2 Jun 2014

The Mogg in Scotland: ‘The English need you’

Though he claims a smidgen of Scottish blood, Jacob Rees-Mogg is probably the most English man you could ever meet, writes Channel 4 News producer Tim Bouverie.

This does not stop him from being a passionate advocate for the United Kingdom in general and for the 1707 political union with Scotland in particular.

“The combination of England and Scotland together created one of the most powerful Empires that the world has ever seen. And the contribution of Scots, both as a nation and as individuals, was overwhelming.”

‘Feeling of nationhood’

This latter point, is the crux of The Mogg’s argument: “I’ve not come to tell the Scots how to vote”, he tells me on a bench overlooking the River Tay, “but simply to say that the English need Scotland. And to ask them to stay because they are wanted and needed”.

This is a silent reprove to the Better Together campaign which has so far mainly relied on threats of economic degeneration and diplomatic isolation if Scots vote for dismemberment.

I’ve not come to tell the Scots how to vote, but simply to say that the English need Scotland. Jacob Rees-Mogg

Fishing for cod in the now sparsely populated waters of the North Sea, Ralph Barnett, a committed yes voter, characterises the no campaign as “almost exclusively negative”: “We are told that the Scots are not appreciated… we are threatened with having the pound taken from us. We are threatened with all sorts of mayhem.”

This reality puts Mr Rees-Mogg with his message of love and harmony on a sticky wicket. But while not many people seem swayed by the idea of the English needing the Scots, we found just as many people (if not more) in favour than against the Union.

The Mogg believes that the heart of the debate is emotional rather than economic. You can talk about “pounds, shilling and pence” but there is a “feeling of nationhood” which has a greater influence.

This may be true for him but there is not much evidence for his brand of nineteenth-century romanticism in Dundee, a city with significant SNP support.

In the wonderfully facilitated Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre, we meet eight students all of whom are signed up members of the yes campaign. For them, economics and a “fairer” deal for Scotland are the principal motivating factors.

‘Emotional argument’

There is also the view that Scotland is to the ‘left’ of England and as one girl puts it (“no offence Jacob”) she will vote for independence because she doesn’t want the Tories to be in power in Scotland – “never ever”.

Yet the emotional argument should by no means be discounted. The display of affection for Quebec shown by the rest of Canada is credited with having an important effect in their 1995 referendum.

And though we only managed to talk to a handful of people, Mr Rees-Mogg’s line that “England wants Scotland to stay” seems to go down well on the street.

The question for Better Together is whether they start to use this argument (made by David Cameron in his Velodrome speech) or whether they continue to rely on Hilaire Belloc’s advice to infants: “And always keep a-hold of Nurse; for fear of finding something worse.”

Tim Bouverie (@TimPBouverie) is a producer for Channel 4 News