A good question: Should Scotland choose independence?
Each month we ask one question and get four answers. This month: Should Scotland choose independence?
Being a country is first of all about geography, habitat. Scotland as a country predates the Act of Union, has survived within the Union and will continue to exist as a country whatever the outcome of the referendum. Scotland has had different legal and educational systems, its own national media and religious institutions since well before the devolution process instituted the Scottish parliament and charity regulator. These institutions are not better or worse because they are Scottish; none of them are exempt from the need for constant scrutiny, review and change. They are simply different because of the particularities of history.
So I don’t, and won’t, need a constitutionally independent Scotland in order to be Scottish. But I am also a citizen of the European Union and of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This civic identity, both British and European, is what I must now consider anew, since a referendum on EU membership seems increasingly likely. The democratic deficit (whereby Scotland is increasingly governed at a UK level by parties it did not elect) has provided much of the impetus for the Scottish referendum. But this is not the only democratic deficit in the UK. Our whole democracy is dysfunctional…
I saw the other day that Gerard Butler, the Scottish Hollywood actor and apparent heartthrob, had been quoted as saying that he saw “no reason why Scotland shouldn’t be independent”. On the back of this, he quickly became the poster boy for the “yes to independence” campaign. Since then, Gerard has had a change of heart and has now joined the majority of Scots who are not convinced independence is in Scotland’s best interest.
What’s the reason for this change of heart? Most likely, it’s because the benefits of Scottish independence in the cold light of day, don’t appear to add up. People are becoming less convinced that Alex Salmond and the SNP can deliver all the perks of the Union without continuing Scotland’s membership.
Furthermore, while Alex Salmond’s claims are coming under increasing scrutiny, the Conservative Party and those in Westminster are working hard to give Scotland the best of both worlds – creating a space for Scotland to make her own decisions, but also giving Scotland the security and the strength that comes from being part of the oldest and most successful economic union in the world…
“The people of these islands have seldom been united, politically or culturally. Efforts were made to unite them from the 12th Century onwards, but they only came under the same monarch in 1603, and the complete political union which was at last achieved in 1801, endured only till 1922. Since then the process has been reversed.” – Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Unity of the Kingdom” in The English World (1982).
Much has been made of the Union as “300 years of shared history and one of the most successful unions the world has seen” – but this ignores the history and the realpolitik. Daniel Defoe wrote: “A firmer union of policy with less union of affection has hardly been known in the whole world.” Many Scots discovered the attraction of their nation becoming the junior partner in a trading enterprise that might be called “The British Empire Limited”, and this continued into the 20th Century, but then the empire dissolved. Now we have a suggestion that Scotland deserves its own room in the European house of nations…
The Scottish Parliament celebrates its 15th anniversary in July. I will never forget how honoured I felt to be sworn in as one of Scotland’s first MSPs back in July 1999. It has been a privilege to represent my constituents in Holyrood for the past 15 years. During that time, the Scottish Parliament has transformed politics in Scotland, bringing power closer to the people and introducing pioneering legislation such as land reform and free personal care for older people. But we have done so as part of a wider family of nations that is the United Kingdom – working in partnership, pooling and sharing our resources, and learning from each other.
Our discourse over the last two years has been dominated by the referendum and the politics of identity and geography rather than the politics of need. It is deeply frustrating that changing the constitution is held up as the answer to all of our society’s ills; that somehow this is a substitute to the political will and determination that is necessary to transform people’s lives. When I think back to the women’s suffrage movement, the creation of the welfare state and improvements to employment rights, these achievements were through campaigning and struggle. None were achieved by changing the constitution – it took political will…
This is an extract from the July/August 2014 edition of Reform.