Great Scots - do we want to go it alone?

CAPITAL CITY Edinburgh with the Saltire flag fluttering
CAPITAL CITY Edinburgh with the Saltire flag fluttering
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Blackpool is home from home for Scots living in self imposed exile here or visitors staying a wee while - but all have an opinion on the great debate north of the border. Should Scotland go it alone?

Is Scotland brave enough to embrace independence. Or would it simply be folly to make the break from Westminster?

If Scotland votes a definite yes to independence at the referendum in September Scotland will become independent in March 2016 and in May the very first election for a Scottish Parliament will be held, elected under the current system of regional party lists and constituency first-past-the-post.

The new Parliament would then become responsible from May 6 for creating a Constitutional Convention to determine how newly-independent Scotland will be governed.

First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, insists: “We not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better. We know we have the people, the skills and resources to make Scotland a more successful country. What we need now are the economic tools and powers to build a more competitive, dynamic economy and create more jobs.

“With these policies, we can begin the job of undoing the damage caused by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.

“And we believe it is only with the powers of Independence - by completing the powers of our national Parliament - that we will gain the tools we need to create a more prosperous and fairer society.”

So what do our local Scots have to say?

Blackpool landlady Elizabeth Grierson, originally from Perth, has run a hotel here for 14 years. The Fairhaven Hotel on Woodfield Road, in central Blackpool, is regularly lauded online for the warmth of its Scottish welcome. But Elizabeth says the days of the old Scottish Fortnights have long gone. “The Scots still come but it’s not like it was. They used to come for a fortnight, now it’s a week, those who came for a week stay three nights, those who came three nights stay overnight. That’s right across the board for holidaymakers, not just the Scots. It’s hard to compete at Christmas too with the big all-inclusive hotels who include branded drinks at prices you can’t match.

“And when the visitors come they don’t always like what they see in Blackpool, or how it’s changed, thanks to the numbers of other people moving in what should be a holiday protected zone.”

In spite of calling on Blackpool Council to safeguard tourism zones from landlords still trying to milk housing benefit - for all the changes - Elizabeth claims she’s “not very political”. But she is strongly opposed to independence for Scotland.

“I think we have missed the moment,” she explains. “Now is now the right time. Twenty years ago it may have worked. It would be stupidity to opt for independence now, far too great a risk. I can’t see Scotland being able to stand on its own two feet alone.”

Taxi driver Rory McAllister of St Annes, who moved from Aberdeen 20 years ago, agrees: “Once a Scot always a Scot. The Irish, Welsh and Scots are the freest spirits around. We don’t want independence. The English have taken enough away from us in the past so I say let’s stick with the status quo and get what we can back off them. I’n no nationalist. I’m a Scot and proud but it doesn’t mean I’m nationalistic. There’s too much danger in nationalism.”

Blackpool councillor Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for housing, says: “Personally I’m against. I don’t trust the Scottish National Party and it annoys me I’m not allowed a vote even though I was born and lived there for 25 years.”

Retired civil servant Gordon Fife, 76, a Glaswegian living in Bispham, says: “Scotland’s best known for the quality of its actors – Sean Connery who’s for an independent Scotland which is rich coming from a tax exile- and for producing the best football managers ... usually for English teams! Look at Bill Shankly, Sir Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish and wee Davie Moyes.

“But politicians? Bar Ramsay MacDonald who was one of the greatest moderates I’d say we were a non-starter politically. I can’t take that buffoon George Galloway who dressed up as a cat and purred over some actress seriously. And Salmond just sets my teeth on edge. Can’t abide the man.

“I’m a big fan of Connery – my late wife Maisie was an even bigger fan! – but it grates on me that a man who doesn’t even live in Scotland can try and tell us what to do. I don’t, so I won’t but if I lived there I’d be against independence. We’d lose far more than we’d gain. Let’s work from within and beat them at their own game. I don’t think Whitehall gives a hoot about Scotland. We have to fight our corner. But I don’t think it gives a hoot about England or Wales either.”

Three visitors to the resort, family friends from the centre and outskirts of Glasgow, were unashamedly “yes” voters - the only misgivings expressed by their menfolk.

Annual visitors to Blackpool since the old Glasgow Fair days of summers of old Ailsa Stewart and Eryn Cameron and family friend Heather Ross, all in their late 60s, and live near Balmore, said they visited Blackpool at least twice a year, funds permitting, and, as Eryn put it, “That’s about as much of England as we wish to see!”

Ailsa’s daughter now helps run a care home in Blackpool. “We know from talking to her that Scots get a better deal from the health service,” says her mum. “It may not feel like that at the time but I think Scotland is better at protecting the more vulnerable members of the community. I think we get a better education, more help with health, including free prescriptions for all, and social welfare. We get concessions we don’t get in England. And we deserve them because most of us have worked for them and we live in a far harsher area when it comes to weather. Anyone south of the border starts to whinge the moment the temperature dips below freezing.”

Eryn adds: “You’d think Scotland was independent already from the way you get looked at times trying to spend Scottish currency here!”

Heather’s husband Alastair and Eryn’s son Andrew disagreed. “We could have made a lot more of devolution but haven’t,” adds Alastair, a former accountant. “Independence would mean a constitutional free for all, and God knows what with regard to the European Union. If we weren’t careful Scotland could effectively go out of business. The local economy could collapse. Back in the ‘90s we opposed devolution because we feared the so called Tartan Tax would go up.”

Andrew, who runs a corner shop in Glasgow, said: “People will vote with their heart, not their head, on independence. No Scot wants his or her destiny in an Englishman or woman’s hands but I can’t see that decisions made in Westminster are in worse than those made in Scotland. You can’t just wish away or vote away constitutional agreements that have stood the test of time.”

Market traders Angus and Catriona Hart, formerly from Lanarkshire, and now living in East Lancashire, said their family would be voting no on September 18.

“And if we still lived there and had a vote we’d do the same,” said Catriona, 51. She was particularly incensed by one former Scottish National Party member’s assertion that those who voted no shouldn’t call themselves Scottish.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” said the former primary school teacher. “And I think that’s why nationalism is such a dangerous path to go down. It’s about doing what’s right for Scotland and not just because the Left or Right want it. I’m proud to be a Scot but I call myself British too – and European. When we had our own business and travelled more it opened our eyes to just how small the world really is and how small minded nationalists can be.”

Angus agrees: “There’s a different mindset to being a Scot – and then there’s a whole lot of other different mindsets under that umbrella to being a Highlander or whatever. It works the same way nationally, regionally and locally in England and Wales and Ireland. I’d see an argument for devolution in Lancashire because, regionally, it gets a poor deal.

“There are different mindsets to different areas – Scots are stereotyped as tough when we can be as soft as the next Sassenach – and we don’t have a monopoly on getting decisions right.

“But Scotland’s not broken – so why fix it? I think David Cameron has made an almighty mess of things but I don’t want to cut my people off from allies and friends north of the border just because we want shut of the likes of him.”

A different slant came from Welshman Bryn Owen of Conway, who’s working on an engineering project locally. “If the Scots have any sense they will leave things be but if they go for independence the Welsh won’t waste the opportunity. Scotland leaving the UK would shift the balance of bureaucratic and economic power. It would present business opportunities for us, from Trident’s relocation through to more of a fiscal alliance with England, although we should block any attempt to create any kind of currency union with an independent Scotland. Hasn’t the meltdown in the Eurozone taught us anything?”

Salmond argues that half a billion pounds on defence spending and contributions to the funding of Westminster could be saved by an independent Scotland.