Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Union a Marriage? Some Explaining


Perhaps unfortunately I became involved in commenting on a James Higham article at Nourishing Obscurity.  Two points, made in the comments intrigued me.  The first, by Amfortas, was,

The English have been slapped in the face. It is like a married couple who have a life formed together for 20 years and one decides she/he has had enough. And has slapped the face of the other. Sure there are two to discuss, but only one has shown disloyalty and only one has started the whining and accusations, mendacities, exaggerations and violently assaulted not only the other but the relationship too. The other is hurt and dismayed.

If that couple are to go on together, the whiner, the one who slapped the face of the other, cannot expect the action to be just ‘moved on’ from. Can you see the same double-standard we see daily when one gender takes upon itself the right to ‘slap a face’ but denies the right of the other to return the slap?

The English must be given an opportunity to vote on keeping the relationship or stopping it right there before Scotland decides that a slap is not enough and starts using bagpipes.

and the second by the author himself,

We were in a United Kingdom by name, obviously not by nature. If this question of disbanding the UK was to be resolved, then all members of the family needed to be asked. The ones having what I consider an overwhelming right were the Scots living down here. Why would they have no say in Scotland? It’s bizarre.

I needed to put a different view, a rather long view, but I was compelled.  That view is shown in full below and is addressed to the two commenters mentioned above.


Marriage?  This analogy is apt but only to a degree.  The expectation in a marriage is that both are equal.  The union was not and could never be a 'marriage' of equals.  With its much larger population and gross economy it was inevitable that decisions would be made to favour the majority, and many such decisions were made by Scots at the centre of UK government. 

The corollary is that such decisions are not made with the interests of the minority at heart.  The minority was not just those in Scotland but also in Wales, Northern Ireland and many in 'outlying' parts of England, 'outlying' being outwith the London and the South-East.  This doesn't mean that all decisions made are against the needs of those other areas but rather that their needs were not paramount.

It is in the context of this very unequal 'marriage' that Scottish voters demanded that a degree of decision-making be returned to the people of Scotland.  Regions of England suffered as did Scotland but that Scotland was a country with its own institutions brought focus to the people's will that wasn't possible in parts of England. 

That you believe that 'regionalising' England is part of an EU plan I leave untouched.

Devolution of powers to Scotland was not wanted by the political establishment.  Few want to give up power.  Of concern in the 1970's was that Scotland, had it known the extent of the oil riches in Scottish waters, would have voted for independence.  This information, the McCrone Report, was denied to the Scots for 30 years.  But such was the demand for devolution that central government relented, not for any positive reason but only to stop the rise of the SNP.

Was the desire for devolution a slap in the face of 'England'?  Surely, in a marriage, you wouldn't want power to be almost entirely invested in the hands of one partner.  Denying a share of power would be the act of a bully.

Devolution came and devolution worked within its constraints but major constraints there were.

As both the Labour and Conservative parties in the UK moved to the political right - you may see both parties as being on the left - the gap between UK and Scottish politics widened.  This gap wasn't always seen in electoral results given the almost tribal response of many voters to a Labour badge but at ground level change was in progress.  The rise of the SNP firstly to a minority government in 2007 and then majority in 2011 was symptomatic of a break between the directions of UK and Scottish politics.  I have no doubt that the policies of the current UK government were a major factor in the rise of support for Scottish independence.

You may see this rise as a slap in the face but, again, the marriage is unequal.  You may say that Scotland gets more out of the marriage than England in terms of public spending - £1200 is often mentioned -  but what is rarely stated is that for all bar one of the last 33 years, I think it is, Scotland has contributed more to the UK than is returned - £1700 is the equivalent figure.  Of course, the UK has been running a deficit and so all parts of the UK have been spending way beyond that which is raised.

Would you in a marriage control the purse strings of your spouse against her/his wishes?  Surely not.

If your first indication that your partner was unhappy was the message, 'I'm thinking of leaving' then I could understand your seeing this as a slap in the face but, in many marriages, the signs are present before. They were in mine but I didn't see them in time.  If you saw the independence referendum as the first sign of unhappiness then, like me, you have been blind to what was happening.

The desire for independence has nothing to do with hating the English, well there may be a few, but has everything to do with running our affairs in the best interests of those who live here. 

This brings me on to my second point which deals with the question, 'Should voters in the rest of the UK have had a vote in the referendum?'

The question should be split to become,

'Should Scots living in the rest of the UK, or beyond, have had a vote?' and

'Should all voters in the UK had a vote?'

'No'! to both

Now let me explain.

One of the many criticisms was that the desire for independence was ethnic nationalism.  Had Scots, those born in Scotland, in England been given a vote then the criticism of ethnic nationalism would stand.  Place of birth as a voting criterion would confirm that the desire was ethnic in origins. Had those living in Scotland but born elsewhere been denied a vote this too would have confirmed that ethnic nationalism was at the heart of the referendum. 

Did you really want ethnic nationalism on your northern border?  Do you really want ethnic nationalism anywhere?

Fortunately, our nationalism is civic and not ethnic.  It has no component of ethnicity.  Choose to live in Scotland then be part of us and vote.  Choose to live elsewhere and you resile your right to choose how those in Scotland live.

Now we come onto the question of whether the referendum should have been UK-wide.  The union of England and Scotland, as with all bipartite treaties, requires both to make but only one to break. Can there be any other way?

Should a marriage split only when both agree?  Surely, you are not supporting this contention?  Surely, you do not support the contention that voters in the rest of the UK should be in a position to force Scotland to stay in the union even if 100% of Scottish voters wanted to leave?  This would be an abuse of power beyond all imagining and beyond the bounds of democracy.

Would you accept that in any EU referendum that the UK's position should be determined by all voters within the UK EU ? [Note: corrected 2/9/14] .Surely not!  That would be undemocratic.  Some wanted the Scottish referendum run along those undemocratic lines.  Shame!

The argument might be made that there are parts of England with larger populations which have no opportunity to vote on devolution far less independence and, therefore, it is wrong that Scotland has the chance. This is an argument without foundation.  Two countries, not regions, came together and one had the opportunity to leave. 

The point has been made that in a marriage both have the opportunity to talk before one makes the decision and that this has been missing here.  This is wrong.  Scotland raised the question of leaving and so the decision to leave had to be Scotland's only.  Over the last two years there has been debate both within and outside Scotland on the merits or otherwise.  Having had the debate the decision rested with Scotland because only Scotland had expressed sufficient desire to leave. 

At no time has there been a movement of sufficient size within England for English voters, those who live in England, to vote on breaking the union.  It is entirely appropriate for English voters, if there is the demand, to vote on whether England should leave the union. 

There is no doubt that, for me, Scottish independence, is of the heart and mind.  I was born, and have always lived, in Scotland.  Do not mistake my background as showing my desire is ethnic.  Independence for Scotland is for all who choose to live here.  Scotland, still part of the UK, is for all those who choose to live here.

If you still feel you've been slapped in the face then ….........



  1. Is this an editorial error Calum?

    You say: "Would you accept that in any EU referendum that the UK's position should be determined by all voters within the UK? Surely not!"

    Did you mean "by all voters within the EU?" Surely that would be the undemocratic comparison.

  2. Nice to see the fire is still alive in your belly though.

    Independence may well be inevitable now, just as devolution was, and not least because of an rUK backlash that may lead to intolerable changes that will make independence a much easier sell the next time.

  3. Thanks, Andrew. Correction made. Think you should read my latest post here. The fire may have been doused.