Well the 2014 independence referendum is over and we lost. We could have had Alex Salmond appearing with his One Scotland banner declaring independence and accepting the congratulations of world leaders on our behalf. The steets of Scotland could have been filled with dancing joyful Scots.
Instead we have Glasgow’s George Square filled with violent Neo Nazis burning saltires and waving Union Jacks and a relieved David Cameron celebrating his continuing right to rule us from London.
So what went wrong? I think it’s obvious that the media played a large part in the campaign. Almost every paper was vociferously against independence and we were not helped by the TV coverage either. Unionists were allowed to get away with statements that they are just as patriotic about Scotland as the Yes campaign. It would have been impossible to stop this but perhaps it should have been explicitly challenged more.
So what does Britain really mean and is it true that people can be Scottish and British without any contradictions? This was a central message of the Yes campaign so let’s take the time to examine it in detail.
“I’m an English nationalist and never you forget it”
Mrs Thatcher told James Naughtie in 1986
The British unionist campaign in the Scottish independence referendum was called Better Together but the question needs to be asked Better Together for who? There are four countries in the British Union Scotland, England, Wales and Cornwall (and the disputed area between UK and Eire known as ‘Northern Ireland’) but there is only one of them which seems to dominate every aspect.
If one considers the Union Jack the symbolism is obvious. The St George’s Cross dominates in the centre, its cross is the thickest and both the flags for Ireland and Scotland are hidden behind it.
The Union Jack. Britain’s flag is not being used by the official No campaign, they prefer a distorted Saltire suspiciously like the Scotland youth football team logo..
The name of Britain chosen for the new state which was created in 1707 by the Union of Scotland and England (Wales was not mentioned) clearly references back to Britannia which was the Roman name for the area they occupied which is largely made up of England. This area (see map below) did not include Scotland which was then known by the Romans as Caledonia.
“Caledonia: historical area… beyond Roman control, roughly corresponding to modern Scotland…. the frontier between Roman territory and Caledonia was fixed south of the Cheviot Hills by the emperor Hadrian”
– Encyclopedia Britannica
The ancient Britons after various invasions would end up pushed into Wales and Cornwall. They were ancient Gaelic Celts though a different branch to those in Scotland and Ireland.
The British identity then has no real currency in respect of Scotland and has dubious relevance to England either since the Anglo-Saxons had very little connection with the ‘ancient Britons’ apart from being the force that pushed the Celts out of Britannia and created the nations of Wales and Cornwall. Nonetheless in terms of the area described by the term Britannia this could be seen as an ancient name for the area known as England (if you discount the existence of Wales and Cornwall).
For much of English history that is precisely what has happened and while today Westminster has grudgingly provided a parliament for Wales (with less powers than Scotland) the ancient country/Duchy of Cornwall has no political power whatsoever. Prince Charles uses the ‘Duchy of Cornwall’ as a useful source of income, in fact he requires no income from the Civil list because all his spending is provided for by the vast estates which he has taken ownership of in Cornwall.
At one point however Cornwall was a distinct entity (it is often noted that at the time of the 1707 British union Scotland gained the same amount of MP’s at Westminster as Cornwall and ancient documents indicate three distinct people in England [sic], being the English Welsh and Cornish).
In the same way as ‘Greater Caledonia’ would be a term which could not seriously include England it is also the case that Great Britain does not linguistically or historically represent the identity of Scotland and never has done.
Queen Elizabeth II of England.
At the Coronation the Queen was officially named as Elizabeth II and in England she was dressed as above. In Scotland she was dressed very differently when she received the Scottish Crown. In official documents from that time it was emphasised “there should be absolutely no question of a second coronation in Scotland.”
Since there was no Queen Elizabeth I of the UK and given that precedent had previously been that the King or Queen of the two Kingdoms changed their official title to reflect this fact (Scotland’s James VI became officially James I of the ‘United Kingdom’). The Queen’s title seemed to reflect that she was the Queen of England only. Queen Elizabeth I is an important figure in English history (for various reasons) and it is clear that this action was an obvious slap in the face to the Scots. It was recognised as such at the time and there was a brief letter bomb campaign to destroy all letter boxes with the EIIR symbol. To this day there are no letter boxes in Scotland with those letters on them as they were all removed after this protest.
The National Anthem
Post 1745 and the failed Jacobite rebellion the following verse was added to the ‘national’ anthem God Save the King which gives us a good idea of what the feelings were at the time:
Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
May he sedition hush,
and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.
The post 1745 version of the ‘national’ anthem ‘God Save the King’
It is worth noting that this song is sung at English Rugby matches but Scotland and Wales both have their own distinct national anthems.
The traditional song ‘Rule Britannia’ which refers to Britain ruling the waves (and never being slaves) doesn’t really reflect on any other country apart from England and it’s Navy a fact made quite evident by the British naval flag (below).
‘British’ navy flag.
Westminster Parliament (based in London, England)
Since England has 82% of Britain’s MP’s Westminster could legitimately be claimed to be as good as and in fact a lot better than any devolved English parliament.
Britain means retention of the Scottish Oil Fields under English political control and the use of that money in capital projects like the London Olympics, or duelling the A1 or indeed the Channel Tunnel. It also keeps the pound as a credible currency and magnifies British importance in Europe. The Scottish fishing grounds have been used as a ‘bargaining chip’ in the past.
The Bank of England is effectively Britain’s central bank. The inclusion of Scotland and Wales’s GDP keeps Britain in the G8. Historical prominence means that Britain has a seat in the UN and also has the added boost of being a member of the security council.
If we consider England’s state interests then England gets every advantage from the Union and very few disadvantages. A small amount of Scottish or Welsh MP’s might vote in a different way to English MP’s but in reality any party who gets into power in Westminster has to have huge support in England by definition.
The Trident Nuclear Deterrent means Britain/England can boss other countries around and interfere in their domestic policy while sonorously declaring that no-one else should have nuclear weapons. They are unpopular in Scotland of course, but it’s handy to keep them somewhere.
Retaining Britain means that England also retain control of little outposts like the Falklands or tax havens like the Channel Islands which means that the rich can still work in Britain while avoiding paying tax there.
Do we want or need these? David Cameron certainly sees them as important.
Unfortunately all these additional benefits for England come at a cost. Wales and Scotland (and Cornwall) have to pretend we don’t exist internationally. (3) David Mundell (Scotland’s lone Tory MP) doesn’t have a problem with that but Better Together can’t count him as very representative of the general viewpoint!
The truth is ‘independence’ for England would mean an actual reduction in power not an increase and England would have to accept that their imperial dream was finally over.
This is something that no English MP will ever countenance voluntarily (though they will be forced under international law to do so after any democratic vote for independence) which is why every London-based party is 100% against Scottish independence. It is not in their national interest.
The United Nations
This was very clearly illustrated in a BBC interview with the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw from 2006:
- Jack Straw Q & A online for BBC Question Time
The original link to the full interview is here (the comments re Scotland are at the end):
Note that Straw claims the British seat at the United Nations security council actually belongs to England!
As if that’s not bad enough it appears that Straw is not alone and in fact his viewpoint is representative of the British Government’s official view. Their recent legal advice says:
“It is not necessary to decide between these two views of the union of 1707. Whether or not England was also extinguished by the union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger into either an enlarged and renamed England or into an entirely new state.”
The real legal position is possibly somewhat different. This quote is from the judgement in MacCormick v Lord Advocate 1953: “The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law… Considering that the Union legislation extinguished the Parliaments of Scotland and England and replaced them by a new Parliament, I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done.”
What we can see is that the British Government does think like Straw (or is arguing the point because it is desperate to keep successor status, in the same paper it is argued that England is in the same position as Russia was within the Soviet Union!) and the recent suggestion that we would have no right to use the pound Sterling without the agreement of the rUK/English Government and the Bank of England by George Osbourne fits with this point of view.
They are effectively saying that Scotland was politically extinguished by the union, that Scotland leaving the UK would have no effect on its status whatsoever and that every treaty signed by Britain had no connection with one of the main countries that was a part of it.
Logically this means that Scotland has got nothing from being in the union apart from a tenth share in Britain’s enormous national debt and if we had zero status within the union there is no reason why we should accept that either a fact pointed out recently by international legal expert Dr Matt Qvortrup.
Was the British union a complete fraud?
Many Scots will (despite the above) want to believe that the union has not really been a sham and at points it may not have been. We did work together to defeat Hitler during World War II and there is no doubt that some Scots benefited financially from the British Empire. (4)
It’s important to remember however that most ordinary Scots were dirt poor at the beginning of Empire and just as poor at the end. After the failed 1745 rebellion (which was mostly made up of Scots) the British state cracked down hard on the rebels. Scotland was effectively ethnically cleansed by the Highland clearances and for many years Gaelic, Tartan and Bagpipes were all banned. Invalided English soldiers were even used to colonise areas of Scotland shortly after 1745.
The Scottish enlightenment period is claimed as a benefit of the union but in reality it would have been based upon the educational system in Scotland which was far superior at the time to the equivalent in England.
It is also never mentioned that the enlightenment period was not politically enlightened, quite the reverse! Scotland was effectively a police state with 20,000 paid informers and radicals were sent to Botany Bay (Thomas Muir) or hanged (the 1820 martyrs).
During the empire period the people of Scotland were treated no better than the colonised people’s of other lands and given that the Gaelic culture in Scotland (which in different forms was common to the whole island which we now know as Britain but which may at one point have been known as Albijo or ‘Alba’) was effectively wiped out prior to expansion we can say with some certainty that the ‘culture’ that we were forcing on the world was not our own. (5 + 6)
Given the above I think it is fair to say that although in fact the Scots and English were incorporated into a new state in 1707 (no doubt influenced by an English army on the border and harsh economic sanctions at the time imposed by the English parliament) the reality is that Westminster has acted as an effectively ‘Greater England’ Government since then and still does today.
Who controls Westminster? Isn’t it obvious?
In 1997 Tony Blair bluntly reminded us where the power really lay over devolution: “Sovereignty rests with me as an English MP and that’s the way it will stay.” As reported in the Scotsman.
Better Together – Patriotic Scots?
This is perhaps the reason why Better Together have ditched the Union flag for their No campaign (they appear to have nicked the Scotland youth team’s logo without their permission) because they realise that Scotland’s identity is much stronger than the British alternative in Scotland. They have even styled their campaign ‘the patriotic campaign’ an absurdity that at some point will be exposed.
I think this letter is pertinent which I sent to the Scotsman in September 2011.
Your interview with former Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy which
was printed today (http://tinyurl.com/3vey85t) was illuminating on a number of points.
Firstly his comment: “We need to be where most Scots are – Scottish first,
British second.” is unlikely to be popular amongst his fellow unionists but
it has the whiff of realism about it.
Unfortunately for Labour they do not have a history of putting Scotland
first and in any contest of patriotism with the SNP they are likely to fall
Mr Murphy regrets his own lack of input to the last Scottish elections and
according to the article writer appears to suggest that MSPs will never be
left alone again to run their own campaign. This suggestion rather
undermines the supposed plan for operational independence from London which
has been reported recently in the Scotsman.
As far as his own ambitions go it is clear that the future of Labour in
Scotland is not Mr Murphy’s main priority. He prefers to pretend to be a
Defence Minister in London. Being Scotland’s party leader might be of some
interest in the future, but only after twenty years!
So long as Labour sees Westminster as the most important parliament and
their top politicians are openly declaring that their own personal
priorities lie outside Scotland it is no wonder that the Scottish people
will prefer a SNP that places Scotland first.
Should we try to co-opt Britishness?
There are some voices suggesting that we should argue that Britishness will somehow be retained after independence (at least as a geographic identity) and some others are claiming that England ‘is not a foreign country’.
This is a logical absurdity and even though those involved may feel this way the reality is that we are planning on breaking up the British union and we won’t get there by arguing for the retention of the very state which is suffocating our own identity.
The views of those who genuinely feel British but are also voting Yes are worth highlighting, as they may appeal to a number of their fellow Scots but claiming that Britain won’t end when Scotland leaves the union is insulting to the intelligence of Scotland’s voters and would be ripped apart by any reasonably skilled debater.
Britain was a construct which amplified English power and the end of this false state is absolutely required to allow Scotland (and Wales and possibly one day Cornwall) to make our own voice heard in the world.
England is already a separate country and by that measure is foreign. What independence would have done is formalise the fact that we are separate countries and restore Scotland’s rightful place amongst the international community which was interrupted by the events in 1707.
(1) Perhaps in retrospect he really became King of England. James certainly saw his new kingdom as more important indeed he is quoted as hoping that Scotland would become ‘like a distant shire’, not a patriotic individual as far as Scotland was concerned. He was also incidentally responsible for Scottish Presbyterians colonising Northern Ireland to more effectively divide ‘n’ rule Ireland.
(2) The ‘Jacobite Rebellion’ is usually described as a British civil war however it was in reality also a war aimed at restoring Scottish independence. Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart, Charles III) actually declared that the British Union was ‘dissolved’. When Charles III reached Derby the British King George III was in a dreadful panic but according to historical sources he assured his followers that he would ‘always remain King of England.’
(3) The British Government used the Westminster parliament to lay legal claim to both the Scottish town of Berwick and Wales as parts of ENGLAND in 1746 after defeating those ‘rebellious Scots’ in 1745.
(4) Churchill referred to Britain as ‘England’ throughout World War II which no doubt reflected the political reality of the time but possibly ignoring the Scots during wartime had an energising political effect on Scotland. The SNP won their first by-election in 1945. There was a two million petition for devolution in 1950 (ignored!) and the SNP has risen (with some ups and downs) since the Hamilton by-election of 1967.
(5) At the time of union many Scots spoke a similar (but different) language to England. Scots. This language has been treated by contempt over the years but has as much historic validity as English and in fact it is mixed with some Gaelic words.
(6) Scotland’s standard of living only improved after 1945 (after rationing) which gives you an idea of how awful the living conditions for people in Scotland before then.
(7) Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2012
When the Question is asked which do you think ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run?
65% say Scottish Government
24% say Westminster
As a result of independence would Scotland have a stronger voice in the world, a weaker voice, or would it make no difference?
44% say stronger
32% say no difference
22% think it will be weaker
When the question is how confident would you be about a future independent Scotland’s future?
59% say they would be quite (39) or very worried (20)
21% say they would be very (6) or quite confident (15)