Tuesday, January 16, 2007


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.


  1. Hmph, I left comments using LJ on this but it hasn't forwarded them on to Blogger. I think you can see them here:

  2. Cheers for the comments - I've been able to see them on your LJ friends page, but don't know why it can't syndicate them here. I might just edit your comment above and add it.

    Oh, and I agree with what you've said. I kept my argument on the "how I feel" side rather than delving into any of the practical issues, although I do think that on a variety of economic issues there are real reasons that a break up would have problems (initially and in the long run if the population of Scotland continues to decline). I don't really know if I'd like to see a separate English parliament, but it is a bit of a sticking point for many people. As for English regional assemblies, I don't think that people really want them (in the only vote for having on in the North-East of England it was roundly defeated). I think people see it as just another level of pointless bureaucracy that would hold things up more than bring about progress to a region.

  3. John's comments from LJ:
    It seems to be an increasingly big issue these days, doesn't it?
    Personally I'm in favour of the union for much the same reasons. There is definitely enough common ground between Scotland and England for the union to remain. On top of that, there are very sensible arguments concerning economies of scale and not duplicating expensive government to make it worthwhile in an economic sense. All the same I think the distinct national identities are a good thing and encourage friendly rivalry, so long as it's seen only as a cultural thing. The fact that the Scottish identity remains strong after 3 centuries of union shows that it is possible to coexist in a larger country without being swallowed up.
    I used to think that Scots were a lot more bothered about the English than vice versa, and certainly more vocal about it, but having just heard on News 24 that 52% of Brits think that a Scot should not be able to be Prime Minister, and reading some stuff on the BBC "have your say" pages that was downright offensive I may have to reconsider. I doubt you'd get many Scots trying to argue that an Englishman should not be made Prime Minister which is the equivalent proposition, it's ridiculous. Obviously the most egregious comments are coming from a vocal minority, but the aforementioned poll suggests that there is significant unrest about the status quo.
    I think a lot of it stems from the West Lothian question. I've read a lot of people complaining that Labour have been able to force through legislation on the back of Scots MPs while the Scots Conservative MPs, erm MP, abstains from voting on English issues (as do the SNP). It's not as clear cut an issue as you might think since some of the "English-only" issues affect the UK national budget and thereby influence Scotland (hence the Barnett formula). It seems to me that there should be some kind of English parliament to deal with these issues that is on an equal footing to the Scottish one. Of course, if that were the case then why not just abolish the UK parliament and devolve everything to the separate states? I believe that's why Labour are against such plans, preferring the safer option of regional assemblies for England which have less chance of causing the breakup of the Union (and since the Scottish Parliament only represents 5million people it might be a bit more proportionate). It's a tricky one I'll grant you.

    Wow, this a rambling and not very illuminating reply. I'd best sum up. In short, I am in favour of the union remaining. Ultimately it's up to the English to decide whether or not they want a parliament of their own, but the Parliament at Westminster must remain UK-wide. Anyone who thinks that a Scot, Welshman or Northern Irishman shouldn't be allowed to be PM is obviously an arse. The real function of the Scottish Parliament is as an insurance policy against the Tories coming back into power at Westminster, so I don't think it's unreasonable that the English should have something similar seeing as they obviously don't like Labour using Scottish MPs to pass England & Wales legislation.

    Oh, and one other thing I forgot to mention. Those in England who are complaining about Scots votes influencing them didn't seem to mind when English votes were imposing the poll tax on Scotland alone. That's not a justification for the current situation of course but I think that more anti-Scots English should bear it in mind before embarking on such rampant hypocrisy. You can't have it both ways.
    Oh God I couldn't resist wheeling out the old poll tax cliche. I'm sorry.