QUEEN Anne gave Royal Assent to the Act of Union in 1707, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain. How times have changed.
As someone who principally supports the union, I cannot understand nor sympathise with those in England who actively wish to expel the Scots. Even if current economic subsidies harm English interests, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland constitute a natural characteristic of our identity from which we all benefit. We share an intertwining history as well as common interests and personal bonds.
And where would both countries be afterwards? I believe England would not be better off after a divorce, while Scotland would be in a far worse position. From an economic standpoint alone, an independent Scotland would find itself with a large balance of payment deficit, enormous debt and without either economic subsidiarity or a guaranteed currency union with the rest of the UK.
Once we have detached from the European Community, it is imperative that those passionate about the continued existence of Britain should continue to speak up for the interests of the union. We should continually remind themselves of our achievements together. It was this union between the English, the Welsh, the Irish and Scots which forged an empire which led the world in the abolition of transatlantic slavery, and which spurred the trajectory of humanity with the industrial revolution, self-government, the rule of law and individual liberty. It was the British devolving of executive responsibilities which led to the formation of the great nation states of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The question, however, is how long can a rift between nationalists and unionists last under a profoundly pro-English Tory government? Although the Tories won handsomely at the last election, they would be wise not to amalgamate their pro-English electoral rhetoric into a pro-English government agenda, since the SNP won a seismic seat mandate at Westminster.
Can there be a solution to Scottish nationalism breaking up our union? I think there is, but it needs to be approached with caution if there is any chance of a credible rescue plan. What is vital is a recognition that a new settlement must respect and accommodate the competing ideals of each constituent nation.
Any attempts at reform cannot resort to the cultural imposition of a pan-Britannic identity. What members of the ‘Conservative’ Party have primarily overlooked is a misconceived idyllic notion of a unified British identity. There has never been such an identity; the union has persevered by mutually accommodating differences.
A simple federal solution must be circumvented. Federations mostly operate when states are of similar size in regard to population distribution, political leverage and economic output. London and the South East dwarf the affairs of the rest of England, let alone the rest of the UK. Any federal arrangement would hence have to resort to the division of England into multiple entities. Beyond the expressed intentions of Labour grandees such as Gordon Brown and career-driven civil servants, there is no public mandate for division within England. Nor would such a programme halt the nationalist cause.
Rather than federalism, the more sensible route would be one that compromises in respecting the affairs of each nation within the realm of a trans-national community; in short, a ‘British confederal arrangement’ as alluded to by Paul Sweeney and Jim Gallagher at UCL’s Constitution Unit. This arrangement could operate as a genuine ‘Union of Nations’ and could accommodate competing visions of English and Scottish nationalism. I’m no expert in understanding the direct workings of a confederation. However, I would suggest that such an arrangement would allow for maximum home rule, but within a framework of putting aside individual interests in the co-operation over trans-national interests, such as foreign, defence and energy policy. And given talks to relocate the House of Lords, why not establish a confederal chamber of the nations, perhaps in the Scottish or Welsh capital? A reformed upper house comprising representatives from the countries, cities and faith groups could resolve competing interests sensibly legislate upon matters concerning the common interests of those within these islands.
To conclude, if those within the Johnson administration wish to save the union, serious considerations must be enacted as soon as we leave the EU. The existing unitary arrangement is now nothing more than an ill-fated endeavour to overcome the follies of successive Labour and Tory administrations. But this doesn’t mean the end of union per se. Instead, if there is true vigour to stand up for our union, a sensible arrangement can be pursued. Specifically, by not forcing pan-British identity on us, there is a great potential for this country to be reinvented as a fair ‘Union of Nations’ which could accommodate competing national identities within a confederal arrangement. An arrangement that would respect the principle of home rule but equally the pooling of some sovereign interests, where necessary, to reach co-operative solutions on mutual trans-national issues.
This article is also found in Bournbrook Magazine, a student-led print and online publication based in Birmingham dedicated to advocating new perspectives on social conservative thought.