Tuesday, January 16, 2007

United

Today marked the 300th anniversary of the Scottish parliament voting for the Union between the Scottish and English parliaments. This has of course been greeted by debate (sure to continue up to this year's Scottish parliamentary elections) over the place of the union and whether the United Kingdom should break up with an independent Scotland (and indeed and independent England - in a lot of these debates Wales and Northern Ireland get a bit forgotten about, but then they are only small). There are three main areas where these debates tend to focus, and they are used to argue, by various parties (not only meaning political parties), both for and against independence: the political arguments e.g. self determination in all areas of government including taxation and defense, the West Lothian question; the economic arguments e.g. other small independent European nations have vibrant economies, businesses thrive with close links to the economic powerhouse of London; and the cultural arguments e.g. we diminish/enhance our identities through the union. I've just given a few examples of some of the areas which arise from the independence question and there are many more. Each of them is very complex with no simple answer or conclusion, so I'm just going to give a bit of opinion as to why I favour keeping the union rather than delving into any one particular argument.

I'm English and have lived in Scotland for over four years now, so I have some knowledge of what it's like to live in both countries. Before moving here I liked the idea of the union, just because I thought it was a nice notion, although I didn't have any real idea of the strength of the Scottish national identity or of the differences throughout Britain. On moving to Scotland I've enjoyed the fact that there is a distinct cultural identity here, however I've never felt like a foreigner (ok, except during the football!). I don't know if it's just the shared language that makes it this way, and maybe I'd feel the same in, say, France if I spoke French, or them English. Then again, I do feel like a foreigner in America, where they speak English. I think the main reason that I feel like I'm at home in Scotland is that the union's been around so long that the links and commonalities between the nations are actually rather ingrained, and comfortable. Sure there are difference and it's nice to celebrate these things, and to show them to others, but on another level there are (again in my opinion) far more similarities. So my main reason for the retaining of the union is still that I like the way it feels. I like the fact that England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are part of something bigger and that because of it they do have so many links and things in common. I suppose I'm arguing here that there is (in my experience) some sort of common British identity, which a lot of people don't like the idea of or get defensive about - maybe this is because they think it somehow dilutes or takes away from their narrower national (or regional) identity, or maybe it's just that they like being in a slightly more exclusive club, or maybe it's that they don't like the idea of a label or national identity at all, but I don't really know. I have to say that one aspect of the independence debate that I hate (and which thankfully you don't often hear) is one of racism, whereby the Scots, Welsh, Cornish are Celts and racially different that the Anglo Saxons and therefore are fundamentally different and should have independent (and maybe they're suggesting racially pure!) countries.

Anyway, these are the opinions of someone who's from England, or more specifically the South-East (London), so it would be interesting to hear other peoples views. Maybe you see the commonalities that I say run deep are actually the superficial things, whereas the differences are far more numerous and ingrained. Let's not get to divisive now though ;)

Back to the general starting point of this opinion piece:- The main thing I think that would be seen if independence were to happen is that a mixture of the pro and anti-independence predictions would be born out, with some benefits being seen as well as some loses (for both England and Scotland), plus some outcomes that no one expected - I know that's not a very insightful thing to say as it's pretty much stating the bloody obvious, but politicians tend to paint things as either one option or the other.