Opinion: London is not a foreign country

Big Ben LondonLondon is a world city so it’s no wonder tens of thousands of Scots like me call it home. Some come to work for a while then head home, others put down more permanent roots and stay for the long-haul. I can’t speak for all of them but I don’t know anyone who has considered the move a ‘migration’. Leaving Scotland is a wrench but you don’t feel you’re moving to a foreign country.

I love this city – I love how busy, diverse and vibrant it is. But when people ask me where I’m from I don’t hesitate to say Glasgow. As the referendum approaches it feels like people are being asked to take sides – are you Scottish or British – can I be both, and Glaswegian first and foremost?

The point when I felt most British was last summer during the Olympics. Of course I felt especially proud of Hoy and Murray but I cheered just as long and loud for Ennis and Farah. To hear Scotland’s First Minister urge support for “Scolympians” made me cringe and rush to assure my friends that he wasn’t speaking for me.

Some 800,000 Scots live outside Scotland in other parts of the UK. We don’t have a vote in next year’s referendum, but we do have a voice. We are a daily reminder to our friends and family back home that the UK itself is a family, and that leaving the UK will have consequences for all of us.

Beyond the bigger picture of the UK family I of course think about what leaving the UK could mean for my own family. Will my son Robert need a passport to visit his granny? Will I have to change my pounds to Euros (or who knows what new currency) for a trip home? I know supporters of independence scoff at these questions and dismiss them as scaremongering, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument to suggest everything will stay the same.

Robert Burns suggests it would be a gift to be able to ‘see ourselves as others see us’. Scots living outside Scotland have a distance and perspective on the referendum debate that perhaps our friends and family back home don’t enjoy. We’re seeing Scotland – and the debate around it’s future – through the eyes of the rest of the UK.

So I wonder from afar what independence will mean for my family back home. Only a few short years ago Scottish banks needed a massive bailout from the UK Government. How would I have felt watching from a distance as an independent Scotland had to deal with the fallout of a banking collapse? Watching the financial crisis engulf Ireland, Iceland, Greece and Spain was bad enough – it would have been unbearable to think of the consequences for friends and family back home if a go-it-alone Scotland had been swept up in the crisis.

Tonight I’ll be joining hundreds of my fellow Scots in London to hear Alistair Darling, Danny Alexander and Lord Strathclyde launch the London branch of Better Together – the cross-party and non-party campaign to ensure Scotland remains a strong part of the UK.

We’re meeting in the Institution of Civil Engineers and will be looked over by portraits of the many Scots who have served as President of the Institution over the years. They, and the many Scots active in London life today, are a reminder of the part Scotland has played, and continue to play, in creating London and the UK as a whole.

For the sake of my family and the UK family as a whole, I want to play my part in ensuring Scotland continues to contribute to a strong UK.

To join Better Together London and to find out about tonight’s launch and future events email [email protected] or sign up via Facebook.

* Kirsty O'Brien is leader of Better Together London

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  • I can agree with virtually all of this except that none of it is a case for voting ‘no’ any more than it would be for an Irish citizen to support a reunification with the UK. I’m British and will vote Yes

  • Kevin McNamara 5th Jun '13 - 12:52pm

    i’m sorry but this is a bit of a silly argument. i have identified as european in the past but i don’t live in a united states of europe, i live in the uk. what does the state you reside in have to do with your identity?

  • Is it only 800,000 self-identifying Scots living in ‘the rest of the UK’? That only comes to about 1600 per English Parliamentary Constituency.

    Thanks for this posting. In trying to make sense of the debate I’ve started to use the concept of ‘Greater Scotland’ to couver what happens ‘on the ground’ outside the borders of the Kingdom of Scotland. Greater Scotland has been a terrific force in the world and as a self-identifying Welshman living in ‘Greater Wales’ (outisde teh Principality but emotionally part of it) I am grateful to all those Scots who have helped make my own complex country something to value.

  • Al McIntosh 5th Jun '13 - 2:02pm

    The 1949 Ireland act states in paragraph 2(1) that “…the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country…” . This recognises in law that, although the Irish Republic is politically independent of Westminster, a social union still exists with them and their people are not to be regarded as foreign. This social union has endured nearly 100 years of Irish political freedom.

    In the same way after next year’s yes vote, Scotland and the remaining part of the UK will have an enduring social union that will exist in tandem with Scotland’s new political freedom from Westminster. Neither London, Edinburgh nor Dublin will be any more foreign to a Glaswegian the day after Scottish political independence than it was the day before.

    In sporting terms that social union is expressed in the upcoming Lions rugby tour. Players from the Irish republic are as eligible as those from the UK.

    Moving closer to Glasgow, a wider social union will be celebrated in next year’s Commonwealth games. The nations and territories that come together in Glasgow have shared part of their history and that binds them in a social union despite most of them having achieved independence from Westminster rule. For many of them, the Commonwealth games are a celebration both of political independence and social union.

    Scotland has subsidised the UK for many years. In every single one of the last 30 years, the amount of tax revenues generated per person in Scotland was greater than for the UK as a whole. The part of mainland Britain where public expenditure per head is highest is not, as unionists would have us believe, Scotland but London. How can it be fair that taxpayers in Shettleston or Govan have to pay their taxes to subsidise the creation of opportunity and infrastructure in wealthy London? Instead, an independent Scotland will have the political freedom to use its own resources to invest in its own future to ensure that the opportunities that those who move to London to seek, can instead be found closer to home – opportunities that are denied by the union and which leads many to feel they have to go elsewhere.

  • Alison George 5th Jun '13 - 5:17pm

    “To hear Scotland’s First Minister urge support for “Scolympians” made me cringe”

    That says it all, I think. It’s an ungainly word, but all it means is “Scottish Olympians”, so why were you – “especially proud” of Chris Hoy and Andy Murray – cringeing and ashamed of it being noted that these Olympians were from your own part of the world?

    I’m Scottish, I live in England too, and only independence will see Scots shake off the Cringe that so bedevils our culture and character and is so conspicuously on display in every word of this article. Vote Yes, people of Scotland, for those of us who can’t.

  • If you’re living in London Kirsty, why are you trying to be a British Labour MEP representing Scotland with a Kirsty4Europe Facebook page? Could this desire to keep Scotland part of the UK be more to do with your electoral career than any desire to see Scotland thrive?

    I liked your ironic quote from your Facebook Kirsty4Europe page, “Delighted to meet Esther Niubo from the Catalan Socialist party – our parties share the duel challenge of fighting nationalists and right wing opponents.”, when this article is published on ConservativeHome as well as Liberal Democrat Voice and Labour List. The predicted union of Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem in a British nationalist alliance under the Better Together banner is complete.

    Labour are fighting hard to ensure that David Cameron continues to rule Scotland after 2014 until May 2015 and probably beyond. It’s really down the Rabbit Hole and through the Looking Glass politics in Scotland now.

  • Great article. Hope all goes well tonight at the launch … from an ancestral Scot.

  • David Rogers 6th Jun '13 - 2:23pm

    “Some come to work for a while and then head home…..”. Whatever you might call it Ms O’Brien, I call that economic migration – even if temporary! It’s exactly the same course adopted by others from further afield, although of course whether it’s further or not depends upon from where you start. For many of us, several other European countries are significantly closer than Scotland…
    Many of your questions should be addressed to the advocates of independence, I agree. And given that if the vote for separation were to be won, there would be consequences for all parts of the UK, why should those of us (including you) in England not also be entitled to vote?
    Then you argue for continued UK-taxpayer bailouts of failed Scottish businesses – special pleading or what? And don’t get me started on sport – in my view, the fact that ‘nationalist’ rhetoric (in this case, predominantly UK, except peculiarly in football) dominated last year’s Olympics, detracted from it significantly. There should be far greater emphasis on individual achievements by athletes. And then more generally in so-called ‘international’ matches, we English have to put up with our dirge of a (UK) national anthem, whilst your compatriots, and others, although part of the UK get to sing something else!
    Returning to political matters, how can it be right that Scottish MPs vote on health, social care, and education issues affecting me, whilst my MP (who funnily enough is a longer-term Scottish migrant) has no part in these decisions for those UK citizens who have chosen not to move from Scotland?

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