NR Digital

There’ll Always Be an England . . .

by David Pryce-Jones

. . . but will there be a Britain too?

On September 18, the 5 million or so who live in Scotland will be able to take part in a referendum to decide whether or not their country is to be independent. Polls show that the Yes vote is steadily gaining on the No vote, with barely a couple of points between them. Three centuries ago, the English, Scots, and Welsh put in place the United Kingdom in order to stop fighting one another to the death. Britain and British were make-believe concepts in this United Kingdom, but they served so well to express the common identity that they became believable. The Irish in their island stayed apart, and the existence of Eire is a standing reproach that the British have found hard to live with. A Yes vote must bring to a head what has been a slow-motion collapse of British identity. Scotland, a significant part of the mainland, would be following the example of Eire. The folly of the present will then have undone the genius of the past.

The Scots have long since formed a very successful nation. Their culture is instantly recognizable and widely admired, with literature and speech, law, clothes, food, music and dances, athletics, and a religious enthusiasm and enduring clan system all their own. The dual identity of Scottish and British reinforced the sense of being special. Time was when schoolchildren were familiar with the example of the Scots Greys charging at Waterloo to gain a British victory with the war cry “Scotland forever!” Time was, too, when Scottish bankers, traders, doctors, engineers, and soldiers recognized that being British gave them privileges wherever the English language had spread.

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