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Building a New Hadrian's Wall

The following is part 1 of a 3-part essay by Frank Taylor. It appeared in the January 2009 issue of Sovereignty.

As a person born and bred in England, I feel obliged to lay an ancestral card or two on the table, for ancestry can sometimes speak to attitude. My paternal grandfather was from Australia - probably of Scots borders ancestry - who spent a while in Italy where he married into a family of mixed European stock. Much of my maternal grandmother's family hailed from South Wales.

I have therefore always regarded myself as British rather than English. So I claim a modest level of detachment, a certain neutrality, when approaching this subject.

Be that as it may, in this article and the next two, I will present a case against full independence for Scotland.

This is not to prophesy whether Scotland will become independent. Yet it needs to be said that the SNP are still far short of demonstrating any 'settled resolve' by a majority of the Scottish people for 'independence'.

Having been an observer of politics over many years, my hunch is that around 15% of Scots are strongly in favour of independence, perhaps a further 10% or so modestly in favour, whilst a similar proportion will sometimes flirt with the idea, especially in those periods when electorates become seized with that certain mood of cantankerous devilment.

However to the enduring frustration of the SNP this rough profile of opinion has not altered greatly since the Hamilton by-election four decades ago. Moreover, the polling results on independence have tended to fluctuate cyclically and often in a manner set almost perversely apart from the issues of the moment.

Nor, in presenting this case, will I depend very heavily on any economic arguments. Remember the 'economic case' that was presented in support of entry into the Common Market. Entry was to be the salvation of a nation so industrially troubled it would have grasped at any straw in the economic wind. However, there have been only 2 years since, when the UK has been in surplus with the EU area; where mostly we have been heavily in deficit; and where the burdens and costs of that membership forever multiply.

Clearly, that over-trumpeted economic panacea turned out, as with most emanations of the Brussels cabal, to be a pig in a poke.

Therefore, we would expect, overall, independence to be similarly modestly detrimental to Scotland, given its situation at the geographic periphery of Europe, its fast declining oil reserves - even if oil can be regarded as a blessing and not a curse, and presuming that either England or the EU would allow it unfettered ownership of those reserves - and the huge contraction of its industrial base.

But it cannot be expected to be more than modestly detrimental. Even then that modest detriment might only apply to the first decade or two of independence.

Beyond that it would be senseless to make any prediction.

Protagonists for Scottish independence often cite dynamic small economies such as Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia - and particularly in recent times, Ireland - as examples of what a small country can achieve. Other small states, Portugal, Belgium, Greece, have been less expansive. Meanwhile the world economic crisis has thrown all bets into the blender.

States, both big and small, have created a mirage of wealth based on debt-backed false money. Iceland and Ireland must be counted amongst this number. Time will tell as to how that all plays out.

Whatever that outcome, there is no law of economic determinism which requires small states to be in any inevitable economic condition whether of dynamism, stagnation or decline, more than a state of any other size.

So much in long-term economic outcomes, regardless of the size and location of a country, can rest on both chance and the marginal decisions of the present.

If, according to Clausewitz, diplomacy is war by other means, then peaceful secession - and especially from a longstanding and consensual arrangement - may be regarded as civil war by other means. Few wars pass into history without imparting a legacy to their protagonists.

This is especially so of civil wars which, like comets, leave long, bright, cold tails! The explosive passions that create such ruptures are not suddenly extinguished at the armistice.

Even seven decades after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the painful legacy lives on. 140 years after the end of the American civil war, Dixie still yields a noticeable crop of Confederate diehards. Three and a half centuries after the English Civil War, local rivalries between towns which fought on opposing sides can be pungent.

History contradicts the optimistic tendency for protagonists in the great political and constitutional debates to believe that once their side has triumphed, all will settle down, accept the new dispensation, and the issue will quickly vanish into the shadows of the past.

For example, the defeat of the Spanish Armada did not bring an armistice with Spain for a generation, nor any enduring peace with that country for more than two centuries. Neither did it resolve the religious issues. Catholic emancipation in law was not achieved until 1829, and any general institutional acceptance of Catholics did not occur until well into the 20th century.

For more than a century France swung on a pendulum between republic and monarchy. As this question became conflated with issues of the secular versus the religious, and socialism versus conservatism, it proved to be viciously and savagely divisive. So bitter indeed, that on a number of occasions - 1848, the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, as well as during the Dreyfus and Stavisky Affairs - it propelled France towards the edge of civil war.

Here is another more contemporary example of how issues can persevere: The debate has been raging now over almost half a century as to whether the UK should be a member of the European project. So far, the integrationists have won. But that does not mean that the substantial anti-integrationist minority rolled onto its back and expired. Conversely if the UK left the EU that does not mean that the pro-integrationist faction, which would dearly wish us back in and which is well funded and well organised, would politely surrender, shake hands on a battle well lost, and disband itself.

This argument will rage on until either the UK's membership can be finally rendered irreversible by some ultimate threat of superior economic or military force, or the EU ceases to exist in its present form.

Similarly the issue of Scottish independence is too viscous, too deep; too much like a civil war but without the guns and blood, ever to evaporate, regardless of which side might temporarily win the day.

Even if the SNP won their referendum and Scotland become an 'independent' state, Unionists who feel equally as passionate about their cause and who want to reverse that dispensation would be unlikely to simply roll over on their backs.

This would be especially so if the Scottish economy began to falter in a way which could be blamed on the sundering of national ties. Either way, decades of repeated Quebec-style referenda on whether to be in or out might loom ahead.

The word 'independent' is in quotations for a reason.

Almost certainly by design rather than accident, any debate over the EU dimension to Scottish 'independence' has been almost entirely absent. But it needs to be asked and asked again: What earthly point is there in struggling for a Scotland to be 'independent' of England, only for both States to be subsumed into a federal Europe? Surely the cash value of patriotism and national self-determination is worth more than a tiny handful of extra MEPs and the prospect, every so often, of a Scot serving a term on the much smaller Commission - who would not in any case be allowed within a light year of fisheries policy!

The SNP is the Parti Quebecois of British politics, although it has shown few signs of commanding the consistently high levels of support that the PQ achieved during the 1980s and 1990s. The PQ demonstrated in spades the small liberty I've taken with Clausewitz's dictum, only it has done so with far greater venom. Ill-feeling between English and French speaking Canada plumbed new depths, not merely at the political level but at the personal and community level. At times Canada has stood close to serious civil unrest.

There are some similar straws in the winds of the Angle-Scot relationship. The SNP tries to play down any manifestations of anti-English racism and tries to play up the social union between the two countries. But such schism and strife, and all the poison that runs with it, is inherent - embedded in the very DNA - in the message the SNP preaches, and they must know that.

Part 2 of this essay can be found here.
Part 3 of this essay can be found here.

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