Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Scottish Independence - My View

Several weeks ago Lord Nazh asked if I believed in Great Britain or a free Scotland (along with Ireland and possibly Wales)? I read this question as asking. “Do I believe politically in an independent Scotland (with the possibility that some or all of the other three countries could be independent) or do I believe in the United Kingdom (of four countries)?

At last I can answer him.

There are two issues I need to consider: my national identity and the politics of the situation in the light of that identity.

Let us consider my national identity. In a previous post I wrote:
…. I consider myself Scottish and then British but, if asked, I couldn’t find words to describe even my Scottishness. I just am Scottish. I was born here. I have always lived here. As far back as I have traced – about 1750 - all my ancestors were born in Scotland. I feel British but this is a poor second to my Scottishness. I don’t feel European, ever. I know I am officially a European but the concept of Europe as an entity of which I am a citizen means nothing to me.

Some might suggest that, because I live in Edinburgh, I will have more in common with those in other large cities, for example, London or Manchester, than I do with those living in remote parts of Scotland. Certainly, my lifestyle is more similar to those in metropolitan areas than it is to those in remote Scotland but I do not identify, in any way, with other metropolitan dwellers whereas I do identify with other Scots regardless of where in Scotland they are.

Therefore, my Scottishness is undefinable – it just is – and, similarly, my Britishness just is.


If I were told that my Scottishness had to be subservient to my Britishness I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. It isn’t as though I spend my time considering Scottishness – I rarely do - but asking me to relegate my Scottishness would be like asking me to give up my right hand so that my left hand became more important. I can’t because it’s part of me. Only by performing this simple thought experiment can I get an understanding of those for whom religion is more important than their Britishness and the difficulty they would have making their religion subservient to Britishness.

I am quite clear: I am Scottish first and then British is a distant second. In the weeks since I wrote the above piece I make one significant addition: I am Scottish, I feel Scottish, I only feel Scottish but I am British because I know logically that I am British. I do not feel British in the way that I feel Scottish. In fact, I do not feel British.

Now how does my identity affect how I view the United Kingdom and its four component countries?

Given that I feel Scottish but only know that I am British it is inevitable that I see, feel and identify with Scotland as a country but only know, without feeling, that Britain / UK is a country. Therefore, logically, I expect that those born in England and Wales will see the position similarly. I omit Northern Ireland from this because I imagine some will see Eire as their country whereas others will see Britain as their home.

This is probably an appropriate place to say that I harbour no anti-English or anti-anyone feelings: I arrive at my position simply through my feeling of Scottishness.

From my youngest days, I have known Scotland to be a country in its own right but a country subsumed in a larger composite country (United Kingdom). Perhaps surprisingly I never dreamt of Scotland being an independent country. Just as I accepted without question that Scotland was a country I accepted without question the need for Scotland to remain within the Union. This was just how things were.

Even when the Scottish Nationalists were having success in the 1970s with their “It’s Scotland’s oil” campaign I remained a Unionist convinced that Scotland could not survive independently. It was as though the Nationalists were pushing a dream, an unrealistic and unrealisable dream. Through the years my views remained static: even devolution didn’t move my thinking although I was very much in favour.

Looking back I think my position has been that my heart would have been happy with an independent Scotland but my head has seen sufficient negatives to reject the idea. As time has passed my heart is unchanged but in my head now I am prepared to listen to the arguments in favour of, and against, independence: arguments which are solid or flimsy depending on one’s original standpoint. Therefore, I am left with inconclusive arguments about the likely success (or otherwise) of Scottish independence and the safe position, under these conditions, would be to stay in the Union but I don’t want the safe option anymore. For me the time has come when we should give independence a go and make it work. Will Scotland be better off immediately after independence? I don’t know. The success, or failure, of an independent country, of its economy is dependent on so many factors most of them outwith the control of the country that predicting the future is futile.

There is a risk but, in time, I believe we would prosper. We should take the risk.

We won’t go for it, of course. Our inherent conservatism plus the level of fear engendered by unionists will ensure a majority for maintaining the Union. I can imagine that I too would worry more and become more fearful about the future as independence beckoned. That I am not champing at the bit for independence suggests that, despite my support, I am not wholly committed. Major doubt must still remain. Sometime I will explore this area.

Even if Scotland did vote for independence moral and legal questions would abound. Could Scotland become independent on the basis of a vote of its electorate only? If so, imagine the roles reversed and the electorate of England voted for English independence whilst Scots wanted to remain in the Union: what would Scots say? I suspect that we would complain about being cast adrift by our larger partner with no opportunity to influence the decision.

If voters in both countries needed to vote, would Scots not complain that their future was dependent on voters of another country as would the English if the roles were reversed: obviously an intolerable situation.

Therefore, neither approach can be deemed as acceptable but if I had to choose one approach I would have to take the view that only the electorate of Scotland has the right to determine whether or not Scotland becomes independent with equivalent positions applying in the other UK countries.

In a long-winded way I have now answered Lord Nazh’s question.

Yes, I believe in an independent Scotland with any or all of the remaining countries having the right to proclaim independence but I do not necessarily want independence now.

At the same time, I see the UK as the composite entity of individual countries but I do not have any emotional attachment to this composite country. However, until one of the constituent countries wants to split from the UK or until I am committed fully to independence, I am happy to accept the UK as my known, but unfelt, country.


  1. Very thought provoking post.

    I'm English and I live in Scotland. I've always been English, know that I'm English and am totally comfortable with that even when I'm told by some that it's not a good thing to be English (not by Scots I hasten to add). Many people confuse English with British, and vice versa. The British Empire has a lot to answer for!

    I've chosen to live in Scotland, love Scotland, love the country, the cities we have and can hardly think of a bad word to say about Scotland. Do I feel in any way different living in Scotland being English? Yes, slightly, and not because of any reason other than that I would love to have been born here to have that extra link to this beautiful country. Does it affect my life? Not one jot. Would I feel different if Scotland was independent? Again not one jot, because I have made a choice and commitment to this country and that's important.

    Living in the Borders I feel an even closer affinity with this region. So I guess in part what I'm getting round to saying is also depends on where you live, and whether you've chosen to live there. Life is about choices and I'm very happy with the choice I've made.

  2. very articulate. I have lived all over the world, presently in North Africa, and I have always felt Scottish. I tell people I am British or Scottish, depending on their knowledge of our part of the world.

  3. Not to pick on you Calum :)

    Your overall attitude is about what most europeans say when asked about their country vis-a-vis the EU.

    It is this attitude that makes me think that there will never be an end to the EU, it will simply grow to become a 'super' country of its own.

    Also, for this reason I don't think we'll ever see Scotland as a country again.

    It is never enough to want independence 'someday' without wanting it now.

  4. Richard:

    It's interesting to hear your views as a non-born Scot. Thank you.

    LM: I write "British" rather than "Scottish" on forms where it is clear that the required answer is "British". Some I know write "Scottish" reagrdless.


    Not being picked on. You may well be right but I am where I am with my doubts and all.

  5. That's cool Calum. And your 'want' has nothing to do with the question anyway :)

    Thanks for the post, it was well thought out and informative.

  6. LN

    Your question pushed me to develop and understand my thinking on identity and Scottish independence.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think about the subject. Without the question there would have been no post.

  7. I feel very similarly to you Calum. As they say, expat Scots can be more Scottish than the real variety.

    Nice post. Once a Scot, always a Scot. The rest is but history.

  8. Jeez Calum, Did you get paid by the word?

    I can see from your words where you have come from but I'm not sure I agree with them all.

    The point about you identity I understand and agree with as I have similar feelings about my place of birth and the UK as a whole. However, I put down British by default when asked my nationality.

    I'm not sure I understand your answer about Scotland going independant without approval from the rest of the UK as it was as a group agreement that they were joined. I see it no different from marriage, which it is in a way, it only takes one to want a divorce. In the same way I see us leaving the EU, we don't want to have everyone elses agreement. They would never let a cash cow like us exit.

    Personally, I don't have an axe to grind about Scotland, or Wales for that matter, if they want to go on their own then so be it. I don't think they will though because it would mean they would have to stand on their own. A big risk.

  9. Bag: No - no payment. Just long-winded.

    Now a long-winded answer!

    Re whether it takes one or two countries to agree to divorce / independence.

    If a small counrty gains independence the effect on its much larger partner is likely to be quite small unless there were a strange split of natural resources. In these cicumstances it appears easy to say that only the smaller country should determine independence.

    BUT if the very much larger country wants independence from its much smaller partner and the natural resources are split heavily in favour of the larger partner one could argue that both countries should have say in an independence decision. In this hypothetical case the impact on the smaller country would be enormous and to prevent this massive imbalance I feel the small country needs a veto.

    This is what I was tying to explore.

    Welldone for getting to the end of my post and this answer.

    You are truly a glutton for punishment.

  10. I am a glutton for punishment but to be honest there are posts on other sites that are so long winded that I just give up before I hit the end.

    I still think it is a case for either party. In a democracy the majority could vote for removing a group. Thus 50M English could easily outvote 5M Scots. Now how do the Scots get a say? Let's imagine that the resource split was reversed and Scotland paid £500B pa into England. 4.9M Scots think they would benefit from independance. So it goes to a vote England doesn't want to lose that money so it votes to keep Scotland and only 10% care so 5M against. Is that right? 4.9M Scots want to leave but can't.

    Labour have caused this with their policies. I personally would be surprised if Scotland actually voted to go independent but you never know. If they want it they should go for it. Just remember though guys if it comes to it blow up the politicians not the public. Ta.

  11. What would the cost be to the man in the street to get an independent Scotland off the ground?

  12. Scottish first and British second. Yes and that's why Brown is playing the "British" card. He ahs to break down nationality for the EU and the home country can't be broken.

    But argue down Britain and there's more chance.