No to Nigel: anti Ukip protestors demonstrating in Edinburgh, 9 May. Photo: Getty
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Seeing the UK from a Scottish perspective has made me feel British for the first time

Something changed in me during my trip to Edinburgh. It is hard to articulate the subtle, often contradictory emotions that constitute a sense of national identity.

The debate about Scottish indepen­dence reminds me of a traumatic experience suffered by a friend of mine. Tidying her flat one day, she found a surprising scrap of paper. Two lists, roughly equal in length, were separated by a neatly lined centre margin. The first list was headed “Reasons to leave my girlfriend”. The second was entitled “Reasons to stay with my girlfriend”. As she was the girlfriend in question, it did not make for comfortable reading.

As an Englishman travelling to Scotland recently, I felt renewed sympathy for my friend. It persuaded me to invert the usual journalistic convention. Instead of travelling north, canvassing opinion randomly, then arbitrarily trying to “summarise the mood in Scotland”, I became drawn to a more difficult question. The No campaign is routinely criticised for not making its case with emotional force, as though it cannot muster a compelling and romantic message. Yet is it within the power of Britain, especially the English, to do anything about Scottish attitudes to independence? Might not protestations of devotion and affection prove counterproductive? After all, since when has “Please don’t go!” worked as a strategy for wooing back a disenchanted partner? All this coexisted with a second question, no easier to resolve: how do we feel about Scotland anyway?

Setting out from Edinburgh Castle before breakfast on a cold May morning, I took about 25 minutes – a decent run and a short scramble up stony steps – to get to the top of Arthur’s Seat. Along the route, which was dotted with monuments to Scottish and British history, I tried to work out how it felt as an Englishman to visit British Edinburgh, perhaps for the last time.

Having spent most of my adult life in central London, I must confess to a splash of envy. At the top of Arthur’s Seat, no further from the centre of the city than Regent’s Park is from Trafalgar Square, I could scarcely have felt less penned in. To the south lie the Pentland Hills; to the west stands the city with its abundant parklands; the north and east are framed by the grey-blue water of the Firth of Forth. And you don’t have to climb to the highest point to feel a sense of geographical freedom – Edinburgh offers escape routes at every turn.

With a population of just under half a million, Edinburgh is magnificently proportioned – about the size of Boston and a good deal smaller than Munich. In scale, it is little more than a regional city; in feel, it is far greater. No other British city is like it.

Running back to the centre, I dropped down towards Holyrood, then gradually went up the Royal Mile, passing the high- and low-water marks of Edinburgh’s fin­ancial reputation: a magisterial statue of Adam Smith stands 50 yards or so from the neoclassical façade of the Bank of Scotland, bailed out during the financial crisis.

You sense the hand of government in more mundane ways. The streets of central Edinburgh seem to house a greater proportion of government agencies than their London equivalents. Even the prime shopping streets are peppered with municipal-looking typefaces. The state is not only bigger here but also more visible.

In the afternoon, I meandered in the opposite direction towards the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, a classical mansion set in landscaped gardens. A brisk, enjoyable exhibition featured the works of J D Fergusson (1874-1961), one of the Scottish colourists.

It turned out to be an appropriate show. Born in Leith, Fergusson escaped to Paris as soon as he could. Drenched in colour and often richly sensual, his paintings were overwhelmingly influenced by France, especially the warm south. Some are paeans to Frenchness more than reflections of it. I was hard-pushed, at first glance, to discern anything particularly Scottish about the overall impression.

Fergusson did not see it that way and he carefully honed his Scottish persona as a Highland Gael. He added an extra “s” to his surname to give it a more Scottish sheen and claimed that his father had farmed the soil when, in reality, he had been a spirit merchant in Leith.

The artist rationalised his decampment to France in terms of the old Celtic alliance, united by the esprit gaulois. If England can exist as a phantom oppressor even to a man who is cheerfully painting beautiful nude models in the unbuttoned Cap d’Antibes, you sense the depth and flexibility of Scottish antipathy to Englishness.

It is an antipathy that, apparently, may march towards full independence on 18 September. Until now, I had not been drawn to the debate. My indifference was sustained by the feeling that Scotland would not quite do it, not when the moment comes. Indifference is usually a reliable emotion: if you don’t feel strongly, it’s best not to fake it. But what if comfortable indifference is culpable complacency?

Something changed in me during my trip to Edinburgh. It is hard to articulate the subtle, often contradictory emotions that constitute a sense of national identity. No rational argument can quite explain how a person ends up defining himself as both English and British, or Scottish and British. It relies on differing shades of belonging. Part outsider, part native – that was my experience of Scotland. I enjoyed the complexity and uncertainty. I felt as much British as English, perhaps for the first time, and I didn’t want to lose the dual yet overlapping identity.

I have answered one question but not the other. I now know finally how I feel about the Union. However, I left Edinburgh no clearer about how to make the case to the people who will decide the matter. 

Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.