By Peter Gibbs.
In 1914, Scotsmen of all backgrounds stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, alongside their fellow countrymen – from Yorkshire, East Anglia, South Wales, Cornwall, Northern and Southern Ireland. The cause: the defence of the British homeland and the survival of the Empire – from the Pitcairns to Perth (the Australian and the Scottish!); from Northampton to Nova Scotia. As the Kaiser’s armies devoured Europe, and the August harvest in Britain’s fields and farmlands turned to gold, the men of Britain united in the common cause…
One hundred years later, and we live in a world very different from this Kiplingesque vision. The Empire has gone (its downfall beginning, perhaps, in the mud of the Somme) and even the modern Britain itself, the victor of the two 20th-century world conflicts, seems to be fading: a country subjected to an intensive globalisation, asset-stripping, self-questioning and crisis of confidence. And it is from the latter, the contemporary obsession with overthrowing old ideas, questioning what was once certain, and cheerfully challenging all that is dear and familiar, that we find the United Kingdom on the brink of disintegration. For the year 2014 sees the possible end of the U.K., as the people of Scotland are given the opportunity to vote for secession and “independence”, the long-held goal of one Alex Salmond the First Minister of Scotland.
Alex Salmond, of course, is a highly-effective politician. The man is possessed of a wit and natural style, and can almost be seen as a Caledonian version of Harold Wilson: a tactician, able to position himself on the side of progress and “getting on”. He is also very fond of manipulating a situation to his advantage, and when compared to the autocue-reading ranks of Westminster’s dreary politicians, outguns and outclasses most of his opponents. When the battling Scottish tennis ace, Andy Murray, (eventually) triumphed at Wimbledon, Mr. Salmond was seen in the audience standing just behind the Prime Minister waving a large Scottish saltire! As a political stunt, it was very effective. Nobody should be surprised that David Cameron is unwilling to debate with Alex Salmond: one gains the impression that the Scottish First Minister actually knows what the words Magna Carta mean! (I refer here to Cameron’s disastrous appearance on an American chat show, during which he failed on several basic questions relating to British history.) Alex is unlikely to be stumped on basic facts, and would undoubtedly emerge with credit from any encounter with Downing Street’s present occupant.
However, having been generous to the SNP leader, we need to be realistic about what his party and his aim of independence actually mean. The Scottish National Party, encouraged by devolution and by a feeling in Scotland that Westminster parties have abandoned the people, has made enormous strides – especially in the last decade. The SNP has displaced Labour as the natural party of Scotland, particularly urban Scotland, yet has also managed the remarkable trick of appealing to Liberals and conservative folk. Smart suits, slick presentation, assurances about the survival of the Crown, and Scotland as part of the sterling area have enticed many into the independence camp – an independence that (according to Salmond) seems to be about parity rather than partition. Indeed, in a recent edition of Scotland’s Herald newspaper, the First Minister made great play of the fact that he is both a Briton and a Scot; a clever attempt to reassure a section of native opinion that Scotland would not altogether cut its historic and emotional ties with the rest of us.
But supposing Scots did vote to leave the United Kingdom? Just how Scottish would the new Caledonia be? Before the Euro-crisis and collapse, Mr. Salmond talked a great deal about his country enlisting in the European Union; with a vision of Scotland as a “beacon of progressive values” with a commitment to social liberalism. Immigrants in Scotland are, to Mr. Salmond, “the new Scots” and he is on record as believing that “Scotland is a mongrel nation” – so it seems likely that the SNP’s “independence” and nationalism will be very much in the shadow of Brussels, the European Central Bank, and the diktats of modern political correctness and multiculturalism.
There is also the question of what will happen to unionist parties and groups if “independence” is gained. For example, what will be the purpose of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, or the Scottish Liberal Democrats? Will the Orange Order or Rangers football club supporters be asked to fold away their Union Jacks – a mirror-image of what is coming to pass in an increasingly Sinn Fein-dominated Northern Ireland? And what if – say – Glasgow votes by 80 per cent to stay in the Kingdom, but the rest of the country votes to leave? Could Scotland be divided, so that its unionist part remains in the UK? Although a democratic party, it does seem that the SNP might possibly become the only party that fits into the newly-independent Scotland.
As mentioned earlier, Alex Salmond has stated that he is in favour of the maintenance of the monarchy (a union of the Crowns, which indeed long predated the Act of Union 1707). But the SNP does have a republican element, and after the First Minister’s eventual retirement, there is every possibility that his replacement might instigate a referendum on whether Scotland should have any ties to the monarchy at all. Just like Australia’s republican Premier, Paul Keating, an anti-monarchist SNP leadership could emerge – its aim, the complete termination of the last real link between Scotland and the rest of Britain. We should not forget that when the pro-independence camp launched its campaign, the SNP was happy to share a platform with the republican Scottish Socialist Party. (Can you imagine the outcry if the pro-union Better Together movement had invited UKIP – or the British Democratic Party – to its launch?)
From the existence of the BBC north of the border, to the continuation of the .uk email address for individuals and businesses; from the “Royal” in Royal Scottish National Orchestra to the survival of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, “independence” could spell the end for many well-known landmarks for Scots. There is, worryingly, an element which seems to revel in this shattering of the Kingdom: one contributor to a discussion forum on a Scottish newspaper website actually told the world that he was virtually weeping with joy that Alex Salmond had given him the chance to vote to free his country! It seems that to some, the SNP has created a political epiphany – an emotional force, which the “No” camp, offering as it does practical, statistics-based arguments, may have difficulty challenging.
Of course, Scots must make their own decision, but they should be mindful that many true, ancestral Scotsmen and women who happen to live in England are denied the right to vote in September’s referendum – in contrast to someone from Somalia, currently living in Scotland as a legally-settled Scottish citizen, who has the right to cast a vote.
Unionists (such as this writer) may have to face facts – that the Union itself may well become a federal arrangement; Westminster looking after defence and foreign policy, and the individual nations raising their own taxes and deciding upon their own internal affairs. But a federal United Kingdom, sustained by a common (if varied) British identity, is far better than a dismembered UK, with Scotland becoming little more than a Greece or a Cyprus within a dominant, liberal-left EU.
All those who love our island nation, and who value our great achievements together, will naturally hope and pray that Scotland stays within the United Kingdom. A proud, national, distinctive Scotland, within a sovereign, democratic and British Britain.