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The implications of independence


Supporters of Scottish independence have relied on the strategy of portraying secession as something wholly advantageous and with no negative consequences. Nationalists know that there are lots of things that the Scottish people like about being in the UK. They attempt to argue therefore, that these things would continue after separation. They even try to prevent opponents using words like “secession” and “separation”, because such words are negative. In arguing against independence unionists naturally try to point out the positive benefits of Scotland being a part of the UK. But when we attempt to point out that some of these benefits might cease if Scotland became independent, we are accused of “scaremongering”. Nationalists thus try to shut down debate, by making any criticism of their position somehow illegitimate. We are accused of being negative about Scotland and unpatriotic, because we disagree about the desirability of independence. In fact, the reverse is the case. If the unionist position is true that independence would be damaging to Scotland, the patriotic thing to do is to point out this truth to the Scottish people. It is therefore very welcome that the UK Government is putting forward its view on the consequences of independence so that Scots may have a better idea of the choice which faces us.

The paper “Scotland analysis: devolution and the implications of independence” should be read in full by everyone who is concerned about the independence debate. It must be taken seriously by all Scots, whether supporters or opponents of independence. It is based on the opinion of two leading academics, but more importantly, it expresses the view of the UK Government. In the event of a vote for independence, it would therefore form the basis of the UK Government’s negotiating position, both in relation to the prospective new Scottish state and in relation to the international world.

Of course, it is possible to take a different view of what would happen in the event of independence. Law is complex and eminent professors could, no doubt, be found who would put forward a different view. But this is actually, rather beside the point. If the UK Government states that this is its view, the likelihood is that it would prevail. This is so for a number of reasons. International law is partly a matter of argument and learned debate, but it is also a matter of power and influence. In the event of independence, the UK Government would have full diplomatic relations with the rest of the world, while Scotland would have none. More importantly, perhaps, the UK Government’s view would gain a sympathetic hearing from allies with whom it would have influence based on a long history of friendly relations. Even those countries who are less friendly to the UK would be liable to support the UK’s position as it tends to discourage secession.

Each of the other permanent members of the Security Council has a history of opposing secession as indeed do most countries. Many countries indeed are willing to fight to maintain the territorial integrity of their state. China would under no circumstances allow Taiwan or Tibet to declare formal independence, whatever the wishes of the people in those places. Likewise, Russia fought a war to prevent the secession of Chechnya. The United States fought a war to prevent the secession of the Confederacy. France fought to prevent the secession of Algeria and would not allow Corsican independence no matter how many Corsicans wanted it. The UK is unusual therefore, in expressing the view that any part of the UK can secede if the majority living there vote for it. This of course does not mean that the UK Government wants to see the breakup of Britain. Nor indeed would other states who would see Scottish independence as encouraging their own secession movements. This means that when the UK expresses a view on the consequences of Scottish independence, which would tend to discourage secession elsewhere, the likelihood is that this view would have a sympathetic hearing internationally and therefore would prevail.

The opinion put forward by the UK Government about the prospects of independence, need not discourage those who are committed to independence come what may. Scottish independence is clearly possible and the UK Government is committed to facilitating the creation of a new Scottish state if most Scots wish this. To facilitate however, does not mean giving in, nor does it mean giving the SNP everything that they want. The strategy of the nationalists, who would like to convince the Scottish people that life would go on much the same after independence, must now be seen as wishful thinking.

The essence of the paper is that in the event of independence, Scotland would be a brand new state, while the rest of the UK (rUK), would continue. What this means in practice is that Scotland would have to seek membership of every international body which it wanted to join, such as the EU, NATO and the UN. Some of these could be joined without difficulty. Joining the EU however, would be much more complex. It  would depend on negotiations and the unanimous support of those countries who were already in the EU. One of those would be rUK. Another would be Spain fighting against secession in Catalonia.

The consequences of Scotland being a new state would have the most profound consequences with regard to our relations with rUK. There would be an international border between Scotland and England and there is no guarantee that the Common Travel Area would continue. Shared UK facilities such as the Bank of England would belong to rUK and Scotland could not maintain monetary union with rUK unless rUK considered it to be in its own interest. While negotiating the divorce settlement with Scotland, rUK would no doubt try to negotiate as a friendly neighbour, but both sides would clearly try to get the best deal possible for their own people. Neither side would be committed to doing anything contrary to its own self-interest. Some nationalists have attempted to argue that something that they want, such as retaining the pound, would be in rUK’s interest. It may turn out that this is so. But these would be matters for negotiation and the SNP can not expect to be allowed to determine what is in the interest of rUK. That would be a matter for rUK to determine..

The fact that Scotland would be a brand new state has been taken by some nationalists to mean that we would have no debts. This just shows that they have not read the paper very carefully, which clearly states “there would be an expectation that an independent Scottish state would take on an equitable share of the UK’s national debt.” (p. 57) But let’s imagine what would happen if the Scottish Government decided to dispute this matter. Imagine if the First minister went into negotiations saying  “I want to retain the pound, I want to use the facilities of the Bank of England, I want your help in joining the EU and other international bodies, I want an open border and the right of Scots to live and work in rUK, but I’m not taking any share of the debt that we jointly incurred.” The rUK negotiators could simply reply “then you’re not getting any of the things you want”.

What the paper shows is that the things that the SNP have been putting forward as certain to continue post independence are all subject to negotiation. It may well be the case that we would retain the pound, that the border would remain open, that we would have the same rights in rUK as we do now, but none of these things is certain. We have to wait for the divorce settlement and that can only occur after the referendum when we will decide whether we want to divorce. This settlement would largely be determined by rUK, because as the state which would remain and having centuries of diplomatic influence, it would be able to present its wishes on the world stage, while Scotland could not. Scotland would be the supplicant in negotiations with a list of wishes, while rUK would have little that it wanted from newly independent Scotland. It’s obvious whose position would be stronger. None of this, of course, makes independence impossible or even undesirable to those who will always be deeply committed to separation, but everyone else in Scotland should read the paper and be at least aware of the implications of independence.

Is the utility of Scottish independence pragmatic?

There is beginning to be a debate about the pragmatism or the utility of Scottish independence. I strongly suspect that the argument is being made by those who would support independence come what may. They realise however, that the number of “existentialist” nationalists in Scotland is quite small, limited to the more committed members of the Scottish National Party and they have to try to reach out to the waverers and uncommitted in order to win the independence referendum. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. Unionists, too must try to reach out not only to our core support, who would support the Union come what may, but also to those who might be contemplating independence or who have once or twice even voted for the SNP.
One problem with the nationalist appeal to utilitarianism is that it rather forgets one of the central tenets of the philosophy which was developed by people such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. The essence of their idea about morality can be summed up by the quotation from Bentham’s A Fragment of Government: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Let’s look at how this principle might apply to the issue of Scottish independence. Imagine that as a consequence of independence, the sum of happiness decreased in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. On the basis of utilitarian principles, Scottish independence would have to be rejected even if it led to an increase in happiness in Scotland. The reason is that anything which leads to an overall decrease in happiness is wrong by the principles of utilitarianism. Thus, for instance, if Scotland’s failing to share its oil revenues led to a decline in living standards in the rest of the UK, this would be considered by utilitarians to be wrong, because the sum of overall happiness would have decreased, even if it meant that the happiness of those in Scotland was greater than it otherwise would be. The principle of utilitarianism, after all, is not that it should lead to the greatest happiness of the greatest number in Scotland. If the SNP were to maintain that they were only interested in happiness in Scotland, this would show that their philosophy has precious little to do with utilitarianism, which opposes selfishness. It would show, moreover, that the principle underlying the SNP’s philosophy is not utility but existential nationalism. Why separate this group of people called Scots from the rest of the population unless it is for reasons of existential nationalism? Utility for us at the expense of you is neither utilitarian nor moral.

Scottish Nationalism fails the test of utilitarianism at the first hurdle. Let’s look instead however, at whether it can be argued that it is pragmatic for the people of Scotland to choose independence. The trouble with the idea of appealing to pragmatism is that it depends on the ability to foresee the future. It is likely that if Scotland voted for independence that the result would stand. There would be no turning back. The southern part of Ireland chose to leave the UK in the 1920s, but no matter the nature of living standards there today, there is no bringing back the Union that existed from 1800 until partition. Imagine however, Irish nationalists appealing to pragmatism in the years leading up to independence. How far could they see ahead? It is doubtful that they could have predicted events even in the 1920s. They certainly could not have seen as far ahead as the Second World War, the creation of the European Union, or the crisis in the Eurozone. Yet all of these events have had consequences for the prosperity of southern Ireland. It is perfectly possible to argue, given the economic consequences of being in the Eurozone that it would have been more pragmatic for Irish nationalists not to have chosen independence all those years ago. It is arguable that the Irish people as a whole would be better off today with a united Ireland within the UK. But how could anyone have predicted these matters in the 1920s? Who knows what will happen to Scotland in the coming century. No one can look ahead more than a few years at best. So on what basis can nationalists appeal to pragmatism? Perhaps, they think that under every possible future circumstance it would be better for Scotland to be independent. But this is to argue that would be better for Scotland come what may to be independent. Once more the pragmatic argument reduces itself to the existential argument.

A further argument in terms of pragmatism is that Scotland would be more likely to get a government reflecting the will of its people if it voted for independence. Thus, independence is presented to left-wing Scots as a pragmatic way of avoiding future Tory governments. This argument depends on existential assumptions about Scotland’s national status, for otherwise why choose Scotland as the base unit? Southern Scotland together with northern England might, for instance, be a more optimum political unit than either Scotland or the whole of the UK. Why then should we not set up such an independent state for pragmatic reasons? Alternatively, if Scotland were independent, there might be a region, for instance Aberdeenshire, which consistently voted differently from the rest of Scotland, should that region then not be allowed to secede from Scotland? The argument against these positions would be that neither Aberdeenshire, nor northern England joined with southern Scotland are countries, or nations. Once more we fall back on our existential nationalism.

The fundamental problem with the pragmatic argument for independence is that it is based on the idea that it is government that solves our problems and is the source of our money. This naturally leads to the idea that if only there were more government and a larger state all would be well. Nicola Sturgeon  believes that the Labour party under Tony Blair was “not an alternative to Conservatism. It was business as usual.” This means that her pragmatism amounts to being still more left-wing than Blair and Brown, increasing public spending and debt even more than they did. Far from being pragmatic, this would be economically disastrous. The public sector in Scotland is already too large. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is already much higher than is economically desirable for the promotion of growth. Yet the lesson the SNP would take from the Brown/Blair years is that Labour were Tories in disguise, not left-wing enough and that they did not spend enough public money, nor rack up enough debt.  Are we seriously supposed to describe this as pragmatism?

Scotland is clearly an economically viable independent state, but the effect of independence financially would be about neutral. Scotland would gain from increased oil revenues, but we would lose our share of central government funding (the Barnett formula). Scotland would face the same hard choices with regard to debt and deficit as we do being part of the UK. The idea that Scotland could avoid austerity by voting for independence is simply not true. Anyone who believes this already shows themselves unfit to rule. The only result of SNP politicians continuing to favour ever increasing public spending in order to pay for still more free goodies to dish out universally as a bribe to the electorate, is that eventually we will be faced with a choice between bankruptcy and far more austerity than we have at present. Declining oil revenues, with fluctuating prices are not going to allow us to live beyond our means. Until the SNP shows that they understand the debt crisis, they are unsuitable to be put in charge of Scotland’s economy whether independent or not.

Prosperity does not depend on being independent. If it did, then it would be pragmatic for the citizens of Baden-Württemberg to seek independence. But it is clearly in their interest to remain part of Germany. Independence for Baden-Württemberg would not make the people living there more prosperous. Germany like the UK is made up of places that once were independent, but which realised long ago that it is much more pragmatic to work together. Britain like Germany has a functioning single market and enormous economies of scale. These exist because both Britons and Germans have lived together in one country for centuries. To propose giving up these advantages is the very opposite of pragmatism.


Taking wings from reality, or, nationalism’s failure to understand the concept of both/and

I came across a nationalist blog recently arguing that it was not possible to be both Scottish and British. If I had not found someone actually making this argument, I would hardly have considered formulating a counter argument as I would have thought I was open to the charge of arguing against a straw man. It looks however, as if this view is seriously entertained and so it should be addressed. The essence of the argument seems to be that in a crisis situation, when push comes to shove, Scots would be forced to choose between being Scottish or British. Thus, for example,  if there were a disputed independence referendum result, which unionists and the rest of the UK refused to accept, there could be a civil war situation, which would force everyone in Scotland to choose sides. It would in this context be impossible to be both British and Scottish.
Incidentally, I remember a certain Lord Fraser of Carmyllie being vehemently attacked and described as if he were some sort of loon for imagining a scenario where England bombed Scottish airports. In fact, Lord Fraser’s scenario of a foreign power at war with England taking over Scotland’s airports, forcing England to bomb them, would most certainly have occurred if Nazi Germany had tried to seize such airports in 1940. The French likewise bombed their own airports in occupied France between 1914 and 1918. Such a scenario is in fact much more likely than the UK descending into civil war over a disputed independence referendum. Most Scots, apart from a few on the extreme fringes, just don’t care that much about the result of the independence referendum one way or the other. However much I want the Union to continue, I would far rather Scotland were independent than that there were a civil war over this matter.

Nevertheless, let’s explore the issue of civil war in relation to the concept of choosing one’s identity. In 1861 there began a civil war involving a country which formed a union of states. Virginia was one of the states which decided to secede from the United States. Many Virginians were at that time in the US Army and faced a choice. Most chose to join the army of the Confederacy, but some chose to remain loyal to the army they were already serving. Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union Army, was against secession, but with great reluctance chose to follow his state Virginia, becoming probably America’s most revered soldier and general by serving the South. On the other hand, Virginian George H. Thomas remained with the Union army, possibly owing to his Northern wife, served with distinction throughout the war and gained lasting fame as the “Rock of Chickamauga” by saving the union army from a rout.

In civil wars people face incredibly difficult decisions, which divide families and can lead to permanent estrangement and lasting acrimony. But let’s look at the issue in terms of identity. Robert E. Lee and George H. Thomas served in different armies, chose different sides in The Civil War, but both remained Virginians. After the war finished both equally were citizens of the United States. They did not lose their identity as either Southerners or Virginians, because of the difficult choices they were forced to make. Of course, some people called out traitor to the one or to the other, but when a man follows his conscience he does not listen to such slander.

In the hypothetical example of a genuine dispute between Scotland and  the rest of the UK, there might be Scots who thought the secession of Scotland unjustified. They might think for instance that the referendum result had been fixed, or had been obtained by means of subterfuge. In the same way that some people from the Southern states fought for the Union, and some from the North fought for the Confederacy, it might, in this British Civil War, turn out to be the case that some English people would fight for Scottish secession, while some Scots would fight for the Union. But Scots who fought for either side would still be Scots. They would simply be  Scots who had  followed their consciences in different ways. Of course, we’ve had this situation in the British Isles before. When Ireland chose to secede, some Irish people chose to remain loyal to the United Kingdom. But both those who remained in the UK and those who left, remained Irish. Identity is not something that a person loses because he chooses one side or another in a civil war.

Let’s take another example. Imagine Scotland voted for independence, but a part of Scotland, for example Fife, chose to vote for independence from Scotland. There might be conflict. Some Fifers might want to stay loyal to Scotland, some Scots outside of Fife might try to prevent Fife from seceding by force of arms. People in Fife would have to make choices, but whichever choice they made, no matter which side they fought for, such people would remain both Fifers and Scots.

The idea that you can’t be both a Scot and British if true would mean that someone could not be both a Bavarian and a German, a Sicilian and an Italian. There are any number of nation states in Europe and the world which are made up of countries which formerly were independent. To say to these people, I’m sorry you’re mistaken, you can’t be both Norman and French, you have to choose, is to say something that would be met with genuine bemusement. Normandy was once an independent country and it had a great history, including being quite successful as an invader of one of its neighbours. Only a tiny number of Normans however, would maintain that they are Norman and not French. For a person to seriously claim that he was a Norman and not French, would be to invite derision as if I had delusions of being William the Conqueror. It should equally invite derision for person to claim he is Scottish and not British, as if he wanted to play at being William Wallace.

The claim that someone can not be both Scottish and British goes against the experience of millions of Scots, who feel both identities. The fact that some Scots out of warped patriotism have chose to reject their British identity, does not change the experience of the rest of us. We love our country, and count it to be both Britain and Scotland. It is the love of both these things, which makes civil war in the UK unthinkable. This is the case for apart from the few who would create division, nearly everyone realises that in a British Civil War we would be fighting against ourselves.


A sense of Scottish identity does not require independence

There are many reasons why people support Scottish independence. Some think that it would be economically advantageous, others think it would be politically advantageous and would make the sort of society they long for more likely to occur. But I get the impression that most nationalists see all these things as fringe benefits, even as ways and means to try to persuade other Scots to vote for independence. If I could convince a nationalist that Scotland would be just about the same economically as an independent state as it is now, or if I could show that politically things would be much the same, would I thereby convince him that he should vote against independence? I doubt it.  A nationalist sees independence as a good in itself. Why is this? The answer, I think, lies in how such a person sees himself. Most typically Scottish nationalists, define themselves as exclusively Scottish. This sense of Scottishness, which they feel, they consider to be constrained by Scotland not being an independent state. Nationalists tend to see Scottish patriotism and Scottish nationalism as one and the same thing. Thus, at times they might even resort to questioning the patriotism of those who oppose independence. They might even consider that such opponents are betraying Scotland, that they are somehow traitors.
Some time ago I had an interesting experience while on holiday, which gave me a new insight into identity and issues of nationalism and made me compare and contrast my experience here with my experience there. I spent two weeks in the Bavarian Alps in a small town called Berchtesgaden. It’s a wonderful spot, perhaps known chiefly for the fact that it was the site of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and thus a monument to the darkest side of nationalism. But perhaps because of this historical situation, it was possible here to see people expressing their identity in a way that I found quite touching.

One day I came across a village celebrating its anniversary. Four or five hundred years ago, that village been founded. Nearly every man was dressed in traditional Bavarian lederhosen. Each had a hat with a feather. Nearly every woman wore a dirndl, the traditional dress for that region. These people were clearly comfortable with their Bavarian identity. They spoke the Bavarian dialect, indeed even I learned a few Bavarian phrases. Were these people patriots? Were they nationalists? There were Bavarian flags everywhere, blue and white. But there were lots of German flags, too. No one had a problem speaking High German rather than dialect, no one had a problem with the idea that being a Bavarian meant that they could also be a German. The lesson about nationalism had been learned and perhaps less than one percent of these Bavarians wanted independence from Germany.

What I learned on my trip also was that nationalism did not have much point in this region. The nearest major city was Salzburg in Austria, but on the short trip there, it was scarcely possible even to notice a border. I didn’t even see a sign. The whole trip from Germany to Austria was as near to being a trip within one country as makes no difference. Everything was completely integrated. The same money, the same tickets, the same everything. Only an accident of history meant that Bavaria and Austria were separate countries, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone living there. They scarcely seemed to notice. Really, by all normal standards they might as well have been in the same country. They have no reason to unite, because they are already united. But by the same token Bavaria has no reason to divide itself from the rest of Germany. These people seem to have moved on from these questions. I imagine they would find our debate in Scotland all rather baffling. Bavarians can express their separate identity, without denying that they are a part of whole. They fought a war with the most of the rest of Germany as recently as 1866, yet no one goes on about sending the Germans homeward to think again.

In Britain we have just the same experience as I found travelling between Germany and Austria, a land without borders. The Germans have learned their lesson about nationalism and they want nothing to do with borders. When countries are as integrated as Germany and Austria, questions about unification or separation become meaningless. This is the direction which Europe is moving towards. At times it must be said that the journey Europe is making is a struggle.  National difference and especially the lack of a common language is hindering them on the path to European integration. But it’s possible to admire the attempt, even while retaining concerns about the fundamental nature of the European Union. The goal of creating a free, democratic Europe without nationalism, may turn out to be impossible, but it is a fine ideal nonetheless.

We in the UK already have what Europe so desperately wants. We have unity, we can travel from one part of the UK to another and barely notice the difference. We can work and live where we please and only an accent distinguishes those who live here. But we have not yet learned that we can express our identity without demanding separation. We have not yet learned the lesson about nationalism, that was given to the Germans and the Austrians. For this reason we squabble over matters of no consequence, ungrateful, willing perhaps to squander the unity of centuries for a mess of nationalism.


Are the SNP the heirs to Michael Foot?

Reading one of the most popular nationalist blogs, I began to realise that the author and the people leaving comments were hoping for a lot more than independence. The reason for their support for Scottish nationalism, was not merely that they wanted Scotland to secede from the rest of the UK, but perhaps more importantly, they wanted Scottish politics to shift much further to the left. It became more and more obvious that many of the people who were attracted to the SNP were attracted precisely because they were disappointed former Labour party voters. They now considered the Labour party to be a party of the right. Independence for many of these people was thus a way of bringing about “Socialism in one country” leaving world revolution for another day!


There are clearly people in the SNP with a variety of political viewpoints, but if supporters are declaring that the present day Labour party is a party of the centre right, then it must be that the SNP is a party of the centre left in a different sense to that in which most people understand the term. Moreover, they must be on the centre left in a different way from other European centre left parties. I always supposed that the the transition which the Labour party made in the 80s and 90s was from democratic socialism to social democracy. Thus, they made a transition from the left with some elements of the far left, to the centre left. But if the Labour party is considered by SNP supporters to now be a party of the centre right, it must be that they think that their “centre left” SNP occupies the position of the old Labour party around the time of Michael Foot. By normal definitions this is no longer a centre left party at all.


I never understood the almost universal SNP opposition to nuclear weapons until I realised that they truly were a left-wing party. What have nuclear weapons got to do with independence? It all seemed to be a bit of a debate from another age along with grainy black and white footage of CND marches. I hadn’t much thought about the issue of nuclear weapons at all since the election of 1983, certainly not since the end of the Cold War. Labour went into the election of 1983 proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament and was decisively defeated. Thereafter Labour realised that it had to reform in order to stand a chance of being elected. Through a succession of leaders gradually all the policies which made Labour unelectable were discarded. Thus, the opposition to nuclear weapons was dropped, Clause 4 was dropped, the idea that everything must be nationalised was dropped, legislation curbing trade union power  was accepted and finally some basic understanding of  the nature of business and economics was obtained. Eventually, Labour became a social democratic party and became electable. It would seem however, to many Scottish nationalists that all this was a dreadful mistake. Labour should have remained the party of 1983 and the fact that they have failed to do so means that it is necessary to vote for the SNP, which now remains the equivalent of Old Labour circa 1983.


One reason that many nationalist supporters give for supporting the SNP is that the rest of the UK has drifted hopelessly to the right. There is no chance of that changing anytime soon. Therefore, the only chance of bringing about socialism to Scotland is through independence. Given that these supporters are choosing the SNP because of their dissatisfaction with the new Labour party, it must be that they reject the reforms that the Labour party has introduced since 1983. These policy and doctrinal changes by Labour were an acceptance that much of the legislation and other forms of change introduced by Margaret Thatcher were painful but necessary. In order to change Labour had to accept that Britain in the late 1970s was a place desperately in need of reform. The world had moved on and the old ways of Old Labour were simply not working anymore. Especially in the 1990s the Labour party finally accepted, as did nearly everyone else, that the experiment of socialism had been shown to have decisively failed and that the only sensible economic model was variations on a theme of capitalism. But then if  SNP supporters reject these Labour reforms, which brought about the party of today, it must be that they would prefer to turn the clock back to the ideology of Old Labour. What would this practically speaking mean?  It must mean that they would prefer greater power for trade unions, the nationalisation of much of Scotland’s industry, the reopening of coal mines and steel works, indeed the reintroduction of Clause 4 bringing about the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” for the workers of Scotland.


That the SNP really is outflanking Scottish Labour on the left, became clear to me with the debate about universal benefits. Johann Lamont put forward, what seemed to me to be, both a sensible and moderate view that it would be better to target benefits towards those who really needed them. This was portrayed by the SNP as if she was just another Tory wickedly doing the Conservatives work for them. Indeed, they presented Lamont as being somehow worse than the Tories, as she was betraying her own class. What this fundamentally showed was that while the modern Labour party are gradually coming to terms with the present economic crisis, the SNP have drifted so far to the left that they are barely even aware of the economic needs of Scotland. When someone wants to discuss the economic needs of this country in a serious way, explaining that the present levels of debt are unsustainable and therefore will not be sustained, it is as if they want to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la, we’re not listening.” Labour are beginning to get the debt crisis, the SNP meanwhile are taking a sharp left turn towards their own MacSocialist utopia.


The choice facing the people of Scotland in the independence referendum is the choice between who is likely to govern us for the foreseeable future. If the majority of the Scottish people choose independence they will also be choosing the SNP as the natural party of government. The idea that the SNP will somehow break up after a triumphant independence referendum and that we will end up with a new political consensus with new parties of the centre-right and centre left in Scotland is unlikely to occur for the foreseeable future. Rather, the SNP would be the equivalent of Fianna Fáil, the party associated with bringing about Irish independence and entrusted with power for most of Ireland’s history. A vote for independence would thus see Scotland going much further to the left, with an attempt to create a much more left wing society than that which is envisioned by almost anyone in the present Labour party. It is for this reason that those on the left and far left, such as the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party are willing to side with Alex Salmond.


People on the left and the far left, people far to the left of the average supporter of the Labour party and the Lib Dems, must be delighted that at last they have the chance to bring about the society they have so long dreamed of. A socialist utopia is within reach. It’s only necessary to wait a couple of years, just so long as the vote goes their way. The rest of us should consider very carefully before embarking on such an experiment. It is an experiment after all, which has been tried and failed before in the UK. It is an experiment which Labour itself has recognised does not lead to prosperity. If Scotland chose to go down an economic path so radically different from the rest of the UK, it would be impossible for our economies to retain their present convergence, their present single market and their present currency union. The SNP and their supporters oppose everything the modern Labour party has done to make itself fit for the modern world. They see Labour’s modernisation as a betrayal of the left. Sometimes, as when they debate about nuclear weapons, I almost experience a sense of time travel. I half expect to see Alex Salmond with wild white hair and a donkey jacket, for don’t be fooled: the SNP really are the heirs of Michael Foot.


A positive case for unionism

Unionists are frequently asked to come up with positive reasons why they support the continued existence of the Union. For me the main reason to support the union is that I think that it is better for people who live contiguously and who speak the same language to live in one country rather than many.

When the United States has a presidential election something fairly extraordinary happens. Across a huge country, with a population originating from all over the world, essentially people do the same thing. They choose between either a Republican or a Democrat and they accept that the president who results from this choice is the president of all of them. No one much cares from which state that president comes. It is the fact that the United States is a union that makes this process possible. The common identity of the citizens of the United States keeps them together, even when they are in other respects diverse. Fundamental to the unity of the United States is the existence of a common language. There are differences between states and a good deal of power is devolved to the state level and even more locally. However, the common federal structure of law, the rule from Washington, creates an experience for citizens such that they feel that they are in the same country wherever they live. This means that it is easy for people to move. If there is a lack of jobs in Ohio, people can move to California and start seeking work immediately. Their qualifications and experience are immediately recognised, the work practices are familiar, the language is the same. This makes the United States one huge labour market, with enormous economies of scale. It is the fact that United States is a union that makes it prosperous.

Imagine if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. Imagine if the the southern states had succeed in their attempt at secession. How would history have played out subsequently?  The two successor states would undoubtedly have been less powerful than the United States that came to dominate the twentieth century. Even if both the South and the North had chosen to join the world wars on the same side, the fact that there would have been two armies, two navies and two air forces, would have weakened the contribution from North America. Economically the United States would never have reached the level it did if it had given up its unity in the 1860s. There would have been no single market between Alabama and New York. It is undoubtedly the union of the United States, the unity of the people who live there, which has enabled them to be both wealthy and powerful.

The same, of course, is true of Britain. Imagine if Britain had not gradually come together to form a single country from the middle ages onwards. Imagine if there had been four separate sovereign states in the British isles in the 18th century. Would it have been possible under these circumstances to create the power that this country had, would it have been possible to create the wealth? The answer to this is obviously no. There is a single labour market in the UK and the economy in each part of the UK is closely related to the others. People from one part of the UK can easily work in any other part, our qualifications and experiences are recognised everywhere. Just like the United States, the United Kingdom is a successful union and this union is the source of both our wealth and strength. It is the fact that we did not have to worry about fighting amongst ourselves which enabled us to concentrate on developing strong armed forces, which faced outwards rather than faced inwards. If the UK had been four sovereign states, no doubt each squabbling with the other, who is to say that the Industrial revolution would have developed in these islands, who is to say that our success at innovation and invention would have happened at all?

Looking at the English speaking countries in the world, it is obvious that they are all better together. Imagine if the United States was made up of fifty sovereign nations. Imagine if Western Australia seceded along with New South Wales, if the South Island of New Zealand decided it could no longer bear to live with the North Island? Imagine if British Columbian nationalism rose, with the rallying cry “it’s our fish”, why should we share it with landlocked Alberta? Does anyone seriously think that the result for any of these countries would be anything other than that they would be less powerful and less wealthy? The strength of each of the English speaking countries of the world is that they are united, that they each form a union of parts. The benefit in terms of economics is that there is free movement of labour and a single market, the benefits in terms of power is that they each can fight a common enemy as one.

To suppose that a democratic union of people speaking the same language is undesirable, is to suppose that none of the English speaking nations are desirable and that it would be better if secession occurred in each of them. But this is exactly what the SNP are saying about the UK. This implies that they think that it would be sensible, if oil were discovered off the coast of Nova Scotia, that this province should decide to secede from Canada. They are saying that if Texas always votes Republican, but sometimes gets a Democratic president, that it would be better for Texas to secede in order to get a political regime closer to the wishes of its people. There are indeed some Texans at the moment striving to secede from the United States, but they are generally recognised as poor losers bordering on the ridiculous.  But these sort of people have a line of argument remarkably similar to the SNP.

What we have in the UK is actually quite unusual. Our common language culture and identity is exactly what makes the existence of a single market in this country possible. It is the source of our wealth and prosperity. The reason that the Scottish economy converges so beneficially with the English economy is that we have been living in the same country for over three hundred years.

Nationalists might  wonder if union is so beneficial, why are so many unionists also Eurosceptics?  A Scottish nationalist might suggest that a unionist who supports withdrawal from the EU is expressing his British nationalism and desire for British independence, while hypocritically denying a Scot the same right to express his own Scottish nationalism by seeking withdrawal from the UK and independence for Scotland. The answer is to realise that many unionists are not nationalists at all. We are unionists precisely because we do not see nationalism as the solution. Rather we see it as part of the problem. In principle, I have nothing whatever against the EU. I have at various times been a keen supporter of European integration. The ideal of countries coming together because they are willing to  give up their nationalism appeals to me. If it were possible to create a fully democratic United States of Europe I would wholeheartedly support it. Unfortunately, recent events have made clear that  it is not possible. The reason that the United States and the UK can succeed as countries is that we have a common identity, language and culture. The lack of a common language, the lack of a common culture and identity dooms the attempted union of the EU to failure. The attempt at monetary union fails because Germans don’t feel that they are at all the same as Greeks. Most ordinary Europeans struggle to seek work in another country owing to their lack of the necessary linguistic skills. Because the EU lacks the conditions for the possibility of creating a single country, the process by which they are attempting to create a United States of Europe is progressively becoming more and more undemocratic. People are being ruled by unelected officials and international organisations, the results of referendums are being ignored. It is for this reason that unionists are more and more frequently expressing opposition. Not because we are against union, but because we are in favour of democracy. If on the other hand, someone suggested creating a federation of the Anglosphere, with common elections, a single head of state and the right to live, work and travel anywhere where English is spoken, I for one would see this as a wonderful opportunity.

Unity is not easy to achieve. Britain has required centuries to create a fully functioning single market, a democratic and free society. It’s called the United Kingdom. The Union that we have is exactly what the European Union needs in order to prosper. Why would we give up something so precious the lack of which is condemning our European neighbours to poverty and increasing authoritarianism?

On remembering what Scots fought for

In small Scottish towns there is usually a memorial with a kilted soldier listing the names of the people from that town who died fighting in the First World War. Often the names of those who died in the Second World War are added. We are supposed to remember these people, especially in early November. Indeed we are told to remember them twice a day, once at the going down of the sun and once in the morning. No doubt, in the years following World War One, friends and family of those who died did not need any memorials to remember their loved ones. No doubt, they remembered far more than twice a day. But what of us nearly one hundred years later, when we are faced with names on a memorial? We did not know these people and commonly know nothing about them. How can we remember the Scots on the war memorials?

In trying to remember someone who lived a time long before I was born, I must rely on history. Why did these people fight? They would have given a number of reasons. They fought for their king. They fought for freedom. First and foremost they fought for their country. But which country? Obviously they fought for Britain as these soldiers all served in the British Army. They were not mercenaries fighting for a foreign power.

Of course these Scottish soldiers were conscious of being Scottish. The fact that they were often kilted meant that everyone, including the enemy, knew that there was a distinction between these men in khaki kilts and those men in khaki trousers. But they all served together in the same part of the line. They were part of the same British Army, which at times was led by an Englishman, but in the end was led by Sir Douglas Haig, a Scot from Edinburgh. So their Scottishness, while very real, was a part of their Britishness, which was equally real. When they wondered if they might get a “Blighty one”, when they sang “Take me back to dear old Blighty” the home that they were longing to return to “Blighty” was a slang word for Britain. When we remember what these men fought for it is important to think from their perspective. When they died for their country, they were dying for Britain and to dishonour Britain today is to dishonour the memory of the Scots who died fighting for this country.

The Scots who voted in the elections of 1910 and 1918 overwhelmingly chose either Liberal or Conservative candidates. The only nationalism, which existed in these elections was in Ireland. Both the Conservative and Liberal parties were unionists with regard to England, Scotland and Wales, indeed no one even thought to doubt that these were all parts of one country. Scottish soldiers therefore who fought had no problem with their identity as Scottish and British. It is important when we remember them, that we remember this, for otherwise we distort what they fought for and devalue their sacrifice.

There is an uninformed popular memory of the First World War, which sees every general as an upper class fool and the whole thing as pointless. But this is not how Scottish soldiers saw it at the time. They were pleased that Britain had emerged victorious and thought the sacrifice worthwhile. If Britain had not fought in 1914, there is little doubt that Germany would have emerged victorious. People at the time thought that it was right that Britain stood by France and defended the rights of Belgium. They thought that German aggression and militarism was worth fighting against. Looking at the names on the war memorial it is important to see the world from their point of view. What right do we have to say, “you all died for nothing”, when they who did the dying thought their deaths had purpose. The world needed a Britain with a common purpose in 1914 and again in 1918 when for a brief moment in March, during the Kaiserschlacht, it looked as if we might be defeated. The unity of Great Britain and a people fighting together as one made the difference. Whereas the French Army after one too many sacrifices on the Chemin des Dames descended into mutiny, the British Army emerged stronger from its ordeals. Lessons were learned, unity in the face of adversity was maintained and the British Army by 1918 was the best army on the Western Front, performing feats of arms, which would have seemed impossible even a year earlier. History would be very different if Scottish soldiers had not played their part, if Britain had been divided and lacked a common purpose.

What were Scots fighting against in 1914? Primarily we were fighting the rise of German nationalism, which began in the 19th century  and came to an end in 1945. In two world wars the rest of the world had reason to be grateful that Scotland, England Wales and Northern Ireland formed one country which together could stand up against a nationalist bully. There were times in the first half of the twentieth century when disunity would have been fatal to us. It is this which we remember when we contemplate the names on the war memorial.

When we remember the fallen from the wars of the twentieth century, its important to realise how often nationalism played a part in causing war. Whenever politicians begin to play the nationalist card, they appeal to the selfishness of a people. They begin pointing out the differences between one group of people and another. They appeal to the basest emotions of a people rather than their reason. The people are reminded of past wrongs and injustices. Gradually the people are made to feel more and more indignant. In time this nationalist tinderbox needs only one spark to set it alight, which happened on 28th June 1914.

Looking at the memorial with the kilted Scottish soldier,  it is vital, when we read the names listed, that we realise that it was precisely nationalism that they were fighting against.

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