It certainly isn’t every day, well for me at any rate, that you get the privilege of being a guest at a friend’s wedding around the corner from Marble Arch in the salubrious West End of London. Well, this was how I spent my weekend. Are you jealous yet? It was on the invite that this was a best bib and tucker event, and so it was. As disorganised as I am I arrived in the English capital without either a white shirt or even a tie. Security at Stansted Airport ensured that I arrived even without a razor. Not the best of starts for such an occasion. This meant that between going on the Jack the Ripper Tour, doing a curry and avoiding throngs of hipsters on Brick Lane and walking around the British Museum’s Levant rooms (don’t ask), I was compelled to buy a four pound shirt at the famous Petticoat Lane Market and find a Kerr tartan tie at the Scotch Shop on Great Russell Street. Thus attired I was set for my grand entrance. Thankfully, of course, I subdued the dapper look enough so as not to outdo the bride on her big day. So fancy was this affair that one of the guests’ names ended with the letters DBE. I sure have come up in the world.
As the newlyweds will no doubt have a read at this post I had better make it clear, and in all honesty, that this was one of the best, and finest, nuptials I have ever attended. The company was terrific, the venue was out of this world, the music was spot on, and the food… well, the food just tasted wonderful and expensive. All the boxes were ticked. Okay, enough about the fabulous time I had. The seating plan had me enthroned among an assortment of ‘friends of the groom’ from England, Ireland, Scotland and Newcastle. Now, at a table like this, it was not long at all until everyone was talking politics. I’m sure that this breaches some rule of etiquette, but for the times that are in it, and the fact I was sporting my tartan tie, meant that it was too big a temptation. The bottles of 15 year old Springbank single malt that were provided for the celebration definitely made this conversation easier, and, to a certain degree more honest and passionate. For the record, I would like to state that I never started it! It was all friendly and good natured.
Sitting to my left was a lovely young mum from London who was honest enough to say that she felt that the referendum hinted at a dislike in Scotland for England or the English. Please don’t get me wrong, none of this was said with malice and it wasn’t intended to be rude, and nor was it taken so. We both agreed that Cameron and Bojo were agents of hell – so that was a good common ground to begin the more detailed discussion of what had happened (and what is still happening) in Scotland. Her gentleness and honesty in this disclosure left me feeling deeply sad and more than a little frustrated. Here I was, sitting in the company of nice, friendly and welcoming people, and some of them had the impression that my country disliked them. She and her husband (the Geordie) were there with their two beautiful little daughters. They were an ideal family; pleasant, chatty, decent and perfectly lovely. How could I hate them? How could my whole country or elements of my country hate them? It simply isn’t the case. This family was precisely the sort of family that Scots were rising up to protect by seeking a fairer society.
As we got to the heart of the matter it became quite clear to everyone that this vicious perception was not founded on experience of Scotland or Scottish people. It sprang from the other theatre of the BBC’s campaign against Scottish independence. North of the border Scots were being told of the familial love our English neighbours felt for us at the same time as our neighbours in the south were being told of the antipathy we felt for them. As much as the Scots bought this emotional rubbish, so too did our neighbours buy this propaganda of envious and angry Scots. It was all a lie we had been told.
What, perhaps, many of our friends and family in England haven’t contemplated is that the debate in Scotland wasn’t about England or the English people. We were not bickering with the English, but with each other. Even during the intensity of the last few weeks before the referendum, when we were all losing sleep and campaigning like machines, we weren’t thinking about England at all. We were more irate with Johann Lamont – a fellow Scot – for suggesting that we were too stupid and too genetically challenged to be doing politics. This was a Scottish discussion, in Scotland, about Scotland and for Scotland. What did an English family in London have to do with it? It was not that we disliked them. Far from it, we simply weren’t thinking about them. Yet this is not what the British media and the national broadcaster were telling them. They were bound to ingest this every bit as much as so many in Scotland interiorised the lies that were being thrown at us. This makes this London family, and tens of thousands more just like them, victims of the same media distortion that we were in Scotland.
It puts us all in quite a horrific situation after the referendum and before our next attempt to secure national self-determination. The BBC and the British media have been instrumental in dividing the people of Scotland right down the middle. Realistically, this real division may take decades or generations to heal. On top of this utterly unnecessary division another has been added. Now we face the prospect of having to continue our struggle in the face of an English population that is convinced that we hate them, and that all this is really about them. Hate is a strong word, and is best reserved for ideologies like Thatcherism rather than people (even Thatcherites). I have never disliked an English person on the basis of their Englishness. I have and I do dislike a few English people. I dislike David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and I dislike them for largely the same reasons that I dislike Johann Lamont and Jim Murphy. I dislike these people because these people are not good for people, not because they are English or Scottish.
Let’s end this on some likes. I liked this family because they were genuine and very friendly. The work that they do in the real world does real good for real people. This is likeable and brave. I liked the couple I met out on the naughty step (the smokers’ corner) because she was Welsh and was rooting for Scotland. That was likeable. I liked him because he was from Yorkshire and was an advocate of Yorkshire independence – now that is brilliant.