Defence of the Union: Britain is better together

In 2014 there will be a referendum in Scotland on whether Scotland should be an independent state and leave the Union. Frankly I find it ridiculous that the question is even being asked as the answer is so clearly no. Essentially nothing is gained that could not be gained by internal reorganisation within the UK and much is lost.

Personally I was born in Scotland and have lived slightly less than half my life there, the rest being spent in England and some of my great grandparents were Scottish. However I have always lived in Britain and always been British. I am one of the significant number of people who would need dual nationality if Scotland were to become independent because we simply do not fit into the ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’ categories, only in ‘British’.

All the arguments I have heard in favour of independence which are valid such as those which have convinced a slim majority of Scottish Green Party members are not in fact relevant to the question of independence. Rather they relate to the debate on the localisation of different powers at different scales from national to local. Obviously the positioning of park benches should not be done by act of the UK parliament and NHS policy should not be determined individually on a ward level – there is an appropriate scale for different decisions to be made at. There is a very interesting debate on what should be decided at what scale and I think a great deal of room for improvement on this. However none of that is relevant to the question of Scottish independence – or if it is it is just as relevant to the question of independence for the Highlands.

The only issues relevant to the decision on whether Scotland should break the Union are ones which must be decided at the national level and could not be devolved to Scotland. Fundamentally the only issues which then apply are international ones, all domestic issues can be reorganised as we like and the rest of the world does not need to know or care but the interface we provide to the world is that of the nation.

So only international issues matter to the debate on independence, and an independent Scotland would leave both Scotland and the rest of the UK worse off in many different ways and not make things better in any way. Currently the UK punches above its weight in international affairs, Scotland would not gain that and the rest of the UK would lose it. For example the UK has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This is justifiable for more than just historical reasons (Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Lybia) but only tenuously and without Scotland it would be hard to justify it continuing to have a seat. Currently the UK is big enough that when it is necessary for something to be done on the world stage (take action on climate change, stop genocide etc.) then the UK can go ‘Well we are going to do this, who is with us?’ we don’t have to persuade a whole bunch of countries to act in lockstep with us, we can lead[0]. Obviously we then need to persuade other countries to follow us but it is possible to try to lead. I think it is easier to persuade people to follow if they can see that you mean it by your actions than when it can only be words because action is impossible without their help.

Similarly within the EU the UK has a fair bit of influence (for all that David Cameron tries to throw that away). We will not gain any more by being two countries rather than one, Scotland will probably need to reapply for membership post-independence and that might take a few years of sitting out in the cold. Currently when a country needs to take a lead on an issue the UK can do that. It would be hard to see Scotland doing so to the same extent and the rest of the UK’s hand would also be weakened.

A Union was made and formed Great Britain, whatever the perceived legitimacy by current standards of the people involved in making that Union the fact remains that it was made. That was not a temporary treaty or a fair weather thing. That was and is a permanent covenant thing. A sickness and in health, in good economic times and in bad, in peace and war for all time and without end thing. As such it should not be lightly broken. I fail to see what the pressing issue is as to why Britain cannot continue as it is. Some bad things happened in the past long before I was born, why does that even matter? The future is ours to decide and the past remains unchanging whatever revenge is taken for past evil actions they are not undone.

The breaking of a Union would also be a permanent and unalterable thing, not a decision to revisit in 10, 50 or 100 years if it does not work out but one made with finality for all time. While right now the world is a fairly safe place to be as a rich nation [1] that might not always be the case, it certainly has not always been the case. There are many reasons to be uncertain of where the world as a whole will be in 50, 100 or 300 years, let alone thousands of years. This is a decision which needs to be made considering such time-scales rather than just temporary political circumstances.

There have been times when we have stood together when we would not have been able to stand alone. There was a time, still just in living memory when the UK stood alone in Europe, a light against the darkness. Stood and lasted until others came to our aid but only by a very thin margin. Perhaps as allies we could have stood together and lasted, but perhaps disagreements and infighting would have weakened us and a darkness might have fallen across the world. For 300 years we have stood together, one nation against all adversities. Our soldiers have fought together against various foes, bled and died for us, for Britain as much for the mountains of Scotland and Wales as for the hills of England. Should we betray them?

This Union has been sealed with blood in more than one way, in those years people have moved freely between the two and married in each place, there is no real division by race any more. Not that divisions by race really have any meaning any more. What does the colour of the skin matter or where your great great grandparents came from. You are still human.

What then divides us? Not race for there has been much movement between the two. Nor language for British English is spoken in both and variation is greater within each than between them. Nor of geography for the border has been drawn at various places at different times. While different parts of the landscape of each are beautiful in different ways there are places in both where it is hard to tell a Scottish hill for an English or Welsh one and more difference between the Highlands and the Central Belt than between the Central Belt and other parts of England. Nor economics for while the statistics might be different for Scotland as a whole from England as a whole, parts of Scotland match closely with parts of England. You will find places where manufacturing died in both, where tourism is the main industry, where there are high-tech companies or a strong service industry. Is then all that divides us old grudges, memories of past wrongs? Then know this: this is a fallen broken world and the mistakes made by countries and people are many and varied and the depth of the evil that is committed knows few bounds. For life it is necessary to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness: To strive once again to build a better future out of the broken fragments of the past. Fundamentally we are better together and long may we be so.

[0]: Iraq was a terrible illegal mistake but that was not our idea, we were following rather than leading. We also lack the courage to lead as we should on issues like Climate Change.

[1]: To a first approximation no one dies from terrorism in rich nations, our security services do a rather good job at stopping that sort of thing. We should try fixing our road collisions problem that kills many more people.

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2 Responses to “Defence of the Union: Britain is better together”

  1. John Wood Says:

    Hi Daniel, interested to read your blog. I’m English, born and bred, but have lived in Scotland for about 19 years, and I am afraid I disagree with you on just about every point! The concept of a ‘nation’ is subjective, of course, it is about perceptions of identity both personal and collective. This applies to ‘British’ identity also, which was invented by King James IV+I along with the Union flag and is something successive UK Governments have tried to foster, especially over the last 300 years. In reality the Union has always been about the economic and political dominance of England over the rest of the islands. The colonisation of Wales, Scotland and Ireland was never by the consent of a democratic majority any of these countries, and was never fully accepted by all, although (as elsewhere in the Empire) some people undoubtedly saw personal advantage in the arrangements, and many Scots, Welsh and Irish (and Indians, Africans, and others) all served or traded in the Empire.

    England went on to acquire many other lands around the world until in the early 20th c. large areas of the map were coloured red. This doesn’t mean that all these individual countries wished to ‘punch above their weight’ as part of the British Empire. In fact, the Empire started to fall apart very quickly after the 2nd World War when it ran out of money. We are now just witnessing the process of decolonisation continuing. Many people in the UK were born in various parts of the former Empire, including Ireland,and are happy (or not) to identify themselves as British.

    Britain these days is just one member state in the EU… and incidentally post-independence both successor states will be in exactly the same position. If one member state splits in two, the EU can no more throw out one half than the other – they will be on an exactly equal footing. So it would be for the two successor states ‘Rest of the UK’ (RUK) and Scotland to decide for themselves whether they wish to remain in membership. Likewise it would be for an independent Scotland to decide whether it wished to keep the pound as its currency.

    Within the British Isles, the House of Commons is elected by the populations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands already have semi-independent status, and the Isle of Man isn’t even an EU member). However it is all a very unequal partnership. There are ten times as many people living in England as Scotland, so Scotland never has a Westminster Parliament that represents the democratic wishes of a majority of its people. At present, there is only one Tory MP in Scotland, yet we are governed by a Tory government. One Tory MP famously described Scotland a few years ago as ‘one of the most prosperous counties in England’ – showing a complete lack of understanding of this part of the UK. The majority of Scots reject nuclear weapons, yet the UK’s nuclear submarines are based on the Clyde. Cultural differences on the domestic front can be seen in Scots law, or the way the NHS is run in the two countries. Now, the devolved Parliament has at least given Scotland a voice which has served to draw attention to these differences.

    Of course any polity will include minorities. The Gaels in Scotland have been persecuted for centuries for example, and one could make a good case for Orkney and Shetland identifying with Scandinavia rather than Britain. However the bigger the political unit, the bigger the unrepresentative minority and therefore the potential injustice. John Major coined the term ‘subsidiarity’ in his dealings with Europe, which meant decisions should be taken at the most local political level appropriate to the issue, and after many unhappy experiences, many in Scotland would prefer to deal direct with Europe rather than be ‘represented’ by Westminster which is completely dominated by the interests of London and SE England.

    So for reasons of democratic accountability, I think Scotland, like Ireland, Iceland, Norway, or many other countries, should be able to take its own decisions, and if necessary make its own mistakes, according to its own political views rather than be dictated to by Westminster governments dominated by political parties that do not represent this country at all.

    And as a historian and archaeologist I don’t think that anything in this word is ‘permanent’. Things change all the time.

  2. Marsaili Says:

    You will still be British as will we all – Britain is not a country it is a land mass like Scandinavia and is not owned by England any more than that is owned by Norway or Sweden which are countries independent from each other but both Scandinavian. We are the greater part of the Britain if you like and England is just Britain.
    Who is currently influencing the world in the name of Britain? Who has the power, what kind of power is it and where does it come from? The Westminster power structure is about hereditary position, privilege, power and the protection of great wealth. The same families which were in power hundreds of years ago are still in the business of government now – currently at Numbers 10, 11 and City Hall in London as well as of course the heart and head of the power structure, the institution of monarchy which hands whomsover maneuvres into Number 10 the most power within their own country available to any western leader, completely disproportionate and unconnected to the electoral mandate their party did, or as currently didn’t gain at the ballot box, and untouched by other parties involved. Royal prerogative powers, the Crown in Parliament, the power to decree inquiries and throw their findings in the shredder on a whim, write law on a whim in fact, decree policies against the will of even the rest of the cabinet, and u-turns. And Westminster cannot even reform itself – over a hundred years ago it itself passed an Act saying that the House of Lords would be determined by popular vote rather than heredity and despite Lords reform being in all three main parties’ manifestos at the last election it has just failed to happen, again. This feudal, undemocratic system should be a political museum. Trying to work from within has failed. We have a chance to have a really representative democracy and forge ahead with a 21st century country. Time to show them the way. There won’t be a House of Lairds for one, Scotland won’t thole it.
    Instead of ‘the UK’ having influence the British Irish Council can consolidate and speak with an even larger voice than ‘the UK’, and a true voice of the peoples of these islands instead of the vested interests of an outdated fossilised class structure that should be long gone.

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