There is a case for Scotland being a normal, independent nation that is at least as strong as the argument for it remaining within the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, in the seven years since 2014, the SNP, whose job this should be, has not been making that case. To be sure, it is a complex argument, fraught with unknowns, that the bulk of Scots are unlikely to delve into, nor come up with watertight arguments, should they do so.
Just as scientific analysus is a flawed method of choosing a partner in life, passion for the country that you regard as home is a matter of the heart. It is not hard to find people who are passionate about England and others equally passionate about Scotland. But most of those get no closer to hostility than the stands at Twickenham and Murrayfield. Scotland’s case for independence does not rest on hostility towards England.
However, there is a third class of people who regard themselves as British. They recognise the many differences between the two nations, but see them as cultural only. This is not confined to older people with memories of WW2 heroism and the greatness of empire. They believe the weld that made a political union over 300 years ago cannot be sundered, any more than Yorkshire could become a separate state. This is the element that causes problems. Were this Czechoslovakia, the problem would not arise, as neither Czechs nor Slovaks counted many who loved the artificial state glued together from ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919. The resulting “velvet divorce” shows how smoothly such splits can be made to mutual satisfaction.
Britain is different. Having been top dog with a massive empire covering a fifth of the globe just a century ago, the political baggage is massive. What is also massive is the preponderance of things English in 1707’s supposed union of equals, but which, in fact, carried on English policies, culture and institutions and bade the Scots to fit in as best they could. There is no doubt Scots benefitted immensely from the partnership for 250 years, explaining their quiescence over that period. But times have changed.
With England providing 50 of the 65 million inhabitants and a similar proportion of members in the UK Parliament, Britain is clearly now no union of equals, if it ever was. The 47 (of 59 = 80%) Scottish MPs wanting independence are hopelessly outvoted at Westminster. Hostility from the present Conservative government has been the focus of anger and resentment in Scotland, and not just from the SNP. But clearly, a consensus among the English that Scotland could go its own way would trump any unionist resistance among other parties. So what is the current picture among the English?
Early this summer, Savanta Comres performed a poll among 1,853 representative English people and received the following answers (excluding Don’t Knows) to their questions:
- Support (43%) or oppose (56%) Scottish Independence?
- More (43%) or no more (56%) financial support to Scotland to stay in UK?
- England would be weaker (63%) or stronger (37%) without Scotland in UK?
- Scotland should keep using (58%) should not keep using (42%) the £ sterling?
- Would an independent Scotland thrive (44%) or fail (56%)?
- Should there be vehicle checks at the border (47%) or not (53%)?
- English people should (42%) should not (58%) vote in a Scottish referendum?
The English are hostile to Scottish independence, but not excessively so. When you consider that up to 24% of respondents were “don’t know”, it would appear that a public relations campaign by those keen on Scottish independence directed, not at the Scots, but at the English might open a fruitful new front in their campaign and outflank their unionist opponent relying on English votes to stay in office.
London is unlikely to be fruitful territory, more because of its inability to see outside the Home Counties, let alone have awareness of Scotland beyond offering them rugged recreation. As far out as the Cotswolds and Norfolk, residents are unlikely to be understanding, let alone sympathetic.
But the former industrial Midlands and North, recently christened as the “Red Wall” should prove far more sympathetic. Not only do they suffer similar patronising neglect by the Imperial Capital, similar to Scotland, but a strong case could be made that the departure of Scotland would boost their profile and benefits.
A subtle campaign to woo the sympathies of Northern England would do the cause of Scottish Independence far more good than locking horns with the increasingly desperate, and therefore intransigent, Scottish Unionists. A suite of ideas that would best be applied together, rather than individually includes:
- Wheesht Yer Whining. Scots have never thrown off the stereotype among the English of the mean and moaning Scot (c.f. Private Fraser in Dad’s Army). This elicits neither sympathy, nor respect. Compare Ireland that half a century ago was similarly pilloried but recent success and a confidence to make their own way in the world has stemmed patronising jokes and ridicule.
- They are NOT ‘The Enemy’. Nothing is achieved by being resentful, much less hostile, to the English. Half the English (22m) live in the five regions of Northern England and feel as much irritation at the Southerners as Scots do. There are opportunities for common cause to be made in areas like:
- Wildlife tourism
- Industrial regeneration
- Carbon capture and storage
- Esturial regeneration (e.g. seagrass; oysters) in Solway Firth and Morecambe May. Suppambe Bay vs. upper Firths of Tay ad Forth
- Integrated public transport. Support Mayor Andy Burnham’s drive for a TfL-equivalent single-ticket, metropolis-wide scheme for Manchester by driving for one in Glasgow and supporting similar efforts in Birmingham, etc.
- Find Common Causes. While Scots attempt to distance themselves from the English as a whole, they failed to see how some investment in high-impact, low-cost projects might woo Northern English support, such as:
- Create a “Border Bond”: Berwick-Upon-Tweed residents could be treated as entitled to benefits available to their Scottish Borders hinterland and eliminate resentment on things like free prescriptions
- Solve the “Irish Sea Border”: Once the Lord Frost NI Protocol spat settles down, offer to create a custom clearance facility at Stranraer/Cairnryen that smoothes the passage of English goods headed to NI and calms Ulster Unionist ‘division’ from UK.
- Links with the Continent: In the absence of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry, work with Newcastle to provide better ferry service there and easier links to bring foreign and tourists in there, avoiding Channel and M25 bottlenecks and superior access to Netherlands, North Germany and Scandinavia.
- Create an Inner City Institute. This would direct cross-border research and disseminate best practice in dealing with the post-industrial social problems found in Glasgow and Dundee, as well as cities in Northern England that differ greatly from those found in London
- ‘De-privatise’ Rail. On the assumption that TfL-style transport nets were created in metropolitan areas, the fact that Transpennine trains already run to Edinburgh and ScotRail trains to Newcastle, a higher level of integration would be possible and more cost-effective than the present expensive franchising system. If Northern, Transpennine and Central Trains were brought back into public ownership, a “Northern Hub” airport at Manchester could be fed by an integrated network of rail services, much as Copenhagen provides an international hub for All Scandinavia. Being 200 miles closer to North America, Manchester would become a more viable and accessible competitor to Heathrow. Just look how Dublin has become a springboard for the USA. Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh would remain as regional, non-international airports because of their restricted size and poo access.
There may be other opportunities, once some serious thought and research is put into these possibilities. But, by eschewing a stance as a nation of 5.5m tacked on to the end of England, if Scotland were to regard Northern England as a natural ally with a common cause against a neglectful and often arrogant Southern England. With a joint population of almost 30m and capitalising on its energy resources an industrial past, the disabling of London dominance through Brexit offers an opportunity to shift the economic centre of gravity further North in a way George Osborne’s still-vague and unrealised “Northern Powerhouse” never could.
And when Scotland does achieve independence, it will be well integrated with friends in the revitalised North of England.