England and Scotland – growing farther apart anyway?

Good to see some real debate emerging over the Scottish independence at last.  But is this happening to late, when the result is all over bar the shouting, with the No vote 20 points ahead, as American polling guru Nate Silver has been telling them at the Edinburgh Festival? Not so with 44 % registering undecided, according to Ipsos Mori. Looking behind the stats, commentators warn against relentless negativity from the Better Together campaign, including Andrew Marr recovering from his stroke, as he nudges the debate wider. The remaining UK would be dealt a tremendous shock and would be much diminished.  But according to economic commentator Hamish McRae the loss of the Scots would be made up by population growth in the remaining UK  in a couple of decades’ time.

How different are Scotland and England already? Listening to the BBC news about politics, education  and health and the  information gathering  that informs policy, I’m struck by the fact so much of it is about  England and Wales with Scotland left out and apart ( and NI not mentioned at all). The news reader can’t always go on to say: “And in Scotland…” The News would never end.   Try as they might in this asymmetric Union, it’s hard not to equate Britishness with Englishness with no more than a nod in another direction. This is the logic of  the present state of separation.

Will the gap widen further?  In a seminal piece in the Guardian Iain McWhirter argues  that even if Scots reject independence next year, greater divergence is inevitable.

England is dismantling the traditional welfare state through marketisation of the NHS, welfare caps and free schools, while Scotland retains faith in the monolithic health service, social security and universal comprehensive education.

Scotland will likely evolve into a relatively high-tax, high-spend oil-rich Nordic state within the EU, emulating Denmark or Finland. England may seek its own form of independence, probably leaving the EU to become a finance-led market economy with low taxation and diminished social protections.

Eventually both sides will realise that these increasingly divergent political cultures should accept their differences and seek a new and looser constitutional arrangement.

Alex Massie in the Spectator is unsure, as between McWhirter and the fact based analysis of the eminent polling authority John Curtice and Rachel Ormiston:.

On the one hand, the policy differences that have emerged exaggerate the differences in public opinion that exist, thereby raising questions about the degree to which devolution has necessarily resulted in a better fit between public policy and public opinion in different parts of the UK. On the other hand, devolution has not served to widen the gap between English and Scottish public opinion on some of the central issues facing governments today. To that extent at least, accommodating Scotland within the framework of the United Kingdom looks to be no more difficult a job now than it was a decade ago

The verdict will be delivered by the heart as much as the head, on broad sentiment more than narrow politics. In Scotland as well as Ireland today, the absence of armed conflict exposes the true complexity of the politics of identity.

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  • Helpful pulling together of some of the salient arguments, Brian, for which thanks.

    Salmond was clever to call the last 18 months the ‘phoney war’, as he tries to regroup for the final year (I always argued the over-lengthy run-in period could be his undoing – most ‘big’ referendums are won within the honeymoon period after winning an election), but everything now rests on his government’s – note, not the SNP’s, nor the Yes Campaign’s – autumn ‘White Paper’, much awaited, but almost certainly doomed, since it cannot by design answer the as yet unanswered questions (EU, NATO, currency, monarchy, Crown Estate, BBC, pensions black hole, benefits etc).

    I wrote here about the ten iron laws of referendums as a constitutional tool, quite apart from the substance of the debate, some 18 months ago – I wonder how they have stood the test of time, and many ‘phoney war’ efforts: http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/03/08/how-to-win-a-scottish-referendum-%E2%80%93-ten-iron-laws/

  • socaire

    It sort of boils down to the Scots – whether they feel confident enough to govern themselves or do they still need the umbilical cord of The Great White Mother and ,of course, the subvention.

  • Morpheus

    What adds an interesting dynamic to the Scottish independence bid was a poll completed in May of this year which concluded that the more that elements within the UK push to leave Europe the more support there is for an independent Scotland:

    “A poll published in yesterday’s Sunday Times suggests the changing mood south of the border could be a game-changer. While 36% of Scots polled said they supported independence from the UK under present circumstances (with 44% opposed), the yes vote soared to 44% (with 44% still opposed) when voters were asked how they would vote if it looked as though Britain was going to leave the EU.”

    I find it fascinating, verging on ironic, that the more parties like UKIP push for the UK to leave the EU it actually increases the chances of breaking up the UK as it stands.


  • Alan Massie has just weighed in, courtesy of the inestimable John Fay, at Nuzhound, now via Irish Central, in The Spectator:

    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/alex-massie/2013/08/two-nations-two-cultures-britain-is-divided-by-the-trent-not-the-tweed/ also referencing the McWhirter piece – seminal indeed, Brian.

    I’m struck at the low level of debate from here, as you say, Brian – how long will the unionist self-denying ordinance, not to ‘interfere’ last? And who will argue, that although we cannot vote in the referendum, we do still retain a huge stake in the future of the UK, whether or not we subscribe to it.

    Irish nationalists have a stake too; we all stand to be players in the aftermath of the Sept 2014 poll, one way or the other. Who is leading, or even scoping, that pre-debate?

  • runepig

    Who is leading, or even scoping, that pre-debate?

    Nobody. Press and politicians outside of Scotland (actually, many of those in Scotland too) seem to have a decidedly ostrich-like view of the referendum. If its considered at all, a no vote is automatically assumed. Although I hope, and think there is a good chance that, Scotland will say yes, changes are afoot either way. In the event of a no, and the ‘jam tomorrow’ promises falling through, there is still going to end up being an extended debate over the future of the UK. In addition to growing Scottish dissatisfaction with the current settlement, I think the UKIP/Daily Mail/home counties white van man triumvirate will also be increasingly vocal. The latter especially is who NI unionists need to convince of their privileged place in the UK.

  • Red Lion

    UK is a product of hundreds of years of history and piecemeal development.

    Thus it has its quirks, peculiarities and eccentricities. All this is attractive and diverse; is there a constitutional set-up anywhere else in the world like that of the UK?

    However, the quirks have now become too problematic in practical terms, things like the West Lothian question, the differences in policy etc.

    Now is the time for a Royal Commission to properly examine the best way forward for a UK constitution and governance, free from party political broadcasts. IMO it is time to federate under the constitional monarchy, for a new United Kingdom

  • runepig

    A decent idea Red Lion, although I favour the dissolution of the union, federation would be my second choice. The problem is that none of the UK parties will commit to this – even the Lib Dems, the federalist party, have quietly dropped it (seemingly its a good idea in theory, but once it became apparent that it might benefit Scotland, it was deep sixed).

    An astute commenter pointed out elsewhere (I forget where), that the best opportunity for a federal UK was missed 100 years ago, when there was cross-party support for what was then called Home Rule. If Westminster had followed through back then, we might well have a German-esque relationship by now, or even three or more independent states across Britain and Ireland.

  • Red Lion

    Yes Runepig, I think the current devolution arrangments make for instability, particularly in Scotland’s case, making for bickering over lets have more and more power devolved.

    I think (generally) that devolving maximum power (as such)to the countries who then are happy to let a federal UK government arrange things like armed forces,currency, foreign policy, would work well for the UK, all under the constitutional monarchy. Works well for Canada and the Aussies.

    Federalism would settle the issue long term. Devolution is just a bickering match.

    I think England would do very well with its own federated government.

    Only thing, I wouldn’t trust the NI assembley with any more powers at all, can we join Scotland?

  • Greenflag

    @ red lion .

    ‘Federalism would settle the issue long term. Devolution is just a bickering match.’

    Probably .

    ‘I wouldn’t trust the NI assembley with any more powers’

    Good point -not at least until they start using the ones they have to move beyond their divisions .

    ‘Can we join Scotland?’

    The Scots answer would be a resounding No – louder than any of Doc Paisley’s 30 years of audible negatives .

    But heres a question and one which was prompted by the Derry thread .

    Why did Scotland become majority non Catholic, when and how did the transformation take place . I know John Knox was a RC priest at one stage .. I’m embarrassed not to know the story . It was obviously a critical change for Scotland as it no doubt helped to bring forward the ‘Scottish ‘ enlightenment ‘in the late 18th century ?

    Can anybody give some answers?

  • Red Lion

    Greenflag was only gegging about joining Scotland.

    Try Am Ghobsmacht for the historical question?

  • Greenflag

    ‘was only gegging about joining Scotland.’

    I guessed that but my reply to same was’nt ‘gegging’.
    Maybe somebody might start a thread on that general subject area and also Wales given that both nations had very different responses in religious /denomination terms to the Reformation and English encroachment than Ireland .

    There must be an equivalent Scottish or Welsh history book out there similar to say Robert McKee’s or Marcus Tanner’s works on Ireland .

    As it’s Friday and some light humour may be called for – the subject of finding information quickly in this day of the instant Google or Wiki can sometimes have unintended consequences as this snippet from Finland shows .

    The Finnish educational system gives it’s teachers substantial autonomy and they are highly valued in that society . The secondary /high school kids get 30 minutes of homework per night . no school uniforms and the system doesn’t stress about having to go to college /university . Gifted kids i.e the academically bright are not sent to elite schools -prep schools etc but instead become their teacher’s assistant in class helping those who are not as ‘bright’ academically.

    Unfortunately these young and gifted kids being still immature and perhaps lacking in patience can be impolite if not extremely rude to their classmates.

    For example when someone in the class asks a stupid question these Finnish ‘einsteins ‘ bark out ‘KVG ‘ that stands for ‘Katu Vittu Googlesta ‘ or (Google it ye stupid bollix ) ,(actual translation refers more explicitly to parts private )

    You have to wonder about the future of the human race when the the smartest kids on the planet are calling each other &*&*^&#@ etc .

    Of course it could be worse -they could be throwing bricks ?