VIDEO: BBC News interview about the Scottish independence referendum

After my piece about Scottish independence became one of my most successful online posts, BBC News asked if I would like to be interviewed on the night of the second Darling v Salmond TV debate. There were supposed to be three or four other York-based journalists giving their opinions along with me, but I was the only one to turn up. So I did the interview on my own.


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Solitude is productive: Writing in the Highlands

Last month, I had a week booked off work, and I hadn't made any plans. So I packed a pen and paper, drove up to the Highlands, and pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere.

I'd always wanted to experience the pleasure of writing creatively in pure solitude, and this would cross one off my bucket list. Plus, I needed to make greater headway on my first short story collection, Pillow Talk for Insomniacs, and I sensed that this was the perfect opportunity.

Sat in my Corsa outside my York flat, I put PH22 1RB into my phone's sat-nav. 242 miles, it blinked. Six hours, 38 minutes. Not too bad, really. I fastened my seatbelt and pressed DRIVE on the screen. For some reason, the distance then shot up. Now it said 360 miles, seven hours. 59 minutes. Oh.

The roundabouts came and went, and I got to the Cairngorms in the end. Finally on foot, I set off in search of a flat area to pitch my tent. I must have hiked off-trail for a couple of miles, drawing entirely on the minimal camping knowledge I'd learned at scouts and music festivals. (Scouts, where, in five whole years, I'd earned only one badge - orienteering, which I kind of cheated on anyway.)

I eventually stumbled upon a bed of heather, which lay within the cocoon of a bank beside a river, and thought: this'll do. The landscape in every direction was wide and beautiful, the heat inescapable.

Apart from some ravenous midges, there were no distractions whatsoever. I wrote solidly for four days - pausing only to warm my home-made soup on the stove, or sip from a tumbler of single malt whisky (because drinking alone in the Highlands is not tragic, it's iconic).

I would sometimes catch the echo of someone's voice, look up, and spot a group of walkers a few miles away. They were about the size of these full-stops...

That was the closest I came to human contact. And, as much as I'd love to say I fought off bears and hunted down wildebeest with a spear I'd fashioned from flint, twigs and nettles, there weren't really any animals around either. Just insects.

By the end of my trip I'd written six short stories, which is about six times what I usually muster per month back home.

So solitude is productive.


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A Yorkshireman's thoughts on Scottish independence

During my four years in Glasgow, I had to tolerate my fair share of anti-English “banter”. And I completely understand why. If we English lived next to a country with a population ten times the size of ours, whose government had, over hundreds of years, used its strength in numbers to slowly erode our native culture and language, was largely ignorant of our needs, yet still made most of our decisions, was dominant, yet indifferent, over our affairs, was so socio-economically imbalanced that our liberal beliefs became defined against it – then we’d probably have a gentle jest with its citizens every once in a while. Especially when they had the cheek to cross over our border.

It’s not personal, it’s just banter, I was told. Which meant that I didn’t deserve it as an individual, but England, my country of birth, probably did – like it or not. From the Battle of Culloden, to the Poll Tax, England hasn’t been the friendliest of neighbours to Scotland over the centuries – and while that stuff’s got nothing to do with you or I, it’s all happened, and the collective memory remains pretty strong on the other side.

It’s where our countries find themselves as Scotland approaches its independence referendum.

On September 18, in what is no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Scotland will vote to go it alone and become the country it has always seen itself as – or show its faith in an embittered union of more than three hundred years.

The Yes and No campaigns’ economic arguments involving North Sea oil and Sterling are far from conclusive. On a political level, though, there isn’t much debate to be had. In England, we pretty much always get the governments we vote for. But there are more giant pandas in Edinburgh Zoo (two) than Conservative MPs in the whole of Scotland (one), and somehow its parliament is still under the authority of a Tory-led UK Government. How is that fair?

An independent Scotland would improve Anglo-Scottish relations. Greater respect would exist between our separate countries, cooperating as international allies, not haggling and rutting as unequal cousins. (See, for example, our contrastingly fruitful diplomacy with Ireland, the US, or any of the 60 or so other countries that have declared independence from the United Kingdom, and the British Empire, over the course of history.)

An independent Scotland would also give the north of England greater bargaining power in Westminster. If Scotland can do it, why can’t we? There are political parties who want to win our regions more autonomy (and I might have voted for Yorkshire First in the European elections, had they not had vague links to UKIP). Imagine if the north of England went independent. Yorkshire, the Lakes, Manchester, the Pennines, Blackpool Tower, the Chuckle Brothers, chip spice… we’d have it all to ourselves, and it would be awesome.

Anyway, the crux of the debate in Scotland rests on emotion. It’s mostly indifference down here in England, typically, but north of the border, the pro-independence lobby cares more passionately about independence than the unionists do about the United Kingdom. Essentially everyone’s a ‘why?’ or a ‘why not?’ kind of person. Some people go out and take risks, others stay indoors. I’m not sure which type of person is going to win this referendum, but it’s going to be close.

If you ask me, the idea of a country is fundamentally ridiculous. But given these circumstances, and to ensure the best outcome for generations to come, Scotland has to vote Yes to independence on September 18.


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You don't want to be a DJ anymore

“I wanted to be a DJ for about a year. I was about 14. I used to buy magazines and CDs, but I couldn’t buy records because I had no turntables. And it bugged me, so pretty soon I looked into getting some. Naturally, the cheapest. Belt drive. One day I saw some for £180 in an advert in one of those magazines. If I saved £90, my mum and dad agreed to give me £45 each to make it up. It took me ages. I only had a paper round at the time, but I’d get paid for washing my grandad’s car now and then. Finally, after nearly a year, I’d saved enough. I was all in fivers and pound coins. My parents kept their word, so I called up the number on the advert and placed the order. The turntables arrived about two weeks later. I couldn’t believe it. I’d finally got my hands on them! My grandad came over to help me set them up next to my windowsill. It didn’t take him long, and when he left I had them all to myself. Two blue-and-white turntables, with a silver mixer in between them. I’d wanted them for so long, and now I had them. And then, pretty much immediately upon realising that, I got over that particular phase. I didn’t want to be a DJ anymore. The turntables were shit, anyway, and I hadn’t realised I’d need an amplifier to play music through speakers. An amplifier would cost even more, and I really couldn’t be bothered with all that again. So they just hung out in my room for a while, before I gave the turntables away to a friend. He was some sort of musician who recorded stuff in his bedroom studio. He could make more use of them than I could. But then apparently he sold them to someone else for a tenner.”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” said Paul.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that you might think that, right now, this is what you want. But I’m telling you, you’ll get over it,” said Dan.

“Dude, I’m not 14,” said Paul. “Vivian isn’t a pair of turntables.”

“It’s kind of the same thing,” said Dan.

“Look, I know what you’re trying to say,” said Paul.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt again,” said Dan.

“I know, and I appreciate that, I do,” said Paul.

“Just give it time. Just take, like, a week to figure out what you really want to do,” said Dan. “You work with this girl, remember. You’ve heard the phrase ‘don’t shit where you eat’, haven’t you?”

Paul walked home from Dan’s and knew exactly what he was going to do. He was going to call Vivian right away and ask her to come over. Dan had never been with a girl for more than six months, and Paul knew what a loving, lasting relationship was. He and Dan just had different approaches. Neither was right or wrong, and every decision they made would work out a certain way, and would be evaluated based on their own perspective as much as the outcome.

He spoke to Vivian for only a few minutes and everything that needed to be said was said. She’d come over for dinner tomorrow night.

“Dude, what was I just telling you?” said Dan.

“I know, I know, I just thought you should know,” said Paul. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, I’ll be here to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong,” said Dan. “You’d be surprised how carried away you can get when a girl with a nice name gives you a bit of attention.”

Dan hung up before Paul had the chance to explain himself. It was all stuff they’d gone over before, anyway. Paul crossed the road and turned down his street, and noticed a blurry figure waving at him. As he got closer, he recognised who it was.

“Daisy Meredith!” he said.

“Well isn’t this a surprise,” said Daisy. “I didn’t know you lived down here.”

“Only for the past couple of months. Are you still…”

“Living with my parents, yes. Temporarily. I can feel myself going slowly insane,” said Daisy.

“I know how it is,” said Paul, laughing. “Are you heading into town?”

“Sort of. I’m just heading around Dan’s to pick something up,” said Daisy.

“Dan?” said Paul. Daisy nodded. “Dan… Smith, who was in our year? You know Dan?” said Paul.

“Yes, not too well, but wow, small world!” said Daisy.

“Sort of,” said Paul.

“Well, I’d better be getting on. Nice seeing you!” said Daisy.

“And you.”

Paul smiled to himself and shook his head, and wondered why he’d ever gone to Dan for advice. Just to reciprocate for all the times he’d offered Dan advice, probably, even though it was unheeded anyway. A fucking DJ, he thought. Fuck him.

When Paul got back home he turned on his TV and sank into the armchair. He thought about making himself a toastie and a glass of milk, but just wanted to relax for a moment first.

A few hours later he stirred to the sound of a TV game show’s theme tune. It was a late-night repeat and all the buzzes and jingles jarred with Paul at that time of night. He was horrified he hadn’t made it to bed. His eyes were sore. All the lights in his apartment were still on. One of the bulbs buzzed and flickered. Paul’s phone blinked beside him. It looked like a text from Dan, but he didn’t read it. He just turned everything off and went to bed.

In the morning he tidied, cleaned and dusted. He had a lot to do, and when he was done he swore he could feel the rush of endorphins in his veins. He wanted to wear his best clothes, the ones he’d been wearing yesterday, but they smelled of Dan’s bedroom. So he threw on a different shirt, saw how it looked with one button unfastened, then two buttons, and studied the difference in the mirror. By the time he was done with all the preparations and had made all the necessary decisions, there was still five hours before Vivian was due to show up.

Four empty beer bottles were rolling around in his recycling box by the time she was supposed to have arrived. Opening this fridge, Paul decided that a fifth was probably too many. His vision was already blurred because he wasn’t wearing glasses, so he sat himself back down.

Half an hour later his phone rang.

“Paul, hey, I’m sorry but I won’t be coming round tonight,” said Vivian.

“Oh, right, OK,” said Paul. “Why?”

“I’m at the hospital. Something bad’s happened and my grandma’s been admitted. Sorry, I feel really bad,” said Vivian.

“No, don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault,” said Paul. “You’re where you need to be.”

“I was really looking forward to tonight,” said Vivian.

“We’ll do it some other time. Don’t worry,” said Paul. “I hope everything goes OK.”

“I hope so,” said Vivian. “Anyway, I’d better go.”

Paul hung up, and in the same movement opened the fridge and pulled out his fifth beer. He ate his steak with blue cheese sauce, the mushrooms and the spicy potato wedges – at the table, as planned. Then he ate his ice-cream dessert, and Vivian’s as well, on the sofa.

“What can I say, man, you don’t want to be a DJ anymore,” said Dan.

He took a drag of the joint and rearranged the pillows behind him.

“There’s no shame in it, you just don’t want to be a DJ anymore. You’ll save yourself a lot of hurt in the long run, man,” he said.

“I know, I’ve just totally gone off the boil in the past week,” said Paul. As Dan flicked the joint’s ash into the lid well of an empty beer can, Paul said: “Hey, can I have a little?”

He reached out and took the joint from Dan’s fingers. As he sucked and inhaled, he heard a distant toilet flush.

“Oh, hey, there’s something I need to tell you, man,” said Dan. “Do you remember Daisy?”


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