“Unionism, not nationalism, is the aberration”

Today is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between Scotland and England. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says it’s a day Britons should celebrate “with pride”. Blair’s likely successor Gordon Brown doesn’t appear to be listening as he apparently hasn’t planned anything to mark the event. Meanwhile, Ian Bell in the Herald asks if there is a future for the Union?

“The defence of the Union today is born of a nostalgia for that Victorian age. It represents both the Britain for which some still hanker, and a problem for nationalists,” says Bell, who asks why, if the Union signifies one the largest, and currently most successful, economies in the world, Scotland is also pathetically incapable, economically, of autonomy.

“Anyone searching for pressures on the Union at the tercentenary will find perhaps the largest in that paradox. The Prime Minister would claim that three centuries of incorporating Union have been a boon to Scotland. But he would then have to tell us why, after 300 years, the junior partner remains unfit to face the world unaided. Boon or bust?”

For Bell, one of the objectives of the Union, assimilation, has failed.

“The cultural independence of Scotland has never been ceded. Nor have the many demands for assimilation, implicit and explicit, succeeded,” he says. “The poets tell that story. The deaths of Scotland’s languages have been predicted many times over, but something, ever-changing, persists. Above all, the sense of the nation is ineradicable.”

“For Unionists, this is not a political fact. If anything it is a phenomenon, in their ideology, for which the Union was designed; a peculiarity to be accommodated. But should a prime minister ever speak to the state of the Union, he should speak to that truth: the Scots go on being Scots. Not out of habit, not merely for the sake of football: after three centuries, they still accept Britain, if at all, with reservations. If that is not a political fact, nothing is.

It means the metamorphosis of Union did not quite take. It means that the treaty, like any treaty, can be revoked. It suggests that Unionism, not nationalism, is the aberration.”

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all,

    Interestingly, as sinn fein leaders try to bring Irish nationalist/republicans closer into the union ….Scots are moving further from it. So who is in step…the Scots or adams/mcguiness?

  • Elvis Parker

    What bolix!
    The Union has always been about accomdating difference (admittedly not amongst so called unionist politicians in NI) but in general.
    There was no attempt to run everything from London – there has always being considerable policy and power devolved to Scotland for example.
    There has been respect for differnet culture and education systems for example.
    Scotland was over-represented at Westminster (still is I think)

    Mr Bell is ranting against total integration – something that never happened

  • I wonder have the Unionists any plan if or when Scotland decides to leave the Union ? Would they have a new union with Scotland or continue the England and Wales Union (or would Scotland or England/Wales want them?)? Or would they go for an independent Ulster/6 counties ? Or dare I say it would they look South for a new relationship ? Of course, I couldn’t see the nationalists going for an independent NI, I’m sure they’re all proud Ulster men/women, but more in Ulster being one of the Irish four provinces. Anyway, just curious…

  • kensei

    “The Union has always been about accomdating difference (admittedly not amongst so called unionist politicians in NI) but in general.”

    Bollocks. The 1707 Union was about money and a defensive measure against a Jacobite threat. The 1800 Union was equally defensive in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion. Both required bribery and neither would have happened in a modern democracy.

    “There was no attempt to run everything from London – there has always being considerable policy and power devolved to Scotland for example.
    There has been respect for differnet culture and education systems for example.”

    More bollocks. Did you miss the 80’s or soemthing? Plus if this was the case, why did devolution happen? Please, talk sense.

    And as the article points out, Scotland kept it’s culture because of the determination of the Scots, not encouragement from the Establishment.

    “Scotland was over-represented at Westminster (still is I think)”

    But ultimately, can always be overruled by England. There are advantages, most of which have been diminshed with the advent of the EU, but it seems to me it’s a hell of a lot like living with your parents. They provide the money, you get a say but ultimately the final word is theirs. It’s one of those things, like monarchy, that is completely beyond my comprehension.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Elvis Parker: “The Union has always been about accomdating difference (admittedly not amongst so called unionist politicians in NI) but in general. There was no attempt to run everything from London – there has always being considerable policy and power devolved to Scotland for example.”

    An analysis of history would disagree with your theory, Elvis… The Act of Union was about *preventing* difference, not accomdating it. IIRC, England established law preventing Roman Catholic from ascending to the throne with the Act of Settlement. The Scottish Parliment passed the Act of Security, essentially preserving their right to differ from the English on the matter of who became King, leading to the possibility of an independent Scotland with a different Monarch than that of England. This led to the Alien Act, which sought to coerce Scotland into compliance with the Settlement Act. The Act of Union was simply the last “act,” effectively muzzling Scotland as a seperate entity, at least politically.

  • queston: North Sea oil… if there hadn’t been Scot / Eng union wouldn’t the revenue generated by this oil have funded the Scottish economy?

    I wonder how much oil taxation was generated for the Westminsiter parliment and how much fiscal support was returned to Scotland during the economically depressed years since the oil crisis’ (sic)?

  • Phil

    All you ever hear from British nationalists like Brown and Blair is how the union benefits Scotland, but what is England’s union dividend? What benefit do I get from having my taxes spent heavily on free university education in Scotland whilst English kids have to borrow heavily to further their education? Where is the dividend for me in subsidising free NHS prescriptions in Wales when I pay a fortune whenether I catch so much as a cold? When do I see the benefit of ploughing millions of pounds into maintaining a union with an overseas civil war ravaged society that even after twelve years of so called peace continues to absorb taxes that would be better spent in the country that raised them? Above all though, what do I get from having legislation passed by MP’s who represent nobody that is going to be affected by their vote, whilst my MP has no say whatsoever in the same legislation when passed in the constituencies of their fellow MP’s from outside England?

    Is there a unionist out there who can tell me why England should not leave the UK? The arguements in favour of us leaving are growing stronger by the day and still the Brit nats have no sound arguement in favour of England remaining a part of the UK.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Phil: “All you ever hear from British nationalists like Brown and Blair is how the union benefits Scotland, but what is England’s union dividend? What benefit do I get from having my taxes spent heavily on free university education in Scotland whilst English kids have to borrow heavily to further their education? Where is the dividend for me in subsidising free NHS prescriptions in Wales when I pay a fortune whenether I catch so much as a cold? When do I see the benefit of ploughing millions of pounds into maintaining a union with an overseas civil war ravaged society that even after twelve years of so called peace continues to absorb taxes that would be better spent in the country that raised them? Above all though, what do I get from having legislation passed by MP’s who represent nobody that is going to be affected by their vote, whilst my MP has no say whatsoever in the same legislation when passed in the constituencies of their fellow MP’s from outside England? ”

    Darn good question there, Phil…

    The only real answer is that it was England’s idea in the first place — its the way the leaders of the day wanted things arranged, more or less, and that it “seemed like a good idea at the time.”

    England, by hook and by crook, got want its leaders wanted… funny ol’ world, innit?

  • Diluted Orange

    Phil,

    You have some good questions about England’s role in the Union but do you not think that the general mood about this in England at the moment smacks of hypocrisy?

    England has always been the premier partner in the United Kingdom. In the last 100 years for example, David Lloyd George has been the only non-Englishman to assume the role of British Prime Minister and yet when it is mentioned in the tabloid press that Gordon Brown will very likely be the nest British PM it’s as if a very large panic button has been pressed in the Home Counties. “We can’t have a Jock as our leader,” is the general jist I get from cross-sections of English public opinion at the moment, although in a United Kingdom where each of the 4 states is truly equal such a scenario shouldn’t be such an issue.

    It is my opinion that this thinly veiled xenophobia stems from the fact that the English public at large actually do see themselves more as the colonial rulers of the last throws of the English Empire rather than as an equal partner of the U.K. From the Scottish and Welsh perspectives I think that they too see this as the natural order and that this feeling is one of the major aspects which fuels their appetite for self governance and ultimately their grievances against the English. From the Northern Irish Unionist perspective I think at large Unionists feel permanently under siege by the prospect of a United Ireland and so devolution here has a totally different meaning than it does across the water.

    I also think that there is quite a lot of hysteria in the British tabloid press at the moment regarding the English ‘propping up’ the Scots, the Welsh and Northern Ireland with their own tax revenue and using it as an excuse for their dissatisfaction with their way of life. They need reminded that it is London that it is the financial centre not just of the UK but of Europe and that the considerably higher wages earned there compared to the rest of the UK is the main reason, if any, as to why, on average, net-English tax contributions may be higher than in other parts of the UK.

    To say England is bailing out Scotland is nonsense. Scotland is performing very well economically, not just in the oil industry but in electronics, electrical power generation (which in the large part gets distributed to England anyway), finance and tourism. Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen are all booming. Even if there was mass unemployment in Scotland, which is certainly not presently the case, all the ills of England could not be blamed on Scotland; seeing as it has a population of only 5 million compared to England’s 50 million the effect to English would be marginal compared to any social problems which might lie south of Hadrian’s Wall.

    You only have to look at the vast amounts of public money which are being and have been invested in English projects such as the Millennium Dome, The London Eye, the 2012 Olympic Games and the required upgrades to the public transport system, the failed 2006 World Cup bid, inner city regeneration projects, drug rehabilitation programs etc. Whether these are worthy projects or not is debatable but being English you have the power to effect change by voting in a UK General Election. I, on the other hand cannot, as neither the Conservatives nor Labour have any remote prospect of winning a seat here in Northern Ireland.

  • Mac Giolla Eoghain

    There is no UK without England. The whole enterprize has become a folly to the memory of empire. The glue that held it together, respect for the Royal family, Protestantism, and the propogation of the empire are ebbing away. All that holds it together now is the £11B subsidy from the South East to the North West. The centripetal forces that Ian Bell refers to are being overpowered by the centrifugal ones that the SNP need to tap into. I’m not sure the Scots have the balls to do it, but if they don’t then Scottish self esteem and confidence will be hugely damaged. Truly, it is time. Just do it.

  • Ziznivy

    Not only are the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom stronger together than they are apart, there is also far more uniting us than dividing us. The usual wittering about culture begins when nationalists try to undermine the union, but we never hear about the far greater bonds of culture we share. Here we have the fact that 300 years of union hasn’t produced complete homogenity in England and Scotland cited as some sort of failure!

  • JERZY

    dilute orange; your view of the scots economy is quite divorced from reality. it is virtually stagnant. the social issues such as health and drink and drug problems are out of control. You must do some research on this topic if you are going to make worthwhile comments. The demographics are grim too. Mr mcConnel actually begging London a couple of years ago to force asylum seekers to go to scotland to bolster a falling ageing population. google it

  • Teach

    As a Scotsman I think some people are trying to imply a couple of things.One was that the Scots had no special role in the British Empire and that, if we had, it was because the English made us do it: in other words, the `we were only obeying orders’ defence, which, apart from being a lie, is not particularly flattering to the Scots. However, I suggest you read – Michael Fry’s The Scottish Empire and Tom Devine’s Scotland’s Empire – which, whatever else, sets out the facts fairly clearly. Far from being in any sense a victim of imperialism, Scotland was, as an integral part of the British state, a major component of one. Nor was it a `junior partner’ – a thesis whose main function is to evade Scottish responsibility for the nature of the British Empire.

    Scotland changed from the poorest country in Europe with no real future to a country that lead the world in philosophical thought and innovations (Scottish Enlightenment) .This would not have happened if we had not joined together to form the Union ! Scotland reaped the economic benefits of free trade within the British Empire together with the intellectual benefits of having established Europe’s first public education system since classical times. Under these twin stimuli, Scottish thinkers began questioning assumptions previously taken for granted; and with Scotland’s traditional connections to France, then in the throes of the Enlightenment, the Scots began developing a uniquely practical branch of humanism to the extent that Voltaire said “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.

    In fact just look at what the Englishman Winston Churchill said about us”Of all the small nations on earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.

    But why is the Union still good for Scotland ? Well I’ll tell you.We have earned our prosperity through close economic links with the rest of Britain. We share values throughout these islands.Scotland’s prosperity can grow further in the coming decades if we make the right long-term decisions.And in the coming months, a real choice lies ahead.We can take the high road and make the most of our Scottish parliament within the UK – building on stability, investing in education and creating jobs.Or we can succumb to the low road, a nationalist break-up of the UK which would mean a focus on constitutions, not prosperity, and lead to job losses and instability.

    We are stronger together, weaker apart.

  • DK

    Problem with Scottish independence (and irish reunification) has been aptly summarised by British prime minister Lord Palmerston, who is reported to have said, “Change, change, change! All this talk about change! Aren’t things bad enough already?”.

    People ultimately talk the talk, but very few walk the walk. Especially in comfortable times, which is what we are in now (relative to previous decades).

  • kensei

    See, first half good – whatever the other consequences Scotland did derive economic benefit from the Union at various points of its history. Just a little point though – it was backrupt because it tried to build an Empire. The rest? Oh dear….

    “But why is the Union still good for Scotland ? Well I’ll tell you.We have earned our prosperity through close economic links with the rest of Britain.”

    Past performance is no indication of future results. At the time the Union opened up a large free trade area; this was increased by the Empire. But Scotland has been underperforming other areas of the UK for quite some time now. At the same time, the EU effectively removes any advantage of being within the UK, and Scottish growth compares badly against other European small countries.

    “We share values throughout these islands.”

    Meaningless twaddle. You could equally make that statement about the republic, or the US, or even to an extent France. Scotland is a fair bit to the Left of England anyway. The main “values” behind the Union – Protestantism, Empire and External Threat are all much diminished if not gone.

    “Scotland’s prosperity can grow further in the coming decades if we make the right long-term decisions.”

    You don’t say.

    “And in the coming months, a real choice lies ahead. We can take the high road and make the most of our Scottish parliament within the UK – building on stability, investing in education and creating jobs.”

    You’ll be attempting it without the full range of measures open to most Parliaments.

    “Or we can succumb to the low road, a nationalist break-up of the UK which would mean a focus on constitutions, not prosperity, and lead to job losses and instability.”

    The Constitution would need sorted, yes. Perhaps it might have a short term negative effect. But if the change is to be made, it’s the medium to long term that’s important. I also get narked by the suggestion that somehow, everything else isn’t fundamentally linked to the Constitution and the ability to control who governs you.

    Arguments for the Union seem to boil to three categories

    1. You are shit and won’t cope on your own
    2. Meaningless gumpf about “values”
    3. Attempts to demonise the desire for full Nationhood as sectarian

    If that’s the standard of argument, then interia is the only thing holding the Union together.

  • Southern Observer

    [i]In the last 100 years for example, David Lloyd George has been the only non-Englishman to assume the role of British Prime Minister [/i]
    Ramsey Mac Donald -Scottish.
    I agree however with the general thrust of your post.

  • Crataegus

    The Union encompasses a diverse range of people and views. The idea that the split up of the Union will solve all ill is as preposterous as it is to say all is well. If there were an independent Wales or Scotland do you think there would be none in those countries that would be strongly opposed?

    All constitutional arrangements need to change and recognise a changing reality. Membership of the EU fundamentally changed the possibilities for smaller countries and the dynamics within Britain.

    I think much of this debate is driven by dissatisfaction with the current management of the country and governance. We have seen a series of pathetic governments which have few ideas and fewer principles.
    We have a country that is over centralised, where local democracy counts for nothing, where governance is different from region to region and where each vote has different weight and each citizen different rights. It is a country run from the south east with economic policy for the south east.

    Like much of what Blair did he botched the devolution of power, he had no coherent overall view of how the country should be run and how the various levels of government interrelated and how they meshed in with the EU. We are over governed and it is a right muddle.

    Surely it wouldn’t have been that difficult to decide what local councils should do and how big they need to be to do that effectively, ditto regional Assemblies and Westminster and within that consider the role of the House of Lords and the EU. Done properly you may well find a massive reduction in the role of Westminster. Therein lies the problem politicians seem incapable of introducing measures that will diminish their role or remove electoral peculiarities that that favour them. So in the end what we have is waffle about revitalising local democracy and lack of accountability and so the dissatisfaction festers.

  • MacBeth

    Scots wherever, It is time. Let us throw off this infernal straitjacket and take our place among the Nations of the Earth. We are no inferior race. We are not incapable of saying to the world “this is who we are, this is what we believe, this is Scotland. “

  • Crataegus

    MacBeth

    “Is this a dagger I see before me”

    I would thing long and hard before picking it up, but agree fundamental change is needed. One for the mind not the heart.

  • kensei

    “The Union encompasses a diverse range of people and views. The idea that the split up of the Union will solve all ill is as preposterous as it is to say all is well. If there were an independent Wales or Scotland do you think there would be none in those countries that would be strongly opposed?”

    No, but it would mean that they were completely responsible for them. Which is a world of difference.

  • smcgiff

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/6267881.stm

    Scotland not as expensive to run afterall. Reminds one of the maxim, lies, Damn lies and Home Office Statistics! 😉

  • DK

    Just reading your link smcgiff:

    “The Cuthberts – a husband and wife team – had argued that certain types of spending in areas such as prisons, courts and nature conservation is excluded from some calculations made in England but not in Scotland.”

    Does this mean that Scotland has been receiving too much public subsidy from the rest of the UK?

    It also makes you wonder what other errors there are, maybe for NI as well – imagine if our balance of payments didn’t include prisons and courts!!! We’d be in the black!

  • Diluted Orange

    JERZY Seeing as I lived there for 5 years I don’t have to google it. Scotland has done a lot better economically in recent years than Northern Ireland for example. If the economy was so stagnant then how come I and many others didn’t have much difficulty getting a good job there once I left university, unlike here.

  • Joe

    “When do I see the benefit of ploughing millions of pounds into maintaining a union with an overseas civil war ravaged society that even after twelve years of so called peace continues to absorb taxes that would be better spent in the country that raised them?”

    I’m glad you realise this but remember it was the London Government who caused the situation by decided to partition Ireland in the first place (see Government of Ireland Act 1920)!

  • páid

    In the end, all that was left was Montenegro.

    And one day, even she realised that the game was up.

  • I’m glad you realise this but remember it was the London Government who caused the situation by decided to partition Ireland in the first place

    You actually think the Ra had the capacity to beat the Jaffas in a fair dig, with the Brits not involved, in 1921? ROFL.

  • Phil

    Diluted Orange,

    Sorry for the delay in my reply, it’s been one of those days! I think that you are misreading the anti-Brown sentiment here, it isn’t his nationality that is the problem and if he happened to be the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed for example, his potential premiership wouldn’t be an issue. The main issue as I stated before is that the UK is no longer a unitary state with one parlaiment and equelity between all of its members, the responsibilities that English MP’s have for their constituents are very different to those representing a seat in Scotland, Wales and under normal circumstances in Northern Ireland have for the people that they represent.

    When you add to this the perception that we pay for the privilige of keeping the union together (if we don’t then why do British nationalists in the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties keep preaching to Scotland that to vote for independence would be a financial disaster for Scotland?) then you can see why us English are starting to ask questions about our continued membership of a union that is supposed to be of equal nations. In a little over 24 hours neither you nor anybody else has come up with an answer to what England’s union dividend is. To say that it is what England wanted in 1707 (Dread Cthulhu) or that it was a London (UK not English) government that partitioned Ireland in 1921 (Joe) is hardly relevent to the position that England finds herself in 2007. The people of England did not vote for the union in 1707 so maybe it is time to ask us now?

  • Huw

    Brown too Scottish

    I agree with the comment above about Brown. No doubt that New Labour’s research on vital floating voters in key English constituencies has found that they have great difficulties with him being a Scot. Therefore the spin doctors have drafted all these “Land of Hope and Gory” speeches for him to appear more English than the English. Welsh politicians knew they had to become bigger Brits than the Brits in order to “get on” in London. Just think of Kinnock and Lloyd George… Then they sold the “vote for me boyo and I’ll always put in a good word for Wales when at banquets at the Palace” line to the people back home.

    The empire is over we’d all be better off without the union. I hope the Scots really give massive support to the SSP and SNP. A recent poll in Wales gave a figure of 20% in favour of independence, more than you’d ever have thought from our London worshipping media. As a member of Plaid Cymru I am really encouraged by this – it fills me with great hope for the future.

  • Phil

    Huw,

    Absolutely spot on. The fact that the Unionist Labour, Tory and Lib Dem’s have to say different things to different parts of the union to defend their position speaks volumes for the sham that the UK has become. Nobody with any sense would deny the things that we have in common, but they are no different to what we have in common with the rest of the former empire and I doubt that Gordon Brown is on the ‘phone preaching to John Howard or Bertie Aherne about our “shared values”. A shared history or (mostly) language are not good enough reasons to combine distinct nations in one political entity. I am not anti-Scots, Welsh or Irish, but I am English and the welfare of England comes first for me and most of my countrymen and women, something that the present government fail to understand. There has still been no answer to my original question (what does England get from being in the UK?) which is odd as I thought that Northern Ireland was full of defenders of the union!