The future of the 200-year link between England and Scotland has never been more hotly debated. We asked some of Scotland's best known writers for their opinions on the state of this marriage is and what independence might mean for their home country
Iain Banks: 'Scotland could have a future as a completely independent country'
Iain Banks, 57, was born in Fife, where he still lives. Beginning with The Wasp Factory (1984), he has written 23 novels, including, most recently, Surface Detail, one of 13 science fiction titles published under the name Iain M Banks.
When I was about eight, I informed my parents that I felt more British than Scottish. They were horrified. These days, I feel a lot more Scottish than British. Sometimes I feel more European than British.
Back then, I felt proud that we had the best police in the world (for so I was told) and the best post office in the world (etc) and that we had the BBC and the NHS and all the other institutions that united people through the feeling that ? despite the class system and the divisions between bosses and workers ? we were still somehow all in this together, still one nation.
Then Margaret Thatcher took over the Tory party and swung it to the right. Out went one-nation Conservatism; in came deep cuts, privatisation, the glorification of greed and globalisation. And the Big Bang for the City; the deregulation programme that was at least necessary and arguably sufficient to set up our part in the financial crisis that started in 2008 and whose most debilitating results we have, perhaps, yet to suffer.
The thing is, the Scots never fell for Thatcherism. We were always sceptical. When she announced that there was no such thing as society, most of us were, frankly, incredulous. Thatcherism, and the enthusiasm with which it was embraced by so many in England, made a lot of Scots begin to realise that we were, after all, meaningfully different en masse from the English; more communitarian, less convinced of the primacy of competition over co-operation. There was no one nation.
So, the Scots learned to vote tactically, ganged up on the Tories and reduced the Conservative party in Scotland to a rump. In England, even in the depths of its unelectable ghastliness, I don't remember seeing a poll where they scored under 30%.
I spent the early and mid 80s in London and Kent, returning home in 1988. From then on through the 90s, I recall reading Scottish National party manifestos and thinking, they're to the left of Labour. Of course, given that Labour had moved to the right of Ted Heath's last government, being to the left of it didn't represent that Herculean an achievement, but still.
Until then, I'd only ever voted Labour. After Blair did the same trick with the Labour party that Thatcher had turned with the Tories, I never voted Labour again. I voted Green, Scottish Socialist party, Lib Dem or SNP, mostly as protest votes, but, gradually ? and with rather more hope ? increasingly for the SNP. Not because I was particularly nationalistic ? like a lot of people on the left I've always been suspicious of the populist, divisive appeal of nationalism ? but because the SNP's policies were more progressive, more left wing, more fair, in the end, compared to any other party with a realistic chance of achieving power. Labour stopped being Labour, so I became a pragmatic voter for the SNP.
These days, I support the idea of an independent Scotland. It's with a heavy heart in some ways; I think I'd still sacrifice an independent Scotland for a socialist UK, but? I can't really see that happening. What I can imagine is England continuing to turn to the right and eventually leaving the EU altogether.
Scotland, though, could have a viable future either as a completely independent country or ? more likely ? within Europe. The European ideal is taking a battering right now, certainly, and the gloss has come off comparing our prospects to Ireland's or Iceland's, but it remains both possible and plausible that Scotland could become a transparent, low-inequality society on the Scandinavian model, with fair, non-regressive taxes, strong unions, a nuclear-free policy, a non-punitive tertiary education system, enlightened social policies in general and long-term support for green energy programmes.
We'd need to make sure our banks were small enough to fail, and there are problems of poverty, ill health and religious tribalism that will take decades to overcome. But with the advantages and attractions that Scotland already has, and, more importantly, taking into account the morale boost, the sheer energisation of a whole people that would come about because we would finally have our destiny at least largely back in our own hands again ? I think we could do it.
And that we should.
Janice Galloway: 'You will not miss us, just what we signified ? the last kick of Empire'
Novelist Janice Galloway was born in 1955. She describes her early years in Ayrshire in This Is Not About Me, her award-winning 'anti-memoir'. A second volume, All Made Up, was published this month (Granta, �16.99). She now lives in Lanarkshire.
We were in London, me and a wonderful writer from Oban, sharing a cab to Westminster. The cabbie had noticed my hair colour, my friend's Highland jaw, our different yet somehow singly defined accents. The Bank of Scotland tenner we offered as fare, however, threw him. No use, he said. It's Scotch. We had nothing else. He refused again and enunciated more slowly. It's, he repeated, Scotch. This is what we've got, my friend said. Please. Stop buggering about and take it. The cabbie got out, cast offending note to the winds, calmly advised us to fuck off, then reached for a can of air freshener. Bleedin' Scotch, he stage-whispered, more in regret than anger, from the heart of a hissing lavender fug. Bleedin' smart-mouth bastard Scotch.
Twenty years later, in Shrewsbury M&S, I read out the cooking instructions off a ready-meal pack to a stranger who'd forgotten his glasses. You're from Scotland, he said. Yes, I confessed, not sure whether to apologise. Ooh, he said. We used to go to Scotland every year but we don't get about much these days and I haven't heard a voice like that in ages. You don't get to hear it much round here. He showed a picture of his wife at Loch Ness. It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the noo, he said. I love Scotland. And he embraced me. Tight.
These were the first things that came to mind when I read a recent poll revealing that almost half of the English would like a say over Scotland's future under Westminster governance. Deep down, sometimes very deep down, the English have surprising feelings about northern Britain. For the most part, those feelings have little to do with the Scots. "The findings suggest that for the most part England wants the Union to continue," said John Curtice of Strathclyde University, "but probably would not die in a ditch to keep it preserved. After all, for most people in England, Scotland is not a significant 'other'."
Well, we are and we aren't. The wedding was shotgun and double-dealing (real and imagined) has not been absent from the liaison, but that things would continue has, more or less, been taken for granted. She tolerates his casting her as a self-important, moany cow who was damned lucky to have him, while He tolerates her upkeep, nippy manners and lefty tendencies. Better the devil you know. Now, there's a half-filled suitcase in the hall. Frankly, an unconfrontational, off-the-high-horse chat is in order but it's not coming soon. What next?
I confess that being asked "what being Scottish means to me" makes me break into a sweat. Explaining what I understand by my Britishness is much easier. To me, being British refers to the fact that means I live on the landmass Britannia, those islands the Romans saw as three natural parts: Caledonia, Hibernia, Albion. I love the variety of our landscape and wildlife and its myths and histories ? full of treachery and deals concocted by the powerful few over the heads of their respective peoples ? are tales to which I feel entitled. From the Border ballads to Blake and beyond, I love our splendidly mongrel language and the range of accents and rich dialects in which it dresses itself. Now that RP and what it tried so hard to signify is less of a big deal, I find even the accent that likes to insist it is not an accent at all amusingly quaint. I like it here. I feel I belong.
This sense of belonging has nothing to do with fiscal or governmental union and everything to do with proximity, amity and difference. It never occurs to me that Scotland and England are one, any more than it occurs that Scotland and Wales are one. We were separate countries with different political make-ups. Our cultures are rooted in different histories and linguistic influences, and it shows in the way we use words, inflect their meanings and express our keenest hopes for the society we'd like to help create.
That Scottish votes have seldom delivered a matching government is only part of the story. Certainly, the 90s "greed is good" years, when the north in general became the Tory party's Petri dish, were such a caustic reminder of our inconsequentiality that the SNP began to look like a serious alternative.
People need a measure of governance over the territory they stand upon. Their sense of worth is bound up in their opinions being taken seriously. (That is, ironically, the reason so many English folk would like their say in Scotland's future within the Union too.) This sense of worth ? of basic self-esteem ? makes for a confident people. The dreadful riots in England certainly reinforced my caginess of Westminster's overcentralised and largely PLU [people like us] make-up all over again.
If Scottish self-esteem, a phrase that makes one psychoanalyst I know reach for the term "oxymoron", is reflected in our statistics for liver disease, drug-addiction, obesity, young male suicide and domestic abuse, we're not in great shape. And while I do not wish to conflate class with nationality (the working classes of England, Wales and Northern Ireland can hardly feel valued by pay gaps that have widened beyond belief), I believe Scottish priorities for solutions to health, education and social mobility might be different. This is healthy. Tax-raising powers might make it healthier still. The SNP needs to establish that its motivation has more in common with Small Is Beautiful than "Scotland the Brave" if it is to be the credible answer. But if it can ? and that's a big if ? the risk of secession will be worth taking.
You will not miss us at all, just what we signified ? the last kick of Empire and a lost notion of Glory. My English husband thinks so. My mother, raised in Yorkshire, would think it too if she were here. The suitcase is waiting. Let's talk turkey.
David Greig: 'An independent Scotland would make mistakes, do stupid things. But less often'
Born in Edinburgh in 1969, playwright David Greig has written plays for the National Theatre of Scotland and a Macbeth sequel for the RSC.
If the Union between Scotland and England has been a marriage, then the Holyrood election was like the moment when the wife looks at her husband and realises ? suddenly and clearly ? that it's over. There's been love in the marriage, there's been strength in adversity, there's history, financial issues, kids even? but it can't be avoided any more. This couple have drifted apart, they're interested in different things, they argue all the time, they fight about money, and? there's something else. Something more serious. She doesn't really recognise him any more. He's not the man she fell in love with. It's a moment without rancour, without bitterness: a great sigh of relief at the inevitable acknowledgement of the obvious? it's time to go our separate ways.
I'm an old-fashioned social democrat and while my heart is marbled through with love of country my head has always distrusted nationalism. I have equated nationalism with racism, xenophobia, inward-looking-ness and militarism. I have spent my adult life voting and campaigning for a British Labour party. All the while, I've kept my eye on Scottish nationalism, watching and waiting, distrusting it, expecting it to reveal its true dark heart.
But it never has.
For 25 years, Scottish nationalism has been a civic, social-democratic, multicultural movement. Nationalists have opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they opposed Trident. They have openly campaigned for more immigration. The SNP proudly asserts the multicultural nature of modern Scotland with its MSPs taking the parliamentary oath in Urdu, Gaelic, Italian and English. Nationalists promote and engage with the EU. They advocate sustainable energy, land reform, arts funding? the list goes on.
And in the meantime what about Britain? The Britain I grew up in: the Britain of the BBC, of manufacturing, of university education, of council housing, civic theatres and libraries? That Britain has been torn up by successive Westminster governments that have pandered with increasing desperation to a middle England that seems determined to live in a low-tax, high-inequality, American-style future. I don't want to live in America. I don't want to live in Thatcherland.
So there comes a moment when we turn and look at each other ? England and Scotland ? and realise we just want different things. No matter how hard I try, I can no longer rationalise voting for parties that can never give my community what it wants.
Scottish independence is not a matter of ethnicity. There are plenty of English people in Scotland who would vote for independence. I am sure there are many Scots in England who would prefer to stay plugged in to the economic energy of the south-east of England. The Scotland whose independence I seek is more a state of mind: cautious, communitarian, disliking of bullying or boasting, broadly egalitarian, valuing of education, internationalist in outlook, working class in character, conservative with a small c. It's a polity formed by the virtues of the manse. And, given that the virtues of the manse are not dissimilar to the virtues of the mosque, the gurdwara or the Women's Institute, it's a multicultural, shared, open polity.
Of course, as an independent country Scotland would make mistakes, it would do stupid things, be crass and ugly at times. I just think it would be those things less often and we would be able to right them more quickly.
The only rational reason I can find to vote against independence is that it would condemn the English left to perpetual opposition. I still can't resolve that problem. Solidarity might still stay my hand in the voting booth. But at the moment I expect I will vote for independence. I think a majority of Scots will too. Perhaps not independence red in tooth and claw. Perhaps independence "lite". But I don't think there's any going back. The Union is an unhappy marriage. I think it's time we both sat down and said it out loud ? it's over.
AL Kennedy: 'Salmond has the warm potato head of a man who is Scottish and ? we hope ? no threat'
Dundee-born AL Kennedy, 45, is an ordained minister, standup and dramatist, as well as an award-winning fiction writer. Her fifth novel, The Blue Book, was published this month (Cape, �16.99).
An English friend of mine was recently invited to dine with Alex Salmond. ("Wee Leckie" likes a natter over silver service, perhaps with a harpist in the lounge beforehand and little biscuits.) I found myself telling my chum something along the lines of: "He's the only politician I've met who didn't make me want to wash; he's bright, articulate, apparently principled and imaginative, even courageous. This may make him incredibly dangerous, I'm not sure." And I really am not sure.
Perhaps an independent Scotland would offer a restrained alternative to Westminster's current slash and burn. Scots already have free prescription charges and free university places. The former may mean we live longer; the latter means we're being taken to court by English students abandoned by their government. Perhaps an independent England will become a country where the rich prosper, despite repeated scandals, and the poor? well, die. Perhaps Scotland will be different. It's already remained riot-free during the recent outbreaks of thuggery and feral shopping.
When the likes of David Cameron, the Daily Mail and Kelvin MacKenzie rail against Scottish independence, this may, in part, stem from ideological embarrassment rather than a genuine fondness for the Union. We might hope Scotland could display good governance in an almost unsurvivable economic climate.
Then again, I grew up in the 1970s in Dundee, exposed to almost mythical layers of corruption and malpractice in public life. Later, in Strathclyde, I was an unwilling audience for bent politicos who loved to boast as much as they loved power, money and being above the law. They pushed blighted communities into abjection. The poor were always punished hardest and always by those who claimed to be their friends.
Most Scots are used to nepotism and skulduggery among entrenched ? often Labour ? officials. The new parliament in Holyrood promised transparency, a voting system that ensured collaboration (and supposedly Labour control) and hope. In some areas, it has done well ? its reform of land ownership was long overdue, for example. That our first crop of MSPs arrived, voted themselves a pay rise and then went on holiday was less inspiring. Our demi-rulers operate in an insanely expensive, over-designed building.
The UK press is uninterested in "regional" stories while the Scottish press is often weak and compromised when it comes to oversight of our representatives. This is a genuine (and familiar) threat to democracy, as, it could be argued, are the current relations between our first minister, the supreme court and the lord advocate. And let's not worry about how quickly the majority goes to SNP heads or if a national unified police force is really a good idea.
Few would represent the SNP landslide as an endorsement of independence. Voters were justifiably appalled by the nest of pigs Westminster has become and seems determined to remain. They were repelled by the Westminster parties: smugly interfering Labour, spineless Lib Dems, gleefully carnivorous Conservatives. The SNP had managed the country capably during its last administration and represented, in part, the perfect protest vote. And then there were the leaders or, rather, there weren't. Salmond is a sharp, charismatic presence; he would do well in any environment. He has policies, he can explain them, he can be funny, he has the eyes of warm spaniel and the warm potato head of a man who is both undoubtedly Scottish and surely ? we must hope ? no threat. Our other potential first ministers were credible only if they didn't appear in public. A vote for the SNP was a vote for Salmond as we were ? controversially ? reminded on our ballot papers.
Behind Salmond is a left-leaning party. But within living memory, it was the Tartan Tory option. It's rather sweet that the party is willing to be whatever we'd like, as long it gets independence. But what if Salmond gets hit by a van? Thus far, he has steered an elegant course reflecting Scotland's left-leaning population, has sabre-rattled against sectarian bigotry and has kept a pro-Scottish agenda free from racism by widening the definition of what it is to be Scottish in a heartening way. Whether we would get the same finesse from the rest of his party we may doubt. And would we thrive in these harsh times? Or be consumed by hyper-capitalist predators and more banking scams?
The more Westminster disappoints, then the more attractive and untraumatic independence may seem. And perhaps that's a telling detail ? when one partner cares about a break-up and the other is halfway to moving on, perhaps the relationship has had its day.
Shena Mackay: 'I want Scotland to be Scottish through and through. I hate to hear English accents in the shops there'
Novelist Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh in 1944 but has mostly lived in the south of England. Her selected stories, The Atmospheric Railway, are now available in paperback (Vintage, �9.99)
In JMcorrect Barrie's novel Sentimental Tommy, Tommy Sandys, a young Scottish boy living in a London slum, has been brought up on his exiled Scottish mother's tales of her home town, Thrums. He brags endlessly to his friend Shovel (a tough and brutally misused lad) of the beauties and superiority of Thrums. After their mother's death, Tommy and his little sister, Elspeth, are sent back to Thrums. The local boys mock his English accent and pretend not to understand his attempts to talk "Scotch". Tommy screams that he and Shovel could fight the lot of them. Heartbroken, he sobs to Elspeth that he was always boasting to Shovel about Thrums and here he is in Thrums "bouncing" about Shovel.
Scottish in England, English in Scotland ? like Tommy, my sisters and I didn't choose to live in England. Our parents moved south when we were young ? my younger sister was born here. Nevertheless, we were in no doubt that Scotland was superior in every way. Scottish raspberries? Best in the world! Likewise Scottish education, tomatoes, potatoes. We spent summers in Scotland with my grandparents and loved it and them unconditionally. The JM Barrie book was one of a set belonging to my grandfather and my childhood was imbued with Scottish literature and songs. There are aspects of England, particularly the landscape, which I love deeply too.
The question should be: what would be best for Scotland, and England, but I feel I have nothing useful to add to the debate because any feelings I might have are sentimental, and although I am delighted when I am counted as a Scottish writer, I don't imagine that anybody in Scotland will care much what I or other disenfranchised expatriates think. I see why many Scots want independence but voters in England will have no say in the matter.
The resurgence of violence in Northern Ireland, sectarianism in Scottish football, the coalition and so many other things make one despair of the United Kingdom but at a time in history when everything everywhere seems to be getting worse, should it be broken up? I don't know.
Scotland has been increasingly lost to me over the years; almost everybody I loved there has died. I am an occasional visitor, with an English voice, to my own country. I want Scotland to be Scottish through and through ? I hate to hear English accents in the shops there. I think I've always had a vague feeling of exile and I've sometimes wished I could belong to a Scottish community of writers. I'm sure there are schisms and feuds but it would be nice not to feel an outsider. Sentimentally, I don't want any more estrangement from my native land.
Leaving aside matters of funding, about which I can't comment, as far as the arts are concerned, I don't think separation from England would make much difference to the Scots. Scottish writing, painting, music ? among the best in the world and they know it, even if the English often don't.