Dining across the divide: ‘It has always felt like Scotland was playing second fiddle to England’

Alan, 51, Edinburgh

Dining across the divider Alan

Occupation Design manager

Voting record Mostly SNP, but has voted Labour in the past. Describes himself as “leftwing moderate”

Amuse bouche Alan, a republican, once drank champagne at Buckingham Palace. A friend of a friend was a footman; Alan was smuggled in for drinks in the staff quarters. “I didn’t bump into anyone in their dressing gown, unfortunately

Martin, 72, Edinburgh

Dining across the divider Martin

Occupation Economist for investment research firm, officially retired

Voting record Martin lived in Canada for 34 years and returned a year ago, but would probably have voted Conservative

Amuse bouche Martin played drums in a band that once supported the Kinks

For starters

Alan Martin had salmon and I had scallops. We both had a glass of wine, and a glass of fizz. Martin was friendly and bubbly. I thought: we’re going to have a nice discussion.

Martin I was surprised to find out Alan’s first degree was in Japanese and he had lived in China, Bali, Thailand and Macau. So we’d both spent a lot of time overseas. It was comfortable, no one got overexcited.

Dining across the dividers Alan and Martin (blue shirt) at the Tollhouse, Edinburgh

The big beef

Alan I think independence would be worthwhile for Scotland and that stretches beyond the emotional. It has always felt like we are playing second fiddle to England, and patronised in the media. And over the last 20 years the sense of British culture I was once proud of has been chipped away. Standards of public service have been eroded. Maybe it’s a good time for a reset, to start again as an independent country.

Martin In the 90s, I lived in Quebec, where there was a similar move to separate from the rest of Canada. Their referendum was incredibly close, missed by less than 1%. Having lived through that and the trouble it caused didn’t make me warm to it happening in Scotland. But I’m a data-oriented, analytical person and when you go through the arguments it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Alan I am shaped by my experience of living in Asia. I was in Shanghai for three years and in that time two whole metro lines were built. The trains throughout the country are amazing, much more advanced than anything we have. I don’t think Edinburgh could become Singapore – we agreed there is a different culture, mentality, work ethic. But I do think a new, smaller country would lead to investment and maybe attract people back who have been living abroad.

Martin I’m proud to be Scottish. We already feel and act like an independent nation – we have our own legal and education systems. If you ask someone from Scotland where they’re from, they will always say Scotland. Why do you need to formalise it and, in doing so, create lots of potential disruption? I wouldn’t want to give this government any more powers than it already has. It would be very risky with very little obvious reward.

Dining across the dividers Alan and Martin (blue shirt) at the Tollhouse, Edinburgh

Sharing plate

Martin He thinks the Scottish proposals on gender were inappropriate and that 16 is too young for people to be making big decisions about their gender, and I agree.

Alan It’s a side issue that only affects a small minority, when there are big issues like education, Scotland’s NHS, failing infrastructure. No one can disagree that people should have rights, but I think 16 is too young for any long-term life decision.

Dining across the dividers Alan and Martin (blue shirt) at the Tollhouse, Edinburgh

For afters

Martin There was some difference about the monarchy. I don’t mind them, but I’d prefer a more European monarchy – a queen who bicycles to work rather than all the pomp and circumstance, multiple palaces, dukes and earls and hangers-on. I hope we’ll transition towards that with Kate and William.

Alan What annoys me is things like the BBC telling me the royal coach now has electrified windows. Keep that for your monarchy magazines, not the six o’clock news. People in Scotland don’t care when it comes to the coronation – we’ll sit in the back garden and get drunk. There won’t be any bunting hanging at mine. I’d get rid of them.

Dining across the dividers Alan and Martin (blue shirt) at the Tollhouse, Edinburgh


Alan You don’t want to become entrenched, and to sit down with someone and have a candid discussion about current events makes you re-evaluate what you think.

Martin An interesting and pleasant experience. Our interests outside what we talked about weren’t the same. He’s got a big garden and spends a lot of time doing that. I’m addicted to pickleball.

Dining across the dividers Alan and Martin (blue shirt) at the Tollhouse, Edinburgh

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Alan and Martin ate at the Tollhouse in Edinburgh

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