I LIVED in leafy Berkshire for 20 years. My neighbours and friends there were nice folks. Few had a bad word to say about Scotland.

Mind you, they had little to say about other parts of the UK either. For them, the south-east is the UK.

What was the reason for this somewhat myopic view, I hear you ask? The answer is that they were merely reflecting their reality. As we all do. You see, the news they consumed came mainly from the south-east and was predominately about that region – because the news editors were drawn from their midst and had gone to the same schools, learned the same history and had the same priorities.

My Berkshire neighbourhood was affluent and voted Liberal (the party wasn’t “democratic” back then – some would argue it still isn’t). This choice was predicated on the feeling that the Tories were probably right but certainly nasty, and Labour were nonentities. So Liberal was a safe choice.

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Neal Ascherson put it well in a recent article discussing “massive English indifference to the Union”. He said: “Ask anyone why the Union matters, and you get a blank stare, a shrug and perhaps a mumble.”

They may have shared this rather narrow view of their own country, but they were not unwelcoming. Scots and others became part of the south-east family, provided you shared its aspirations and values.

For some Londoners in particular, Scots are “sweatys” – short for “sweaty socks”. Stay your outrage – because this was frequently said with some affection. And they use much more pejorative terms about themselves. It’s a big, cosmopolitan place and conversations are often robust.

Besides, many years ago when I was a young man living in Broxburn and travelling back and forth to Edinburgh, my bus passed under a set of arches upon which was scrawled “English go Home”.

Happily, that message is long gone.

I am pleased that it is gone for two reasons. One, it was an obscenity. But two, the “English” should not leave. It is the British state that needs to go.

The fact is that folks in England are as much victims of its injustices as any Scot. Let’s always remember this crucial distinction: the state is the problem, not the people.

But, I hear some say, the state is the people. This is certainly the case in many countries, but it can be safely asserted that the UK is not such a state. It is sui generis – a creature of its own kind. Many people south of the Border feel the state has failed them too and for them there is little prospect of improvement any time soon.

The truth is that folks throughout this island labour under the yoke of a “constitution fuzziness” that would be unacceptable for your local bingo club.

Or as Ascherson again puts it: “Where does final authority rest? Is it with the people, speaking through a referendum? Or with a prime minister claiming in a spooky way that he embodies the Queen and her prerogative? Or with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty?

“Nobody knows.”

This is unsustainable. And it is a growing likelihood that Scotland will forge its own path in the form of a new state. However, that still leaves the pleas of others on this island unrequited. Because of the huge imbalance in political power at Westminster there is perhaps little that Scotland can do to assist its neighbours – apart from one thing.

We can show in our written constitution that there is a place on these islands for a set of ideals and values that are permanent and cannot be struck down on a whim to suit narrow party or factional advantage. A declaration of goodness and ethical principles that may not be negotiated away. An everlasting affirmation of decency and concern for others that provides a beacon of light for all.

We should battle the state tooth and nail, but not others who are afflicted. This distinction will become more important in the weeks and months ahead as the state fights for its very existence. It will likely employ every trick in its repertoire to divide and rule. To create division where there is none; and to foment conflict where genuine disagreement exists.

We need an ethical compass to help guide us through these troubled waters and a written constitution is key. To combat provocation, we need a set of ethical principles on hand to help us separate the profound from the petty, and the worthy from the worthless.

At all times we ought to be in a position to state clearly: this is what we believe, regardless of party. Then ask people what the British state believes, and let people draw their own conclusions.