Alphen, Netherlands. 16 October. When crossing the Rubicon to begin the civil war that led to the destruction of the Roman Republic Julius Caesar said, “the die is cast”. Roman law had it that any Roman army that crossed the small river near Bologna en route to Rome without the permission of the Senate was an act of treachery and must be seen as irreversible.
Yesterday’s ‘historic’ agreement between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alec Salmond to hold a “legally-binding” referendum on Scotland’s possible independence from the United Kingdom cast the die. Whatever happens the United Kingdom will never be the same again, not least because of changes to the electoral law in the agreement that extends the suffrage without any say by Parliament. Some would say that is illegal.
Certainly, a precedent has been established whereby a minority is given superior status over the rest of the UK, although as an Englishman I have long understood that we are second class citizens. Indeed, the most fundamental change to my country for three hundred years could take place and I am to be denied a voice…again.
And yet for all that I support the Scots right to decide and will honour and respect their decision. As an avowed democrat I am bound to the logic of my own argument. What angers me most (and yes I am angry) is that Prime Minister Cameron seems to think it perfectly OK for the Scots to have a referendum that could lead to the dismemberment of my country and yet denies me a referendum on that other Rubicon – the place of the UK in an integrated Europe and the effective end of my state. The two are clearly linked. It is breath-taking hypocrisy.
Cameron is taking one hell of a political risk. Some would say that for once he is leading but any glance at the agreement one can again see that this most lightweight of prime ministers has again been comprehensively out-manoeuvred. Others say that the Scots will never vote for independence as all the mainstream political parties will now join the unionist campaign. First, that is to pay no respect to the great Scottish people. Second, there is a long way to go before the end of 2014 when the vote is likely to take place. Third, expect a lot of other states to start interfering that would love to see London humiliated, not least those on the near-Continent who would like to see the crushing impact this will undoubtedly have on the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland translated into submission to the future diktat of Brussels DC.
The greatest impact will be on England which represents over 90% of the population of the United Kingdom and where the sense of injustice and a feeling that politicians NEVER listen to their concerns about anything that really matters is growing palpably. Of course, the London political elite say that the English can vote for Parliament once every five years. Sadly, both government and Parliament are debased currency in England these days and widely seen by the population to have sold the English out left, right and Brussels.
If Scotland votes for independence it must mean independence. Salmond says that the Bank of England will remain the lender of last resort post-independence and that Scotland would retain the pound. As an Englishman with Scottish blood in his veins I utterly reject that because what Salmond is in effect saying is that he wants to destroy the UK and get the English to pay for it. Cameron is so weak that he will likely agree to such nonsense but the simple fact is that if Scotland votes to go then it must pay its own way and the enormous subsidies paid to the Scots by taxpayers in the rest of the UK must end.
Whatever happens Scotland will have to live with an angry, dominant, let-down, resentful and utterly fed-up England and Edinburgh must never forget that even if London too often does. If Scotland does vote to destroy the United Kingdom (for that is what is implicit in this vote) then I will wish the Scottish people well even if I passionately believe the UK is stronger with Scotland within it and that Scotland does very well out of the UK.
The die has indeed been cast. How on Earth have we come to this?