Scottish debate comes to the East Midlands

Speakers' Corner Nottingham Image copyright Google
Image caption A small crowd gathered at Speakers' Corner in Nottingham to discuss Scottish independence

It may be 221 miles (356km) from Nottingham to Edinburgh but Scotland has never felt so close in recent weeks.

Independence or sticking with the Union? That's the choice the Scots have in next week's historic referendum vote.

The other day, I had the opportunity to think how "Old Big 'Ead" would be voting, if he was still with us.

The statue of legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, was the location for an open-air debate on Scottish independence and the future of the UK.

I hosted the discussion for the Nottingham Speakers' Corner Trust in the city's Market Square.

Two speakers put the opposing views: Nottingham businesswomen and communications professional Louise Third and Steven Syme, a Labour councillor from Gedling in Nottinghamshire, also former deputy leader of the Labour for Independence campaign group.

"Independence means Scotland's future will be in her own hands," Mr Syme told the small but interested crowd, starting to gather round the Cloughie statue.

His case included much talk of fairness, prosperity and democracy.

Image caption Brian Clough "would have loved" the debate

"Westminster governments - rejected at the ballot box in Scotland - will no longer be able to inflict the poll tax or bedroom tax on the most vulnerable in our society," he added.

Louise Third described herself as a "lowland Scot by marriage" and one of her most powerful points was pitched in a very personal way.

"What's being proposed is a one-sided divorce, where one party says 'I don't love you any more'," she said.

"As with any divorce, it's hard to say we won't feel a little rejected.

"It's not easy to be told you are no longer wanted and I suspect a yes vote would affect our attitude to Scotland."

'Subsidy junkie'

A hint of that attitude may be over the UK share of public spending.

The latest treasury figures show the annual figure for the East Midlands (population 4.5 million) is £8,118 per person.

For Scotland (population 5.3 million), that figure stands at £10,152.

Is that fair? Is the East Midlands really a far wealthier area of the UK?

"Westminster's own figures show Scotland has contributed more tax per head of population than the rest of the UK as a whole," Mr Syme told the Speakers' Corner audience.

He quoted these figures for tax receipts: £10,700 per person north of the border, and £9,000 per head for the rest of the UK as a whole.

"The commonly held belief of Scotland being a 'subsidy junkie' can be finally safety laid to rest," he added.

In questions to the speakers from the growing audience, there was much talk and concern over the economy, the military and global threats.

And it was this bigger picture that was seized upon by Louise Third.

"Our partnership means we have a strong global voice," she said.

"It would be diminished for all the UK if we were to go our separate ways."

'Mull of Kintyre'

At the end of the debate, I asked for a show of hands. Independence or better together?

There was a three to one majority to stick with the Union. Surprised?

Perhaps not - 221 miles from the Market Square to Edinburgh is still some distance, especially from the intense debate that's dominating everyday conversations in Scotland at the moment.

"Old Big 'ead" would have loved the debate.

The traditional pre-match anthem at the City Ground may be "Mull of Kintyre", bagpipes and all. But Cloughie's view on Scottish independence can only be guessed at.