Alphen, the Netherlands. 16 January. Winston Churchill once famously said of US leaders that they could normally be relied upon to make the right decision, but only after every other option had been exhausted. Today he might well have said the same thing about British leaders save for one thing; they make the wrong decision after every other option has been exhausted…and have done now for many years. This serial failure of London’s political class can be seen in Britain’s rapid decline which provides the context for Scottish separatism. With the prospect of a Scottish referendum on independence decline could soon turn into disintegration.
When I was a lad those pressing for Scottish independence were confined to a rather dotty minority known as the ‘lunatic Celtic fringe’. Today, upwards of 30% of Scots apparently want to press the Braveheart button. And, if a majority of Scots did indeed vote for independence I would of course accept and respect that decision even if it meant the subservience of both English and Scots to a Brussels that would rarely if ever act in the interests of either.
However, it is not the Scots that concern me but the English. According to a poll in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph the group keenest to see Scottish independence are the utterly fed-up English. Why are so many of the English apparently so keen on breaking up the Union?
It all comes down to the dawning realisation amongst the English that successive British governments have put the interests and well-being of minorities, both from within the Isles and beyond, before their own. The political Left is fixated on a hyper-immigration driven effort to recreate the class war they believe gives them power. The business Right would seemingly be happy to see the entire country unemployed if it meant it could import and exploit foreigners. The result is that the hard-pressed English are subsidising everybody, but getting very little back in return. The normally docile English have had enough.
There are a whole host of practical reaons why the Union is worth preserving normally to do with money, but four strategic reasons stand out. First, there is little evidence smaller states do economically better than bigger states, particularly in times of economic crisis. The 21st century will place a premium on big states, particularly as institutions such as the EU fail. Indeed, so profound is the current crisis it is quite simply the worst possible moment for Alec Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) leader to cut Scotland off from England. He says independence would re-invigorate the friendship and ties between England and Scotland. He clearly has not been to England of late. The English, who make up over 80% of the population of the British Isles, would make Scotland pay.
Second, the Scots do very well out of the UK. To hear SNP leaders talk of English ‘interference’ is a bit rich. The Scots have for many years been over-represented in both Westminster and influence over England. Indeed, the English have been forced to subsidise/bribe the Scots through the hideously unfair Barnett Formula. Salmond counters that all the oil and gas that has been squandered over the last forty years was in fact Scottish – not according to international law. And, I really wonder whether Scotland would be a big enough platform for the Scottish genius for leadership. Post-independence Scots would be barred from London.
Third, for all the strategic incompetence of Westminster the UK still counts for something as a ‘brand’ in international politics. The collapse of the UK would only strengthen political adversaries. The peoples of the British Isles would thus be ever more subject to the whims and prejudices of others. Ask the Irish what they think of German and French leadership of the Eurozone. Sadly, I am sure there are those in Brussels, Berlin and Paris at this very moment considering how they can advance and facilitate the break-up of the UK.
Fourth, and by far the most important factor, such a split would be utterly artificial and reflective of a particular, peculiar political moment, rather than the underlying facts of contemporary British society. Indeed, who is English or Scottish these days, or indeed Welsh or Northern Irish? My grandmother was a Scot which means I could play football for Scotland, both the spherical and ovoid codes, if it were not for the fact I am old, slow, fat and rubbish.
It is not just a question of the English and Scottish being so interwoven that, given the world of the 21st century makes any call to nationalism on either side romantic twaddle. There is also a question as to who should have the right to vote. Be it as an Englishman with close Scottish antecedents or as a Briton I find the whole idea that a few narrowly-defined ‘Scots’ can decide the constitutional fate of the United Kingdom utterly pernicious. That would be one unfairness too far for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish and that is the essential point.
The greatest danger to the Union is not Salmond’s romantic Scottish nationalism but the reactive English nationalism it could trigger. It would be a nationalism born not only of Scottish independence but of all the other inequities, unfairnesses and frustrations the English have had imposed upon them these many years past in the name of ‘social justice’ – the new discrimination. Sadly, it is English nationalism Salmond seems only too keen to encourage.
Sadly, Britain would not be in this position were it not for London’s repeated mistakes, which represent the second greatest danger to the UK...or maybe the first.