For all the ignorance about the land north of the Tweed, the lack English travellers north of Edinburgh and the other apparent symptoms of Anglocentrism, Scotland deciding to break up the United Kingdom would cause a massive loss of face for most of the English. Despite the issue popping up on the news increasingly often, most English people are only dimly aware of the prospect. When it happens, they will wake up that morning with a completely new political landscape. On present electoral returns, the Labour Party would probably never again return to government. English politics would probably shift so that an inter-regional debate would become far more pronounced. Possibly, in time, some parts of England might begin serious campaigns for independence. Incredible though that may appear now, Cornwall and Yorkshire have their champions.
Contrary to the reports on the BBC this morning, the issue is not if but when. It may be that Scotland breaks away from England at some point in the next 18 months. Maybe not. It might break away sometime in the next 5 years. Maybe not. Perhaps it will break away sometime in the next 50 years. It will break away because with apparently unassailable climate change, its economy will prosper whilst much of England’s will suffer. Scotland has enormous potential for sustainable energy production, is largely underpopulated, has excellent opportunities for water-bound trade and speaks a form of their native tongue which is mostly comprehensive to the language shy English. As the climate warms, they will increasingly face a choice between staying put in an overcrowded peninsula, without good energy resources and watching bits of their land slip into the sea (much of East Anglia) or be more or less permanently flooded because so many people bought land on England’s big flood plains. They will suddenly discover Scotland and will move there.
Scottish Nationalism is a young beast. The modern version began with the recovery of the Stone of Destiny, more commonly referred to as the Stone of Scone or, if you’re English, the Coronation Stone. The hilarious first hand account of the Glaswegian students who crept into Westminster Abbey and recovered the Stone for Scotland on Christmas Day 1950 is a must read. The first chapter is prefatory to the rest of the book, narrating how Scottish mothers had passed the story of the Stone down to their children ever since the English stole it in 1296. Ian Hamilton’s account is very readable and rather touching but is in itself the final ‘chapter’ of the story my own Scottish Mum told me when I first asked about the Stone. Although I don’t think my Mum is a Scots Nationalist, she’s not alone in recalling with glee Christmas Day in Scotland in 1950. There were impromptu street parties and widespread celebration when the news broke that the Stone had been recovered. Nationalists claim that a folk memory was awoken. Certainly that is the moment that modern Scottish Nationalism began.
This morning the UK Cabinet will discuss proposals to control the manner in which it allows the devolved Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence. The mere discussion signifies that the thieving Tory bastards concede that they cannot prevent a referendum. This isn’t the first time that Westminster has laid down conditions for an independence referendum in Scotland. Last time around the Local Government Act 1972, which required a minimum turnout. The Scots Nationalists cried foul because no other election or referendum in the UK has ever before or since included provision for a minimum turnout. Constitutionally no-one really knows what the correct procedure would be. That’s hardly surprising – that could be said about almost any branch of our administrative arrangements. We are a country without a codified constitution. Therefore, it comes down to politics. Good old politics!
Cameron’s government wish to force Salmond’s Scottish government to hold a referendum in 18 months and to offer a straight choice – in or out. Salmond probably wants to wait until confidence has returned to the Scottish economy, which will probably take more than 18 months and also offer a third choice, which involves granting more power to the devolved Scottish Parliament. Cameron’s got virtually no Scottish allies to advise him about the mood in Scotland. The smart money says that Salmond’s legendary powers of persuasion probably won’t persuade the canny Scots to part company with England in bad time but if the good times return, they might split the Union. Economically, Scotland has done rather well out of the Union, with much government subsidy. Whether that cushion will persist in the current straightened times is another matter. The Scottish people are under no illusions about their place in the Union but they aren’t stupid either – they will vote for whichever prospect offers the best economic opportunities.
The bookies have reduced the odds for independence but they are still taking the bets, which suggests that they will be some sweaty palms in Holyrood and Downing Street this mornings. Salmond has a glorious political career behind him already and, whatever the result, is regard by friends and enemies alike as a darling of history. Cameron, not so much. He’s already failed to win one election. Imagine his political disgrace if he loses Scotland too!