After over three-hundred years of one Parliament, fighting as one State against Republican France, Imperialist and then Nazi Germany, Scotland is considering whether to break the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is worth remembering that the opinion polls consistently show a majority in Scotland wish to remain in the Union. However, the SNP was never supposed to be able to win outright in Scottish Parliamentary elections, so Unionists recognise Salmond’s political ability and are right to be vigilant.
Perhaps what Scots find attractive about separation comes from their disillusionment with Westminster politics. The irony is that they probably share that disillusionment with the rest of Great Britain. The Nationalist politicians however are a more spiteful and negative crowd. They are of the same ilk as the most sanctimonious of Liberal- Left English Guardianistas –preoccupied with minority issues and disconnected from the values and prejudices of ordinary people.
On Saint Andrew’s Day it seems right that this blog should focus on the elephant in the room, which is of course the possible end of Great Britain as a nation state. When one actually thinks about it the decision of Scottish voters will be momentous for all of us, because if they vote for independence they will be changing all of our identities.
We have grown up regarding the Union Jack, Scott of the Antarctic, Adam Smith, the writers Sir Walter Scott, John Buchan and Robert Louis Stevenson, the brave Highland Regiments, Scottish Royalty such as the late Queen Mother, Balmoral Castle, traditions such as the Edinburgh tattoo and Burns Night as belonging to all of us because we are British. Scottish independence, whatever is said, will change how these things make up our identity.
Of course the factors that really held the Union together for many years were the benefits of Empire (wanderlust Scots generally being far more adventurous empire builders than the English) and a shared feeling of a common Protestant faith in the face of a hostile, absolutist and Roman Catholic Continent. The Empire is now gone and with it the economic opportunities it brought for the Scottish. Religion is much less of a factor in our British identity and the threat of being colonised by a Catholic hegemony no longer realistic (many might say the current threat is domination by a secular bureaucracy based in Brussels).
History might be important for the Nationalists, but it is important for the Unionists too. The difference is that whereas Nationalists pick out specific and Medieaval examples of grievance, without looking at the whole narrative, Unionists recognise history is a story of gradual evolution. Look at history as a whole and Bannockburn in 1314 can be put into perspective. The Union is a history of a growing relationship and coming together. From the joining of Monarchy when the Scottish king succeeded to the English Throne in 1603, to the Act of Union in 1707, which might count as the marriage following the century of engagement, then the ongoing and growing relationship in which Royalty and aristocracy intermarried becoming entirely British As with a marriage, each partner showed respect for difference, so that each nation kept its own legal system and own established church. This is a more real interpretation of history. In this context independence is a tragic breach of a relationship not a putting right of Mediaeval wrongs.
Scottish Nationalists are like the worst sort of Socialist who is more preoccupied with hurting the rich than helping the poor, for they dwell on ancient grievances and want to pull down the existing settlement to replace it with something ideological. Indeed Scottish Nationalists are more Jacobin than Jacobite.
A word on Jacobitism - The last great breach between Scotland and the British establishment. Jacobites however put their political descendants to shame. For the Jacobites fought for Monarchy and Church – good Tory principles, against the Whig hegemony with its disregard for tradition. Jacobites had allies in the Tory movement South of the border. They were not simply nationalistic and resentful, they believed in the institutions this Island shares.