By Alan Cochrane (a Scotsman
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 25/10/2006
Happy birthday Great Britain: The Union of England & Wales with Scotland celebrates its 300th birthday next year. England & Wales (unified together since at least the 13 Century) unified with Scotland in 1707. But will they soon break up? As Alan Cochrane says - Britain is the most successful alliance between two former enemies that the world has ever seen.
Is the United Kingdom heading for fragmentation with the secession of Scotland from the Union, even as it prepares to celebrate its 300th anniversary next year? And if it is, should those who make up the vast bulk (80%) of its population - the English - give a damn?
The questions arise following a series of astonishing events, beginning 10 days ago when nearly 1,200 delegates packed the new Concert Hall in Perth - the biggest gathering at a political conference that Scotland has seen in recent memory - to hear Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, deliver his keynote address to his annual conference. His strident call for the break-up of the United Kingdom was cheered to the echo by his adoring audience.
Nothing new there, but what was surprising was what happened next. Two days later, Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of the Kwik Fit chain of exhaust and tyre depots, told the world that Scottish independence was "inevitable".
His words followed hard on the heels of the announcement by this self-same self-made man that he was donating £100,000 to the SNP's coffers to help it fight next year's elections to the Edinburgh parliament. He is not alone. Thanks to big donations from emigré Scots, the most famous of all being Sir Sean Connery, the nationalists reckon that they will have at least as much to spend next May as Labour.
On the same day as Sir Tom's prediction came another extraordinary intervention, not from a captain of industry, but a prince of the church - Cardinal Keith O'Brien, spiritual leader of Scotland's 800,000 Roman Catholics. The Ulster-born cardinal said that he would have no problem with an independent Scotland, if that was the will of its people and, significantly at least in the eyes of this observer, he pointed out that other small nations - such as Ireland which left the Union in 1922 - had done exceptionally well since gaining their independence.
Although they insist that it is not entering the political arena, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland enjoys a decidedly rocky relationship with Scottish Labour, lambasting the devolved administration for what it sees as the Scottish Executive's "anti-family" policies, such as those on same-sex "marriages", gay adoption and contraceptive advice to under-age schoolgirls. Neither Sir Tom nor Cardinal O'Brien has endorsed the SNP, but their espousal of independence has confirmed the growing trend towards separatism. The SNP is ahead in the polls and another survey showed a majority of Scots want to break away. The Greens and Scottish Socialist Party - both in the Scottish Parliament - also back independence. The Liberal Democrats want more powers for the Holyrood parliament and many Scottish Tories want a separate tax regime.
What's all of this to the English, you may be forgiven for asking?
There is a fond notion among the more rabid of my countrymen that the English oppose Scots independence. The truth is somewhat different. After we Scots bored rigid the rest of the United Kingdom's population for decades over our constitutional future, the English - possibly and understandably so that they could get on with their lives - said: " If you want it, take it … but please don't make too much noise about it, there's a good chap." And so the Scots, aided and abetted by English votes at Westminster, opted for devolution. However, in spite of this being a crashing failure and having improved the lot of ordinary Scots not one jot, there is a ferocious demand for more, not less, self-government.
Should the English care? Many do, to the extent that yesterday saw the launch of a national debate on the formation of an English parliament. However, if successful, this could be another straw that breaks the back of the Union.
Far better, surely, for people on both sides of the border to worry about the break-up of the most successful alliance between two former enemies that the world has ever seen.
These threats to the United Kingdom's continuation take place amid an eerie silence from the Scottish Unionist community. While Sir Tom Farmer has been writing his cheques, there has come not a word from the rest of Scotland's industrial and commercial scene. Could it be that the likes of the RBS Group - now the world's fifth biggest bank - Scottish and Newcastle, a huge player on the world's brewing scene, and Standard Life, formerly the world's biggest mutual, all based in Scotland, have been persuaded that independence might not be so bad for business after all?
Labour's point man in Scotland, First Minister Jack McConnell, is no match for the SNP leader. At Westminster, Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander can't compete with Mr Salmond's instincts for the gutter of political discourse. On his day, Gordon Brown could wipe the floor with the SNP leader, but, like other Cabinet Scots, and as my colleagues Simon Heffer and Boris Johnson might aver, he may be too busy trying to run England to notice what's happening in his backyard. And as for Tony Blair, thanks to the Iraq war and every other vicissitude being visited on the Government at present, he is seen as the nationalists' greatest asset.
Home Secretary John Reid can easily match Mr Salmond's penchant for thuggery and no-blow-too-low style of politics, but pitching him in would turn the forthcoming election campaign into the dirtiest fight ever.
In defence of the Union, I certainly wouldn't object to such tactics. But I wonder if the English would wish to be anything other than by-standers in the coming battle. John Major predicted that, by voting for devolution, we Scots were "sleepwalking towards independence", so is it anyone's fault but ours if he proves to be correct?
By the sounds of things, the English would be happy if the Scots - and the other Celtic nations of Wales and Northern Ireland - left the Union. Many say that if they did, England would cope better with independence and would become far richer than the Scots - one reason is because the English would no longer have to subsidise the subsidy-junky Scots anymore.. England would cope better than Scotland without the two being in the same Union together. Not only the English, but some Americans - and even some Scots - also agree -
Get rid of the subsidy-junky Scots!
I find it interesting that you do not mention that English soldiers also die in these wars. I guess their lives aren't worth as much and as such don't merit a mention. I assume that there is a certain amount of satisfaction at the number of English soldiers currently dying alongside there Celtic companions in what are essentially [[with Tony Blair and most of his cronies being Scotsmen]] SCOTTISH wars of adventure (just as was the "British" Empire).
As for sitting back and watching England flounder after Scotland leaves the Union? The GDP per capita in Scotland is roughly US$25000. For England it's roughly US$31000 and there's a lot more of us. The South East of England alone being the 22nd largest economy in the world. At least it was last time I looked. I should see what Blair has done to that standing.
I would suggest that Scotland has more then England to lose in a dissolution of the Union. Perhaps you could revive your coal, steel and ship building industries. Good luck. As for the captains of industry, well they largely work in the City of London. I can't see them rushing home en masse. Because they are already where the money is.
Incentives that exist to move call centre business etc to Scotland to boost the economy would also be in jeapordy.
I believe we are stronger as a union but now we need to look at devolving more power to the 4 main regions. Especially in terms of tax and law. Of course if England were forced to stand alone then so be it. It would ultimately bother the English much less than the Celtic regions.
Posted by Steve, Ipswich, Suffolk on October 25, 2006 4:41 PM
Scotland needs England to save it from loony left socialism. If Scotland ever becomes independent it will be the new East Germany.
Posted by Murray on October 25, 2006 4:12 PM
An independent Scotland has to be the most hare brained idea to come along in quite sometime. We in the U.S. have long ago gotten over any hard feeling toward the English and the Scotts should do the same. After all, Scotland has been part of the UK longer than the U.S. has been independent. More importantly, it is a well-accepted notion that larger economies are better suited to compete in the modern world. The E.U is the outgrowth of this notion. It is idiotic for Scotland to contemplating Scottish independence while the E.U. contemplates further integration. I thought this sort of silliness had finally gone out of style when the Quebecois lost their last attempt at independence from Canada.
Posted by Doug on October 25, 2006 4:06 PM
I love Scotland and have no problem with the Scottish people. But be realistic, if Scotland becomes independent who is going to pay benefits to their thousands of unemployed, alcoholics and drug addicts? Is the plan to exist off benefits? Or will the "independence" still require taxes paid by the South East of England to subsidise them?
Posted by Richard Clarke on October 25, 2006 1:29 PM
As a Scot living abroad who has watched Scotland degenerate to a point where it has one of the highest government-employed percentages of the workforce in the western world, I hope it does become independent. The reality check of having to live on its own two feet will be salutary! And the English will be better off!
Posted by Colin Wilson on October 25, 2006 6:36 AM