Mark Houghton: We must move on from the past to save this marriage

DAVID Cameron calls it a divorce. “Bitter divorce,” I would say after a recent visit north of the border.

Approaching Berwick on the train from the English side, I gazed at the peaceful fields where my cousin farms both sides of the border.

Once this was the “badlands” of 
the border country and bitterly fought over. Edinburgh is cosmopolitan; but north of the Forth Bridge the unique vastness engulfs you. We cycled 200 
miles in awesome scenery among 
warm-hearted people. So why divorce England?

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One great question haunted the conversations along the way. What really lies in the Scots heart?

Behind all the “Shall we-Shan’t we?” ding-dongs about Scottish wealth and Alex Salmond’s vision for the pound lay the big issue.

The choice made today will reveal much. It will show how well the past is dealt with – or not.

Because, as divorcees know, legal separation does not cut chains of bitterness. Only forgiveness does that.

We quickly learned to step near the vote like cats on eggshells. In the Highlands, I felt on safe ground with a cultured middle-aged man and his wife. Relaxed after breakfast in the B&B I popped the question: “Which way will it go?”

“Oh we are divided,” the wife piped up. “I am for No and he is for Yes.”

“Why do you want to leave us?” I asked. “Is it because of the past or the future?”

“It’s the past,” interrupted our host, frying pan in hand.

“It’s the future,” said Mr Yes.

“The Yes say it from the heart and the No talk with the head,” said the host.

I pressed another question: “So how will the future vision solve the past? I know we English have done bad things in the past; but wars bring out the worst from both sides.”

The cultured man struggled to find the words: “The future is about...” He did not know what it was about. He seemed stuck in the past.

In the next town we were told “No one is talking about it. This is too painful for the Scots..”

No wonder the Queen says it is up to the Scots. But it really is. They paint themselves as the aggrieved party in an age-old quarrel (“I think it’s the chip on the shoulder,” said another host). But final freedom for a wounded heart lies with one party – the one who feels pained.

I think Cameron was right; it is like a marriage. As an Englishman, I feel hurt that my physical and spiritual partner wants to walk off and draw a border between us.

But I am not going to be bitter. The best marriages have some problems – but divorce?

Divorce is a never forgotten step and not a win-win. It will not even be a win-lose favouring the Scots. It would be a lose-win for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

For sure Great Britain will be weakened. The great Scottish defence bases will need to be re-housed. Mr Cameron would have his tail between his legs. But he won’t last, unlike this vote. Voting Yes is cutting off the nose to spite your own face.

The English owner of a Scottish bar announced to his customers that a No vote will mean he is selling up and going south, and quickly. “Can’t leave my money in the Scottish banks and sleep peacefully,” he revealed.

That is a sort of lose-win to him. The best solutions in any conflicts are the win-win compromises. How do we get a win-win here? The Scots can go for the win-win by deciding to let Margaret Thatcher sleep in peace with her murky history among Scottish miners.

Win-win solutions come from turning away from the past. Bitterness only binds the one who is bitter. It cannot hurt the guilty party, most of whom are dead anyway. No one but the Scots can choose to be truly free from their past and embrace their southern partners for a better future.

As an undecided and lovely Scots lassie said with a smile from behind another bar: “Come to think of it; why fix what isn’t broken?”

The train took us back over the invisible border at Berwick and soon we were passing Hadrian’s Wall. Haven’t the Scots learned what the Romans discovered? It is borders and castles that create conflicts; and conflicts are a sure recipe for a lose-lose for everyone. In fact it would be even worse than that. It would be a lose-win favouring the English?

Dr Mark Houghton is a Sheffield GP.