Last night I spent a couple of hours in Scotland House for their Burns Night concert. I knew no one so I floated around for a few minutes eyeing up some photography of the Isle of Muck before a low-slung Weegie beamed over to me. We made polite conversation until a towering old man from Baden-Württemberg made an unsubtle intervention, thrusting his business card into my new acquaintance’s hand, and launching into an anecdote about their regional minister-president once hosting ‘Alexander Sall-mond’.
We were ushered into the concert room and soon Ian Campbell, the head of the representation, stood before us, bald and kilted, like a weathered highlander. He welcomed his guests, offering modest paeans to Scotland’s fine food and musical talent, with a reluctant, wry acknowledgement that this was also of course referendum year. There was a jazzy three-man band consisting of a guitar, double bass and drums. They can’t each have been much over 20 years old. Then an aspiring actor, equally green in years, performed an exuberant recital of Tam o’ Shanter, followed by a girl who crooned other verses by the great bard, poignantly concluding with Ae Fond Kiss. Mr Campbell sat alone at in the front seat with glowering, benevolent intensity.
The UK is a confection and there is no existential imperative for it to continue to cohere. Globalised capitalism has relativized every node of identity. The nation state is now just a question of how we organise ourselves. A majority of voters in Scotland may later this year decide to forge a separate existence. The desolate beauty of its landscape, its retention of Celtic mannerisms and its dogged and (for me) enviable lefty political consensus set it sufficiently apart from the rest of the island to justify scission, though they probably won’t go for it. More intriguing is the follow on question of what would happen to England if Scotland does leave. Will Albion be fucked? The polls indicate that the truncated polity could be consigned to perpetual Tory rule. That being the case, it might unleash a battle royal between north and south, city and shire, immigrant and white working class. England, denuded finally of its imperial pretentions, its institutions hollowed out and visibly meaner, might suddenly be forced into pursuing a more honest equilibrium of its diverse national interests.