I sat on the bench in the garden of First World War remembrance beneath the lilac shading me from the sun and watched the ladies dispensing drinks from the Pimm’s Tent as the jazz band set up under a canopy decked with mini Union Jacks. Ladies in summer frocks bustled around the headstones of the long dead with earnest fellows in Panama hats and the volunteer gardeners trimmed the churchyard hedges while up on the church tower where the flag of St George hung limp in the heat, they were throwing teddy bears in parachutes for the children to raise parish funds. Handel’s Water Music filled my earphones and I sighed in contentment.
This is St Mary’s Barnes, an English church as a child might draw it, with ancient flint walls and centuries old corners dating from the 12th century. It is linked to Magna Carta and on a sunny weekend it was forever England. I expected Captain Mainwaring to stride up the flagstone path and bark orders.
It sits just south of the Thames in an oxbow in the river, part of Richmond, and is joined to London by the Hammersmith Bridge. It is upmarket and sought-after and with the fair on around the duck pond it was alive with happy people relaxing in the heat. Later I watched it all with some envy from the beer garden of the Sun Inn, my pint of London Pride in hand.
When I looked in the estate agent’s window the most common price for the handsome homes that line the road into London appeared to be £2.8 million. The average price for a house in Scotland is about £160,000 although I don’t think the Barnes Road homes were typical of an English market.
So was I resentful – as every ‘angry Scottish Nationalist’ should be at others better off? I don’t think I was. I liked what I saw and found the atmosphere infectious. It’s hardly the fault of the locals that this is where the money is found and, since the spiralling absurdity of Better Together trumpeted a mock referendum in Corby this week, it’s notable how opportunity and higher incomes will always draw people. Just as Scots headed south for work in the steel industry in the thirties, so today’s Scots seek success where it can be found.
It will always be true, so do we just accept that London is too big a draw and give up? Isn’t that why we now need so much foreign immigration – because our own people have drifted away and over the decades the working population has fallen (with reverse spikes from time to time). We are berated by the Unionists for having an ageing population which we can’t service with taxpaying citizens, but only because we haven’t created the jobs to sustain the population.
Young talent will always be lured elsewhere and so it should be when there is a world out there to be experienced but the home country should also be able to offer opportunity to retain enough and attracted back those who have been away and are ready to return.
Unionists know this too but their reaction is to surrender not to compete. What can you do? they moan. They utterly accept not just the domination of London which is undeniable but its unchallenged right to suck up everything that is good from all corners and leave us with what is left. Even the Prime Minister claims the economy needs to be rebalanced, he just can’t do anything to achieve it.
We can. If we have the strategic capacity – the access not just to corporation tax and income tax but to public procurement, competition policy and immigration – all the levers that allow adjustments to meet specifically Scottish needs. That’s how the small nations do it, be it Denmark, New Zealand or Ireland. They adjust the dials to keep up with their needs and mould policies to suit themselves. It is the lack of strategic control which has left for example our shipyards dependent on defence contracts with no ability to expand and diversify. They are now hostages to the Union.
Immigration control allows us to keep the students we have educated from abroad here in Scotland to make a new life and contribute to our economy.
And yet it seems the belief among the Scots is that just a wee bit more power at Holyrood will be enough. Many are satisfied that ‘something’ will emerge and that it will somehow change our society and they will give the benefit of the doubt to those who have made no commitment to delivering anything. To me, that needs more blind faith than believing in your country’s ability to run itself independently.
A No vote will hand back the powers we need and entrust them to those who have only ever delivered when there was a threat. Remove the threat and they will relax again and quietly ignore.
I don’t imagine the good people of Barnes and Chiswick will give more than passing notice to a No vote either. It won’t change anything in their lives. The power and the money will stay near them, the talent will flow their way and the natural order will be restored. It will be time for another Pimm’s.by