Saturday, 13 September 2014

My views on Scottish independence

Despite being half Scottish (my father was from quite an established Lothian family) I have not posted any thoughts on next week's referendum. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, I am not quite sure what I think. And secondly I actually believe it's a matter for the people who live there, not for me. That's why I recoiled when I saw the Saltire being flown from London government buildings and blanched when well meaning English friends started writing to Scottish strangers encouraging them to vote no. I asked one (a prominent anti EU campaigner) if receiving a postcard from a stranger from Brussels might make him change his mind in any 2017 referendum!

Every aspect of the debate leaves me divided. As a Libertarian I consider myself to be a political utilitarian. Yet I still have a love of tradition and only support change if the case for change has been proven. And that's the problem. At a recent event Rory Stewart, whose views on such matters are rooted in deep thought and good sense, spoke of the Union as two halves of a long established marriage which is facing difficulties. He said that both sides should surely try to find common ground upon which to build a reconcilliation and allow the marriage to survive. That of course is true, but can only work if both sides want to find common ground and if the common ground is sufficiently stable. What if one side feels the other is asking just too much? Or as is more likely in this case, the aggrieved party has changed so much over the years that what they have left in common just isn't enough to continue?

Will Britain be diminished? Almost certainly yes, but equally many people believe Scotland would be enhanced. Throughout the world there are cases of larger countries believing they have been diminished by nationalist sentiment and succession - Russia and Ukraine or Spain and Gibraltar to name just two. That however does not give the larger country to dictate the terms of the relationship.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of Conservatives I don't have an emotional attachment to the Union though I still believe there are political, security and economical advantages.
But surely someone who passionately believes in setting the UK free from the so called social and economic union of the EU could not want to dictate that Scotland should not set itself free from the rest of the UK if it wants to do so?

Whatever the outcome next week the result will almost certainly be very close. Unless the margin of defeat is substantial, it is almost inevitable that the issue won't rest and we will probably enter a period of "neverendum" with demands for a new vote following shortly on the heels of this one.  And if I were a Scottish Nationalist I would be demanding that too. After all, the yes vote is solid. People who support yes have made a conscious decision to vote for change. The majority of the no vote are also people who have made a conscious decision to remain within the Union, but it also includes a sizable minority who probably dislike Alex Salmond, or who support Independence but fear the time is not yet right, or who have been swayed by fears of economic Armageddon. For example, if the UK government was not a coalition but actually a majority Conservative government following a more traditional free market Conservative agenda, would that alone not swing the additional 3% or 4% of the votes that the yes camp might be short?

I suspect that change is inevitable; if not next week then sometime in the next ten or twenty years. Each wave of nationalism is quenched by more devolution and thanks to Gordon Brown and with the acquiescence of the three main UK leaders, even if Scotland votes no they will walk away with devo-max. What's left in the bank for next time?

Already Scotland enjoys more funding, more devolution and far better public services than any other constituent part of the UK. That financial and democratic deficit has never been addressed and is allowed to continue only thanks to the munificence of English taxpayers. Thank goodness the English are less demanding than our Celtic neighbours. The question is, will they always be so?

1 comment:

  1. Can I put forward a point? It's one I haven't heard in the debate, and yet one that matters to me enormously. For the record I am English.

    I can really understand the feeling for Scotland that drives many people. It would really push me too. But the Scots are not being denied their identity. They have kept it for the 300 years we have been united, and they have not been asked to give it up. They have not been dominated. If anything it has been the other way: they have extra representation in parliament, and extra resources sent their way.

    Together, with the Welsh and Irish, we have been a team. And it has been one of the most successful teams in the history of the world. That simply cannot be denied. For a long time one small union of countries was the leading force over much of the world's surface, and did it's best to bring stability, justice and peace. Never perfectly, of course, but looked at fairly they did pretty well. (History is always 'in the eye of the beholder'). And the Scots contributed enormously to that. Maybe this team was so successful just because it was a team: valued, separate identities working together, contributing different skills to the task. Together they forged something great.

    Just how great is shown by the very fact that they are now being offered this vote. Where else in the world would they be offered this? Not in China, not in Russia, not even in Europe (Spain, Belgium, etc resisting such votes with their minorities). Only one place I can think of has done such a thing: Canada, with Quebec. And Canada comes from the same family of nations that they forged. They with the others forged this team, this place, this freedom, this respect and honour for one another.

    Now many people in one member of the team wants to leave. They are saying that to be alone, to stand alone, is better than to be in a team, individual and yet working together. They say they want to join another team, the EU. That is a big team, but it is one that has yet to prove it can achieve anything. This team, the United Kingdom, has absolutely undeniably achieved much in its 300 years. Time and again it has stood virtually alone for freedom, and against tyrants. It has produced scientists, and thinkers, and people who have led us into the modern world in far greater numbers than its size suggests: Scotland in particular.

    But now above all the worlds needs TEAMS. We have to learn to work together, to live together, and achieve together. Now we can't hide behind distance, mountains, seas, oceans, language. All these barriers are gone now, and we can't run away, we must somehow find a way to live together. We have to learn to be a team. This whole world has huge problems to face and conquer, that can only be approached together. Wayne Rooney is a good footballer, but he can't beat Germany on his own! We need to be a team.

    It is the great project of our time, the project of peace, and the project of survival.

    But if probably the oldest and most successful team of the whole of world history caves in and splits up, and says 'We can't work together' what does it say to the rest of the world? About our project of peace, if even we cannot maintain it?

    With respect,

    Andrew M