Half truths in the Independence Campaign

I’ve no desire to side definitively with moral arguments for either side of the independence debate- a large number of injustices have been dealt by the English to the Scots over the years, as have an almost equal number by the Scottish to the English. Each voter in in the referendum, will have their own highly personal reasons for casting their vote in whichever way they choose, and neither I nor any other person can, or indeed should, definitively tell them whether or not they are right or wrong. Only time will tell whether or not the result on the 18th of September will be the right one, both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom as a whole. 


I do, however, believe that there is a certain amount of intellectual dishonesty coming from the Yes movement.   Despite the protestations of some parts of the independence movement, the Scottish people have not been reduced to a servile nation systematically oppressed, both culturally and economically by the British, and it is worrying that many in Scotland will see these half-truths as reasons for independence, and vote in favour of what may be a catastrophic mistake. 


The Highland Clearances were a horrific and inexcusable act of ethnic cleansing, but these were enacted as much by Lowland Scots as they were by the English. The Battle of Culloden was not a clear-cut fight for Scottish independence by honest Jacobites against Hanoverian invaders, more a manifestation of the complex state of local politics at the time (I happened to be touring the Culloden battlefield with the son of a Scottish peer, who had had family members fighting for both sides). One could argue with some truth that the Act of Union was little more than a glorified bail-out (due to foolhardy  and ultimately unsuccessful attempts by the Scottish government to colonise a swampy Darien region of Panama), but this only took place after a century of dual rule of both Kingdoms by a Scottish family. In fact ne could argue that the liberties and freedoms that the people of both England and Scotland have had for the last three hundred years are a result of the actions of the Stuart family.


 There are indeed a greater number of English seats in the House of Commons than there are Scottish seats, but neither of these groupings constitutes a unified political Caucasus, each grasping for more power over the other. Almost always, the interests of Scots and the interests of the English (and the Welsh) are one and the same. If the birthplace of the modern day Labour party was in the non-conformist congregations of Lanarkshire, this certainly has not stopped it representing the political hopes of a large part of the country. Per head, the people of Scotland can no more claim to be under represented in Parliament than can the peoples of Wales, Cornwall, or even Yorkshire, each a culturally distinct, but geographically and (in the case of Wales and Yorkshire) economically similar part of the United Kingdom. The fact that the Scottish people are represented in Parliament means that one can hardly claim they are an oppressed people, as Justin Welby foolishly claimed. 


Finally Since 1900, one in every three British Prime Ministers has been Scottish (Arthur Balfour, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Andrew Bonar-Law, Ramsay MacDonald, Alec Douglas-Home and Gordon Brown). If this is the case, how can the people of Scotland, constituting, as Independence activists claim, one unified cultural identity, claim to be oppressed and under-represented?


Would independence be the right thing for Scotland’s economy? Many, such as singer Billy Bragg have suggested that Scottish Independence would somehow provide a shield against ‘globalisation’ and remove Scotland’s economic dependency on London. This is questionable to say the very least. Like Wales and Yorkshire (less so Cornwall), parts of Scotland have benefitted enormously from the boom of the late 1990s, and parts still have not recovered from the de-industrialisation of the late twentieth century. This is not endemic to Scotland, therefore to suggest that Scotland should be given its independence because of the disastrous economic policies of previous governments is as reasonable as arguing that that the people of Yorkshire should too, be given self-determination (and Yorkshire has fewer constituencies and has produced fewer contemporary Prime Ministers than Scotland). 


However, even the Scottish National party do not envision full economic independence for Scotland in their post 2016 strategy; they instead plan to become dependent on Britain for currency, further tying the Scottish economy to London. As they also plan on becoming a member state of the European Union, it is also questionable how much of political independence Scotland will retain never mind economic self-determination. Is it likely that the EU will bankroll the reopening of the Clydeside shipyards? Unlikely. Even if the new Scottish currency is pegged with the pound, the fate of their economy will still be reliant on the ebbs and flows of the city of London. 


This therefore begs the question as to why Scotland needs to become an independent country. It also raises questions as to what motivates the independence movement other than a misplaced sense of national loyalty. As for the creation of a socialist utopia in Scotland, quite how this is to be achieved by joining arguably the world’s most aggressive trade bloc is unclear. 


On the 27th of July the Sunday Times, reported the results of a poll on the subject of Scottish independence. Of the 1,041 Scots surveyed, 42% reported thinking that Scotland would fare worse economically as an independent country as opposed to 34% who thought that it would fare better. Interestingly, 17% said that in the event of independence, they would leave Scotland all together. Although this is only a poll of a small section of Scotland, it would not seem unlikely that these results are not reflective of the general population. That being said, who can predict what will happen over the next few weeks to influence public opinion? Popular opinion concludes that, whichever way the vote goes, it will be close-run.


A final word in favour of continued Union: The actions of the British in the West Indies, before the end of slavery at the very least, are nothing short of horrific, and do constitute what can be defined as oppression. Yet, fifty years on from home rule, it is telling that the majority of surveyed Jamaicans favour a return to British rule. Sometimes the devil you know really is better than the one that you do not.