Scotland and the UK: Standing Together
Something amazing just happened. Yesterday alone another one thousand people signed up to join a human chain to unite Britain. On the evening of 19th July we will link arms in a human chain stretching from coast to coast: thousands of English, Irish, Welsh, and Scots, together. The chain will begin at Gretna and finish at Newcastle – running right along Hadrian’s Wall. At nine o’clock we will light beacons, and break open glow-torches. From the mountain ridges you will see a chain of lights linking the Irish Sea to the North Sea. It will be a moment – for all ages, every nation, every political persuasion – of respect, affection and solidarity for Scotland in the United Kingdom.
We are now very close to the referendum which will determine whether the United Kingdom will break up. The polls suggest that the vote is close. The Scottish Nationalist Party has gathered momentum and support. There is now a very serious chance that we will wake up on Friday 19th September with Scotland no longer part of the United Kingdom. Millions of Scots and English, South and North, will be divided; the United Kingdom as we have known it will be ended forever.
This is not only about economics. This is about identity. Four hundred years ago, two rival nations which had been killing each other for centuries combined. England and Scotland – which on their own might have been pedantic, pompous, or parochial – inspired each other and grew outwards into a miracle. And the Lake District and the Scottish borders – the land that linked these Kingdoms- became the central landscape of the European imagination. Many people still feel the strength of what we did, and can still do now, together. Others, however, are beginning to lose their sense of solidarity, or their confidence in our common project. And because Scots – like most people in Britain – feel a deep anger and disappointment about Westminster politics in general (polls show 85 per cent of the British public feel ‘politics is broken’), this is no longer a despair which can be best tackled by politicians. It can only be tackled by us all as citizens. It is the British people, all of us together, who can show that we still believe, we still care, we still hope.
When the human chain was first suggested at the end of last week, the response was very telling. The establishment was uncertain how to react. No newspaper or political party, business or mass member organisation or celebrity came out in support of the campaign. Prominent ‘leaders’ muttered that they didn’t care, didn’t think it mattered, and that they wouldn’t take the risk of coming out in favour of the United Kingdom. They thought ‘real people’ wouldn’t care either. But the popular response has been breathtaking. A hundred signed up in the first hour, and we are now into thousands. This hasn’t come from speeches in Parliament, or op-eds in newspapers. There has been no budget or ‘marketing campaign’. Instead, everything has been spreading word of mouth, with people forwarding on to friends through email, Facebook and Twitter. Offers to help organise and support are pouring in – people happy to co-ordinate lines along the wall, suggesting shared transport, setting up new websites. Groups from Wales and Cornwall have been in touch, asking if they can organise branch lines, stretching hundreds of miles South-East. We began by worrying that we might not get enough people – we are now worrying about how to organise the coaches and car-parking to get everyone to the wall at the same moment. But that is a good problem to have – and we’ll get it right.
Here, in Cumbria, we are in the epicentre of this issue. No-one would feel more strongly the effect of a border; no-one can get to the wall so easily. It is incredibly important that we take the lead in this issue. We have 500,000 people in Cumbria. We should aim as close as we can to have every single family in Cumbria represented in the chain, linking hands with Scots across the border, and people across the UK – showing our welcome and belief.
So, please could everyone reading this, join us for that vital fifteen minutes on 19th July when we will break open our lights. Please register immediately on www.handsacrosstheborder.co.uk. If you can, organise a group in your parish or town. We need everyone. Please write with any thoughts, advice, or updates on what you have organised at a local level.
The decision on whether Scotland will leave the United Kingdom will be Scotland’s alone. But together we can ensure that when Scots go into the polling booths, they will remember our unbroken chain, rising and falling over the hills. We will stand – old and young – in patient, human solidarity. The cameras and satellites will fly over that great line of lights, and people clasped arm to arm, and they will show the world who we are. Each torch, each human link will be a sign of how much we value what the United Kingdom has been and done for the last four hundred years, and how much we believe in a shared future together. And the world will see that, in the end, when the United Kingdom was under threat we were prepared as nations to stand together.