DURING the Edinburgh Fringe, the First Minister of Scotland waded through the rubbish in the streets of ‘Auld Reekie’ to tell the audience at ‘A Conversation with Nicola Sturgeon’ that, despite wishing to break up the United Kingdom, she considered herself British as well as Scottish. She said that British is an identity which comes from being a part of the British Isles and that identity is a complex thing. Maybe it is complex to her, but writing as one who is also Scottish and British, or British and Scottish whichever way you wish to view it, it seems to me to be quite simple. I was born in Scotland, a part of the ‘long island’ of Great Britain as Neil Oliver calls it, of Scots/Irish ancestry and some English. That’s it. The Irish should be interested in Sturgeon’s viewpoint, for in that little glimpse of her mind she’s classed them as British too.
The question of whither Scotland has again been in the news in recent months as La Sturgeon chunters on about her plans for an ‘Indyref2’. Comments on media articles show that many English people are sick and tired of hearing from the woman, fed up to the back teeth with whingeing Scots, especially the ones in the House of Commons, and given the opportunity would happily vote in a referendum for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.
As a Unionist I feel very strongly that it would be a historic mistake. The United Kingdom is much greater than the sum of its parts notwithstanding the fact that England is far and away the largest and most powerful.
Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor and himself a Scot, recently said on Spectator TV when the condition of Scotland was being discussed: ‘To be born Scottish has been the most incredible stroke of luck throughout history.’ Er, no, Fraser, I don’t think so. Maybe in the 19th century and the bulk of the 20th century, but not before the Scottish Enlightenment and definitely not before the Acts of Union. To use the Scots-born historian Niall Ferguson’s analogy, Scotland in the 17th century and earlier was Afghanistan. Clans feuded among themselves and the peoples of the lowlands, descended from Anglo-Saxons and ancient Britons, feared the wild Highlanders. Murder and mayhem abounded alongside religious persecution, superstition, poverty, hunger and disease.
It is an irony that the Union was probably a Scottish project in the first place. Since the reign of King David I (1124-1153), who was the son of Margaret of Wessex, the Norman-Scots rulers of Scotland and the Norman rulers of England and their aristocracies had been marrying into each other’s families. King James IV of Scotland’s Queen was Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII. James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It was the ambition of Mary Queen of Scots, their granddaughter, to unite Scotland, England and France. Unity with France had nearly been achieved by Henry V of England but lost by his weak son Henry VI. The surprise should be that it took until 1603 to unite the Crowns of England and Scotland and until 1707, the Parliaments.
And now the upstart Scottish National Party want to break it apart. It is their raison d’être. How should we deal with this threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom? If the SNP were to succeed it might not be just Scotland which would depart. Nationalists in Northern Ireland would sense weakness in the United Kingdom and that a united Ireland could be well within their grasp. Then Plaid Cymru would raise its game. Could Kernow be far behind?
The SNP runs an incompetent minority administration – it is not a government – in Edinburgh. The unionist majority vote is split three ways, which is how the SNP has managed to hold on to power. It is no good waiting for the Scottish Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats to work together to counter the threat. They show little inclination to present a solid unionist front.
New Prime Minister Liz Truss will have to deal with Sturgeon, so here is a solution for her:
First: Call it what it is – secession, not independence.
Second: Recognise the emotionalism of the issue then make a positive case based on the successes of the 315-year-old Union. Point out that the Union was a Scottish project in the first place. Another Project Fear will not work.
Third: Grant another referendum but only on the basis that an agreement for separation must be hammered out beforehand so that the electorate know exactly what they are voting for in terms of fiscal arrangements, currency, national debt, public sector cuts, trading arrangements, defence, hard border (if Scotland were to seek EU membership) and so on. It should be a stark, binary choice. Vote for secession and this is what you will get. Vote to remain part of the UK and things might stay as they are (tempting though it might be to suggest that the Holyrood parliament should be abolished).
Fourth: Scots resident in the rest of the UK must be included in a vote. The SNP will not be permitted to frame the question nor decide the franchise. No votes for 16-year-olds or non-UK citizens.
Fifth: As a matter so important to the whole of the UK, a ‘super-majority’ must be won. For example, 60 per cent on an 80 per cent turn-out, or an absolute minimum 50 per cent of the entire electorate, not just those who vote. You could even make the vote compulsory.
Sixth: If Scots are to be allowed such a self-determination vote then so should the regions of Scotland where there is only minority support for secession. In the event of a close vote for secession a split of 51/49, or 52/48 or even 55/45 could be a catalyst for the disintegration of Scotland itself. The Shetlands and Orkney Islands are already looking at breaking away. So might the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and the North-East from Aberdeenshire round to the Moray Firth (fishing interests), perhaps even Edinburgh and the Kingdom of Fife. Majority support for secession lies only in Glasgow and Dundee. Scotland has no God-given right to its current territorial integrity. If the UK can be broken up, then so can Scotland. All this should be made plain. Welcome to Northern Ireland 2.0.
If a second referendum were to be held along those lines the result would be a second defeat for the secessionists, perhaps a resounding one. The Scottish Question would be over for ever.