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Nick Wood: England and Scotland separated years ago. The Union is an empty shell


Here’s a figure worth considering when one studies the constitutional shambles engulfing Scotland and by extension the rest of the UK. In the four general elections since 1997, Scotland has sent 261 Mps to Westminster. How many have been Conservatives? Just three.

In a nutshell, that sums up why the historic marriage between England and Scotland is now on the rocks. Irrespective of the frantic efforts of the political establishment to effect an eleventh hour reconciliation, the two parties to the 300-year-old Union have already gone their separate ways. Even if the No camp pulls off a narrow victory next Thursday, the relationship, which has brought great benefits to both lands, is over.

Dig further back into Scotland’s electoral history and you find that things were not always like this. In the 1955 general election, the Conservatives polled 50 per cent of the vote north of the border and secured 36 seats. As recently as 1979, the Tories had 31 per cent of the vote and 22 Mps.

The parting of the ways came in the 1980s. As a political correspondent on The Times in that era, who occasionally covered events in Scotland, I recall the mounting hostility towards the English that emerged under Margaret Thatcher’s rule.

The word “Tory” was not yet spat out as a routine term of abuse – as it is today. But the fabric that bound the two countries together was fraying badly.

Mrs Thatcher essentially presented Britain with a choice. It could continue down the quasi-socialist route of the 1960s and, worse, the 1970s with the union barons calling the shots, management cowering behind the desk, and the public finances a basket case. Or it could embrace the painful disciplines of market economy and free enterprise.

England chose the high road towards the globalised economy of the 21st century. Scotland chose a particularly stagnant form of state socialism.

The political economy of the UK fractured. England turned right and Scotland turned left. The results are plain to see today.

Tory and Conservative are now dirty words in Scotland, a country that has turned its back on the open, free-trading, entrepreneurial society that is flourishing in most parts of the world.

In a humiliating and craven volte face, David Cameron journeyed to Edinburgh yesterday to make his last-ditch plea for the Union. But you have to ask yourself, what kind of Union is it that we are trying to preserve when the British Prime Minster spends most of the campaign huddled in his tent, afraid to step outside for fear of giving encouragement to the enemy? This is not exactly the spirit that animated the Duke of Cumberland when he was faced with an earlier Scottish uprising.

Of course, other factors have played their part. Scotland was particularly hard hit by the collapse of heavy industry. With the loss of Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Forsyth in the 1997 election, the Scottish Conservative Party lacked any semblance of charismatic leadership and sank into irrelevancy.

But the fundamental break was economic. A couple more figures. Public spending in Scotland as a percentage of GDP (excluding North Sea oil and gas) has consistently run 7-10 points  ahead of the UK figure. Public sector employment north of the border is significantly higher than in the rest of the UK.

Public spending per head in 2012/13 was £8,500 in England, some £1,500 less than the Scottish average of £10,000. The extra “state” benefits enjoyed by Scots are legion, funded by the Danegeld from England.

So what does the future hold for an independent Scotland? More of the same, one imagines. Capital and talent will swiftly drain from the country producing an economic crisis that can only be countered by higher taxes and sharp spending cuts. Albania in a kilt. Salmond and Co will scream blue murder and point the finger at England, but with the two countries formally separated, such whinging will be ignored by most of the south.

Messier will be a narrow victory for No, enabling the Nats to go on playing the blame game.

It would be simpler and cleaner if we accepted the inevitable. Scotland and England have drifted apart over the past 30 years and no amount of flying the Saltire over Downing Street will change anything.

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Nick Wood
Nick Wood
Chief Executive of Media Intelligence Partners

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