“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.”