Category Archives: Politics

Should England have its own parliament?

The issue of whether England should have its own parliament is mainly a matter for English people. But a Scottish unionist can, of course, be interested in political developments in the rest of Britain. Being both Scottish and British, whatever happens in England is a matter also for me. England, after all,  is a part of my country, the UK. Moreover, whatever happens in a part of the UK tends to influence everyone else no matter where we live.

English ParliamentTake the issue of devolution. I can remember a time when it would have been hard to find an English person who was interested in setting up an English parliament. English identity as something separate from British identity is a relatively modern phenomenon. Most English people, who I met years ago, primarily thought of themselves as a British. For this reason the English flag was rarely seen, only ever really flying over medieval churches in small villages. Thus, English people tended to conflate Britain with England in the same way that we all used to conflate Russia with the Soviet Union. They meant no offence and were baffled by our chippiness over this matter. Having a separate identity within the UK is something, that until recently, was only really felt by the Scots and the Welsh. The English did not dwell on their Englishness, while Northern Irish unionists would maintain that they were British and nationalists that they were Irish.

The thing that changed all this was Scottish devolution. The Scottish Labour Party in the late 1980s, sick of Tory rule, began to think that a Scottish parliament would mean that even if a general election gave rise to a Tory government, they could still rule in Scotland. What began as a heads I win, tails you lose kind of ruse only affecting Scotland, soon influenced others who wanted the same. Scotland gained a parliament. So too did Wales and Northern Ireland. Naturally, England began to feel left out and with some justification especially as there was a perception in England that English taxes were funding largesse in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Obviously, this led to resentment as English people saw that Scots were getting things for free, which the English had to pay for, even though the tax rate in Scotland was the same as in England. English people began to count up how money was distributed within the UK and began to think that they were getting a raw deal. They thought the situation was unfair. It was unfair.

Some unionists in Scotland realised that devolution would weaken the bonds of the Union and therefore opposed it. Some years later it is clear that we were right. The unfair devolution settlement is directly responsible for the rise of nationalism in Scotland, but perhaps more importantly it is responsible for the rise of something previously unknown. Resentment against the unfairness of devolution, where everyone had their own parliament except England has provided the perfect breeding ground for nationalism there. English people began to think less in terms of their Britishness and began to carve up a British identity, which previously had made no distinctions. English nationalism was a response to devolution and to the growth of nationalism in other parts of the UK. Now the English have rediscovered their flag and their resentment especially against Scotland is obvious. There are, without doubt, more people in England who favour Scottish independence than in Scotland. Something unimaginable a generation ago is commonplace today. The response of many English people to the debate about Scottish independence is to say “good riddance”.

A Scottish unionist can no more be expected to be sympathetic towards English nationalism than to Scottish nationalism. It is in this context therefore, that I look at the issue of an English parliament. By setting up the Scottish parliament it seems clear that Labour opened the Pandora’s box called “nationalism” and it is this parliament which is directly responsible for the recent rise in popularity of the SNP leading to the independence referendum. Hardly anyone in Scotland, twenty or thirty years ago, considered that the breakup of Britain was even remotely possible. But now, one bad polling day for unionists could see a 300 year marriage end in divorce. The question has to be asked therefore as to whether setting up an English parliament would see nationalism increase still further in England, with perhaps a demand for English independence some years from now. If an English parliament would inevitably lead to demands for English independence, then unionists can not be expected to support the creation of such a parliament. This is so even if we recognise the unfairness of the present unequal situation. I may wish that the devolved parliaments, which created the unfairness had never happened, but I must recognise that they are not going to go away. The unfairness therefore  cannot realistically be addressed by abolishing the presently existing devolved parliaments. But clearly the present situation is untenable. How then can the unfairness to England be addressed?

The question of what would happen if Scotland voted to remain in the Union is being debated at present. Some politicians favour still more devolution as a reward for Scots voting to stay. But this would simply increase the unfairness of the asymmetrical devolution settlement. Scotland would get more and more devolved power, while England would get none. Given that it is this devolution of power that has given rise to Scottish nationalism, devolving still more power must inevitably give rise to another independence referendum sometime in the future. The SNP takes a long view and would embrace any step, however gradual, which led to eventual independence.

Scots must accept that if we we vote “no” to independence, we are voting “yes” to the Union. We will be renewing our marriage vows and therefore, in choosing to remain in Britain, we must logically choose whatever is in the interest of Britain as a whole. Thus demanding something that would be inconsistent with the Union continuing, i.e. ever more power for the Scottish parliament, would be to contradict our choice of remaining in the Union. Scotland should therefore not demand any more power until the devolution settlement is made fairer to England.

There are a number of ways of devolving power to England. A separate parliament could be set up, perhaps in a northern city like Manchester or York. Alternatively, Westminster could be run such that on certain days only English MPs sat. The key issue is how would all of this affect the UK government? Imagine if the UK government was run by Labour, but the English parliament was run by the Conservatives. Would this not be a recipe for gridlock? On the other hand,  if both parliaments were run by one party, there would be the danger that what was now done by one parliament, would subsequently require two. This would be grossly inefficient and expensive in a time when we are all in the greatest of economic difficulties.

They key to the whole problem is that the issue of devolution must be addressed in a UK context. The federal model of devolved power, which exists in a country like Germany is both fair to everyone and consistent with maintaining the union of the various Länder. It does not give rise to nationalism or separatism, which is practically unknown in Germany. Something along these lines could be tried in the UK. The biggest problem is that the size and population of England would tend to dominate both the other parts of the UK and the national or federal government. An alternative form of devolution, whereby the devolving of power went still further to a much more local level might be both more democratic and less likely to give rise to nationalistic rivalry or dominance. If Aberdeenshire,  Armagh, Clwyd and Buckinghamshire and every other region each had the same degree of real local power, then devolution would be equal throughout the UK, even if England did not have its own parliament. Such a parliament would be unnecessary as power would have already largely bypassed the devolved parliaments in the other parts of the UK.

England should have its own parliament if the people of England want one. No Scot should try to deny to a fellow countryman what he has himself been given. This is a matter for the English to decide. But practically speaking, an English parliament is only going to happen if the setting up of such a parliament becomes the policy of one of the major parties and that party wins a general election and introduces a bill to create a parliament for England. The reality, with a referendum on the EU likely to dominate the next few years, is that it is highly unlikely that such a parliament will happen any time soon. However, real power could still be devolved if Westminster, Holyrood, Stormont and the Welsh Assembly were willing to give up some of their power and devolve it still further to the people living in the various counties of the UK. This would not satisfy nationalists, but it would increase the fairness of the devolution settlement, which is vital if we are to remain a United Kingdom.

Advertisements

A tale of two referendums

scotlandeusqThe news that the UK might finally get an in/out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017 will clearly have some influence on Scotland’s referendum on membership of the UK. The debate about what would happen to Scotland’s EU membership if we became independent has become a tangled web of claim and counterclaim with an added pinch of deception. David Cameron’s announcement just adds another tangle. The whole issue is surrounded by uncertainty, but it is still possible to reach a degree of clarity regarding the fundamentals of the issues involved.

The first thing to realise is that we don’t really know whether the EU referendum in 2017 will happen. At the moment it depends on a Conservative victory in the 2015 election. But if it turns out over the next year or two that holding a referendum is a genuinely popular policy in the UK, it is hard to imagine that Labour will enter the election with the policy of denying the people of the UK a choice on this matter. The likelihood then is that at some point in the relatively near future the electorate will have a vote on EU membership. Whether the people of Scotland take part however, depends on the outcome of the independence referendum in 2014.

If Scotland voted for independence in 2014, then according to the timetable suggested by the SNP, we would be an independent sovereign state by 2016. Scotland would remain a part of the UK until 2016 and would therefore remain a part of the EU. We don’t really know what would happen then. The SNP thinks that it would be possible to negotiate EU membership terms immediately after winning the independence referendum. The European Commission however, suggest that the negotiations could only begin when Scotland had achieved its status of being a sovereign state. But here’s another issue of uncertainty. Scotland will take part in the 2015 general election, whether we vote for independence or not. But one of the major themes of this election is clearly going to be a vote on membership of the EU. Would Scotland be denied a vote on this issue, if we voted for independence from the UK? We certainly wouldn’t be taking part in the 2017 referendum as we would already have left the UK by then.

Assuming however, that Scotland could quickly and successfully negotiate EU membership, it might be possible that we would be an independent state within the EU sometime around 2016 or soon after. The EU, of course, could be awkward about this, especially as the Spanish and perhaps the Belgians would want to discourage secession, but on the other hand they might try to reward Europhile Scotland in an attempt to discourage Euroscepticism in the rest of the UK (rUK). However much we speculate about this issue, in the end we can not really know what sort of deal an independent Scotland would get from the EU or how quickly it would occur. But during all this time that Scotland would be negotiating the terms of its EU membership, rUK would be trying to renegotiate the terms of its membership. How successful rUK might be in its negotiations is likewise hard to judge. It depends fundamentally on whether the EU wants Britain to remain a member of the EU or not. If David Cameron could renegotiate rUk’s relationship with the EU, such that rUK was part of the single market, but not much else, he would have a good chance of winning a referendum in 2017. If on the other hand the EU decided that such a semi-detached relationship was incompatible with membership of the EU and only offered token changes to membership, it is likely that the Eurosceptic people of rUK would vote to leave.
However it is worth remembering that any deal, which was obtained by rUK would not apply to Scotland. The whole nature of the relationship between Scotland aspiring to join the EU and rUK threatening to leave is quite different. Moreover, rUK would still be one of the big three powers in the EU, while Scotland’s population and economic size, would rank somewhere alongside countries like Denmark or Slovakia. A small supplicant desperate to join the EU is unlikely to get the terms of membership, offered to a large member who is seriously considering leaving. It may be, of course, that the EU would try to be tough with rUK, in which case it seems certain that rUK would leave the EU, seeking either membership of EFTA or simply whatever sort of trade agreement it could get with Europe. The result of all this is that in a few years rUK could be out of the EU, while Scotland remained a member. The terms of Scotland’s membership could be similar to those which we have today. On the other hand. the EU could demand that Scotland commit to joining the Euro and become part of the Schengen zone. The boundary between an EU country and a non-EU country could hardly be just a sign saying “Fàilte gu Alba”. These sort of things would be determined by negotiations at the time. One thing we do know however, is that Scotland would be joining an ever closer union. We certainly would not obtain a looser relationship to the EU than we have today. Indeed, we would not even be seeking such a relationship.

What would be the consequences if rUK were out of the EU while Scotland remained a member. Well, we would no longer have the rights we have at present owing to our being citizens of the UK, nor would we have the rights owing to our being members of the EU, as rUK would have left. Unless rUK chose otherwise, or unless it was constrained by whatever negotiations it made while leaving the EU, Scots would have no more rights in rUK than non-EU nationals entering the UK at present. Furthermore, maintaining a Stirling Zone between an independent Scotland and rUK would be already problematic, even if both remained part of the EU. It would be still more problematic if rUK left the EU. The likelihood therefore is that rUK would be unwilling to maintain monetary union with Scotland. Scotland would therefore require our own currency and central bank. Perhaps, more importantly Scotland would be setting out on a very different path to our greatest trading partner. We would be moving towards ever closer union with the EU, while rUK would be moving in the opposite direction. Whatever we think of the merits of these two paths, they would most certainly lead eventually to divergence between our respective economies. This would clearly damage the single market which has existed in the UK for centuries. This single market is even more important to us economically than the single market which exists in the EU.

Under the circumstances outlined here Scotland would have achieved independence in 2014, but would have immediately set about giving up a large part of its newly won sovereignty. In time as the union of the EU grew ever closer, more and more of this sovereignty would be subsumed. Over the past number of  years voters in the UK have gradually realised that the parliaments they elect whether in London, Edinburgh, Belfast or Cardiff are limited by a mass of EU law and regulation. The politicians we elect are commonly constrained by EU officials who we do not elect. Our parliaments have lost a great deal of their sovereignty. If rUK were to gain a semi-detached relationship to the EU or leave entirely, immediately their parliaments would regain a great deal of this lost sovereignty. This would mean that what voters chose would be more likely to happen. The independent Scottish parliament on the other hand, would in reality be far less independent than the parliament in Westminster. The achievement of Scottish independence, while simultaneously giving up the sovereignty newly won, would turn out to be an illusion. We, the voters would have remained more independent if we had remained in the UK voting for a Westminster parliament, which once more would be fully independent and sovereign.

Is Unionism a form of nationalism?

map-europe-1800Supporters of Scottish independence sometimes describe unionists as British nationalists. While writing that I oppose nationalism in general, Scottish nationalists have quite often objected that my unionism is just as much a form of nationalism as their Scottish nationalism. I thought initially that this was just another instance of independence debate mudslinging, trying to associate unionism with the BNP. But the claim is often repeated and clearly some Scottish nationalists genuinely do believe that unionism is a nationalist ideology. It is therefore worth pointing out that in asserting this they are either showing a poor understanding of the nature of nationalism or that really they are trying to be insulting and offensive.

Historically there are really three forms of nationalism. These can be described as the secession form of nationalism, the unification form of nationalism and the nationalism that sometimes arises after these processes have occurred.

Looking at a map of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, it is possible to see how both the secession form of nationalism and the unification form of nationalism came to form the Europe which exists today. The Finnish people, for example, during the 19th century developed their sense of nationality. This occurred in a number of ways such as the publication of the Finnish national epic the Kalevala in 1835 and  the increased use of Finnish in public life, owing to the fact that the nobility chose to speak Finnish rather than Swedish. Other factors such as religion, the music of Sibelius and folklore all played a part in the development of Finnish nationalism, which eventually led to a declaration of independence in 1917. Finland then seceded from the collapsing Russian Empire. Similar forms of nationalism led Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to secede as well. Likewise the development of Czech and Slovak nationalisms, through a gradual process of linguistic and cultural national awakening eventually saw these countries secede first from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then from each other.

As a force at work in the 19th century, the unification form of nationalism can  best be seen with the examples of Germany and Italy. Here the movement of national awakening brought about the joining together of separate states and statelets into a whole. German nationalists, noting that  German was spoken in a number of different countries, which had once formed the Holy Roman Empire and then the German Confederation, set about trying to achieve unity in these states,  forming one state out of many. They considered that wherever German was spoken, there should be Germany. A similar process of unification occurred in Italy. First came a gradual Italian national awakening and with it the sense of their being a nation called Italy, which was not merely a  geographical concept. Eventually, through a period of struggle known as the Risorgimento Italian nationalists achieved their goal of creating the nation we know today as Italy.

Of course, most European countries are made up of what were formerly independent states. But in many cases their unification occurred prior to the historical period which we associate with the growth of nationalism. France thus had already gathered most of the lands, where the various forms of French were spoken, by the Middle Ages. Britain likewise had already gathered the lands where English was spoken before anyone much thought in terms of nations or of nationalism.  It is a mistake to try to impose modern concepts of nationalism on people living in a world, which most frequently extended no further than the next village.

After a nation has achieved its aim of unification or secession, we normally do not describe the people who live in such a country as nationalists. Finns are not nationalists because they want to maintain the territorial integrity of their country, they are patriots. Likewise, it would be a mistake to describe Angela Merkel as nationalist. No doubt, it would also be offensive to her.  She does not want Germany, or a part of Germany, to secede from a larger body and she cannot want German unification to happen because it has already occurred. Once the goal of nationalism has been achieved it would be senseless to describe the people living in the resulting state as nationalists. To do so would be to make the term meaningless, for everyone then would be a nationalist who lives in a nation state. If nationalist were to mean inhabitant, it would cease to be a word which distinguished one type of person from another and would therefore quickly drop out of usage.

However, of course, there are nationalists who neither want secession nor unification. To describe someone, for example,  living today in France as a nationalist is to describe someone who does not want to change the borders of France. This then brings us to the third form of nationalism. This is the kind of nationalism, which sometimes develops after the goals of unification or secession have been achieved.  This form of nationalism is the desire to unify a people within a nation state, defined normally by racial, but sometimes by linguistic or religious characteristics, through their secession from others who lack these characteristics. It is therefore an ideology of the far right. In France it is the form of nationalism which says that France is for the French, defining French in a narrow racist way. The non-French must leave. A similar sort of poisonous nationalism is put forward by the BNP. But this form of far right ideology has clearly nothing whatsoever do with unionism in Britain. Unionists neither want secession nor do they want unification. They want the  territorial integrity of the nation state Great Britain to be maintained. In this unionists are no more nationalists than the Finns who want the self same thing.

As an aside, it is worth noting that it could be argued that desiring the secession of a nation from the EU could perhaps, be described as an expression of the secession form of nationalism. This becomes all the more so as the EU still further acquires the qualities of a nation state. Thus, it is possible that UKIP could be described as UK or British nationalists. But this is not the focus of unionism, which is concerned with maintaining the Union of the UK. There is nothing incompatible with being a Europhile unionist.

One consequence of the argument being made here about the various forms of nationalism is rather interesting. If Scotland were to achieve independence, it would no longer make sense to describe Scots as nationalists. The Scottish National Party therefore could not logically continue as as a party of nationalism. Under these circumstances and only at this point, it might  be possible to describe those unionists, who wished to achieve reunification with the other English speaking people in the British Isles, as British nationalists. This would be because they would then be seeking the same sort of national reawakening as took place in Germany and Italy.

As we can see from history, the natural process of historical development in Europe is that of gathering together those people who are culturally, linguistically and religiously similar. Where however, people are very different, either religiously, culturally and especially linguistically, it is a natural part of historical development that secession occurs. It was eminently reasonable that Finns should want to secede from the Russian Empire, that Czechs and Slovaks should want their own country separate from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But if everyone in Europe were to follow the example of Scotland and seek secession, then it is clear that we would be returning to a pre-modern patchwork of statelets, where France was made up of a dozen countries and Germany of hundreds. This is to go against the tide of history. Scots are just too similar to the rest of the people in the UK to justify a split. We speak the same language, we have largely the same culture and  we have intermarried for centuries. It makes no more sense to break up Britain than it does to break up Germany.

A British person who opposes the secession of Scotland from the UK is no more a nationalist than a German person who opposes the secession of Bavaria from Germany. Wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of the nation state is not nationalism. It is what everyone in every country wishes. A unionist already has the nation state he desires. It’s called the UK. You can’t seek what you already have.  A unionist therefore, neither seeks secession nor unification. To describe him as a nationalist is therefore to imply that he suffers from the third form of nationalism, which is to say that he is on the far right. This is both offensive and false.

The SNP threatens unionism not only in Scotland

I realised recently how ignorant I was about the history of Northern Ireland, when 30,000 Ulstermen recently marched to commemorate the Ulster Covenant of 1912. I was barely aware that such a covenant even existed, let alone that it should be considered so important to unionists in Northern Ireland that they should gather in such numbers. It was natural to compare this turn out with the the meagre 5000 who turned out for the Scottish nationalist’s independence march in Edinburgh,  which happened a week earlier. But the apparent contrast between support for unionism and lack of support for nationalism masks what is a genuine threat to the continued existence of Northern Ireland in the Union.

 

Northern Ireland has fought hard to remain a part of Britain. It is interesting to speculate what might have been the result if Ulstermen had not opposed Irish Home Rule. Perhaps Ireland would then have considered that it had been given enough power and would not then have demanded full independence. It is possible that the Union of Great Britain and Ireland could have endured until today. This must be an ideal close to every unionist’s heart. On the other hand, perhaps the people of Ulster had the prescience to realise that giving in to nationalism, does not lead to a decrease of nationalism, but rather an increase. Just as Scottish devolution has fueled nationalism and given rise to a vote on independence, which was unimaginable before devolution, so Home Rule for Ireland inevitably would have led to an independent Ireland, which would have brought Ulster with it, against Ulster’s will. It was this which the unionists in Ulster were fighting against when they signed the covenant. But while 1912 is obviously an important date in the history of Northern Ireland, there are obviously more important dates to come. Northern Ireland came into being in 1921, but there must be a real question as to whether it will reach this anniversary and still remain a part of the UK.

 

During the troubles in Northern Ireland, there was always the threat that the rest of Britain would get sick of the bloodshed and decide to sell Ulster down the river. But in general most people in Scotland, England and Wales stood alongside our fellow Brits in Northern Ireland, and accepted the principle that so long as a majority of the population in Northern Ireland wished to remain part of Britain, they should have the right to do so. We all thought it worth fighting for that right, just as we considered that it was correct to fight armed aggression against the Falklanders’ wish to remain British. What worried me at this time most however, was the situation with regard to the demographics of Northern Ireland. If it should ever be the case that the majority of the population of Northern Ireland should not wish to be part of Britain, we could hardly thwart this will. The problem for Northern Irish unionists seemed to be the decline of Protestantism in the province and the rise of Catholicism. If Catholics wanted reunification with the Republic and if they ever became a majority in Northern Ireland, then it would appear as if a united Ireland could happen simply because of the higher Catholic birthrate.

 

From my relatively ignorant Scottish perspective I used to think that all Catholics were nationalists, or republicans, while all Protestants were unionists. Recent research however, suggests that an overwhelming 73% of people in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the UK. Most importantly a 52% majority of Catholics also want to remain in the Union. The future of Northern Ireland is not then at all threatened by demographics and the message to unionist parties would seem to be clear: reach out to Catholics for the majority of them are unionists too.

 

Strangely, the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s future does not at all come from within, but from without. Many Ulstermen see themselves as Ulster Scots. But while these Ulster Scots almost to a man see themselves as British, this view is not shared by all of their compatriots across the Irish sea. The rejection of Britishness by a proportion of the Scottish population, which inevitably leads them to desire independence from the UK, turns out to be the greatest threat to Northern Ireland, for if Scotland were to leave the Union, it is entirely unclear that the Union could survive.

 

The problem with Scottish independence for Northern Ireland is that it would set a precedent. The people of Wales with their own parliament and with a significant minority speaking their own language, might well consider that they too could follow the example of Scotland. The biggest danger, however would be that the English might really discover their own nationalism. The English could well say to Northern Ireland, “we want to be independent from you.” If Scotland has the right to be independent, that right can hardly be denied to England. Northern Ireland could not force England or Wales to remain in the Union, no matter how many should march in Belfast. Could Northern Ireland survive as an independent country? Would it have to seek union with the Republic? Even to ask these questions is to see the prospect of renewed conflict.

 

It is vitally important therefore that unionists throughout Britain realise the danger that the Scottish Nationalists present to our country. Although people in Northern Ireland, Wales and England will not have a vote in the referendum, it is vital that they say with one voice that they want Scotland to stay. The good riddance mentality expressed by some people in England is profoundly short sighted as it is liable to increase support for independence in Scotland. It is natural to react to threats of divorce with antipathy. However, a heartfelt plea to stay and an expression of the mutual need to stay together from our fellow countrymen in all parts of Britain would make a major contribution to defeating the secessionists. All of us, wherever we live in the UK, would be profoundly affected by Scotland becoming independent. It would fling us all into constitutional and economic chaos and who knows what kind of nationalistic antagonism and conflict. It would do this moreover, at a time of economic crisis unprecedented since the thirties. Scots should think very carefully about inflicting this sort of disorder on our own countrymen for the sake of a supposed political and economic advantage which even if it turned out to be real, would be at the expense of others especially our fellow Scots in Ulster. This really is a case of brother turning against brother forgetting “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Scottish independence would delight our enemies and dismay our friends

The British armed forces have had a long and illustrious history, but face perhaps their greatest challenge in the coming years. While the British army was able to fight off external enemies in two world wars, it is only the existence of an internal enemy, which threatens it with dismemberment. If the SNP were to succeed in breaking up Britain, they would of course succeed in breaking up the British army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. How would that prospect be viewed by Britain’s enemies and friends?

 

Imagine if Scottish independence had broken up the British armed forces in 1914 or in 1939. What would have been the reaction to this event in Berlin? Our enemies at that time would have been delighted. They would have known that breaking up the British armed forces would have diminished in strength one of the obstacles that they would have had to overcome. How would our allies and friends have reacted? They would have known that the one of their key allies had just been considerably weakened. The result in both world wars at various points was very close. British armed forces were at times considerably pressed. The presence of Scottish forces in both world wars could well have made the difference between victory and defeat. No wonder our enemies would have been delighted with Scottish independence in 1914 or 1939. Why should they think any differently if independence were to be achieved in 2014?

 

How would our Nato allies react to Scottish independence breaking up the British armed forces?They would know that at present there are only really three serious armies in Nato, the French, the British and the American. The breaking up of one of those armies would naturally diminish the strength of the Nato alliance. Our allies therefore would naturally react with dismay, while our enemies would be able to see a chink in the armour of Nato, which had not existed previously.

 

While the SNP talk of an independent Scotland remaining in Nato, it is obvious that they are doing so purely in order to win votes. Their support for the alliance is at best lukewarm and surrounded by conditions. To be frank, if they were sincere in their support for Nato they would not be proposing to break up the British armed forces.

 

Some nationalists might ask, which enemies are you talking about? The Cold War is over. The Warsaw Pact defunct.  What purpose does the Nato alliance have? The answer is that no one knows what future enemies we may have. But that is the very reason why we must maintain strong armed forces. Anyone with a knowledge of history knows that Britain has frequently faced enemies and it is unlikely that human nature has changed so much that we will not in the future face more. Nato has kept the peace remarkably well since 1948. British deaths in all conflicts since World War 2 are less than 8000. By comparison, more than three times that number were killed on one day in 1916. Prior to Nato, deaths in wars were in the hundreds of thousands, after Nato combat deaths in any one conflict have exceeded one thousand only twice. What has made the difference? The answer obviously is the fact that we have possessed nuclear weapons. These really have deterred large scale warfare. The SNP however, not only wish to weaken Nato, by weakening the British armed forces, they also wish to undermine Nato’s ability to deter enemies. The UK’s nuclear deterrent is situated in Scotland and there is nowhere at present in the rest of the UK where it can be situated. The need for nuclear deterrence is if anything greater than it was previously, not least because more states hostile to this country are striving to acquire them. The prospect of a world being entirely free from nuclear weapons is practically speaking impossible, not least because there is no way to uninvent something which has already been invented. In such a world giving up our own nuclear weapons would naturally delight our enemies. It would also dismay our friends who depend in part on our ability to deter their enemies. To suppose otherwise is to be hopelessly naive.

 

Scotland has a long history of contributing to the British armed forces and Scottish soldiers, sailors and airmen are universally respected and feared. To show how the SNP’s policies would delight Britain’s potential enemies just imagine how a potential enemy would view the prospect of an SNP victory in the independence referendum. Imagine how they would delight to see the chaos of trying to extract Scottish regiments from the unified whole which is the British Army. Imagine how they would see opportunity in the Royal Air Force losing its Scottish bases, how it would please them to know that the Royal Navy could no longer patrol the waters around Scotland. Our enemies would know that there would in the event of independence be a divided intelligence service, a divided counter terrorism strategy and through these cracks of division they might just find an opportunity, which was unavailable to them when we presented a united front. On the basis that we should never do what our enemy would like us to do, it is clear that a vote for independence should be avoided by anyone concerned about the defence of our country.

On the North-South divide and the secession of South Britain

There is a North-South divide in Britain, such that the southern half of the country on average is wealthier than the northern half. This was not always so. At the peak of the industrial revolution, the North more than matched the South for prosperity as can be seen by the fine, and expensive architecture everywhere in the north of Britain. But as heavy industry went into decline, so much of that prosperity was lost, so that now there is a definite dividing line between North and South Britain. Quite where to draw the boundary is not absolutely clear, but if a line were drawn from the Bristol channel to the Wash, that would be a fair approximation of where to place the divide. What would be the consequences if South Britain decided to turn this imaginary divide into a real one? What if South Britain were to vote for independence, choosing to secede from North Britain?

The South Britons are on average wealthier than the North Britons. They commonly vote Conservative and they pay more in taxation while receiving less in public spending. What if they were to reason in this way? We continually vote Conservative, but frequently contrary to our wishes have to endure the oppression of a Labour government, which we did not vote for. Such a government steals our wealth through ever higher taxes and gives it to the North Britons. It redistributes our money by subsidising the Labour voters of North Briton. We’d be much more prosperous if we had our own country called South Britain. Why should we help the post-industrial cities of northern England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Let them help themselves.

What would be the result of such a South Britain independence movement? Looked at by itself Scotland would come out fairly well. Scotland receives in public spending only a little more than it raises in taxation. The result for the rest of North Britain however, would be very poor. At present Northern Ireland gives out about £4000 in public spending per person, per year more than it raises in taxation, while Wales gives out about £3000 more than it raises. The north of England fares somewhat better. Although each region of England above the boundary line is in deficit with regard to the per capita gap between public spending and taxation, this deficit is small in the Midlands. However, the gap between public spending and taxation in the north of England progressively becomes greater as we move northward until it reaches around £3000 in the North-East.

What would be the economic result for these deficit regions if South Britain chose to secede? The result would be a large gap between public spending and revenue. The government for these regions would face a choice. They could either cut public spending drastically, raise taxes drastically or attempt to issue debt. With the sort of deficits faced by these regions it is unlikely that the bond markets would look favourably on their attempts to issue debt. Raising taxes still higher than they are at present would likewise be problematic, as this would certainly damage the growth prospects of these regions, especially if there was a taxation differential between North and South Britain. The only option would be to cut public spending so that it closely matched revenue raised. For Northern Ireland, Wales and the far north of England, the required austerity would mean cuts of between £3000 and £4000 pounds per person, per year, which would severely affect living standards in those regions. The relatively wealthy parts of North Britain could of course subsidise to some extent the poorer parts, but given that all regions of North Britain are in deficit, there would be a limit to how much they could do so without damaging the living standards in their own region.

On the other hand, the economic result for South Britain would be much more favourable. They would be able to retain much of the income, which they at present share with the North. Much of South Britain would receive an immediate £2000 pound credit per person. The average gap in living standards between someone from Southampton and someone from either Cardiff, Belfast or Newcastle would therefore immediately see an increase of between £5000 and £6000. Politically South Britain would be much more likely to have the sort of government, which it voted for. It would be able to introduce the business oriented policies, which South Britain wanted. It would be much easier for such a government to achieve further economic success, as it would inherit a country, which already had lower unemployment, lower public spending and a smaller public sector. A Conservative government in South Britain could establish a free market economy. Unhindered by the Labour party anchor, this economy would become more like Switzerland or the USA. With policies of low taxation, low public spending, inevitably the economic growth and prosperity of South Britain would increase as that of North Britain declined still further.

Why shouldn’t South Britain secede from the rest of the UK? Wouldn’t North Britain be happier being able to continually elect the left wing type of government it favours? Wouldn’t secession end the inequality of the North-South divide?

But can we not appeal to the conscience of South Britain? If leaving the UK would impoverish great chunks of North Britain, if it would furthermore make the constitutional future of Northern Ireland uncertain, are these not reasons enough why South Britain should stay? Of course South Britain could say we don’t care what happens to North Britain, let them live in poverty, so long as we have more. But if they did say this, would the North Britons not have the right to say you’re being selfish, you’re acting like the stereotypical view of a bunch of selfish, wicked Tories? Just so that you always get what you want, always get the government that reflect your wishes, you’re willing to cast North Britain adrift, you’re willing to forget that we have stood together through thick and thin just so that you can be a bit richer. Could we in North Britain not appeal to the conscience of the South Britons in this way? Could we not point out that we need them and hope that they would have the fellow feeling to reciprocate this sense of need? After all, there are family bonds between us that are far more important than what party rules us or how much money we have in our wallets. When secession equals selfishness good people should have no part of it.

Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English?

Although the nationalists would not like the question to be phrased in this way, the referendum on independence amounts to the following question: Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English? Scots, who would vote for secession, are really saying we can’t bear to live with such people, but would prefer to live in a country only with our fellow Scots. It becomes obvious that this really is the case by reflecting on the fact that if a Scot were happy to live in the same country as the English, he would be happy with the present UK situation and would not vote for independence.

Let’s look at the logic of the position. Scotland is a multiracial, multicultural country. If we can’t bear to live in the same country as the English, how can we bear to live in the same country as people from Poland, Latvia, Pakistan or the Caribbean? To believe that we ought to live in harmony with people whose ancestors arrived in our country in the last fifty years or so, but that we cannot live in harmony with people whose ancestors have lived in the British Isles since the dawn of history is absurdly self-contradictory. If Scots are saying that it is intolerable for us to live in the same country as English people, how can we expect to find it tolerable living with people who differ from us to a far greater extent than the average person born in England. A typical English person speaks  the same language as a Scot, with a somewhat different accent. His culture and attitudes are broadly similar to ours. His religion, if he has one, will probably be a variant on the theme of Protestantism, just like in Scotland. His ancestors will probably be the same mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Viking, Norman and Roman as our ancestors. Scottish Nationalists maintain that they cannot bear to live in the same country as such a  person, who differs from us to such a small degree. But how then can they expect to be able to bear to live in an independent Scotland, which will contain people born in countries far away, people with different religions, with different skin colours, indeed with people who were born in England? What are they going to do? Send them all homeward tae think again.

The SNP moreover, wants an independent Scotland to remain in the EU post independence. At present Scotland is already in a union with three other countries. If Scots are really saying that we can’t bear to be in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, how can we then say we can bear to be in a another union with 27 more countries, including those we have just left? If Scots can not stand being in a union with the English, how can we expect to long endure being in an ever closer union with Germans, French, Italians and Poles?

At present it’s as if Scotland, England Wales and Northern Ireland, like old friends, live in a house together. We’ve lived that way for a long time. We all speak the same language and have broadly similar attitudes and cultures. However, friction has developed in our house, primarily over bills, how to share our money and how to run the house. Scotland wants  to leave. Does Scotland want to live on its own? No, Scotland wants to live in a large dormitory, containing not only our former housemates, but people from whom we are very different in terms of language and culture. The residents of this dormitory, i.e. the EU, might well wonder whether they really want such a fractious new dormitory member. If Scotland could not bear to live in the same house as the English speaking people of the UK, would we not be a source of trouble and disharmony in the EU dormitory? Would we not set a bad example to other residents, such as, for example, the Spanish speakers. The EU might well see the wisdom of the proverb  “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

Failing to face up to the logic of independence

There’s an interesting undercurrent to the debate about whether an independent Scotland would automatically be a part of the European Union. Unionists are generally delighted by the idea that Scotland would have to apply for membership, while nationalists either deny vehemently that such a scenario could occur, or are dismayed when European politicians appear to suggest that indeed an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the club. Yet in the last two or three years, since the crisis in the Eurozone began, the EU has become less and less popular in the UK as a whole and in Scotland as well. Something quite strange is going on in this debate. Huge numbers of unionists are also Eurosceptics. I imagine quite a large number of nationalists are too. Why then do unionists react with delight at the idea that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU, when it is is exactly this that they would like the UK to do? Why do nationalists react with fury to the idea that Scotland would have to leave the EU, when this is exactly the policy of the other independence party in Britain, UKIP? Scotland would certainly be more independent if it was both independent from the rest of the UK (rUK) and from the EU. Why then does the prospect not delight nationalists?

 

The two sides of this debate have tended to concern themselves with involved and complex ideas about international law, treaties about the succession of states, secession theory, EU law and other arcane matters such as the Treaty of Union of 1707. None of this really matters. The possible scenarios are as follows. Both rUK and Scotland would have to apply for membership. rUK would retain membership, but Scotland would not. Both rUK and Scotland would retain membership. Each of these scenarios is perfectly possible and the one that occurs will be the one which the rest of the EU deems to be in its best interest. The EU clearly makes the rules up as it goes along. If it were to want to retain rUK in the EU there is zero chance that it would make rUK reapply for membership, as under that scenario there is zero chance of rUK voting to join. If, on the other hand, rUK were still part of the EU and an independent Scotland were outside, there is a great likelihood that an independent Scotland would want to join the EU as quickly as possible. Why the difference when Euroscepticism is probably as strong in Scotland as in rUK? This is where we come to the undercurrent in the debate.

 

The debate is not really about the EU at all. The reason that membership of the EU is so vital to nationalists is not because they love the EU, its because this membership guarantees Scots the same rights that they have at present in rUK. If it could be shown that Scottish independence would mean that Scots would need a passport or visa to live and work in England, there would be very few Scots who would vote for independence. It is for this reason that nationalists react with fury when unionists point out the possible disadvantages of independence, accusing unionists of scaremongering at the least suggestion that Scots would lose something if we became independent. The logic of this position is to make unionism as a political position impossible. If unionists are not allowed to point out what they consider to be disadvantages, if the suggestion that Scots would lose anything at all is to be dismissed as scaremongering, then any unionist argument is ruled out from the start as illegitimate. This is to accuse unionists of suffering from some sort of false consciousness and is the tactic of someone who does not wish to debate, but to assert.

 

Fundamentally nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence. They want freedom from England, but want to retain all the rights of being a citizen there. This means that logically they want to be both independent and not independent. Nationalists react with rage if it is suggested that England would treat Scots as foreigners. But what is a foreigner other than someone who lives in an independent state. Independent states have the right to treat foreign citizens differently from their own citizens, so why do nationalists react with such anger at the suggestion that England could treat them differently post independence?

 

What is it to be dependent? My right to live and work in England depends on my being a citizen there. If I renounce my citizenship in England, I have become independent of England. Being an independent Scot requires that I no longer retain the rights, which depended on my being a citizen of the UK. To expect to retain such rights, while being independent is to wish to be both dependent and independent. Nationalists, when they accuse unionists of scaremongering, really show they they want to have the rights of a Scot who has achieved independence, while retaining the same rights as an Englishman. What they want is to be both Scottish and English.

 

This really is a classic example of what Sartre called “mauvaise foi” (bad faith). Unless nationalists are willing to give up the rights they have at present as UK citizens they have no right to demand independence from the UK. To do so would be craven, dishonest and selfish.

 

This is then the undercurrent of the debate about the EU. The reason for the SNP developing the slogan “Independence in Europe” was not so much so that Scots could live and work in France, Germany or Poland. Few of us do. The reason was so that Scots could continue to live, work and receive all manner of benefits in rUK. Hundreds of thousands of us do.

 

When Eurosceptics say that they want UK independence from the EU, they accept that this may entail losing certain rights. It may afterwards be no longer possible for them to live and work in France or Germany and to receive free healthcare and other benefits there. However, they think this loss of rights would be worth it. Imagine however, if the debate was phrased in such a way that the UK expected to be able to leave the EU, but to retain all the rights of a citizen of a state which was still a member? The EU could rightly respond if you wish to retain these rights, it is only fair that you remain in the club. To wish to leave the EU, while being unwilling to lose any rights of membership, is to be a hypocrite. What nationalists show when they react with annoyance to suggestions that Scots would lose the rights of membership of the UK if we became independent, is exactly this same sort of hypocrisy. If they are so concerned about their rights in the rest of the UK, they should not vote for independence.

 

The UK can be likened to a marriage. If a husband leaves his wife and gets a divorce, he cannot very well expect to retain the right to sleep with her. But this is exactly what nationalists expect if Scotland divorces England. Nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence and they are treating the rest of the UK with contempt. At present we are members of a club called the UK. This gives us certain rights and responsibilities. To expect to leave the club, to give up the responsibilities of being a member, while retaining all the rights of membership is to behave without honour. The SNP would make Scots behave like someone who leaves a golf club, but still expects to play there. They would make us all scoundrels.

What if Scotland had voted for independence in 1997?

Scotland voted for its own parliament in 1997. But what if we had instead voted for independence? This is, of course, what the SNP wanted at the time. How would Scotland’s history up until the present day be different if we had made such a choice back then?

Some things might have turned out for the better for both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). it is hardly likely that rUK would have accepted two Scots as Prime Ministers, if Scotland had become  an independent state. Both Scotland and rUK might thus have avoided Tony Blair’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rUK might have avoided Gordon Brown’s attempts to wreck the economy. In attempts at counterfactual history however, it is generally better to focus on fundamentals rather than the details of what this or that leader might or might not have done.

An independent Scotland in 1997 would have faced many of the same choices as it would in 2014. The most important choice would have been about its currency. Scotland would have had really three options in 1997. It could have tried to remain in a currency union with rUK, it could have created its own currency, or it could have decided to join the Euro.

It is almost certain that Scotland would have chosen to join the Euro in 1997. For example, In 1999 Alex Salmond said:

“I think that being outside the euro area is already penalising the Scottish economy. In the medium-term, the longer we stay out, the more damage will accumulate. The euro is an example of why Scotland needs membership status so that it can take a decision on entry into the single currency” (10 November 1999 in the Scottish Parliament (Official Report))

It is worth investigating however, the alternative scenarios of Scotland setting up its own currency and remaining in a currency union with rUK.

One of the most important events in post-war history began on September 15th 2008. The trouble had been brewing for some time, but on that date, with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, began the present economic crisis, with which we are still living. This crisis would have affected Scotland whether we had been independent or not. But let’s imagine how an independent Scotland would have coped under the three possible currency scenarios.

If an independent Scotland had been part of the Euro in 2008, our position would have been very similar to that of Ireland. The bankruptcy of Halifax/Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)  would have been for an independent Scotland, the same sort of situation which Ireland faced when it had to bail out the Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. The problem for Ireland was that its banks were too big to be bailed out by a country of its size and in attempting to bail out its own banks Ireland soon found itself bankrupt too and itself in need of a bailout. This happened in November 2010 and led to the Irish economy effectively being run by the European Central Bank and the IMF. The terms for this bailout were onerous and led to a massive loss of sovereignty on Ireland’s part. Scotland’s position if it had been in the Euro would almost certainly have been like Ireland’s. Scotland could not have bailed out HBOS and RBS on its own and so would have had to turn to funding from other members of the Eurozone and the IMF. As we have found with the examples of Greece and Portugal. These fellow European countries have not been particularly generous. They have set terms for the bailout which amount to never ending austerity and recession with little possibility for growth. The interest rates on any bailout loans have been high. Each country, which has been bailed out has lost a great deal of sovereignty and control of its own affairs. Electorates have faced a gun to their heads and threats from abroad when deciding how to vote and so they have really lost their democratic rights as well.

If Scotland had remained in a currency union with rUK after becoming independent in 1997, the Bank of England would have been forced to bail out the Scottish banks. This, of course, is one reason why rUK might not consider it to be in its own interest to maintain a currency union with an independent sovereign state called Scotland. However, just as the European Central Bank imposed onerous conditions on Ireland, when Ireland was forced to seek help, so the Bank of England could have imposed whatever conditions it chose on an independent  Scotland. If Scotland had refused these conditions, the resulting bankruptcy  would have forced Scotland out of the pound zone and led to Scotland defaulting on its debts.

One of the main advantages Scotland gained from being part of the UK in 2008, was that the bailout of the Scottish banks occurred without conditions. No austerity was imposed on Scotland, no conditions, no rules, no control over Scotland’s economy or parliament. No foreign bank would have been so lenient. We were incredibly lucky that the Bank of England at that time was not a foreign bank, it was our bank. Because we were part of the UK.

If Scotland had chosen to have its own currency in 1997, Scotland’s position in 2008 would have been similar to Iceland’s. When faced with the bankruptcy of its banks and its inability to bail them out, Iceland chose the route of default and devaluation. In the short term, of course, this was disastrous for the Icelandic people. The value of savings and salaries was drastically reduced. The cost of living rose. However, one of the main advantages of being a sovereign state is the ability to have one’s own currency. By defaulting and devaluing, Iceland went through a traumatic operation, but it came out the other side with an economy far more healthy and with much greater potential than either Ireland or Greece.

The best option for an independent Scotland in 1997, with the benefit of  hindsight,  would have been to set up its own currency.  The lesson that we have learned from the Eurozone crisis is that monetary union without fiscal union and political union is a recipe for disaster. Either you end up in the position of Greece, dependent on subsidy, enduring permanent austerity and recession, or you end up in the position of Germany, having to permanently transfer money to your poorer neighbours. The problem with setting up your own currency is that it is something of a risky business. New currencies are liable to fall at least initially, while markets assess their strength.  Thus if Scotland had announced that it was setting up its own currency,  Scots would be liable to wake up the day after independence to find that their salaries and savings were worth much less than they had been previously.

The financial crisis would have been a disaster for an independent Scotland. In a storm it is always better to be sailing in a battleship than a yacht. Likewise, when the economic storm hit Scotland and the Scottish banks in 2008, we were fortunate that we were part of a large economy which could deal with the crisis effectively and protect the UK economy from much of what has happened in the Eurozone. The help that Scots gained from their fellow countrymen was without conditions, we would not have gained such help from foreigners.

The unfulfilled promises of independence

One of the most important things to realise about the referendum on independence is that no one really knows what would happen if Scotland chose to secede from the UK. Both unionists and nationalists speculate, each striving to gain some advantage from these speculations, but in the absence of a working crystal ball, everyone must finally accept that the future is unknown. The past, on the other hand, at least the recent past, is both known and well documented. History is an imperfect guide to the future, but however flawed, it is the only guide we have. It is worthwhile therefore looking at recent instances of independence in Europe and, as it were, ask ourselves how did secession work out for these countries.

 

The boundaries of European countries had changed hardly at all from the post-war settlement until 1990, but this all began to change with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was probably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It has always struck me as something of a miracle that the collapse of the USSR did not lead to World War 3, but it did lead to a number of quite serious conflicts and territorial disputes. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought each other over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict is as yet unresolved. Georgia seceded from the USSR and then fought two wars when the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia chose to secede from Georgia. Moldova fought a war with separatists in Transnistria, who succeeded in setting up a tiny strip of a country, which is de facto independent even if unrecognised by the rest of the world. Russia, of course, fought two very bloody wars with separatists in Chechnya.

 

Even when there have not been wars there have been conflicts. Ukraine is a potential future flash point owing to the fact that there are Russian majorities in the eastern and southern parts of the country, some of whom would prefer to be part of Russia now. The Baltic states likewise have sizable Russian minorities, many of whom are denied the rights of citizenship owing to the various nationality tests administered in these states.

 

During the Olympics, I came across a nationalist MSP writing about how glad he was to see all the former Soviet Republics competing on their own. No doubt, he could plead ignorance as the reason for this remark, but he not only showed ignorance of history, he also showed ignorance of the present. How has independence in Europe worked out for all these newly formed states? According to the well respected Democracy Index 2011, not one former Soviet Republic is a full democracy. Some are categorized as flawed democracies, some as hybrid regimes and a number as authoritarian regimes.

 

http://www.sida.se/Global/About%20Sida/S%C3%A5%20arbetar%20vi/EIU_Democracy_I…

 

Prior to independence in each of these countries there were nationalists, who promised the people living there that all manner of good things would be theirs if only their country was independent. Such nationalists promised their supporters that they would gain freedom. But this promise turned out to be an illusion. No doubt, many people now who expected freedom wonder if these nationalists were lying.

 

Not only are these countries lacking in political freedom, they are also corrupt. According to the well respected Corruption index, each former Soviet Republic remains highly corrupt.

 

http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/

 

What about wealth? Well, according to the following index, each of the former Soviet Republics remains by western standards poor. Sometimes extremely so.  

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita

 

The reason for this is that each of these countries remains fundamentally uncompetitive.

 

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2012-13.pdf

 

Separatists in all these countries promised the people living there, that if only they could achieve independence they would soon be living in a wealthy, honest and economically competitive society. But again this all turned out to be an illusion. So how is independence in Europe working out for these former Soviet states? They gained war, partition, lack of political rights and freedom, corruption, poverty and uncompetitiveness. They also gained independence.

 

Perhaps, this is all the fault of the Soviet Union. Perhaps, there are other examples of European independence movements, which have been more successful.

 

Take the example of Yugoslavia. The growth of Serbian Nationalism was answered by nationalisms in each of the republics which made up that country. The result was war, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, partition and where once there had been one small country now there are eight tiny ones. Not one of these countries is a full democracy, each is highly corrupt and each by western standards is poor and uncompetitive. So how did independence in Europe work out for Serbs and Croats?

 

One last example of a recent European independence movement remains. It could be described as poster child of secession movements. Scottish nationalists frequently cite the breakup of Czechoslovakia as a favourable example for Scotland. Soon after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, known as the Velvet Revolution, nationalists in Slovakia began to seek independence and soon there followed the Velvet Divorce. One reason why Scottish Nationalists see this as such an ideal example an independence movement is that Czechs and Slovaks get on very well and the two states have excellent relations. Why couldn’t the same sort of Velvet Divorce occur in the UK?

 

But let’s look at how independence in Europe has worked out for Slovaks. While the Czech Republic is a full democracy, Slovakia is a flawed democracy. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are corrupt, but Slovakia is somewhat more corrupt. Both countries are poor by Western European standards, but Slovakia is poorer the Czech Republic, probably for the reason that it is much less competitive. Worst of all however, while the Czech Republic retained its own currency, Slovakia had the misfortune to join the Euro. This  means that it is liable for a share of  the debts of countries richer than it, such as Greece. No doubt, the separatists in Slovakia promised their people that if only they would vote for independence they would soon be rich and free. Nationalists tend to promise that independence will turn a country into something resembling the promised land. People who are foolish enough to believe these promises however, quickly find they did not get what was promised. A nationalist’s promise is at best a pipe dream, at worst a lie.

 

Scotland is very different from all these European countries, which recently gained independence. The point to take however, from these examples of independence movements, is that nationalism frequently promises much, but delivers little. As an ideology, which appeals to the selfish side of human nature, emphasising the differences between peoples, it frequently leads to unintended and unplanned consequences and conflicts. What really matters to most people is their standard of living and the fact that they live in a free, fair and honest society. Scotland already is a full democracy, because we are part of one one of the oldest and most democratic countries in the world. Neither Scotland nor England were especially democratic countries when we joined together to create the Union. Rather, through a gradual political process, we became the democracy that we are today. It is the UK which created our democratic traditions and which granted us the rights, which we now enjoy. Scotland is lucky enough  to be part of a very wealthy country. We are free and we don’t have to fear corruption in our daily lives. The UK is the 8th most competitive country in the world, which means that we have a much better chance than many countries to retain our living standards in the face of the present economic depression. We should rejoice that we live in such a country. The majority of the world’s population lack what we have. Nationalists everywhere promise the earth, but it is obvious from a glance at recent history, that such promises amount to very little. They don’t amount to what we in Scotland already have. If Scotland were part of an undemocratic, corrupt, poor and uncompetitive Great Britain, it might just be possible to argue that independence would bring vast improvements. Such promises, would probably turn out to be false, for these fundamentals change slowly if at all. But when a country is already close to the peak of democracy, freedom, wealth, lack of corruption and competitiveness, the idea that nationalists can suddenly massively change everything for the better by waving a magic wand called independence is scarcely credible. The UK has given us peace, freedom, wealth, honesty and competitiveness. Why would we exchange that for an uncertain future leading in who knows what direction?