The case for the Union needs to be made

 

Two veteran commentators give instant pronouncements on the implications for the Union of the SNP landslide. Leaving aside the Northern Ireland overtones just for now (please!) Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph makes the obvious point that the essential case for the Union has yet to be put. The trouble is, the English political class can be the least qualified to make it, as their version of Britishness is so often post-imperial Englishness with a bit of multiculturalism thrown in. Either that, or they talk about the Union as a kind of taxation arrangement. Their discourse is so often deaf to other forms of Britishness in the troublesome Celtic fringes.  Even the much vaunted English toleration is ambiguous.  Coercion to prevent Scottish independence is of course unimaginable; but this liberal democratic acceptance of Scots right to secede can degenerate into a sulk: “go on then, bugger off, see if we care.”

The Tory right are similarly flakey. Rumbles going the rounds calling on Cameron to be the one to “call Salmond’s  bluff “ and hold a referendum are madness, playing right into the First Minister’s hands. All the same, Moore is surely right about the fundamental case for the Union going by default.

Two thirds of Scottish “exports” go to England. Five hundred thousand English people live in Scotland. In England, there are 800,000 Scots. We share an economy, nuclear weapons, a seat on the UN Security Council, the NHS, the BBC (God help us), and our Armed Forces and an island and a history and a future…. It is astonishing how little these facts have been articulated, how little the underlying emotions have been tapped. If you did a poll asking English people what “the Union” was, I bet they would say that it was something to do with labour relations: the very concept is so little discussed

Former Scotsman editor and sage Magnus Linklater offers the comforting version of the SNP win for the Union cause which no longer can be taken for granted.

By voting it into government, especially with an overall majority Scotland is firmly set on the slippery slope to independence.

But what happened in the small hours of yesterday morning ignores two important factors: first, support for independence remains pitifully low. The most recent opinion poll put it at less than 30 per cent, and nothing that Alex Salmond’s government has done in power over the past four years has altered that to any significant degree.

Secondly, the referendum that Mr Salmond is committed to holding before the end of his first term of office would almost certainly kick the issue of independence into the long grass for years to come.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London