TODAY sees Scotland voting in the referendum as to whether it as a country stays in the United Kingdom or breaks away.
This is an enormous decision that will, regardless of whether Scotland votes yes or no, have repercussions in all parts of the United Kingdom.
I believe that it would be better for both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom if Scotland voted no.
The union has been a remarkable economic story for the past 300 years. Scotland has bought and sold goods in other parts of the UK, including its near neighbour of the North-East, without having to be concerned about borders.
Scotland and the North- East trade with each other more than we do with any other region or country in the world combined.
Tens of thousands of jobs and businesses in our part of the world rely heavily on easy trade with Scotland.
The notion of borders and different currencies would add more hassle and cost in doing business.
Jobs and businesses would be affected badly. Those additional costs would result in higher interest rates and higher mortgages for those in Scotland.
Anybody thinking with their head and doing the sums would vote against break up.
However, the decision is more than just economics. It’s a decision for the heart too. It’s about identity and values.
I think it is consistent to be a Scot, be very patriotic and think of yourself as part of the UK.
That is a similar way as to how I see myself: I am a proud Hartlepudlian, a Northerner, an Englishman and somebody from Britain.
There are no contradictions in those values.
Indeed, I think there is a lot in common between us in the North-East and our neighbours in Scotland, perhaps more than we have in common with those in London.
I was in Glasgow last week and meeting ordinary people I was reminded time and time again about the great people in Hartlepool and the North-East: friendly, a shared industrial legacy, a disdain for standing on ceremony and slightly cheeky.
I felt very much at home there and think there is a lot to bind the working class people of Scotland with us in the North.
I know that Alex Salmond is trying to portray the referendum as a way for Scotland to kick out the Tories forever and for voters to express their disdain for the Westminster elite.
This is a deliberate and cynical gesture: Alex Salmond was an MP for 23 years and has worked most of his life in politics. In that regard, he is more of a political insider and elite than me.
As somebody who is proud to have been born and lived in Hartlepool as an ordinary person all my life, I resent as seasoned a political operator and insider like Alex Salmond trying to portray all MPs as somehow coming from London. I don’t.
It is obviously Scotland’s decision today.
But whatever the result the whole campaign has had, and will continue to have, profound changes for the rest of the United Kingdom.
How we in the North-East have more control over our destiny will be something that will be returned to.
The region had an opportunity a decade ago to have an independent assembly, and that was decisively rejected by voters, but I do think that Whitehall doesn’t understand the challenges and opportunities that the North-East has.
I believe that the North-East has great skills and assets which means there could be highly-skilled and well paid jobs, but those skills and assets are not being used as much as they could be, and as a result those opportunities are being missed.
A government that looks instinctively at the south does not consider the needs of the north and we have seen this with the huge damage to our town and region over the past few years.
I hope Scotland votes no and stays with us in the United Kingdom. We all benefit if that remains the case
But I also think we in the North-East need to consider how we can shape our own future and make more and more decisions in the region, rather than in London.
l What the vote means for us: Page 20