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Neil Oliver – Now is not the time for Scots to think small – The Daily Telegraph

Now is not the time for Scots to think small – Telegraph

I will lay my cards on the table from the start: I will be voting No tomorrow. I have no economic argument to make. Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing people argue about the pound, pensions and the rest. I am voting No because, for me, the offering from the Yes camp lacks nobility and humanity. More importantly, it lacks class, far less any kind of panache.

Having spent years working on the television series Coast, I think it’s fair to say I’ve seen as much of this United Kingdom of ours as anyone else living here. It’s a project that has changed my life in several ways. It has certainly caused me to fall in love with the place – the whole place. Circumnavigate these islands as often as I have, and one thing above all becomes clear: the national boundaries within them are invisible and therefore meaningless.

People living in a fishing town in Cornwall have more in common with the inhabitants of a fishing town in Fife than either population has with the folk of a town in the Midlands. They have a shared experience and a common history of coping with lives shaped by the sea. The coast is another country – the fifth country – and it unites and binds us like the hem of a garment.

The differences that are discernible as you travel around Britain are simply regional ones – made of accents and architecture, geology and geography. Of course I am all in favour of people having the power to make decisions about their own patch, but I am utterly opposed to the idea of breaking centuries-old bonds in order to make that happen.

The United Kingdom is a beautiful, wonderful place. The whole world knows this. Right now, this very day, thousands of people are trying to come here and live among us because the UK is known as a place of tolerance, free speech, stability, safety (more or less) from religious or ethnic persecution. It has been a beacon of hope for generations. Every sane adult knows there’s plenty wrong here, too – but the faults lie not with the place but with the way it’s governed.

I read in the papers that 97 per cent of Scots eligible to vote have registered to do so. If the referendum debate has been worth anything, it has been in the way it has reminded people of the value of voting. If the governance of the UK needs to be fixed, then it can be achieved if 97 per cent of the population engage in the debates that matter and then take action at the polling stations. But we do not need to break up the UK to do this.

Naturally, I am as appalled by the idea of a family depending on a food bank in Bradford as I am a family depending on one in Glasgow. I am horrified and shamed by the thought of a child going to bed cold and hungry in Plymouth, or Cardiff, or Elgin. To turn our backs on the suffering of neighbours – and see only to our own needs – is profoundly un-Scottish. At least, it has nothing to do with the Scotland I was raised in.

During the Scottish Enlightenment, this nation of ours shone brighter than at any other time in its history. The luminous characters who made it so could never be accused of thinking small. Hume, Hutcheson, Kames, Smith – the list goes on, all of them thinkers who could surely be described as believing themselves citizens of the world, unbound by the physical geography of the land of their birth.

Francis Hutcheson had the chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. Among much else, he taught that happiness was not some magic substance, falling from God and the sky like manna from heaven. Instead, he said, happiness could be achieved, worked for and gained. And it was best gained by working hard to improve the lives of others. Some kernel of this thinking made it all the way to the American Declaration of Independence, and the concept of the “pursuit of happiness”.

We Scots have always been disproportionately represented in every field of worthwhile endeavour. The very notion of Great Britain itself was ours! When our James VI became James I of England as well, he embarked on grand plans to unite the whole place. Great Britain belongs to us: it was Scots who practically ran the British Empire – we were certainly hugely over-represented, in terms of our population, in every nook and cranny. We led from the front every time.

We have gone out into the world and made it better, as entrepreneurs, merchants, soldiers, churchmen and as simple citizens. We are an international success story without equal. Why, oh why are we suddenly pulling in our horns and thinking small? If you’re a Scot, like I think of Scots, then if you find the way to the promised land, you take everyone with you, not just the few. We go as a United Kingdom or we don’t go at all. That’s the Scottish way.

I have little time for this year’s crop of politicians. However, my hackles do go up when nationalism rears its head. Some Scots claim to be saying a “quiet” Yes to independence that has nothing to do with Alex Salmond. For me, that claim is disingenuous. There is a river running through Britain now and it has the power to force us apart. That river is nationalism and it is rising all the time. We must cross that river, all of us – English, Irish, Scots and Welsh.

To my mind, the way you cross any river is to hold hands. You wade out together and keep a tight hold left and right. The Yes camp is instead suggesting we should let go of each other. If we do, all our chances of survival will be diminished. We risk being washed away.