Once the present pandemic abates, Britain will face a new crisis, a battle for its very survival.
First published in February 2021.
The battle lines are already being drawn: on one side the UK Government, the majority of the press, and the entire British establishment, tacitly backed by the royals. On the other side, Nicola Sturgeon and her fellow Scottish warriors. Though outgunned and outnumbered, their cause is just and their passion strong. I wish them well.
Scottish Independence from an English perspective
I live in Stratford-upon-Avon, which has several advantages. One is that most people have heard of it. Another is that I can often quote Shakespeare in defence of my views.
If Shakespeare’s Hamlet were here today, I imagine he would have pondered the issue: “To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler for Scotland to be a European country, or to be ruled over by Westminster?” And being Prince of Denmark, he would probably have opted for the former.
Boris Johnson however, for all his Eton education, has not advanced as far as Shakespeare but is still stuck in the Feudal era. Like some Lord of the Manor, he seems to regard Scotland as part of his fiefdom. The serfs there are expected to be content with their station in life, their lot fixed for a generation. But does he speak for the majority of us here in England? Not at all. The last YouGov poll of 1,530 English people found that less than half wanted Scotland to stay in the union. The rest were in favour of independence, or more commonly felt it was a question for the Scots to decide.
How do English and Welsh people feel about Scotland leaving the UK? | YouGov
Boris does not, it should be noted, even speak for the whole of the Conservative party. Many of the ardent ideologues who have taken over that party are essentially English nationalists. For them, the only thing that matters is Brexit, and if that means the loss of Scotland, it is almost an added bonus.
Boris just speaks for Boris. He has no great affection for Scotland either, but he does have affection for himself, and he knows that if his fan club can no longer wave their union jacks, his credibility will vanish faster than a blond wig in a hurricane.
It is true that many English men and women have a sentimental attachment to the familiar red white and blue banner, though the plainer St George’s Cross has been gaining ground recently, as Andrew Marr notes. All the same, if asked directly, people will invariably concede that the future of any country is for its own people to decide.
The time is now
“Now is not the time for another vote.” That weary phrase has long been Westminster’s stock refrain, denying Scotland its right to self determination. But the Scots intend to go ahead anyway, once the election victory is secured and the pandemic is out of the way.
They are right to do so. Though the European Union is well disposed towards Scotland, rejoining is unlikely to get any easier with time. Not only will the EU itself gradually change and diverge from us, but also Brexit Britain will change; including Scotland, if it stays in the union.
Looked at in Darwinian terms, Brexit represents a major environmental change, which will affect the evolution of the UK’s structures and businesses. Many will go to the wall, unable to adapt, but others will survive, a few will even thrive. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the survivors will expand and grow stronger. These newly dominant forces will then form the new establishment and press to preserve the status quo, opposing the radical break that independence involves.
Aggravating this are the Westminster Government’s rearguard actions. A group of 20 civil servants have been secretly ordered to strip references to the European Union from tens of thousands of laws to stop a future Labour Government reversing Brexit, in an action known to insiders as “Operation Bleach.” But if you thought the official opposition would put up any resistance, think again. Unbelievably, Labour’s Keir Starmer has thrown in the towel and rarely mentions Brexit at all in the House of Commons.
Would Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, have let Trump off the hook with a nod and a wink? Would he dismiss cases of historic child abuse and tell the victims to move on? Possibly not, yet when it comes to a gerrymandered vote riddled with lies which had devastating consequences for all of us, he looks the other way.
By contrast, listen to the impassioned speeches being made in the Scottish Parliament. A joy and an inspiration for all of us who voted Remain! Scots are within sight of reversing the damage inflicted in 2016, elevating their country to the EU’s top table, and restoring the powerful alliance of 28 nations. They must seize the day.
Edinburgh, Scottish independence referendum 2014. | Flickr-fw42
Or to invoke Shakespeare again: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune...”
A few factors are in their favour. First, Scottish independence is likely to be less divisive than Brexit, because they will be gaining something – EU membership – instead of being deprived of something. Moreover it was something valued, that they had before and had purposely stayed in the union for; so in a sense it would be restoring the status quo.
Secondly, as Andrew Wilson pointed out in the Spectator, the SNP prospectus is worked out in advance; an orderly transition that is clear on currency, public finances and how it would approach an agreement with the rest of the UK. In other words, the antithesis of Brexit. And the Spectator is not normally noted for any bias towards Scottish independence.
A sporting chance
I doubt whether the Indeyref2, when it finally comes about, will be an easy victory. A strange law seems to operate at referendums whereby no matter what the issue, people flock equally to both sides like supporters at a football match. Support for independence has hence hovered at just above 50%, rather than the 80% or 90% you might have expected (if you were a full blooded Scot). The most recent Survation poll at the time of writing, showed an even split. Nevertheless if enough Scottish believers can convince the doubters, (the so-called “Yes Challenge”), they stand a sporting chance.
The real threat will come not from Boris Johnson and his Union Committee but from the massed battalions of the unionist press, the same heavyweight bruisers that we faced in the conflict over Brexit. The Scottish National Party seems to have forgotten how big money, false claims about the EU and a torrent of propaganda about UK’s exceptionalism won the 2016 referendum. Boris is probably counting on his pals in the media to steamroller Sturgeon’s forces into submission. It is certainly going to be a David and Goliath struggle, and Scots will need the courage of Robert the Bruce if they are to gain their freedom. But once the battle is won, they have much to look forward to as members of the EU.
Statue of Robert the Bruce, Stirling Castle. | Wikimedia-DeFacto
A passport to success for the Scots, a wake up call for ourselves
With EU membership, the value of a Scottish passport will rocket, compared to the much hyped blue passports now being issued, the value of which has fallen off a cliff. The status of Scottish citizenship will also rise in the eyes of the world. (Following the loss of freedom of movement, the value of UK citizenship fell by 27.1%, according to the Kälin-Kochenov Quality of Nationality Index).
As a guide to what is likely to happen, the Irish passport office has been overwhelmed with applications since Brexit. Following a vote for independence, millions of English will be scrutinising their family history hoping to find evidence of Scottish ancestry.
In my own case, as I am half Welsh, I will have to wait for Welsh independence to get my EU passport. Meantime, I raise my glass to the Scots. If they can gain their independence and rejoin the EU, reversing the folly of Brexit, I’ll drink to that. A large scotch will suit me fine.
▫ John King, Retired doctor & Remain campaigner.
Check their Voting Record:
🗳️ Keir Starmer
[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 28 February 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Geograph/Walter Baxter. - A Scottish Independence Referendum campaign sign at Eyemouth. | 18 September 2014. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)