however, I had continued to develop the silky midfield skills I showed on the muddy playing fields of north Manchester, and in the fullness of time had developed into a professional sportsman, I might have faced a dilemma. My rivals for a place in the England team would have been Trevor Francis, Kevin Keegan, Glen Hoddle and Bryan Robson. I think I can confidently state that I would never have been in their league. There would have been an alternative route to international stardom, however – I could have played for Scotland. To qualify, I would need some Scottish grandparents, and, as it happens, mine were. The Scots generally weren’t as creative with the qualifying rules as the Irish, for whom anyone who’d ever had a Guinness qualified – and indeed, Tony Cascarino played 88 times for Ireland without an Irish connection. But I could have been a Scottish contender.
Of course, I never did play much competitive football beyond primary school, so you are probably wondering why I am burbling on about it. Well, here’s the thing: on Facebook recently, I joined in a thread started by an avid “yes” supporter which featured an old story about Alistair Darling’s expenses. I pointed out that, reprehensible as Darling’s behaviour was – and I condemn it utterly – this was what our politicians do, and Alex Salmond was scarcely an innocent in this regard. I posted some links detailing Salmond’s liberal use of the public purse for foreign junkets. This was roundly ridiculed, along the lines of “is that the best you can come up with?” – I thought this was a bit rich, as Salmond’s transgressions were arguably more heinous than Darling’s, but it was the refusal to engage in argument that surprised me. The position of my Facebook friend seemed to be that it was appalling for Darling to bend the rules, but absolutely fine for Eck to do something similar. So I posted another link to another story of dubious Salmond financial shenanigans, and was met with a very, to me, curious argument: people who don’t live in Scotland can have an opinion about Scotland but unless they have lived or worked there in the past, it is a worthless opinion. Or, essentially: shut the fuck up.
I’d already, I suspect, annoyed this person by replying to a post featuring a rallying call from Sean Connery – I merely pointed out that he’d avoided living in Scotland for half a century, so was perhaps not best placed to be the poster boy for the Yes camp. And, of course, I do have an opinion about the referendum. I sympathise with the desire for independence, but feel that, on balance, Scotland would be better off remaining in the UK. Obviously, I don’t have a vote, which at least puts me on a par with Sean Connery, but thousands of English, Irish, French, Polish, Dutch – all EU nationals resident in Scotland, in fact – do have a vote. Which is odd, I think. As someone who has frequently visited Scotland, and who has Scottish ancestry, I have attended closely to the arguments. I suspect I know more about it than quite a few people who will be voting, and I’m mildly surprised that the prospect of Scottish secession has not provoked more debate south of the border. One might argue that a proposition that affects the whole of the UK should be voted on by all the UK, but no-one seems to want to make that argument.
The arguments made by Salmond are based on some very optimistic views of the economy of Scotland. It’s déjà vu really: in his first incarnation as SNP leader, he suggested that the Celtic Tiger economy of Ireland was the template an independent Scotland would follow. He doesn’t seem to put that forward much now. Indeed, his office attempted to erase a speech where he made this suggestion from the official record. His recent arguments seem flimsy – here, a prominent academic demolishes one frequently repeated claim. There’s lots of other material available that addresses the issues, and points out the flaws in the Yes campaign’s rhetoric. Unfortunately, I, despite being qualified to represent Scotland, am not allowed to have an opinion.
Aye or Naw by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.