TOPICS : Scotland becoming foreign to England

Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land, though it shares a Queen and a prime minister. It is not far from home, if you come from England, and offers none of the immediate telltales of international travel, no ostentatious signs of difference. This land has red Royal Mail vans and Ordnance Survey maps. BBC Radio 2 brings Terry Wogan. Cars measure their speed in miles per hour and beer in pints.

But this land — which is Scotland — is becoming foreign to England. The three centuries-old union still stands strong in its institutions, but the joint cultural understanding that made the UK something more than a political arrangement is falling away. Two nations now talk of different things, discuss different people, and fear different threats.

Some of this pulling apart is political, and has to do with devolution. To talk politics in Scotland is for the ignorant English visitor to enter a conversation as remote as the Australian election — half-familiar, but distant. The common points of reference — people, parties, characters — that fuel English understanding of Westminster are absent.

The political day in England starts with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. In Scotland, it begins on GMS, or Good Morning Scotland. England has PMQs [prime minister’s questions]; Scotland FMQs [first minister’s questions], with four main party leaders.

In Scotland, the replacement of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, is a live issue. In England it passed without any proper debate. Policies on health and education are moving apart rapidly. In Scotland, Thatcherism and the poll tax are still something to shudder at. In England, they are part of history.

In Aviemore this weekend, attending the conference of the governing Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) I heard much discussion of November 14. What was it, I asked? It turned out to be the day that Scotland’s new nationalist administration gives its first budget. This moment matters: but who in England, even among those who follow politics, knows of it? Who could even recognise John Swinney, Scotland’s finance secretary? Or Wendy Alexander, Labour’s leader? It is ignorance that is making the difference — and it is an ignorance which is more English than Scottish.

This is not really the same as a political separation. It is more a growing separation of the mind. Eight years after devolution, England is coming to assume that Scotland is going its own way. People are closing the door on what seems to them a foreign country, ignorant of its geography and its politics.

There are still great points of connection — of family, commerce and politics. Scottish accents are everywhere in England. It is hardly right to talk of divorce, while the PM finance minister represent constituencies in Fife and Edinburgh.

Slowly, like one ship steaming from port on a bearing only marginally different from its sister ship, England is losing sight of Scotland. The political union, convenient to both sides, may survive. The break is cultural: two nations, united by incomprehension. — The Guardian