Afore ye go… what about the rest of the United Kingdom?

Are our flags about to change?

Are our flags about to change?

This time next week we could be living in a very different country.

Maps may have to be redrawn to remove the words ‘United Kingdom’. Certain flags may become obsolete and sporting unions would have to be changed dramatically ahead of, say, the next Olympics in Rio. Currencies would have to be re-thought.

I would suggest the loss of MPs north of the border would also make it far more difficult for Labour to win a General Election when relying on an electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yes, the list of repercussions of a ‘Yes’ vote in next week’s Scottish referendum on independence from the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland goes on and on. And on.

Why anyone would want to carve up our tiny island further is beyond me – particularly as the inevitable consequence will be that each part will have its influence on the world stage diminished as a result.

Having covered General Elections as a journalist since 1992 I’ve developed a healthy disregard for opinion polls.

But it seems that the result of next week’s vote is genuinely too close to call.

To my mind, both sides of the debate are guilty of scaremongering and crass hypocrisy.

I think the truth is neither side fully understands or can predict all the ramifications of Scotland going it alone.

Sadly, the main parties in Westminster give the impression they have only just woken up to the possibility of the ‘Yes’ campaign winning.

The sight of the Prime Minister, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg scurrying north of the border to bolster the ‘No’ campaign smacked of desperation to me and I can’t believe it will have any substantial effect on voters.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond and the nationalists can’t shake off the simple fact that independence is a huge gamble – not just for Scotland, but for the UK as a whole.

Not that the SNP give much of a monkey’s about the rest of us.

A lot of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s rhetoric seems to be based on perceived historical injustices and the fact that the south east of England gets all the money and attention from the powers-that-be at Westminster.

Of course, on that basis, anywhere north of the Watford Gap has a gripe.

Indeed, I eagerly await Stoke-on-Trent’s bid for independence from London and the ‘sarf’ east.

I will, personally, be extremely sad to see a majority of the people in Scotland vote for independence. I love the place. I holiday there most years and I think it has the best landscape in Britain and, perhaps wrongly, I consider it part of ‘my country’.

I’ll be sad because we’ll be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of tradition and ties – involving, for example, the military and the Royal Family.

The Union that survived two world wars will have been undone by the drip, drip effect of devolution.

Even if it’s a ‘No’ vote this is a ‘win-win’ for Mr Salmond and the nationalists because more powers will be ceded north of the border by the main Westminster parties as an incentive to keep the fragile Union together a while longer.

I dare say there are plenty of people here in England who will say, without hesitation: ‘Let them go and have their independence!’.

They will be angry that the constituents of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown continue to enjoy free prescriptions and free university tuition paid for, arguably, by taxpayers in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile, here in England prescriptions cost £8.05 each and a university education is cost-prohibitive for many because it equates to a second mortgage.

I’m not jealous of the Scots. Good on ’em, I say.

In fact, here in England I would suggest we could learn a few lessons from them with regard to their relentless pursuit of equality and fairness for all.

I joked earlier about the Potteries and the north seeking independence from London and the south east. But I believe there is a genuine argument for the rest of the country outside London no longer being treated like second class citizens on account of the capital being ‘the City’ and our ‘financial powerhouse’ – as Boris Johnson and the like constantly to refer to it.

From an English perspective, the Scottish referendum on independence is sort of like watching your brother rail against his parents and threaten to leave home.

What’s worse is that you’re not allowed to have a say in his decision – even though your brother’s departure will have a huge impact on the family as a whole.

Whatever happens, I wish the people of Scotland all the best for the future because I consider them my friends and neighbours – even if they do take the high road.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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‘If the Falklands were invaded, I’d like to think Britain would do same again’

British troops on the Falklands in 1982.

British troops on the Falklands in 1982.

It is incredible to think that it was more than 30 years ago that many of us sat glued to the television news and watched the Falklands Conflict unfold.

The names still trip off the tongue of anyone over the age of 40:
‘Bomb Alley’. Goose Green. Mount Tumbledown. Bluff Cove and Fitzroy. Port Stanley. Mirage fighter jets. Exocet missiles.

The Sun’s ‘Gotcha’ headline, the of the sinking General Belgrano, the explosions onboard HMS Sheffield and the blazing Sir Galahad are etched in our memories.

This was 1982. There was no internet, no social media and no mobile telephones.

It was the first time that a major conflict involving British forces had been played out through nightly TV news bulletins – the colour images (for those who had colour televisions) bringing the horrors of war into our living rooms like never before.

During the months of April, May and June, the country held its breath for what seemed a very risky undertaking – i.e. sending a task force 8,000 miles away for a scrap on the aggressor’s doorstep.

Only afterwards did we learn what a close-run thing it was, just how much of a gamble it had been and how ill-prepared for war our Armed Forces actually were.

The conflict lasted only 74 days but resulted in the deaths of 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders.

Caught up in the euphoria of a remarkable, improbable victory voters returned Maggie’s government to power and the rest, as they say, is history.

Three decades after Argentine forces on the Falklands surrendered the country’s government is again ratcheting up the tension.

Most Argentines regard the islands, which they refer to as Las Malvinas, as belonging to Argentina and their recovery is even enshrined in the country’s constitution.

It was tub-thumping by Argentine politicians in recent years which prompted the referendum that took place in the Falklands over the last two days.

The result may have been entirely predictable but it was nevertheless important that voters went through the motions.

When Falkland Islanders voted on whether or not to remain a British overseas territory, they were demonstrating democracy in action.

They were telling the rest of the world that the majority of people on that group of islands in the South Atlantic want to remain British.

In voting yes they also gave a ‘hands off’ warning to the Argentine government.

According to Argentine President Cristian Fernandez de Kirchner, of course, the wishes of those inhabitants are irrelevant and the referendum is a pointless exercise.

For her government this is a purely ‘territorial issue’ and thus they often dust off ancient manuscripts to claim that Argentina inherited the islands from the Spanish crown in the 18th Century.

The British government denies this is the case and claims it had long had a settlement on the islands prior to 1767 and has never relinquished sovereignty.

Interestingly, even Spain with the rock of Gibraltar irritatingly close, refuses to support the Argentine cause.

Whatever the complex truth, the people of the Falklands have spoken and, in the time-honoured tradition of self-determination, that should be game, set and match as far as the international community is concerned.

If the Islanders want to remain British then that’s certainly good enough for me, it’s probably good enough for the British people and it should be ammunition enough for the Foreign Office to tell the Argentines to bugger off once and for all.

I can imagine what Maggie would have said the day after such a referendum.

People can say what they like about Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies but when it came to Britain’s standing on the world stage the fact is we haven’t been taken anything like as seriously since she left Downing Street.

Her handling of the Falklands Conflict, her refusal to negotiate, to back down or to consider the possibility of defeat showed the mettle of a great Prime Minister in the mould of Winston Churchill.

What a shame her successors have all been vacillating, pale imitations of the kind of statesmanlike figures this country desperately needs.

Some will argue Maggie went to war to help her win the General Election but if you read accounts of the time you’ll see she went to war because her generation thought that standing up to a dictator was the right thing to do.

Given the effects of the global economic downturn and the every-day worries we all have the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands may seem a fairly low priority at present.

What’s more, given the fact that the Royal Navy doesn’t currently possess an aircraft carrier worthy of the name, it is a matter of some debate as to what would happen if lightning struck twice.

I fervently hope history does not repeat itself. However, I’d like to think that if push came to shove this country would defend its overseas territories just as it did 30 years ago.

I’ll leave the final word on this issue to Eric Barbour, of Waterhayes, who I interviewed last year on the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Eric, who was a 26-year-old with 42 Commando Royal Marines in 1982 and part of the Falklands Task Force, is unequivocal.

He said: “We saw it very much as our country protecting what was ours and protecting people who did not want their home to become part of Argentina.

“If there was another invasion I think we would be totally justified in defending the islands again.”

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Idea of Scottish independence frightens and saddens me in equal measure

I know when it happened. I had just climbed up the steps to the top of the Glenfinnan Monument, squeezed myself on to the viewing platform and was looking out across the sun-kissed shores of Loch Shiel.

That’s when I fell in love with Scotland.

I’ve visited Skye several times and even Orkney, Mull and Iona as well as braving the elements for a boat trip to the stunning Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.

In my opinion, there is simply nowhere in Britain to rival the rugged beauty and sheer majesty of the Highlands.

Like my nan and grandad before me, who enjoyed many coach trips north of the border, I love Scotland.

I holiday there every year and I’ve never viewed taking the high road as going abroad. To my mind it is more akin to popping next door.

We are all part of the same island, after all, and so it’s no different for me to driving from Staffordshire into Cheshire – albeit a tad further.

Thus I find it hard to accept the concept of Scottish independence and the much talked-about referendum leaves me cold.

Rarely do I venture off-patch in my columns but the planned vote which could see our northern neighbours secede the United Kingdom frightens and saddens me in equal measure.

On the one hand, the political and economic arguments just don’t stack up for me. Surely, as our city’s motto says, United Strength Is Stronger.

It stands to reason that Britain has far more clout than any of its constituent parts would have if they were to go it alone.

At present, our tiny nation punches above its weight on the international stage.

Why therefore, at this time of global financial crisis, would anyone think it a good idea to break up the union?

Surely the Scots don’t buy Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond’s vision of a Gaelic utopia fuelled by endless supplies of North Sea oil (and none of our nation’s debt).

While the SNP chases the Braveheart vision of freedom, it strikes me that unravelling the Union would actually be complex in the extreme.

The problems it throws up range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

What would Scottish independence mean for our Armed Forces? Would the Scots keep the Pound, adopt the Euro, or make up their own currency? How would shared border controls be handled? What would it mean in terms of tuition fees for English students studying at Scottish universities? What would happen to the BBC and Team GB?

To my mind, while far from perfect, the Union has far more advantages than disadvantages.

What’s more, time and again it is the echoes of our shared heritage which convince me that a break-up after 300 years would be deeply unpalatable.

The peoples of the United Kingdom share common values which I believe should not be lightly cast aside in a jingoistic fervor surrounding the 700th anniversary of a medieval battle.

Let the facts be presented: The legalities of who calls a referendum plus the costs, the ramifications, the benefits and the disadvantages of such a momentous splitting of cultures must be laid bare to bring some clarity to the debate.

Ultimately, the decision must rest with the Scottish people but the discussion is one in which we should surely all be allowed to take part.

I spoke to a friend of mine about it all – a Scot who has made his living and home here in Stoke-on-Trent – and asked for his views on Scottish independence.

He wasn’t even sure he would get a vote on the matter but if he did, he said he would be against the split on gut instinct alone.

He said: “I think about all those boys in the Army who fought together in the wars and it just doesn’t seem right splitting us up.”

Amen to that, brother.

Ready my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel