The “Let’s Stay Together” rally in Trafalgar Square this evening was a decent, worthy and ultimately pointless affair. It took a while to get going. By 6pm, the advertised start time, the square was definitely less than crowded, perhaps indicative of the shrug that many English people seem to be giving about the referendum. Eventually, around 6.30, things started happening, and the crowd had certainly got larger. It was a perfectly nice crowd, with lots of very upper middle-class accents from English people who are probably a bit concerned about their Scottish holiday homes ending up in a foreign land.
Television historian Dan Snow kicked proceedings off with a litany of great Scots achievements; everything from Nelson to victory in the Battle of Britain. Listening to his paean of praise I began to wonder whether the English could claim credit for anything good. The United Kingdom, unbeknown to most of us in the southern kingdom, has been almost completely crafted, created and moulded by geniuses from Scotland. No wonder they want to go independent. They’ve been giving far too much of their unmatchable talent to England all this time and we’ve forgotten to thank them enough.
After a brief interlude where we were obscurely asked to applaud the NHS (they weren’t trying to imply that was essentially Scottish too by any chance?), writer Jenny Colgan took to the podium to explain her commitment to the UK, which she broadly did by listing lots of memories from her childhood, including the Swap Shop telephone number. Not sure memories of Noel Edmonds are really going to persuade Scots to stay in the UK.
By this time the theme of love-bombing the Scots from the southern safety of Trafalgar Square was pretty well established, although Bob Geldof struck a more discordant note with his claim that we all hate effing Westminster politicians (I’ve anaesthatised his principal comment here). If we do, we only have ourselves to blame for constantly voting them back in, and the Scots are every bit as responsible for that as the English.
As I wandered away from the rally I reflected that it was an essentially English thing to do – nice, well-meaning, utterly worthy and probably useless. But with nice English people gathering round to say lots of nice things about Scotland, I’m beginning to wonder whether we aren’t suffering a bit of an identity crisis ourselves, which could lead to bigger things. The rumblings are already starting. That’s the thing about nationalism. Spark one bit off and it lights another, and the English response isn’t always going to be the fundamentally decent one it was in Trafalgar Square today.