Regular readers of this blog will know that it has long been sceptical about the prospects of Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom and has presented arguments why this should be the case. Arguments elsewhere have been made to the contrary, many based on rational argument (as opposed to jingoistic tub-thumping) deserving of both respect and an audience. One thing of which both sides of the argument deserve to be proud is that no-one has even been seriously injured—let alone lost their life—in this serious argument between friends.
But this argument seems to have crossed the Rubicon of inevitability in the least expected of places. The Spectator is a sober, analytical magazine covering UK current affairs that was recommended to me by a politically-savvy friend. I have since described it to an equally-savvy American friend as “mildly left-wing to you, but mildly right-wing to me.” It is, like most London-based publications, pro-Union, but not venally so. Its contributors make cogent arguments that deserve consideration. It is augmented by a daily podcast, during which a staffer hosts a half-hour discussion of the topic of the day—again worth listening to.
The Chicken Little moment came during today’s podcast (Is There Still a Case for the Union, Saturday October 3rd), when host Katie Balls interviewed Fraser Nelson and Stephen Daisley (all of them Scots), who were joined by regular James Forsyth. The Saturday podcast passed quickly over the inexplicably buoyant popularity of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond to dwell on the prospect of the Union. All it needed was a cameo from Dad’s Army Private Fraser to declare “we’re all doomed“. I would have hoped Katie Balls might have ‘got it’. She’s from my home town of North Berwick, full of Tories and English accents—that I represented for 18 years as am SNP councillor.
What did run through my mind was their inability to channel the Bard and “see oorsel’ as ithers see us“, in that they anguished over threats to the Union without seeming to have formed an understanding whence they came. Were they typical denizens of the Home Counties, whose cultural radar barely reached no further than Watford, their puzzlement could be dismissed out of hand (c.f. Maggie’s Sermon on the Mound or Peter Mandelson’s bafflement over mushy peas)
Although James Forsyth can be excused by his classic Westminster-bubble nomenklatura credentials of education at Winchester & Cambridge, plus marriage to a director of communications in Boris’ government the rest have Caledonian roots. With Indy now leading Scottish polls, shouldn’t they know why? Are normally astute, incisive commentators letting emotion cloud judgement?
In the spirit of furthering debate without animosity, perhaps we can help.
Fraser Nelson’s despair that arguments of a dire fiscal future has had scant traction against independistas is deep and genuine. He wonders why unionists are so inept:
- – talking about what the union means to us
- demonstration the advantage of being part of the union family
- arguing against making foreigners of friends and family by leaving the union
What if we couched all this in Brexit terms? Substitute “EU” for “union” and present it to the Brexiteers of your choice and you would get short shrift. The vast bulk of unionists are also Brexiteers. But few see similar arguments applied to England (which is what most of them mean when they say “Britain”) within the EU, also apply to Scotland within the union.
Although she was the presenter, Katie Balls was dragged into the discussion and opined that the middle of the Covid pandemic was no time to be considering splitting up the union. There is an argument for that, but it ignores opinion in Scotland. One hundred years ago, the carnage of WW1 and indifference to their cause due to preoccupation with it drive Irish nationalists to stage the Easter Rising, which led to brutal suppression, followed by a futile Black and Tan reign of terror that led to independence for Eire in 1922. The pressure of that dire situation intensified the Irish desire to make their own mistakes, rather than have paternalistic London foist mistakes like WW1 on them.
The parallels with Scotland are weak, especially with regard to violence. The Irish people were not persuaded to stay with the world’s most extensive and richest empire but chose relative poverty. They did not cherish continuing eight hundred years of close linkage with the English ‘family’ but used the subsequent linkage to remain close friends. And, finding new friends in Europe and a GDP better than Britain’s you would not get 10% of the population to vote for re-unification into the UK, if there were a plebiscite.
Had the Scots been independent already, there’s a fair chance they would be coping with it much better than now and following better examples like Denmark or Ireland, who do not have to track the daily distracting bluster emanating from Downing Street.
Stephen Daisley seems to see himself as the “shock jock” of Spectator columnists when it comes to reporting on the state of the independence argument in Scotland. His main difficulty seems to be that he swallows the Southern mantra that the SNP are xenophobic nationalists when he lives among them and should know better. His recent column comparing them to the John Birch Society. These are nasty, right-wingers, based in Orange County, California. During two years living there, I had first-hand experience of their extremism and found nothing in common with people I met during my 39 years in the SNP.
Yet Stephen bemoans that the SNP has “stolen the cultural identity” that “no politician identifies as Britain” that “nationalism is an alluring dream” that “points within Scottish cultural identity that nationalists have annexed to themselves”, as if this were not cricket, not playing by the rules. While the Scottish Office bombards him with press releases about how much the Westminster Government is spending in Scotland, he seems oblivious to the fact that this is not where the vortex of debate lies..
He does not seem to grasp that, with the Lib-Dems in limbo and Labour wandering leaderless in the wilderness, Scottish Tories, supposed to be the Opposition, sound like someone dug up the corpse of the Colonial Office, peddling a version of the British Raj. As a result, the SNP, for all their faults, are 33% ahead in the polls only seven months out from an election.
Perhaps the podcast participants are justified in being downcast, if only to stay loyal to their unionist credentials. But if they want to stay relevant as reporters, they should look at the Arab Spring, at Portugal in April 1973 or, yes, the 13 colonies in the run-up to 1776. It wasn’t about investment or security or nostalgia. It was about a critical mass of people resenting being run by those with other agendas—and that it was high time something should be done about it.
“The case for Scottish independence is being made in London more than in Edinburgh.“
—Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Leader, October 3rd 2020