Saturday, 15 December 2012

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.

Jeremy-bentham-hdr3

Saturday, 8 December 2012

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.

Duck-rabbit_illusion

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.

Flag-pins-germany-bavaria

Saturday, 1 December 2012

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.
Michael_foot






Saturday, 17 November 2012

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?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

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, but also on important anniversaries. 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 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.

Naturally 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 both 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, and proposed changes in international borders, 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 with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sararjevo . 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.






Sunday, 4 November 2012

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!”





Thursday, 25 October 2012

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 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.




Saturday, 13 October 2012

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.





Saturday, 6 October 2012

Self-determination and the Union

Scottish nationalists may have hoped that Scotland would be the next independent country in Europe, but another independence movement has recently come to prominence, threatening to beat them to it. While in Edinburgh five thousand people turned out for a march for independence, reports suggest that one and half million Catalans marched in Barcelona seeking secession from Spain. It may surprise nationalists, but this unionist has a certain amount of sympathy with the Catalans, for the simple reason that I have always believed in the right to self-determination.

Throughout history there have been places where groups of people have struggled for independence. The American colonists fought a war of independence in order to become the United States. I don’t believe that Britain had any right to hold onto a country, which no longer desired British rule. Still less did Britain have the right to try to force the Americans to remain under that rule by force of arms. But then again when the United States faced its own secession crisis in 1861, the North had no right to force an unwilling South to remain in the union. If a group of people, any people, wish to leave a state, they have the right to do so.

But having the right to do something does not mean that I ought to do it. In a marriage between two people, it is no doubt a good thing for both the man and the woman that each has the right to divorce the other, but this does not mean that they ought to divorce, or that it would be a good thing if they did divorce. The reason that I sympathise with the Catalans is that the government in Madrid is saying that Catalonia does not have the right to secede from Spain, that any referendum on independence would be illegitimate. There is even some loose and senseless talk that Spain would fight to prevent the secession of Catalonia. This really is an example of an abusive marriage. 

Compare and contrast the situation in Scotland. For as long as I can remember the UK government has held the view that if a majority of Scots wish Scotland to leave the UK, then they have the right to do so. No one wishes to hold Scotland and the Scots against our will. This is right and proper. I too have always supported the right of Scotland to secede, for I support the right to self-determination. But I do not wish to exercise that right by leaving, rather I wish to exercise the right to self-determination by electing to stay.

I regret that Ireland chose to secede from the UK. I think it was historically a disastrous decision. But I fully accept that they had a right to leave, if the majority of the people living in Ireland considered that leaving was what they ought to do. However, I also think that the people of Northern Ireland, were within their rights, to exercise their right to self-determination in choosing to remain with the UK. So long as the majority of the population in Northern Ireland want to remain in the UK, they ought to be allowed to do so. For this reason the IRA were always guilty of self-contradiction. They objected to the British trying to prevent Ireland seceding from the UK, but were willing to use force of arms to try to make Northern Ireland secede from the UK. The reason for this is that they saw the nation of Ireland as something that overrode the rights of its constituent parts. Irish nationalism therefore trumped the rights of a group within Ireland to exercise its right to self-determination. Nationalists, who frequently see preserving the unity of the nation as being more important than the rights of secession, often turn out to be the real opponents of the the right to self-determination.

Just as Spain is unwilling to take into account the rights of Gibraltarians, just as Argentina is unwilling to take into account the rights of Falkland Islanders, so Catalans are finding that they don’t have the right to determine how they are ruled. It would seem that the Spanish speaking form of nationalism is such that there is not much choice as to whether someone will be Spanish or not. No wonder a million and a half Catalans were on the streets of Barcelona. No wonder likewise that only five thousand were on the streets of Edinburgh. The fact that Scots have the right to leave the UK if we wish, means that there are no bonds holding us. We simply have to show that we wish to leave and we will be free to go. But the fact that we are free to go, that we have the right to determine our future, means that we have no need to go. The bonds that join us in the UK are gentle bonds, there is therefore no need to struggle against them.

While I sympathise with the Catalans and absolutely think that they have the right to determine their own future, in the end I think their secession from Spain would be a mistake of the same order as Ireland’s secession from the UK. The main reason why Catalan nationalism has sprung into life recently is the economic catastrophe, which at present engulfs Spain. The reason for this crisis however, can be put simply and the solution is equally simple. Spain made a huge mistake when it chose to join the Eurozone. Membership of the Eurozone is the fundamental cause of the meltdown of the Spanish economy and the potential loss of Spanish sovereignty, which would be required if it were to receive a full bailout. Catalan independence, within the Eurozone would be no independence at all. The Catalans would exchange rule from Madrid, for rule from Brussels. What Catalonia needs is not so much Catalan independence as Spanish independence.

The same can equally well be said of Scotland. Thankfully we are not in the Eurozone, but anyone who follows EU affairs, knows that our sovereignty is constrained by Brussels. The Scottish parliament just as much as the parliament in Westminster frequently can not follow the democratic wishes of the electorate, because EU law overrides all.  We have to a great extent lost our right to self-determination. Scottish independence would not change this, we would still be part of that ever closer union,  the EU, which makes laws we cannot change, no matter the will of the people. Scotland does not need Scottish independence. We don’t need to be independent from the parliament in Westminster, we need to be independent from the rulers in Brussels. What we need is a truly independent Great Britain, offering even to welcome back our cousins in Ireland, giving them a route out of Eurozone servility, so that the English speaking people of the British Isles could be united once more.

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.