Dear Scottish Fellow Citizen of the
In a year or so, you’ll be able to vote for or against what Scottish Nationalists call Scottish ‘
’. This is obviously a decision with major implications for you and all the people of Independence . As a resident of Scotland , I don’t get a vote about it – probably quite rightly, because the outcome of the referendum won’t make much difference to me; it doesn’t matter to me in the way it really does matter to you, because the impact of the decision on my daily life is likely to be minimal. England
Let me be clear at the outset: although Scottish ‘independence’ does not matter to me as it does to you, I nevertheless hope that the vote will go against ‘independence’. I hope that the United Kingdom of Great Britain will remain united. Which is not to say that I think that a ‘Yes’ vote would be foolish or that the end of the Union would be disastrous for Scotland; ‘independence’ is not an unreasonable choice for Scotland to make. But even though it would not be an unreasonable option for
and one that’s unlikely to have much impact on me, I do still have views on the subject, and I hope you will indulge me as I try to express them. I suppose it’s a bit like divorce: if either party really wants to end the marriage, the marriage is over, whatever the other party wants; but on the other hand, it’s only sensible for both parties to try to understand each other, not least because a better understanding might make a difference to what they each see as the way forward. Scotland
I said that ‘independence’ would not be an unreasonable choice for
. What I meant was that for a country with the population of Scotland (5.3 million), being a sovereign state is entirely possible. There are quite a few examples across Scotland Europe of states that are no bigger and often considerably smaller than . The extent to which some of them are fully ‘sovereign’ is a moot point given the significance of the European Union and the Eurozone but no-one could deny that, for example, Scotland (4.6M), Ireland (5M) and Norway (5.4M) are as genuinely independent as it’s possible to be in modern Denmark Europe, or that they are content in their independence. And they are certainly not the smallest European states: (3.4M), Lithuania (3.3M), Armenia (2.4M), Latvia (2M), Slovenia (1.3M) and Estonia (0.5M) are all a good deal smaller than Luxembourg . Scotland could perfectly well join the number of these relatively small states – and England-and-Wales (53M plus 3M = 56M) independent of Scotland would as a unit be in the same league as Scotland (61M) and Italy (47M). Spain
However, those relatively small independent states do not today face the choice that faces
in 2014. No-one is inviting, for example Scotland to consider unification with Portugal , or Spain with Norway . They therefore do not have to weigh up the upsides and downsides of different options. And of course, like any reasonable option, both staying in union with England and going it alone have both upsides and downsides for Scotland, which is why the decision is worth discussing. Sweden
As well as all those relatively small independent countries, it’s also worth considering
Europe’s largest country, , with its population of 82M. While Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were busy breaking themselves up, the Federal Republic of Germany heard hardly a whisper of separatism – not even from Bavaria, despite its being far away from the federal capital, Berlin, and having a population of 13M, more than twice Scotland’s. There could be any number of reasons for this contentment. It’s not all that long – only 150 years – since ‘Germany’ was a disorganised collection of relatively small independent states united largely by language, and the old East Germany only re-joined 25 years ago, so perhaps the charm of unification hasn’t worn off yet. The largest Land is about one sixth the population of the federal republic, so the smaller Länder do not feel they are ‘in bed with an elephant’. Germany is a genuinely federal country in which the different Länder all have their own governments dealing with the same range of issues. And perhaps most importantly Germany is economically successful; none of the Länder has any reason to imagine or hope that they would do significantly better economically if only they were ‘independent’. All these last three considerations are ones that also apply to the Germany , and I’ll come back to them in relation to USA . Scotland
But for now I’ll just leave one question hanging in the air: given that the world is as it is, would you rather be a citizen of
or the Germany or a citizen of USA or Iceland ? In other words, would you rather be a citizen of a country whose actions and decisions have a real impact on the world, or of one that minds its own business and is content to be relatively insignificant on the world stage? That’s a genuine question, to which either answer is reasonable, and it’s one that you and other Scottish voters might well be considering in the run up to 2014. Norway
The Shadow of History
This referendum is supposed to be about the future of
, not about its history. But it would be naive to imagine that history is not an important part of the background to the 2014 referendum. After all, it’s being held, deliberately, in the year of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when a Scottish army defeated an invading English army. It might have been held in 2000, the 300th anniversary of the collapse of the Scotland scheme that ruined the Scottish economy and precipitated the Darien Union with in 1707. Or maybe it could have waited for 2045, 300 years after Scottish Lowlanders enthusiastically joined other British soldiers in defeating Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Catholic Highlanders. The truth is that there is far more, and much that is more important, in the history of this island than these dramatic local turning points, including the Scottish Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the England British Empire and the World Wars. And in any case how is it that 700 years ago is a more potent irritant than, say, the German bombing of Bannockburn only 70 years ago? Why is it that one but not the other can be forgiven and forgotten? Glasgow
I think I know part of the answer to those questions. Unlike the German attack and, come to that, the repeated medieval feudal English invasions of
, the goal of the repeated medieval feudal English invasions of France appears to have been achieved: a single monarchy and government, dominated by Scotland . To one way of thinking, it doesn’t much matter that the England Union was not in fact achieved by the invasions: one came after the other, so it can easily feel as if the later event was caused by the earlier ones. That’s a logical mistake of course – post hoc ergo propter hoc – but really grasping that takes some effort, especially when Scottish Nationalists are busy, in Burns’s disapproving phrase, nursing Scotland’s wrath to keep it warm by harping on about the medieval invasions. (They harp on about Bonnie Prince Charlie too, but I’ll come to him later.)
Union was eventually achieved, and achieved peacefully, but ’s much bigger population and position closer to the European mainland led to some unimaginative and insensitive – and simply inaccurate – mistakes. It was perhaps understandable that foreigners came to think and speak of the England as ‘ United Kingdom ’, but much less excusable for the many English people who made the same mistake. Similarly, the present monarch of the England was plainly the first to bear her name, but was nevertheless called ‘the Second’ because before the Union England had had a monarch of that name. The message such slights gave to United Kingdom was that it had been subsumed into Scotland , or just tacked on to it. Had I been a Scot, I would have found them deeply irritating, rather as my wife finds it irritating to be called ‘Mrs Geoff Taylor’. One positive result of nationalism and devolution within the UK is that, whereas fifty years ago ‘the UK’ was a term used mostly by diplomats and military people, many people these days, at least within the UK, are careful to make the correct distinctions. England
Whether or not
would eventually have entered political Scotland Union with even if the England scheme had not failed is an interesting if also an unanswerable question. What is certain is that by the late seventeenth century, England-and-Wales and Scotland shared not only an island, a language and a king, but also the experience of a shared Civil War, and, crucially, similar institutions and ambitions. Each kingdom established a privately owned national bank to raise funds for major projects – war in the case of the Bank of England, business development in that of the Bank of Scotland. Darien also wanted to have its own overseas expansionary projects, like Scotland ’s. But England was a poor country, with a population only about a tenth that of Scotland . Where England could afford, say, ten major expansionary projects, England could afford only one. If one of Scotland ’s ten projects collapsed, the profits of the other nine could cover the losses at a national level, even though individual investors might be ruined. With less than a tenth of England ’s resources, England could afford to fund only one major overseas project – and if it failed, it would bring down the whole Scottish economy. Scots invested to the hilt in the scheme to set up a colony on the Scotland peninsula in Darien Central America. It was a hugely ambitious scheme, and it failed utterly. The one big gamble that could afford had turned spectacularly sour. Scotland
The lesson was that a small, poor country like
could not by itself afford big speculative schemes; it needed to unite with others to spread the risk and share the opportunities. The kind of equal independence that had been possible before the modern era of development and expansion really got underway in the seventeenth century was no longer available; big countries could succeed where small ones could not – at any rate, not unless they entered into union with others. The only union realistically available to Scotland was with Scotland . And here was the source of much irrational but understandable irritation: the two kingdoms were equally sovereign states, but they were very unequal in the resources they brought to the proposed England Union. Because it was investing over ten times more than , Scotland was naturally entitled to a similar proportion of the profits. Inevitable as this was, it’s not difficult to see how this arrangement fed Scottish resentments of England . Yet whatever private benefits they sought, the ‘parcel of rogues in a nation’, as Burns later called the Scottish leaders who had agreed to the 1707 Union, were acknowledging the new reality created by new technology, new financial instruments and a new expansionary outlook. Countries like England had only two choices: succeed in union with others, or stand alone and watch those others succeed. Scotland
Today’s world is very different from that of 1707, but it’s still true that really ambitious and costly projects can be undertaken only by big countries or by big, permanent and committed unions of states that are prepared to share risks and benefits, occasionally inequitably but in the long run beneficially to all. As yet the European Union has not reached that stage; the 1707
Union has long been, and can continue to be, such a union. As an Englishman, I find it hard to understand why Scotland should voluntarily take itself out of a Union that has worked for 300 years in order to join other small European countries in pressing for the EU to become a more substantial union despite the reservations not only of the Westminster Government but also of the governments of some of the other big European countries that do not need the EU in order to have a powerful voice in international affairs.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and a’ that
I wonder how many Jacobite songs have been written since Jacobitism ceased to an immediate political issue following the Battle of Culloden in 1746. You’d think there was a huge ongoing desire to see the descendants of the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne if not of the
at least of UK . There isn’t of course. Lyrical Jacobitism is merely a convenient vehicle for expressing Scottish resentment against Scotland . This is why history is so important in Scottish Nationalism: to this Englishman at least it seems to be rather more about England ’s perceived historical wrongs at the hands of the English than about the best interests of Scotland in the future. I know they can’t be quite so neatly separated out, but you see what I mean. Scotland
James VI King of Scots peacefully became King of England as James I in 1603. The Act of Union was agreed to in 1707 by the then-legitimate Parliament of Scotland acting with as much freedom as their country’s desperate financial situation allowed at the time. The upshot of the
Union was the great flowering we call the Scottish Enlightenment, supported by a rapidly rising standard of living in lowland . So far, so swimmingly. But James, the 1707 Parliament and the leaders of the Enlightenment had a guilty secret: their Scotland was only half the story. Up in the Scotland Highlands and Islands was a different , one they had little knowledge of or control over. The best parallel today is the unruly tribal lands of north-west Scotland , where violent traditional ways of life wear a religious dress and the writ of the government does not run. This Other Scotland was Catholic, just as Pakistan was Catholic; it hated the Presbyterianism of the Scottish Lowlands though it did not threaten it directly. At some point the Scottish or later the Ireland government was going to have to do something to tame the clans, as the tribes were called. UK
Unfortunately for future relations between
and Scotland , this got tied up with a completely separate issue. James England VII (of ) and II (of Scotland ) was a public and militant Catholic, unlike either his father Charles I (a sincere Anglican) or his predecessor-brother Charles II (a closet Catholic). Had James been either an Anglican or a closet Catholic, he or his successors would have dealt with the clans in due course whether in their role as King of Scotland or as King of the England . It would probably have been violent but it would by now be remembered only by historians. James however was a militant Catholic and as such unacceptable as King to either UK or Lowland Scotland; he was therefore driven out. He went to Catholic France, which naturally saw the opportunity to make trouble for England and later the England by supporting the exiled ex-king and his Catholic descendants, including his grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie. UK
Twice, in 1715 and 1745, these descendants attempted to use the Catholic Scots, principally the clansmen of the north and west, to wrest the by-now UK throne from the successors of those who had replaced James
VII and II, William-and-Mary, reigning together – successors who happened to be German but much more importantly were not Catholic. Both times, the clansmen were crushed by English, German and (let’s never forget) Scottish Lowland forces, the second time brutally and finally, at and after Culloden. At which point Bonnie Prince Charlie lost interest in , a loss of interest that was certainly not reciprocated. Scotland
Why? Within the
Union, the Scottish economy was doing well, cultural life in the ‘ of the North’ was flourishing and many individual Scots were benefiting from access to Athens , English markets and the growing England British Empire. Why did not simply forget Charlie, thankful that at last the tribal lands had been pacified? I’m not going to try to answer that question, though as a Scot you might want to wrestle with it. All I want to say is that Charlie was not fighting Scotland on behalf of England ; he was fighting the Hanoverians on behalf of himself, the British on behalf of the French, and the Protestants on behalf of the Catholics. He doesn’t seem to me to be a suitable patron for modern democratic secular Scottish nationalism, however helpful nationalists may find it to manipulate his legend for their cause. Scotland
And if this hero of Scottish separatism loses this status so easily upon examination, maybe much the same can be said for others whose memories are similarly manipulated. For instance, how many Scots for whom William Wallace is a Scottish national hero can tell you where the film Braveheart is wildly, even tendentiously, inaccurate while being wonderfully romantic?
When it’s gone, it’s gone
If voted for in the referendum, Scottish independence would have to be taken seriously by all concerned. Separation is not a form of devolution, however extreme. Within the limits of international law and treaty obligations, each separated party would inevitably do what was in its own best interests without taking much notice of what was in the other party’s best interests. For example, deciding in what direction the Scottish-English boundary would extend into the
North Sea would be fraught because of its implications for oil revenues; should it be perpendicular to the coast as might wish or continue in the direction of the land border thus benefiting Scotland ? Or take the proposed upgrade of the west coast railway from England through the English Midlands and the North West of England to London . England by itself would have little interest in funding the half of the line north of Manchester, though it might allow Scotland to fund the part of this half of the line within England; that would cost, in today’s money, around thirty billion pounds. These are just two of myriad issues that would need to be dealt with if Scotland were to separate from the other countries of the UK: state pensions, diplomatic representation, the national debt (including what was incurred by bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland), the Glasgow BBC, military bases, external treaty obligations and financial guarantees are just a few of the others.
Financial guarantees are an especially interesting case in point, partly because the
Union was created to deal with a financial meltdown in and partly because we’re all well aware of the impact of the current financial crisis on various countries. When the Royal Bank of Scotland was on the point of failure in 2008, the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer (both Scots, incidentally) were among the few leaders who realised that such a situation demanded an immediate, no-strings-attached rescue package, and provided it with UK-backed borrowing. It’s worth remembering that Icelandic and Irish banks were failing at the same time. Outside the EU and Eurozone, Scotland went to the wall, its population plunged into despair. Iceland got its rescue package from Ireland Europe but on such onerous terms that its economy was ruined probably for at least a decade. RBS was bigger than the Icelandic or Irish banks, its fall correspondingly more serious; yet because was in the Scotland the population of UK was no more affected by its failure than the rest of the Scotland population. If such a situation were to recur with UK separated from Scotland , the same generous England support would be lacking, and UK would presumably follow the course recently taken by Scotland , and later by Ireland . Of course, there is every chance that large international banks will have concluded from what happened in 2008 that they should not make their institutional homes in relatively small countries like Greece or Iceland – or indeed an independent Ireland . The financial sector in Scotland , once hailed as a triumph by the country’s separatists, has already significantly contracted in advance of the 2014 referendum on the future of the Scotland Union.
Some of the benefits that Scots currently and as
citizens rightly take for granted would be particularly affected by the end of the UK Union because their cost is not simply proportional to population. Diplomatic representation is an example. The does not maintain embassies or high commissions in every country of the world; that would not be value for money even for one the world’s top ten economies. If Scotland left the Union, the remaining UK countries would have a gross domestic product of about 90% that of the current UK; other things being equal they could continue to run about 90% of the current UK diplomatic service, while Scotland could run about 10% of it. That might provide an embassy in the major countries and maybe in a few others, but in most of the world Scottish travellers would need to rely on a Scottish embassy somewhere else or on the Scottish affairs desk in the embassy of a friendly country. Nothing wrong with that; it’s how all small countries provide for their travelling citizens’ needs. But it’s not the service currently enjoyed by Scots travelling abroad for business or pleasure. UK
The dissolution of the
Union would have to be presumed to be permanent. When it was established in 1707, the Union had been canvassed unsuccessfully for over a century, ever since the King of Scots became also King of England. It was only a chance alignment of a financial meltdown in and English worries about war with Scotland that enabled a generally unwelcome union to be agreed. Admittedly three hundred years has made a difference, but once the France Union has been dissolved there is no conceivable way in which either could bring itself to seek its recreation or Scotland would allow it – and the boot is even more unlikely to be on the other foot simply because of the population and position of England . England
These considerations are not threats from an Englishman to a Scot. I’m just trying to underline how serious and final separation would be, full of implications that may not even be imaginable as yet. It is not only
that would be ‘independent’ and able to prioritise its own interests; Scotland would be able to do the same, even if at present English nationalism has no governmental voice. England
Where a country is hugely affects its prospects. The
British Empire took shape because was an island off the west coast of the European mainland; Britain won and kept its independence because it controlled the Alpine passes between Switzerland and Italy . At the north-western extreme of Germany Europe, and on an island, is always at the end of the line; you don’t have to go through Scotland to get somewhere else, so the only reason for going to Scotland is to stop there. There’s a certain enviable security in such a position – if you don’t believe me, ask the Belgians. But there is a downside too: such a position is by definition marginal. And permanent too: ‘independence’ won’t bring Scotland any closer to Scotland Europe or turn it into a staging post between bigger, wealthier neighbours.
One reason, however, that outsiders might take an interest in
is its oil – ‘ Scotland ’s Oil’, as the SNP’s publicity proclaimed it forty years ago, when it came on stream. It doesn’t seem all that long ago, does it? I don’t suppose that the forty or fifty years that oil reserves off Scotland are expected to last will seem long either, in retrospect. And when the oil finally runs out as eventually it must, Scotland will still be independent and reliant on whatever resources it has managed to develop in the meantime. Scotland
This is the really big unknown. Many aspects of separation can be quantified and their costs and benefits roughly attributed to
and whatever unit is left of the present Scotland . But no-one can have any idea of how successful and lucky an independent UK might be in making use of its human and natural resources. It might be a rip-roaring economic success – and one which unlike some other rip-roaring economic successes in the ‘Celtic Fringe’ turns out to be long-lasting. Of course everyone who is well-disposed towards Scotland , me included, hopes that would be what would happen. But hope is not a very stable basis for big decisions, yet as far as I know there are only the sketchiest details of what might be done by an independent Scottish government over the first half-century of independence to stimulate the Scottish economy that a maximally devolved Scottish government could not do. I don’t know how this looks to Scots but it looks to me like being invited to buy a pig in a poke. Scotland
But even with convincing, detailed plans the future is always uncertain; unexpected things happen to knock things off course. You and I take out insurance to cover costly, unplanned eventualities that happen despite our best efforts to avoid them. Basically, insurance means sharing the risks with lots of other people, and the more people who are involved the more secure the insurance is. You’d need to be very sure of your plans and capacity to deal with the unexpected before deciding that you could happily leave an insurance pool or seek to make it a great deal smaller than it is at present. And if you think that the European Union as at present constituted is an adequate, patient or generous insurance underwriter, ask the Greeks about their recent experience within the Eurozone.
The Bright Lights of
’s king became King of England and never retuned to Scotland , it’s been said that the best prospect a Scot sees is the road to Scotland , and it’s true that many Scots have followed James’s example and left home to make a living or even a fortune in England , and especially in England . It must have been deeply galling for Scots to see so many of their brightest and best leaving the homeland over the centuries, not always out of desperation but often as a choice. One of the hopes of those who want Scotland to leave the Union is that separation would encourage more of the most promising Scots to stay in Scotland, where there would be all the interest and opportunities offered by the apparatus of an independent country. London
That would probably be one effect, but anyone who imagines that it would be of more than marginal significance is making the mistake of underestimating the status of
. It is of course the capital of the current London , and any Scots who want to take part in governing the UK as such have to go there; they might not leave an independent UK . But Scotland is a world city; people come here from every imaginable country to enjoy its freedoms, take part in its culture and share in its wealth. The idea that large numbers of Scots who would otherwise have left for London would stay home in an independent London is fantasy. In moving to world city Scotland , no other foreign country’s people would have the twin advantages of an easy journey to visit family back home, and fluency in the language of London . And whatever the reception that English people in independent London get, no doubt the Scots from an independent Scotland would continue to receive a warm welcome here. Scotland
It has been suggested that an independent
would have to apply for European Union membership afresh, but this must surely be nonsense. In the first place, Scotland is already a member of the EU through its membership of the Scotland ; it would be spectacularly unjust to make it re-apply, and if admitted, presumably force it to agree to adopt the euro as its currency at some point in the future. But in the second place, and possibly more persuasive in Brussels, if one separating party of the UK had to re-apply, surely in logic and justice the same would apply to the other party, and I can’t imagine any pro-EU body let alone the European Commission forcing England-and-Wales to have an in-or-out referendum on membership of the EU, especially if euro adoption was a condition of re-admission. I therefore don’t see any problem with United Kingdom continuing its membership of the EU, though of course the details would need to be worked out. Scotland
The euro itself might be more of an issue however. An independent
would have to decide what currency to use: it could choose between the pound sterling, a revived pound Scots and the euro. In strictly economic terms, the pound Scots might have its attractions; after all it was when Scotland left the sterling area and established the punt that its economic success story began – only to be crushed by its membership of the Euro-zone when the 2008 crash happened. Having its own currency with its own interest rates set to regulate its own economy would once have been thought of as a key characteristic of an independent country, as important has having its own government. For both these reasons, you’d think that nationalistic Scots would favour re-introducing the pound Scots that was abolished when the Ireland Union was set up. Maybe in their hearts they do, but they’re not saying so.
So perhaps it would be the euro that an independent
would use. Certainly many members of the Euro-zone, and many candidate members too, are still enthusiastic about the euro. This, despite all that has happened in the last five years to Scotland , Greece , Ireland , Portugal and Spain . But then they are all, whatever gloss they once displayed, essentially sluggish economies, unable to prosper in the medium term while sharing a single currency with economies that are highly developed (like Germany) or rapidly growing (like Poland). The question for Scots is which of these groups they reckon the Scottish economy to be in: essentially sluggish, highly developed or rapidly growing. Given that part of the rationale for independence is that, thanks to the carelessness of Italy government, the Scottish economy is sluggish, you’d think that would rule out the euro as a currency choice for those supporting the dissolution of the UK . UK
Which leaves the pound sterling, the currency managed by what, with an independent
, would be the slightly less inaccurately named Bank of England. Whether or not the Bank would facilitate the continued issuance by Scottish banks of what is essentially make-believe money (because every Scottish note has to be backed by Bank of England currency) is a moot point. It would certainly be galling if as a result of gaining its political independence Scotland were forced to abandon the use of notes that bear the word ‘ Scotland ’ in favour of ones marked ‘Bank of England’. But maybe a way round this could be found. Of rather greater practical significance however is the issue of interest rates. Currently the Bank of England sets interest rates for the pound sterling with a view to managing principally inflation but also other economic variables across the Scotland as a whole. Admittedly because the economy of the south-east of UK has such a preponderant role in the England economy, the Bank has to take especial notice of what happens there. But at least at present the state of UK ’s economy is required to be one of the considerations when the Bank is setting interest rates. This would presumably cease once Scotland became independent; Scotland ’s interests would then have even less weight in managing the pound sterling than they would if Scotland were in the euro with interest rates being managed in Scotland principally for the benefit of the big core European economies. Germany
Personally, if I were taking part in the referendum, I’d want to be certain exactly which currency option I’d be voting for if I were to say ‘Yes’ to dissolving the Union. I’m not sure, though, which of the unpalatable options I’d prefer.
There’s no doubt that a good deal of what fuels Scottish nationalism is the sense that
has been and remains ‘under Scotland ’s heel’; to leave the England Union would therefore be to escape subjection. Hence the insistence of speaking of ‘independence’ rather than ‘separating’ or ‘dissolving the Union’, and the implied similarity between the movement for Scottish independence and the movements that brought independence to, for example, Ghana and India. There is no such similarity of course: Ghana and India were seized by British forces (usually including a disproportionate number of Scots incidentally), did not properly agree to their incorporation in the empire, had their legal system replaced, were subjected to missionaries to alter their religions, had no representation in the imperial parliament, and had no share in ruling the wider empire. None of that is true of . The 2014 referendum is about separation, about dissolving the 1707 Union, not about gaining ‘independence’ from an empire; it is much more like a divorce than like siblings going their own ways. Scotland
Yet many Scots do nevertheless seem to feel they have been living ‘under the heel’ of
, and they cite quite a number of reasons for feeling that way. Some of them are in the past – the shadow of history again – while others are within living memory. The background to the negotiations that led up to the England Union involved some unpleasantness and fairly harsh threats on both sides, and the negotiations themselves were difficult, as negotiations often are. Some of the results look particularly inequitable in retrospect, such as the number of MPs sitting for Scottish seats in the new UK Parliament; it was about half what the Scottish population would have justified, though of course in 1707 no women and very few men had the vote, either in England or Scotland, and the idea that the distribution of seats should be ‘democratic’ in the sense of ‘proportional to population’ would at the time have seemed hopelessly far-fetched to all concerned. And the agreement to keep the presbyterian Church of Scotland as the established church in Scotland rather than to try to impose Anglicanism in that role, and not to make any attempt to harmonise Scots and English law were key both to making the Union acceptable in Scotland and to keeping alive the sense of Scottish nationhood.
Even excluding the Jacobite wars, some later episodes left a bad taste in Scottish mouths, a bad taste that was easily attributed to English involvement. For example, the Highland Clearances in the early C19th were a brutal replacement of subsistence farmers with sheep runs that were more profitable for the landlords; the farmers were driven off the lands that they and their ancestors had lived on since time immemorial, and some starved to death. Some of the landlords had English connections, and others were indeed English aristocrats. But many of them were not English; they were Scottish lairds whose families had often been responsible landlords for generations, a fact that made the process all the more shocking. Of course it’s more comfortable for Scots to think of all these people as English and therefore non-Scottish, just as it is more comfortable for the descendants of African slaves to forget that their ancestors were sold into slavery by their fellow Africans. But what’s comfortable is not necessarily the truth, or at any rate not the whole truth.
More recently the English heel has been identified in some of the actions of the Thatcher Government in the 1980s. Subsidies for uncompetitive industries were unceremoniously stopped; mines were quickly closed; the poll tax was introduced in
first, before Scotland and England . Yet none of these were aimed at Wales in particular; Scotland itself was subjected to the same arrogantly uncomprehending policies, thus seemingly managing the impressive feat of grinding itself into the dust with its own heel. The truth is that this was not a case of England versus England but of people whose priority was private wealth versus the rest. It’s true that England returned proportionately far more Conservative MPs than Scotland, but that didn’t stop the Thatcherites undermining social assumptions in England exactly as they did in Scotland. Scotland
The treatment of oil revenues when
North Sea oil – ‘ ’s Oil’ – came on stream in the 1970s is another irritant. There are two ways of looking at this. In the Scottish separatist version, oil revenues that could have made an independent Scotland as wealthy as Scotland were hi-jacked by an English-dominated Switzerland government. Whereas across the UK North Sea, the Norwegian government used the oil revenue windfall to establish a fund for the future, the government used the Scottish oil revenue windfall to fund its policies across the whole UK . In this version, UK stole England ’s oil. The other way of looking at it is the Unionist version. Scotland had been united with England for over 250 years, having entered the Union in financial desperation and having benefited from its link with wealthier England for almost all of that time; by what kind of idea of fair play with a partner should this Scotland suddenly decide, now that a temporary windfall had made it relatively richer than England for two or three, maybe four, generations, that the Union should be repudiated? That seems to me to have all the perverted logic of ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’. There are good reasons for all Scotland citizens to bitterly regret that the windfall of the oil revenues was sacrificed for short term political gain. But this historic mistake could not be put right by UK ’s exit from the Scotland Union. And even after a Yes vote in 2014, I’d be pleasantly surprised if an independent Scottish government used the remaining oil revenues in a markedly different way, not least because to do so would involve an increase in taxation when such a government would want to demonstrate the benefits of independence. Sacrificing the future in favour of the present is not an exclusively English disease.
Resentment about the basing of
nuclear weapons in UK is yet another, more current, irritant. Of course looked at from the point of view of a genuine Unionist, the decision about where to base the Trident submarines – or indeed where to test biological weapons like anthrax – is one that is to be taken on the basis of strictly objective criteria: distance from large populations, the security provided by remoteness, the need to spread defence assets around the country, the desirability of providing employment, and so on. But the current Trident base in the Gair Loch and the anthrax testing on Gruinard Island in the 1940s were both particularly controversial, and the objective criteria happened – if that’s the right word – to lead to both of them being located in Scotland, where opposition to biological and nuclear weapons was and is particularly strong. It’s not surprising that many Scots felt unable to be certain that those decisions taken in faraway Scotland were really as objective as they were supposed to be. Gruinard is over and done with, but the proposed replacement of Trident is a live issue. An independent London would presumably want to close the nuclear submarine base, for all kinds of reason, not least for the satisfaction of having hands that were clean of the nuclear stain. Whether that would help make the world safer is a moot point, however. There are powerful military, political and financial reasons not to replace Trident, anywhere in Great Britain; given that this point of view finds a particularly strong resonance in Scotland, removing the Scottish voice from the debate is likely only to make it more likely that those who feel that nuclear weapons are plausible defences in the modern world will get their way. Surely the aim should be to reduce both the number of nuclear weapons and the number of countries which maintain them, rather than simply to get them out of our own back yard. Scotland
There are, then, plenty of reasons why Scots might feel that they have been ‘under
’s heel’, even if on closer examination they are not quite as straightforward as they look at first sight. But if England has been ramming its heel into England , it’s gone about it in a very odd way. For over a century until the post-devolution redistribution of seats in 2005, Scotland had a disproportionately high number of MPs in the Westminster Parliament, making Scottish votes worth on average significantly more than English ones. Of Scotland prime ministers appointed since 1900, the following have had close personal connections with UK : Balfour, Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar-Law, Macdonald, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Blair and Brown. That’s eight out of 21, over a third; not bad for a country that has a population of about a tenth that of the Scotland . Then there is the allocation of public funds; it’s a vastly complex question, but the consensus is that each Scot attracts about 20% more public spending than the average English person, though admittedly that figure takes no account either of the Scottish contribution to government revenue or of the particular needs of Scotland. It would appear on the face of it that UK has had more to complain of than England . Scotland
None of that however addresses the core question of Scottish self-determination. It’s all very well having lots of Westminster MPs and UK Prime Ministers and a disproportionate allocation of
public funds, but can UK democratically make policy decisions that are different from those being taken for Scotland ? Until devolution in 1999, it could not. With devolution, however, Scottish self-determination has vastly increased and with further devolution within the England could increase still more. It’s not absolute of course, but then it wouldn’t be absolute with independence either. No modern country can simply do as it pleases; not only is it bound by treaty obligations and its membership of organisations like the European Union and the World Trade Organisation, but its citizens are free to leave for more congenial places if, for example, they feel their wealth is being threatened. The world, and UK Europe especially, is a far more inter-dependent place than it was in the C19th and early C20th heyday of nationalism.
Hence the question arises: Exactly what is it that an independent
belonging to the EU and the WTO could do that a fully devolved Scottish Government could not do? Yes, there will be some things, but then the question becomes: Is the freedom to do those relatively few things without reference to Scotland worth the downside of independence? That’s one of the judgements that Scots have to make before the referendum. Westminster
It has been suggested that England – and Wales and Northern Ireland too for non-devolved issues – would find itself permanently under Conservative rule once the Westminster Parliament lost its Scottish MPs, almost none of them Conservative. This assumes that voting patterns do not change over time. I hope and believe that English voters would alter the ways they vote in order to ensure that they would get an alternation of parties in
office. Admittedly that might take several elections, and in the meantime a succession of Conservative governments could have taken in directions that I think would be regrettable. But the risk can be exaggerated. Although England has had a disproportionate number of MPs at Scotland , the population of Westminster relative to the non-English parts of the England has always meant that non-English votes, though not negligible, have not generally been decisive; that may be partly why UK has not risen up over the ‘ England West Lothian’ question.
A succession of Conservative governments in
might be almost as damaging for an independent England as I think they would be for an independent Scotland . Provided both countries remained in the EU, nothing could be done to prevent rich tax refugees leaving England for Scotland . I’ll say more about this later. England
As I said at the start of this letter, I hope that the referendum goes against dissolving the
Union. But if votes to separate, I don’t expect that would turn out to be a disaster, not for Scotland and certainly not for Scotland and England . I hope that we would all be dignified enough to accept separation wholeheartedly even if regretfully, and make the best of our new, separate lives. I would hope, for instance, that the Union Flag uniting the crosses representing Wales , England and Scotland would be consigned to history. Much that was wonderful, as well as some that wasn’t, was done under it, but it does no good to pretend that the past is not really over, like someone who goes on wearing a wedding ring after their divorce is finalised. Once the old flag is abandoned, we’ll have the opportunity of at last expressing vexilogically the connection between Ireland and England , assuming as seems likely that both parties will wish to maintain it. Perhaps we could unite Wales cross with that of St David. I think that would make quite a striking flag, and one that unlike the St George Cross could never be mistaken for the Red Cross. St George’s
A Proposal for a new Flag for England-and-Wales
And then there’s the name. If the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been dissolved, what do we call ‘England-and-Wales’? (I’ll come to
later.) Obviously not ‘ Northern Ireland and England ’, because that would inevitably be abbreviated internationally to ‘ Wales ’. The country would still be a union, the one created by the unifying Act of 1536, and it would still presumably be a kingdom, so the ‘Kingdom of the Union of England and Wales’ might be appropriate. And that might even be abbreviated to ‘ England ’ without too much confusion or inaccuracy. United Kingdom
Whether that new United Kingdom of England and
ought to inherit the current Wales ’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council is an interesting question. Certainly, the UK inherited the old Russian Federation ’s seat, but then the old USSR like its predecessor the Russian Empire, had invaded, seized and colonised states like USSR and Latvia ; what happened to such countries after 1991 really was ‘independence’. But a much more interesting question is whether the membership of the Security Council needs revision anyway, now that a lifetime – almost 70 years of unprecedented change –– has passed since it was constituted. The time surely cannot be far off when countries like Kazakhstan , Japan , India and Nigeria will need to be invited to the top table because of their economic clout, population and regional significance. When that happens, it’s unlikely that any disinterested observer would think that Europe ought to have the three seats that economic clout alone would seem to justify allocating to Germany, France and the UK (with or without Scotland); maybe the straightforward way of dealing with the issue would be to give the European Union a single seat. In the meantime, I suspect that England-and-Wales, as being by far the largest remnant of the old UK, would inherit the present UK seat, if only because the current Security Council is unlikely to want to open the can of worms that beginning to revise its own composition would inevitably become. But however all this plays out on the world stage, I doubt if anyone is going to worry very much about whether or not Scotland has gone its own way. Brazil
Despite not being separately represented in the current Union flag,
is not part of Wales , though it was the first country in the north-west England Europe archipelago to be brought into political union with . But although the there is strong national sentiment in Wales and a separatist party, Plaid Cymru, there does not seem to be any deep-seated enthusiasm for separation from England; increased devolution within the union with England is what gets almost overwhelming support. Why? After all, with a population of just over three million, England has more than half the population of Wales and is rather bigger than several European sovereign states, so it’s not too small for independence. It came into union with Scotland with less consideration given to national sentiment than was the case with England in 1707. It’s not significantly further from the EU’s heartland than Scotland , and it’s not at the end of the line either: you go through Scotland to get to Wales . Admittedly it no longer has the finite natural resource of coal – it was never called ‘Wales’s coal’ – because it has been largely worked out for the benefit of the UK economy as a whole; but then many of the EU’s smaller independent states also lack major finite natural resources. So in the light of the Ireland ’s separation from the Irish Republic and UK ’s serious consideration of separation, we have to ask why Scotland seems not to be taking a similar approach. Wales
One reason is that the successful English invasion of
was a long time ago; it was possible for even a medieval king not merely to push the Welsh princes back temporarily but to surround them in north-west Wales and starve them out. When that happened, Wales did not have the apparatus of early modern government – a parliament, a fully-fledged legal system, a national church – around whose loss or whose survival separatist national sentiment could coalesce. The royal dynasty Wales gave to what became the Wales , the Tudors, were not forcibly displaced, as was later the case with the Scottish Stuarts. There was no major disaster, like the UK scheme, Culloden and its aftermath or the Highland Clearances (or the Great Famine in Darien ) to symbolise a sense of subjection. Consequently, although of course there have been irritants, like the insensitive flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965 to provide water for Liverpool, there has not been a cause for long-lasting, nationwide, deeply-felt resentment towards England or the UK. And Ireland does have its language. Although between the sixteenth century and the twentieth English was the sole language of government and legal business, both the Anglican prayer book and the bible were officially translated into Welsh in the sixteenth century; this gave Welsh a status as a national symbol that it has never lost. Wales
What I think is interesting about the Welsh example is that it illustrates the relative importance in nationalist movements of resentment on one hand and economic and political viability on the other. A strong sense of nationhood does not necessarily seem to be enough to propel a viably independent nation to seek sovereignty. And what of
if Wales were to vote Yes in 2014? The Welsh First Minister remarked that the fact your neighbour jumps out of the window is not a reason for you to do the same – and speaking as an Englishman I’m very pleased that Scotland seems to agree with him. Wales
leaves the Scotland Union, it won’t be the first country to do so. Most of left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland almost a century ago, leaving behind only the rump called Ireland . The tensions among the 1.8M inhabitants of Northern Ireland have resulted in decades of violence that has served to underscore the differences in values between, in particular, that province and Northern Ireland . English people simply do not understand why flag-flying is such a dangerously emotive issue; they cannot see why anyone today should be exercised by the Siege of (London)Derry in 1689 or the Battle of the Boyne of 1690; they struggle to grasp the animosity between Catholics and Protestants. These issues are not nearly so difficult to understand in England , which has a closely related if much less violent sectarian problem that is similarly opaque to English people. English people know about football rivalry but the idea of a rivalry between a Catholic football club and a Protestant one that divides a modern city on sectarian lines – Hibs and Hearts in Edinburgh, Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow – is in their view incomprehensible as well as dangerous; whatever has football got to do with anyone’s religious denomination? Scotland
The reason you Scots find the Northern Irish situation so much less difficult to understand is that it is essentially a Scottish creation, not an English or a British one. The English had of course been involved in Irish affairs since the Middle Ages, and the repeated failure of British governments to deal sensitively or imaginatively with the problems of
after the Act of Union in 1801 led to the Irish exit from the Ireland Union in 1922. But that exit would have been total and clean, though arguably still unfortunate, had not James VI of succeeded in ‘planting’ large numbers of Scots in Scotland after he became James I of Ulster . The policy was intended to deal with an English problem – how to pacify Catholic Ireland – but it was a Scottish solution. The Scots thus ‘planted’ were Presbyterians, fresh from the Presbyterian/Catholic religious struggles of England ; they were ‘planted’ in the part of Scotland closest to their Scottish homeland and maintained links there, links that the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 strengthened. When Catholic Irish people went to Ireland in search of work in the C19th they found – what they did not find in Scotland – the same Presbyterian/Catholic tensions they knew at home, and their presence exacerbated them. It’s all too easy to forget the vicious attitude of the Church of Scotland to Catholics until within living memory. England
If English people are mostly indifferent to
’s separation from Scotland , many of them would positively welcome the departure of England ; it causes us English nothing but trouble that we don’t understand and expense that we can’t afford. And as it is essentially a Scottish problem not an English one, perhaps we might hope that an independent Northern Ireland would take, or at least share, responsibility for dealing with the situation there. I have a sneaking feeling however that an independent Scotland would want to walk away from the Northern Irish mess – and I could understand it having that wish, not least because of the Nationalist conceit that Scotland is not so much breaking its Union with England as becoming ‘independent’, as if it has been part of an English empire. However, actually taking such a course would strike me as dishonourable. Scotland has no more moral right to walk away from Northern Ireland than has England; many English people would like to leave the Northern Irish to themselves, but I don’t suppose our government whatever its complexion would seize the opportunity to do it that would be offered by Scottish separation and a subsequent Scottish refusal to share responsibility for Northern Ireland. Scotland
were to leave the Scotland Union, would want to reconsider its position anyway, not least because the part of the Northern Ireland they felt closest to in every way would no longer be a member. The long term rebalancing of Northern Irish demography in favour of Catholics might push in the same direction, though by all accounts Northern Irish Catholics are not necessarily keen on separation from the UK . The abandonment of the old Union Flag might encourage the Northern Irish to work out how they want to organise themselves peaceably without the oversight of either UK or England . I can’t imagine Northern Irish Unionists being enthusiastic flag-wavers of a new Union flag that omitted both St Patrick’s cross and the Scottish saltire, and to go on waving a flag that was now merely an historical exhibit would be further evidence for the view that the English at least already have of them. Scotland
Where the grass is greener?
brings to mind the rest of the other Kingdom that was brought into union with the already United Kingdom of Scotland and England-and-Wales in 1801, and perhaps more significantly how it came to exit the Northern Ireland Union, leaving the rump behind, and what happened thereafter. In the middle ages, Northern Ireland had been a papal territory for which the King of England did homage to the pope, making the king Lord of Ireland. Following England’s rejection of the pope, the Throne of the Kingdom of Ireland had been given to England’s Henry VIII in 1542, and from then until 1801 there had been in the person of the monarch a personal union like that of Scotland with England between 1603 and 1707. In the late C18th, the Ireland government feared the contagion of French Revolutionary ideas especially in a majority-Catholic country the other side of UK from England . The risk was that His Majesty’s Irish government might take a different approach to the war with France from that adopted by His Majesty’s France government in UK . The solution was to have both parliaments agree to full parliamentary union along similar lines to the Union of England and Great Britain almost a century earlier. Scotland
As had not been the case with
in the earlier Scotland Union, there was no powerful motivation for to agree to the union; it was very much a union to suit Ireland ’s immediate needs. Consequently, the 1801 Union understandably rankled with many Irish people right from the start, adding to earlier resentments about King James’s Ulster plantations and earlier English efforts to ‘pacify Ireland’. Then, whereas the economic and social impact of the 1707 Union had been mostly positive in Scotland, in the 1840s came a disaster that the 1801 Union completely failed to deal with: potato blight caused about a million Irish people to starve to death, and Ireland lost almost a quarter of its population to starvation or emigration. Influenced by the ideas of Adam Smith (the Scottish political economist after whom today’s right-wing think tank is named), the Great Britain government did practically nothing to help its starving Irish citizens. UK has never forgiven this dereliction of duty. Ireland
Not surprisingly, these political resentments led in the later C19 to insistent calls for Home Rule for
. For a significant minority this was meant to be only a staging post on the road to the dissolution of the 1801 Ireland Union and independence for ; many others, including many of Scottish Presbyterian descent who were well aware of the success of the 1707 Ireland Union, simply wanted what we would call ‘devolution’. Despite the clear and settled demand of for Home Rule, UK Prime Minister Gladstone – another Scot incidentally – was repeatedly unable to persuade the Westminster Parliament to agree to devolution; the Conservatives, with Liberal allies who thought they were defending the Ireland Union, would have none of it. In , the result of this conservative intransigence merely added another reason for Irish people to demand separation from Ireland . And two further new elements were added to the debate as the years went by: a semi-mystical desire for Ireland to revive its almost moribund Celtic language and culture in place of English, and the growing involvement of the Catholic Church in the separatist movement, which in turn led many Irish Protestants to come to fear Home Rule as ‘Rome Rule’. Great Britain
Some aspects of the outcome of all this are depressingly familiar: the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, the notorious attempt to defeat militant separatism using the police auxiliaries nicknamed the ‘Black and Tans’, the partition of Ireland, civil war in the south between different separatist factions, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Other aspects of the aftermath are less well known, at least in
. The Protestants who feared Rome Rule turned out to be right: for more than half a century after separation, the Catholic Church in independent Great Britain dictated legal, social and education policy. There was no powerful countervailing progressive voice in the Republic to speak out about women’s rights, divorce, abortion, contraception, child abuse, and the Magdalene laundries. The Dublin government stood idly by as neutrals in the war against Nazism, though many thousands of its citizens volunteered to fight with the Allies – and waited half a century to be officially ‘forgiven’ for this ‘betrayal’ of their country’s anti-British government. The attempt to revive the Irish language was determined, but sadly has not been a great success; Polish is now as commonly spoken in the Republic as Irish. And as an Irish friend told me when lamenting her difficulties in getting health and social services support, ‘we are a small, poor country’. Ireland
Some of this is irrelevant to modern
. We are unlikely to face a military challenge to the values Scotland shares with the rest of the Scotland . In per capita terms, UK is not a poor country. Whatever its aspirations, the Catholic Church would not play the role in a separate Scotland that it played in separate Scotland . There is however the possibility that any attempt to do so could revive animosities between Catholics and Presbyterians in Ireland , where sectarianism is not as deeply buried as most Scots would wish. In places where nationalities have been mixed up with each other for centuries and where religion is a matter of identity, sudden separation has a dismal habit of unleashing animosities of various kinds, as happened in Scotland in the early 1920s and in Ireland in the 1990s. I don’t imagine that Scottish animosities would be as violently expressed as those cases suggest, but I think there is every likelihood that sectarianism would become much more significant in a Yugoslavia that was not anchored in a pretty secular and very multicultural Scotland . UK
I wish more Welsh people spoke Welsh, more Irish spoke Irish Gaelic and more Scots spoke Scots Gaelic. These languages, indeed all languages, with their literatures, are treasures we have inherited and should not abandon just for the convenience of a global lingua franca. There is absolutely no reason why all of us should not be fluent in several languages, provided we start early enough. But it is extraordinarily difficult to revive a language that is moribund, even in a world that is not as inter-related as ours has now become, as the Irish example shows. Anyone who might hope that an independent Scotland would necessarily have any more luck than a devolved one in encouraging the use of Gaelic might usefully look not only at the Irish example, but also at the Welsh.
The mass emigration from
following the Great Famine did not cease with separation. Currently, about a tenth of Ireland citizens have an Irish grandparent, and the crash of 2008 has caused many of UK ’s brightest and best to take a one-way ticket to what they hope will be a better future. And speaking of the recent financial meltdown, the UK government stumped up £7 billion to help rescue Ireland, its largest economic partner – and if that suggests that countries that leave the UK can still look to it for help in emergencies because of their close ties, it also suggests that political independence does not really leave such countries in-dependent. If another example that makes the same point is needed, we need only think of the current plans for a massive wind farm to be built in the Irish Midlands to supply electricity to the Ireland , principally UK . England
I have spent quite a bit of time on the Irish example not because I think that what happened to a separate
would happen to a separate Ireland . Obviously it wouldn’t: they are different countries with different cultures and different resources, and this is a very different period in history. But what I think the Irish example shows is that independence does not of itself change the basic economic and social facts, that some of the most deeply-held aspirations of separatists can easily be disappointed when they are eventually seen to have been unrealistic in the light of the economic and social facts, and that separation can sometimes unleash almost-forgotten animosities. And maybe it is also a warning that however justified they may be, historic resentments can be a poor guide as to how to make decisions about the future. Scotland
One of these days, English people will wake up to the significance of the ‘West Lothian question’: Now that many policy areas have been devolved from Westminster to Holyrood, why should MPs representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster be able to help decide policies that affect England, while MPs for English constituencies have no say about similar Scottish matters? What has happened to English self-determination? This just points up the essential absurdity of the current constitutional arrangements; devolution across the
as a whole is only a half-baked cake, because it makes no provision for English government except to hand it over to the pan-UK Parliament. This cannot be a final solution, for at least two reasons. Most obviously it leaves not just Scottish but also Welsh and Northern Irish MPs and ministers helping govern UK as a distinct entity in the England . But it also suggests that the devolved parliaments and governments are optional extras for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, possibly just sops to appease nationalists in those countries and thus head off separatism; if England doesn’t need devolution to its own parliament and government, it’s obviously not necessary for the other countries either, is it? UK
I suspect that for many people devolution was indeed just a sop to start with. In the last almost fifteen years however its practical benefits have become visible. For instance, controversial polices have been adopted by one or other devolved governments in what amounts to democratically sanctioned experiments which have tested the acceptability and efficacy of policies such as those about prescription charges, university fees, smoking in bars and plastic bags. This is why
, which was leery about devolution back in 1999, has voted in a referendum to increase the powers of its Assembly. Devolution is now entirely accepted as a necessary part of democratic government in Wales , Scotland and Wales . Northern Ireland
Somehow devolution needs to be extended to
. I can see that it’s difficult, given that England constitutes almost 85 percent of the England population. I’d be surprised if UK , unified for over a thousand years, would find it acceptable to be split up for the purposes of devolution, though it might. But without the creation of one or more English parliaments and governments distinct from those of the England as a whole, the UK constitution is going to continue to look ramshackle and unconvincing – completely unlike the successful federal systems in UK and the Germany . Such a development would I hope help Scots to feel less ground down under the English heel. In taking decisions that affect US , the Scotland government would not be the same as the English government with a different hat on. It would sometimes take decisions that many Scots didn’t like, but accepting such disappointments is part of the democratic contract, whatever democratic unit you live in. UK
I don’t imagine that giving England its own government and parliament again would completely solve the problem, however; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would still be ‘in bed with an elephant’, even of the elephant was being more careful to stick to its own bit of the bed. But as we have seen repeatedly, constitutions don’t stand still. The creation of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in 1999 was a massive change, full of promise for the future. More devolution is possible and generally desirable, to all parts of the
, leaving the UK government dealing only with issues that cannot sensibly be devolved, though exactly what they are is a subject for debate. The 2014 referendum may be part of this ongoing process, but it won’t be the end of it. In the much longer run the continuing evolution of the constitution may eventually result in a federal European Union of which Scotland, Wales, England, Brittany, Bavaria, Catalonia and so on are the building blocks, and the likes of the UK, France, Germany and Spain are no longer needed as the intermediary sovereign states. However attractive that vision may be, realising it is a long way off, not something that anyone now alive is likely to see. This is not a decision for any of us today, but if the vision is one you have some sympathy with, you as a Scot will have to make a judgement as to whether you think that voting in 2014 to dissolve the UK Union is going to bring its realisation closer or drive it further away.
As you make that judgement, I’d ask you to consider this: just as
has its SNP, so the Scotland has its UKIP; both parties have splitting away from unions as their principal goal. By voting to leave the UK , United Kingdom would be making it more rather than less likely that Scotland would leave the European Union, probably dragging England with it. Now it might give some Scots a certain grim satisfaction to imagine a map of the EU stretching from Wales to Ireland with England-and-Wales and Romania as the only blanks. But whether that would be in the best long term interests of anyone, including the Scots and the EU as a whole, is a very debatable matter. Switzerland
The Logic of Borders
Those large mainland European states –
, France and Germany , and Spain too – are of relatively recent creation. Germany and Italy were only united in the later nineteenth century, principally on the basis of shared language; modern France was finally completed at the same time, though it had been painstakingly pieced together over the preceding six centuries mostly on the basis of feudal relationships; Spain emerged in the fifteenth century when the monarchs of Castile and Aragon married each other and the Muslim-held lands were regained for Catholic Christianity. Italy
Language; feudalism; royal marriage; religion: all of these four powerful state-generating forces affected the
and helped create the modern island of Great Britain . While north-west United Kingdom and the Wales and Scottish Highlands Islands retained their Celtic languages, those who came to inhabit the rest of the island naturally used the language that had been brought by their immigrant ancestors from Frisia and that developed into modern ‘English’. Throughout the Middle Ages, since at least the eighth century, the rulers of the island excluding the further reaches of Scotland had a sense that the island was a single political entity; in the earlier centuries the king of one of the English regions was recognised as Bretwalda, a high king of Britain, while in the high Middle Ages Scottish kings and Welsh princes generally acknowledged the feudal overlordship of the English king. The two unifying Acts – of with England in 1536 and of the resulting state with Wales in 1707 – came about in the wake of royal marriages. And religion helped to make it impossible for Catholic Ireland to remain in a Scotland with United Kingdom , England and Scotland , united in their Protestantism. Wales
What strikes me is that all of the four state-generating forces had a major part to play in creating the modern
. What’s more, they succeeded in creating its precursors quite a long time before any of the four forces had united the big mainland states. One reason for that is that UK is an island; the sea gives it clear borders. We do not suffer the ambiguities created by the equivocal status of, say, Great Britain Wallonia, South Tyrol, Andorra or Schleswig-Holstein. Admittedly in the far north Shetland, oil-and-all, was ceded to Scotland by Norway only as a temporary hostage in the fourteenth century, and the Channel Islands (not strictly part of the UK) are geographically much closer to France than to England, but on the whole the borders of the modern UK – Northern Ireland excluded – are unequivocal and both morally and militarily defensible.
There was a time when the internal borders of
were not unambiguous, and consequently caused strife and confusion. For several centuries the Border reivers caused criminal – not nationalistic – mayhem in the disputed lands between Great Britain and Scotland . In a semi-comic echo of ancient disputes, the Interpretation Act 1978 provides that in legislation passed by the England parliament between 1967 and 1974, ‘a reference to UK includes Berwick upon England Tweed and Monmouthshire’. On of the minor benefits of devolution is that it has brought an end to such confusion.
I said earlier that the coming referendum is not supposed to be about history, and nor should it be. But just as Scottish nationalism cannot forget some of the incidents that have scarred memories and stirred imaginations in Scotland, so Unionists need to remember that powerful social forces brought the Union and its precursors into being. The UK was never an English empire, partly because it was not brought about by seizure, but just as importantly because it was created by these powerful internal forces, several of which continue to exert themselves in the modern world.
I said that voting for the dissolution of the Union was not an unreasonable choice for a Scottish voter, yet although I have set out some of the questions that I imagine you as a Scottish voter will have in mind as the 2014 referendum draws ever closer, I have mostly written about aspects of dissolution that would worry me if I were a Scot. But there are claimed benefits of dissolution that I haven’t so far mentioned. Obviously there are: supporters of Scottish Nationalism are not just a bunch of romantic fanatics with a dislike of England; many of them are serious, well-informed people who have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances dissolving the Union with England is likely to produce the best outcome for themselves, for Scotland and perhaps also for the wider world.
I think their case can be made under three headings. The first concerns the sense of nationhood that they feel is compromised by continuing adherence to the
Union: ‘ a nation again’. This is a matter of emotion, and as a non-Scot I can’t feel about Scottish nationhood as a Scot can. Even so, I do feel able to comment on the idea of nationhood and its relation to government. The nationalist slogan ‘ Scotland a nation again’ suggests that during the period of the Scotland Union with , England has not been a nation but at best just a potential nation. I’m not sure whether many Scots gave up feeling Scottish after Union in 1707; certainly the failure of ‘North Britain’ to catch on as the term for Scotland suggests that Scottish identity, still nurtured by Scots law and the Kirk, was alive and well, and remained so long enough to produce modern Scottish Nationalism. Scotland
a nation again’ further suggests that having a sovereign government is an indispensable characteristic of a real nation. There was a time not so long ago when many-a-nation thought that having its own language, its own currency, even its own airline was just as indispensable to being a ‘nation’ as having its own government. By and large Europe has passed that stage, perhaps because many people felt that it was that kind of nationalism that had been responsible for so much strife in the early C20th. Different nations ‘do’ nationhood in different ways: in Wales, for example, it is principally through nurturing its unique Welsh language that nationhood is expressed, while what binds Switzerland’s disparate cantons together as a nation is principally their shared determined neutrality. The question for Scots, I think, is whether having a separate sovereign government is critical to their sense of Scottish nationhood or whether they feel that Scottishness is something that is strong and clearly expressed whether or not Scotland is a separate sovereign state. It might be worth remembering not only the independence of the Kirk and Scots law, but also the fact that that surely no-one in the world who wants to speak of, for example, whisky, kilts, bagpipes, the eighteenth century Enlightenment in Edinburgh, Burns, tartan, the Highlands or the Edinburgh Festival would speak of them as being ‘British’ let alone ‘English’; it would always be ‘Scottish’ or ‘Scotch’. Scotland
Lurking in the background here is a larger question. Nationalists sometimes seem to think that a person can have one, and only one, nation-like identity. There was a time when that was a lot more possible than it is today, with our supra-national organisations like the EU and indeed the UK itself, with many people moving away from the country of their birth, and with the birth of growing numbers of people of mixed heritage. It is quite possible these days to count yourself as, for example, Indian (by ethnicity), Scottish (by upbringing), British (by citizenship), and European (by supra-national identity). In relation to the referendum, the larger question all this raises is whether you as a Scot feel able to call yourself simultaneously both ‘Scottish’ and ‘British’. If you can’t, I guess that pretty much determines how you’ll vote; if you can, you’ll be able to consider the wide range of issues that I’ve mentioned, and more too.
The second possible benefit of dissolution is more practical: an independent
would be as free as any state in Scotland Europe to make decisions about practical matters such as voting, the justice system, tax policy, housing, education, energy policy, law reform, local government, transport, national parks, religious (dis)establishment and so on. The argument is that such decisions would be better because they would be taken by people much closer to those affected by the decisions than a government could possibly be. UK
I have no quarrel at all with this argument; the principle of subsidiarity – the principle that demands the taking of decisions at the lowest possible government level – is well established because it produces decisions that as well as being generally more in tune with local conditions than those taken higher up the government ladder also enjoy greater democratic legitimacy. Subsidiarity is one of the principles which the EU espouses in deciding which decisions need to be taken at European level and which are better left to member governments. The European example illustrates, however, why this argument for dissolution of the
Union is really nothing of the kind, but rather an argument for properly thought through devolution within the Union. Countries don’t need to leave the EU in order to have decisions taken at the most appropriate level for those particular decisions; they just have to insist, collectively, on the principle of subsidiarity. The question here is therefore not so much whether more local decision making is generally better, but whether there are any decisions that it might be in the best interests of the whole to take centrally, but below the level of the EU. But notice: even if the answer were ‘No’, there might still be plenty of other reasons why you might think it best not to dissolve the UK Union.
Implementing Scottish Values
Scottish Nationalists are keen to say that an independent
would find it easier to have its distinctive Scottish values implemented by government. Leaving aside the question of how far any country in the EU and the WTO is genuinely free to implement its own distinctive values, the question here is about the distinctiveness of Scottish values – or more accurately about whether the values that many, maybe most, Scots think of as distinctively their own are so very different from those held by many people in other countries, including England. Scotland
I’m naturally not an authority on what are considered by Scots to be Scottish values, but I’ve always assumed that they are neatly summed up in Burns’s poem A Man’s a Man for a’ That, sung so movingly at the opening of the restored Scottish Parliament in 1999. Burns honours labour, and has no respect for those whose wealth is inherited; nor does he have any respect for those whose position in society and the power that goes along with it come from their social class, especially if it is associated with aristocratic status; he recognises ability and effort as being the proper criteria for giving people respect and the benefits that should go along with that respect; he suggests that unearned wealth and inherited position as well as being undeserving of the respect of others are not the basis for genuine self-respect either; and he knows that what underlies all this is the fact that all people are related to each other. I hope I’m not mistaken in thinking that these values are what people mean by Scottish values, even if today they would want to express them in terms of ‘fairness’, ‘dignity of labour’, ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’.
But these are not distinctively ‘Scottish values’. Burns knew himself to be part of a much wider international progressive movement. He knew The Rights of Man by Englishman Tom Paine; he sympathised with the French Revolutionaries; like Mozart in what is now
, he belonged to the progressive Freemasons. These so-called Scottish values are really the values of the international European progressive Left. It’s true that Scots have made a disproportionately great contribution to building the Labour Party within the Austria , but it would be a misleading travesty of the truth to imagine that British socialism and the UK Labour Party developed without massive English support. UK
One of the big differences between the Left and the Right in politics is that the Right is essentially competitive while the Left is essentially cooperative. Rightist governments are usually happy to engage in ‘beggar my neighbour’ tax policies or to permit ‘race to the bottom’ wage competition because those who benefit from them are not only their supporters but also those who are already the most comfortably off in society. Leftist governments by contrast can achieve their socialistic aims only when competition is tempered by a good dose of cooperation, not least with other countries which have like-minded governments. An independent
committed to the values of the Left (even if under the name of ‘Scottish values’) will not be able to fully implement policies derived from them unless the surrounding countries have similar values and policies. It doesn’t take much for vastly wealthy people to feel that taxation at home is too high and seek to protect their money by moving elsewhere. Scotland
For both these reasons, a commitment to implementing ‘Scottish values’ certainly does not lead straightforwardly to wanting Scotland to break its Union with England; it might even demand support of the Union. And as you Scots consider this issue, you’ll no doubt recall the hard-learned political principle that Nationalism and Socialism rarely make comfortable bed-fellows.
National separations, like divorces, happen for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, sometimes acrimonious, as with
, sometimes accidental, as with Yugoslavia . I’m sure that any departure of Czechoslovakia from the Scotland Union would not be acrimonious, but I’m less sure that it wouldn’t be, to some extent, accidental. That’s why it’s useful to remember what happened in the old when it split into Czechoslovakia and the Slovakia in 1993. Czech Republic , like Czechoslovakia , had been a quite recent creation, having been put together after the Great War out of remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the heady atmosphere created by the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, such recently created political units were free to wonder about their composition: did the Czechs and Slovaks really want to be united as a sovereign state? I have no view about the desirability of a united Yugoslavia ; I’m only interested in the process by which the united state was dissolved. Czechoslovakia
At just over five million
’s population was about a third that of the united Slovakia , so while not ‘in bed with an elephant’ the Slovaks were decisively in the minority. Although classed as distinct languages, Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible. The Czech economy was certainly stronger than the Slovak, though not vastly disproportionately to their population differences. Czechoslovakia however was disproportionately reliant on declining industries and state support, while further west the entrepreneurial spirit champed to develop a fiercely competitive economy and exploit its position close to big, rich Slovakia . The Czech capital, Germany , as well as being also the capital of the united country, was about three times the size of the Slovak capital, Prague . Bratislava also suffered the indignity of being a relatively minor part of the same urban sprawl as the glittering Austrian capital, Bratislava . It was naturally irritating to Slovaks that many foreigners habitually used ‘Czech’ rather than ‘Czechoslovak’ as the adjective. You’ll spot several significant similarities between pre-split Vienna and today’s Slovakia . Scotland
It’s fair to say that some Slovaks were niggled by the Czechs’ unavoidable pre-eminence in the united
. Nevertheless, most Slovaks were happy to remain in a united country, and most Czechs were content to let them do so; they had, after all, been through a lot together. Devolution in a federal state seemed to be the way forward and was what most people, Czech or Slovak, politicians or populace, wanted. Enter a failing Slovak politician who now began to successfully use Slovak nationalism to give himself a constituency and a cause; he declaimed on the threats to Slovak national existence and the livelihoods of Slovaks were even a decentralised Czechoslovakia to continue to exist. For many Czechs this kind of rhetoric simply underlined what they saw as the Slovaks’ parochial chauvinism and economic backwardness. Consequently, the talks about federalism went nowhere, and the leaders of the two parts of the country produced what hardly anyone seriously wanted: an agreement to separate. And so, having talked themselves into various complementary resentments of each other, the two nations found themselves becoming two sovereign states. Czechoslovakia
was broken up by accident; these things can happen, and they could happen here in the Czechoslovakia . United Kingdom
Nothing to Prove
The Czechoslovak experience illustrates one reason why it’s important that our pre-referendum debate is conducted in as rational and non-inflammatory a way as possible, especially by those who value the Union or who at the very least want Scotland and the other UK countries to be well-disposed towards each other whatever the outcome of the referendum. Such careful rationality and avoidance of inflaming resentments is less likely to be in the interests of separatists, of course; in any country, at any time, nationalism tends to thrive on emotion and resentment. In this case, it also benefits from promoting the idea that for Scots to vote against separation would in some sense be a failure of nerve. The implication is that having voted for devolution, having elected an SNP government in Holyrood, and having won the right to hold a referendum on the dissolution of the 1707 Union, to ‘back down’ now would be an admission that, at the final hurdle, puir auld Scotland didn’t have the confidence to go it alone. Such an admission, it is further implied, would deserve and probably get unbearable mockery from, in particular,
. In other words, so the implication goes, the choice before the Scottish people is not so much between dissolution and England Union as between honour and shame.
Voting for devolution made sense; voting for an SNP government did not necessarily imply support for separatism; having a referendum is a reasonable way to try to settle a controversial constitutional question. The question of
Union or dissolution is one that has to be approached afresh, on its own merits. No shame would be incurred in deciding that it is in the best interests of , its future and its values, to maintain the Scotland Union. Indeed one might argue that shame would only be involved if one felt it was necessary to vote for dissolution in order to feel good about oneself or about . There is no doubt that Scotland could go it alone having dissolved the Union; I hope Scots will not feel they need to vote for separation in order to prove something about their competence or their confidence as a nation. The question is not whether Scotland could go it alone, but whether, having soberly taken account of all the many relevant issues, it actually wants to. Scotland
And as for England’s response to a vote in 2014 to maintain the Union, I have no doubt that English people would welcome continuing in union with a Scotland that was ready to reaffirm its whole-hearted and not purely mercenary commitment to the Union. No-one wants to feel that a partner is for ever keeping divorce papers up their sleeve, continually imagining how much better it would be to get away from the partnership and go and live on their own. In a sense therefore, the worst possible result in 2014 would be a slim majority in favour of maintaining the
Union. A slim majority for separation would be decisive, though in my view unfortunate; a slim majority against separation would fail to convince Nationalists that the decision was really decisive, and they would probably continue to demand more or less regular referendums until they got the decision they wanted. And the result of that might well be that it is England that finally decides to put an end to a Union that its partner seems to yearn to be free of but can’t make up its mind to leave. That would not feel like either ‘independence’ or ‘separation’; it would feel like ‘expulsion’.
Indeed, English resentment might be thought of as Scottish nationalism’s secret weapon, just in case the 2014 referendum isn’t conclusive. Apart from repeating the old slogans of ‘Scotland a nation again’ and ‘Scotland’s oil’, and cheering any sports team playing against England, there is very little that an SNP government in Holyrood can do to stoke up English resentment, but that little has been attempted. It’s difficult to see any other rational purpose in the imposition of higher fees for English – and Welsh and Northern Irish – students at Scottish universities than are paid either by Scottish students or by those from any other European Union country. To understand the potential of this policy for creating English resentment you need only to imagine how Scottish Nationalists would interpret to Scots any attempt by
to behave in a similar way towards Scottish students at English universities. England
The Illusion of ‘
The debate about
’s relationship with the other countries of the Scotland has been cast almost entirely in terms of United Kingdom ’s ‘independence’. Scottish Nationalists have been furiously opposed to any attempt to speak about Scotland’s ‘separation’ from the rest of the UK, though this is surely at least as fair a description of what a Yes vote in 2014 would produce as is ‘independence’. But in some very important senses neither independence nor separation is really available – not just to Scotland but to any other country. Nationalism as a political ideology is largely a nineteenth century construct; before then nations – to the extent that groups of people united by ethnicity, language and proximity thought of themselves as ‘nations’ – were usually part of larger political units such as the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and so on. The development of nationalism went along with, and was facilitated by, industrialisation, particularly the industrialisation of war, the building of overseas empires, and the beginnings of democratisation. Scotland
It’s true of course that over the last 25 years
Europe has seen a rise in the number of nations attaining ‘independence’, which might give the impression that nationalism is still a vital force and that is somehow missing out by remaining within the Scotland . But notice where most of those newly independent countries are and what preceded their independence. The UK Soviet Union spawned many of them; the old was deeply centralist, illiberal, undemocratic and economically backward; to its great credit USSR recognised the moment when the Russia it dominated had had its day. USSR broke up violently because the very wide disparities of wealth between the north-west and the south-east of the country were unmanageably wide, and because Yugoslavia was prepared to defend its hegemony militarily. Serbia ’s exit from the Scotland is not needed as a nationalist reaction to such factors because none of them applies to today’s UK . UK
The major influences on our C21st world are different from those that gave rise to nationalism. Climate change, rapid communications, the large-scale movement of peoples, and economic integration take little or no account of national borders. Like it or not, no country – not even huge countries like the USA or China, or apparently autarkic ones like North Korea, let alone small, internationally integrated ones like Scotland – is or can be fully independent of the rest of the world let alone independent of its neighbours. The up-to-date argument is not about national independence but about how best to manage international interdependence through organisations like the EU, the WTO and the UN – and maybe the
. That’s not a reason for UK not to separate itself from the rest of the Scotland by dissolving the 1707 UK Union, but it is a reason to focus on the realities of the world we all inhabit today rather than on ideas and ambitions that crystallised in a world that was vastly different. And among those realities is the fact that being able to participate in deciding the positions taken by a large and influential quasi-federal unit like the UK might count for more in international negotiations than having an ‘independent’ but relatively weak voice of one’s own.
Perhaps you have English correspondents who are urging you to give your support to the Nationalist cause in the 2014 referendum. If so, I’m pretty confident that they are not on the left of politics here in
; they are far more likely to be Little Englanders who think that England could and should be more independent both of the EU and of England so that its government can implement their pet rightist policies. They will not have the best interests of Scotland at heart. Scotland
Another group whose motives in urging you to vote Yes to separation may be questioned are some Scottish ex-patriots, including some Scots who live in
. Ex-pats and (especially) some of the descendents of people who left their ancestral lands in desperation often look back on their ‘homeland’ with a mixture of nostalgia and resentment, and this can lead them to support nationalism, sometimes nationalism of an extreme kind. They can afford to do this: they don’t have to live with the consequences of their vicarious nationalism. It’s the people who still live and will continue to live in the ancestral ‘homeland’ who have to live with the reality of nationalism, and they really cannot afford too much nostalgia or resentment. England
What is likely to be in
’s material interests will naturally enough be a major element in how Scots decide to vote in the 2014 referendum. I have set out why I think voting for the dissolution of the Scotland Union in 2014 may well not be in ’s material interests. But I wouldn’t want Scots to vote to maintain the Scotland Union simply and solely on the assumption that the Union is a financially good deal for , or just because they fear that their taxes might rise and public services decline with independence. To paraphrase Scotland ’s national poet, let those who have no stomach for the England Union depart, and be helped to go on their way; we would not live in Union with those who would only stay with us for the cash benefits it brings. I believe there are bigger and better reasons for maintaining the Union than the material benefits. has an integrated economy and infrastructure; the Great Britain countries have together achieved a great deal in the world over the last three hundred years; we share an island and a global language; our peoples are closely connected though family links; by and large we share a commitment to some important political and social values. I don’t think these should be discounted or put at risk without there being some very powerful reasons for doing so. UK
Finally, there are two ideas that would support voting for dissolution of the
Union that I haven’t mentioned so far, and can’t refute. One is the blithe confidence that ‘things can only get better’; the other is the hope that doing things differently will be exciting. Of course, I can remind anyone who’ll listen that things can always get worse however bad they are at present – and my impression is that things aren’t desperately bad in just now. And similarly I can point out that there is a lot more to life, and a lot that is more important in life, than excitement. I realise however that such comments will not really affect any well entrenched emotions behind these two ideas. Let’s just say I hope that they won’t inform too many Scottish voters in the referendum, and leave it at that. Scotland
It’s not long now to the 2014 referendum and decision time for the
Union. Unfortunately, the outcome of that referendum is intended to be final: a vote for dissolution will inevitably lead to dissolution, without any opportunity for second thoughts when the terms on which ’s withdrawal from the Scotland would take place have been negotiated. One of the implications of this is that if the referendum opts for the dissolution of the 1707 Union, the UK Government, able to accept either dissolution or its continuance when negotiating terms with a Scottish Government committed to dissolution come what may, will be in a position to make demands on behalf of England and Wales that might have been moderated if a further referendum on the terms of Scotland’s withdrawal had been planned. But we are where we are, and negotiations following a Yes vote for separation in 2014 will take their natural course. I would be seriously disappointed if following a Yes vote the UK government did not negotiate as hard for the interests of UK , England and Wales as the Scottish government must be expected to do for Scottish interests. The negotiations are likely to be no less fractious and adversarial than the negotiations that set up the Northern Ireland Union in the first place over three hundred years ago.
There’s a lot of talking and campaigning to be done between now and then, and I hope that those who support the
Union will be as enthusiastic in its defence and promotion as the separatists certainly will be in trying to dissolve it. In a way, I’m somewhat relieved that I’m not being asked to vote; it must be a daunting prospect for Scottish voters, having to weigh up all the complex issues in the knowledge that this is a one-off permanent decision which will have many far-reaching implications for themselves and their country.
So: I wish you and your fellow-countrymen Good Luck as you prepare for the referendum next year. I hope very much that that doesn’t turn into Good Bye when it’s over. But if it is to be Good Bye, of course I’ll wish you a regretful Fare Well.