We are a family, and like any family have our differences

Scotland’s two Archbishops have written to all the faithful north of the border urging them to vote in the referendum on independence, as reported in this paper. 

While urging participation in the vote, the pastors have not advised people to vote one way or the other, merely that they should vote. This is quite correct, as all will agree. Participation in elections in the United Kingdom has been declining in recent years, and this is a trend that ought to be reversed for the good of the body politic. With such an important matter as the future of the United Kingdom at stake, one would hope that all those who have a vote will use it. Not to vote would be a dereliction of civic duty and gravely irresponsible. Even those who cannot make up their minds ought to visit the polling station and consign a blank ballot paper.

The Archbishops’ message is strictly non-partisan, though of course in one sense encouraging people to vote might be construed as party political, in that some might think that a high turn out might favour one side more than another. We shall see. At present the Yes camp has been behind in every single poll of opinion. It is true that there is only one poll that counts, but it is unusual for opinion polls to be consistently wrong in this way. The outcome may well depend on turnout. Whichever way, it is likely to be close. 

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As a person of Scottish ancestry, who nevertheless lives in England, the country of my birth, I feel a strong presumption in favour of the Union. My Scottish ancestors (one lot from Argyll, another lot from Dumbarton) wandered far and wide when they left their native land, as so many Scots did and still do. Fate took them to South Carolina, to Barbados, to Demerara (now Guyana) and to Trinidad; and they certainly had some adventures. I once spent an agreeable few hours in the New York Public Library reading about the misfortunes of my ancestress Anna Isabella McLaurin, who lost everything in the American War of Independence, and whose memorial, addressed to King George III, made an eloquent case for compensation. What she had to put up with at the hands of those American rebels! Quite apart from her husband’s untimely death in defence of the King’s rights, during the siege of Charleston, she had had to give birth on the run from the rebels, her only shelter a hut provided by His Majesty’s Native American allies. But as I read this breathless account, one thing struck me, which the British Government of the day might have failed to notice: Mrs McLaurin and her husband (whose mother had been a Cameron) were both the children of notorious rebels themselves, who had had to flee Scotland in the year 1746. My ancestress was a true Scot: she had great chutzpah. I like to think I take after her.

I suppose there are many families like mine, part Scottish, part English (part Irish, part Welsh too, and even part French) but one hundred percent British. My ancestress was utterly Scottish, and she must have loathed the Hanoverians, I am sure, but she was British, and so was George III, and so she thought she had a case. That’s Britain for you: a family of nations and peoples, a living organism, eggs that cannot be unscrambled. Like every family, we have our differences, but, whatever our differences, we are better off, I believe, sticking together.

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