In May 2007, just after the last elections to the Scottish Parliament I gave my views on Scottish independence. Given the SNP’s recent victory - a majority of seats – to the same institution and the ‘national’ press’ rediscovering Scotland I thought this was an appropriate time to revisit my 2007 post.
Much of the most recent debate is characterised by ill-informed comment and prejudice. I will not contribute to this pointless approach and I believe my post is as relevant today as it was then and, so, I copy the post in its entirety. [If you want to read the comments to the original post you can find them here.]
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.
I would change only one small portion of my original thoughts: I am more likely to vote in favour of independence now.