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Holly’s Letter from America:  The Scots are more conservative than they let on


The Scots voted ‘no’ to independence this week. No doubt this is for all sorts of reasons which cannot be captured with one question on a ballot paper, so we should be cautious about drawing too many conclusions.

With that disclaimer, may I now suggest that the ‘No’ vote has provided us with no small revelation:  the Scots are more conservative than they let on.

Am I mad? Possibly. I lived in Scotland for two years when my husband, an RAF officer, was stationed at RAF Leuchars.  It was a beautiful country, with lovely people, but it is fair to say there was a deep hatred of all things conservative – especially the Tories, and Thatcher in particular.  In fact, I began to feel that there were no conservatives at all in Scotland, either ‘small c’ conservatives, or members of the Conservative party.  I knew a guy that went fox hunting with his university friends, but he was American, so he didn’t count.  And anyway, that’s not the kind of conservative I’m talking about.

Not only were the Scots anti-Tory, they were also fiercely anti-English, and even anti-American.  We lived there during the Iraq war in early 2003; indeed, my husband fought in that war, deployed with RAF III Squadron from Leuchars.  Anti-American sentiment was so high during this time in Scotland that, for the first time ever or since, I found myself keeping my mouth shut in public places so as not to reveal my American accent.

Yet, when push came to shove this week, the Scots showed they were willing to stick with something like the current arrangement: a political union with the considerably more conservative England, and a political union which boasts a ‘special relationship’ with the US.

The question on the ballot pertained only to whether Scotland should remain part of the UK.  But Scots – and much of the rest of the world – understood that there was more going on here.  If independence did happen, it was going to be a Salmond-ized independence.  That meant blood-red socialism.

Indeed, American academic Jeffrey Sachs, who declared himself to be ‘personally sympathetic’ to ‘Scotland’s independence’, recognised that a major reason for independence was ‘ideological’.  Pro-independence campaigners, he said, wanted ‘to move Scotland toward a Scandinavian-style social democracy’.  It was specifically anti-Tory, and anti-capitalist.  This was shown on election night:  the ‘Yes’ vote won in heavily socialist places like Glasgow and Dundee.  And yet, overall, Scots chose the more conservative option.

That Salmond-ized independence also meant going cap in hand to Brussels, trading whatever sovereignty gained from Westminster for membership in the EU.  Here again, the Scots chose the more conservative option:  they chose to remain part of a country which has a noted ambivalence toward the EU, especially when it comes to joining the Euro.

There is much that the referendum does not tell us about Scottish politics.  But this much we do know:  The Scots would rather go with the devil they know rather than the devil proposed by Salmond:  a brave new world of unchecked socialism funded – or not, as the case may be – by an intrusive, undemocratic superstate run by political elites.

In voting ‘No’, the Scots voted for caution and responsibility.  They even voted for history and tradition. These are all conservative traits.  Scotland is dominated by Labour, but to my mind this referendum shows that there is a conservatism here that can be harnessed, if we had politicians who were principled enough, talented enough, or who cared enough to do it.  What a shame that our current Conservative leaders do not fit the bill.

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Holly Hamilton-Bleakley
Holly Hamilton-Bleakley
Holly is a mother of six, now living in the United States. She holds an MPhil and PhD in Intellectual History & Political Thought from Newnham College, Cambridge. She blogs at Philosophy for Parents. Tim is her husband and a former RAF officer.

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