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In England the debate over Scottish independence has met with considerable indifference from the general public, in contrast to the feverish political atmosphere north of the border.

A survey this week by ComRes found that 30 per cent of English people did not care whether Scotland became independent, with another 16 per cent undecided. In Scotland the equivalent “don’t care” figure was 4 per cent.

Among the indifferent English is Albert Jones, a 51-year-old taxi driver in London, who said he was “totally relaxed” about the outcome either way. “I’m not really interested in it, whatever happens it will be OK,” he said.

These are the people which David Cameron described as the “shoulder-shruggers”, who thought that the outcome did not matter much to anyone south of the border.

“Their view is that if Scotland left the UK then, yes, that would be sad, but we could just wave them a wistful goodbye and carry on as normal,” the prime minister said.

That mood may reflect the fact that for most of the two-year referendum campaign, Scottish independence looked very unlikely, with the anti-independence movement enjoying a strong lead.

Only in the last fortnight as polls drew closer did the looming vote ring alarm bells among business leaders, the City and the British establishment.

There were some calls for a new constitutional settlement to give English politicians a greater say over legislation that is only relevant to England.

Even then large swaths of the public said they were not really bothered about the result.

A public rally in Trafalgar Square last Monday evening intended to send a message to Scots about how much England wanted them to stay attracted only a crowd of a few thousand people.

“Quite simply a lot of English people believed that it would not affect them,” said Andrew Hawkins, chair of ComRes.

The mood of indifference seemed particularly pronounced among young people, such as Ali Pesaran, a 22-year-old retail worker in Liverpool, who told the FT: “I just don’t care, I’m not into politics, I have no view at all.”

Jared, a 17-year-old student, said he would be disappointed by a Yes vote: “People I know are sort of interested,” he said.

But there is also a widespread view, perhaps most famously articulated last week by columnist Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail, that the Scots were complaining unreasonably despite being “showered” with money from London.

Mr Heffer wrote that “hard-pressed English taxpayers” wondered why they did not enjoy the same benefits as the Scots despite paying into the same tax system. It was Britain as a whole that bailed out two Scottish banks on the verge of collapse, he complained.

Joe Sibbons, a London plumber, told the FT that it was wrong that the rest of the UK had not been given a chance to vote in the referendum.

“The way that they have carried on, I’d have voted for them to go. They act as if we’ve done nothing for them, but they get free prescriptions, free universities – we have to pay for all of that,” said the 27-year-old. “They don’t realise how good they have got it.”

The indifference could also reflect the fact that – from the English perspective – Scots already have their own pronounced national identity.

This collective apathy has infuriated those such as Rory Stewart, the Tory MP, who has been trying for months to galvanise his fellow countrymen into caring about the result of Thursday’s historic vote.

“A proposal to build a wind-turbine can bring a hundred people in an instant on to a windy moor in the rain. A million people demonstrated against the Iraq war; more demonstrated against the hunting ban,” he said.

“Voters are rarely shy to say what their values are, or what they want for the United Kingdom. So why is there so little energy in saving the United Kingdom itself?”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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