Thursday 25 October 2012

Scottish independence would delight our enemies and dismay our friends

The British armed forces have had a long and illustrious history, but face perhaps their greatest challenge in the coming years. While the British army was able to fight off external enemies in two world wars, it is only the existence of an internal enemy, which threatens it with dismemberment. If the SNP were to succeed in breaking up Britain, they would of course succeed in breaking up the British army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. How would that prospect be viewed by Britain’s enemies and friends?

Imagine if Scottish independence had broken up the British armed forces in 1914 or in 1939. What would have been the reaction to this event in Berlin? Our enemies at that time would have been delighted. They would have known that breaking up the British armed forces would have diminished in strength one of the obstacles that they would have had to overcome. How would our allies and friends have reacted? They would have known that one of their key allies had just been considerably weakened. The result in both world wars at various points was very close. British armed forces were at times considerably pressed. The presence of Scottish forces in both world wars could well have made the difference between victory and defeat. No wonder our enemies would have been delighted with Scottish independence in 1914 or 1939. Why should they think any differently if independence were to be achieved in 2014?

How would our Nato allies react to Scottish independence breaking up the British armed forces? They would know that at present there are only really three serious armies in Nato, the French, the British and the American. The breaking up of one of those armies would naturally diminish the strength of the Nato alliance. Our allies therefore would naturally react with dismay, while our enemies would be able to see a chink in the armour of Nato, which had not existed previously. 

While the SNP talk of an independent Scotland remaining in Nato, it is obvious that they are doing so purely in order to win votes. Their support for the alliance is at best lukewarm and surrounded by conditions. To be frank, if they were sincere in their support for Nato they would not be proposing to break up the British armed forces. 

Some nationalists might ask, which enemies are you talking about? The Cold War is over. The Warsaw Pact defunct.  What purpose does the Nato alliance have? The answer is that no one knows what future enemies we may have. But that is the very reason why we must maintain strong armed forces. Anyone with a knowledge of history knows that Britain has frequently faced enemies and it is unlikely that human nature has changed so much that we will not in the future face more. Nato has kept the peace remarkably well since 1948. British deaths in all conflicts since World War 2 are less than 8000. By comparison, more than three times that number were killed on one day in 1916. Prior to Nato, deaths in wars were in the hundreds of thousands, after Nato combat deaths in any one conflict have exceeded one thousand only twice. What has made the difference? The answer obviously is the fact that we have possessed nuclear weapons. These really have deterred large scale warfare. The SNP however, not only wish to weaken Nato, by weakening the British armed forces, they also wish to undermine Nato’s ability to deter enemies. The UK’s nuclear deterrent is situated in Scotland and there is nowhere at present in the rest of the UK where it can be situated. The need for nuclear deterrence is if anything greater than it was previously, not least because more states hostile to this country are striving to acquire them. The prospect of a world being entirely free from nuclear weapons is practically speaking impossible, not least because there is no way to uninvent something which has already been invented. In such a world giving up our own nuclear weapons would naturally delight our enemies. It would also dismay our friends who depend in part on our ability to deter their enemies. To suppose otherwise is to be hopelessly naive. 

Scotland has a long history of contributing to the British armed forces and Scottish soldiers, sailors and airmen are universally respected and feared. To show how the SNP’s policies would delight Britain’s potential enemies just imagine how a potential enemy would view the prospect of an SNP victory in the independence referendum. Imagine how they would delight to see the chaos of trying to extract Scottish regiments from the unified whole which is the British Army. Imagine how they would see opportunity in the Royal Air Force losing its Scottish bases, how it would please them to know that the Royal Navy could no longer patrol the waters around Scotland. Our enemies would know that there would in the event of independence be a divided intelligence service, a divided counter terrorism strategy and through these cracks of division they might just find an opportunity, which was unavailable to them when we presented a united front. On the basis that we should never do what our enemy would like us to do, it is clear that a vote for independence should be avoided by anyone concerned about the defence of our country.

Saturday 13 October 2012

On the North-South divide and the secession of South Britain

There is a North-South divide in Britain, such that the southern half of the country on average is wealthier than the northern half. This was not always so. At the peak of the industrial revolution, the North more than matched the South for prosperity as can be seen by the fine, and expensive architecture everywhere in the north of Britain. But as heavy industry went into decline, so much of that prosperity was lost, so that now there is a definite dividing line between North and South Britain. Quite where to draw the boundary is not absolutely clear, but if a line were drawn from the Bristol channel to the Wash, that would be a fair approximation of where to place the divide. What would be the consequences if South Britain decided to turn this imaginary divide into a real one? What if South Britain were to vote for independence, choosing to secede from North Britain?

The South Britons are on average wealthier than the North Britons. They commonly vote Conservative and they pay more in taxation while receiving less in public spending. What if they were to reason in this way? We continually vote Conservative, but frequently contrary to our wishes have to endure the oppression of a Labour government, which we did not vote for. Such a government steals our wealth through ever higher taxes and gives it to the North Britons. It redistributes our money by subsidising the Labour voters of North Briton. We’d be much more prosperous if we had our own country called South Britain. Why should we help the post-industrial cities of northern England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Let them help themselves. 

What would be the result of such a South Britain independence movement? Looked at by itself Scotland would come out fairly well. Scotland receives in public spending only a little more than it raises in taxation. The result for the rest of North Britain however, would be very poor. At present Northern Ireland gives out about £4000 in public spending per person, per year more than it raises in taxation, while Wales gives out about £3000 more than it raises. The north of England fares somewhat better. Although each region of England above the boundary line is in deficit with regard to the per capita gap between public spending and taxation, this deficit is small in the Midlands. However, the gap between public spending and taxation in the north of England progressively becomes greater as we move northward until it reaches around £3000 in the North-East.

What would be the economic result for these deficit regions if South Britain chose to secede? The result would be a large gap between public spending and revenue. The government for these regions would face a choice. They could either cut public spending drastically, raise taxes drastically or attempt to issue debt. With the sort of deficits faced by these regions it is unlikely that the bond markets would look favourably on their attempts to issue debt. Raising taxes still higher than they are at present would likewise be problematic, as this would certainly damage the growth prospects of these regions, especially if there was a taxation differential between North and South Britain. The only option would be to cut public spending so that it closely matched revenue raised. For Northern Ireland, Wales and the far north of England, the required austerity would mean cuts of between £3000 and £4000 pounds per person, per year, which would severely affect living standards in those regions. The relatively wealthy parts of North Britain could of course subsidise to some extent the poorer parts, but given that all regions of North Britain are in deficit, there would be a limit to how much they could do so without damaging the living standards in their own region. 

On the other hand, the economic result for South Britain would be much more favourable. They would be able to retain much of the income, which they at present share with the North. Much of South Britain would receive an immediate £2000 pound credit per person. The average gap in living standards between someone from Southampton and someone from either Cardiff, Belfast or Newcastle would therefore immediately see an increase of between £5000 and £6000. Politically South Britain would be much more likely to have the sort of government, which it voted for. It would be able to introduce the business oriented policies, which South Britain wanted. It would be much easier for such a government to achieve further economic success, as it would inherit a country, which already had lower unemployment, lower public spending and a smaller public sector. A Conservative government in South Britain could establish a free market economy. Unhindered by the Labour party anchor, this economy would become more like Switzerland or the USA. With policies of low taxation, low public spending, inevitably the economic growth and prosperity of South Britain would increase as that of North Britain declined still further. 

Why shouldn’t South Britain secede from the rest of the UK? Wouldn’t North Britain be happier being able to continually elect the left wing type of government it favours? Wouldn’t secession end the inequality of the North-South divide?

But can we not appeal to the conscience of South Britain? If leaving the UK would impoverish great chunks of North Britain, if it would furthermore make the constitutional future of Northern Ireland uncertain, are these not reasons enough why South Britain should stay? Of course South Britain could say we don’t care what happens to North Britain, let them live in poverty, so long as we have more. But if they did say this, would the North Britons not have the right to say you’re being selfish, you’re acting like the stereotypical view of a bunch of selfish, wicked Tories? Just so that you always get what you want, always get the government that reflect your wishes, you’re willing to cast North Britain adrift, you’re willing to forget that we have stood together through thick and thin just so that you can be a bit richer. Could we in North Britain not appeal to the conscience of the South Britons in this way? Could we not point out that we need them and hope that they would have the fellow feeling to reciprocate this sense of need? After all, there are family bonds between us that are far more important than what party rules us or how much money we have in our wallets. When secession equals selfishness good people should have no part of it.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Self-determination and the Union

Scottish nationalists may have hoped that Scotland would be the next independent country in Europe, but another independence movement has recently come to prominence, threatening to beat them to it. While in Edinburgh five thousand people turned out for a march for independence, reports suggest that one and half million Catalans marched in Barcelona seeking secession from Spain. It may surprise nationalists, but this unionist has a certain amount of sympathy with the Catalans, for the simple reason that I have always believed in the right to self-determination.

Throughout history there have been places where groups of people have struggled for independence. The American colonists fought a war of independence in order to become the United States. I don’t believe that Britain had any right to hold onto a country, which no longer desired British rule. Still less did Britain have the right to try to force the Americans to remain under that rule by force of arms. But then again when the United States faced its own secession crisis in 1861, the North had no right to force an unwilling South to remain in the union. If a group of people, any people, wish to leave a state, they have the right to do so.

But having the right to do something does not mean that I ought to do it. In a marriage between two people, it is no doubt a good thing for both the man and the woman that each has the right to divorce the other, but this does not mean that they ought to divorce, or that it would be a good thing if they did divorce. The reason that I sympathise with the Catalans is that the government in Madrid is saying that Catalonia does not have the right to secede from Spain, that any referendum on independence would be illegitimate. There is even some loose and senseless talk that Spain would fight to prevent the secession of Catalonia. This really is an example of an abusive marriage. 

Compare and contrast the situation in Scotland. For as long as I can remember the UK government has held the view that if a majority of Scots wish Scotland to leave the UK, then they have the right to do so. No one wishes to hold Scotland and the Scots against our will. This is right and proper. I too have always supported the right of Scotland to secede, for I support the right to self-determination. But I do not wish to exercise that right by leaving, rather I wish to exercise the right to self-determination by electing to stay.

I regret that Ireland chose to secede from the UK. I think it was historically a disastrous decision. But I fully accept that they had a right to leave, if the majority of the people living in Ireland considered that leaving was what they ought to do. However, I also think that the people of Northern Ireland, were within their rights, to exercise their right to self-determination in choosing to remain with the UK. So long as the majority of the population in Northern Ireland want to remain in the UK, they ought to be allowed to do so. For this reason the IRA were always guilty of self-contradiction. They objected to the British trying to prevent Ireland seceding from the UK, but were willing to use force of arms to try to make Northern Ireland secede from the UK. The reason for this is that they saw the nation of Ireland as something that overrode the rights of its constituent parts. Irish nationalism therefore trumped the rights of a group within Ireland to exercise its right to self-determination. Nationalists, who frequently see preserving the unity of the nation as being more important than the rights of secession, often turn out to be the real opponents of the the right to self-determination.

Just as Spain is unwilling to take into account the rights of Gibraltarians, just as Argentina is unwilling to take into account the rights of Falkland Islanders, so Catalans are finding that they don’t have the right to determine how they are ruled. It would seem that the Spanish speaking form of nationalism is such that there is not much choice as to whether someone will be Spanish or not. No wonder a million and a half Catalans were on the streets of Barcelona. No wonder likewise that only five thousand were on the streets of Edinburgh. The fact that Scots have the right to leave the UK if we wish, means that there are no bonds holding us. We simply have to show that we wish to leave and we will be free to go. But the fact that we are free to go, that we have the right to determine our future, means that we have no need to go. The bonds that join us in the UK are gentle bonds, there is therefore no need to struggle against them.

While I sympathise with the Catalans and absolutely think that they have the right to determine their own future, in the end I think their secession from Spain would be a mistake of the same order as Ireland’s secession from the UK. The main reason why Catalan nationalism has sprung into life recently is the economic catastrophe, which at present engulfs Spain. The reason for this crisis however, can be put simply and the solution is equally simple. Spain made a huge mistake when it chose to join the Eurozone. Membership of the Eurozone is the fundamental cause of the meltdown of the Spanish economy and the potential loss of Spanish sovereignty, which would be required if it were to receive a full bailout. Catalan independence, within the Eurozone would be no independence at all. The Catalans would exchange rule from Madrid, for rule from Brussels. What Catalonia needs is not so much Catalan independence as Spanish independence.

The same can equally well be said of Scotland. Thankfully we are not in the Eurozone, but anyone who follows EU affairs, knows that our sovereignty is constrained by Brussels. The Scottish parliament just as much as the parliament in Westminster frequently can not follow the democratic wishes of the electorate, because EU law overrides all.  We have to a great extent lost our right to self-determination. Scottish independence would not change this, we would still be part of that ever closer union,  the EU, which makes laws we cannot change, no matter the will of the people. Scotland does not need Scottish independence. We don’t need to be independent from the parliament in Westminster, we need to be independent from the rulers in Brussels. What we need is a truly independent Great Britain, offering even to welcome back our cousins in Ireland, giving them a route out of Eurozone servility, so that the English speaking people of the British Isles could be united once more.

Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English?

Although the nationalists would not like the question to be phrased in this way, the referendum on independence amounts to the following question: Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English? Scots, who would vote for secession, are really saying we can’t bear to live with such people, but would prefer to live in a country only with our fellow Scots. It becomes obvious that this really is the case by reflecting on the fact that if a Scot were happy to live in the same country as the English, he would be happy with the present UK situation and would not vote for independence.
Let’s look at the logic of the position. Scotland is a multiracial, multicultural country. If we can’t bear to live in the same country as the English, how can we bear to live in the same country as people from Poland, Latvia, Pakistan or the Caribbean? To believe that we ought to live in harmony with people whose ancestors arrived in our country in the last fifty years or so, but that we cannot live in harmony with people whose ancestors have lived in the British Isles since the dawn of history is absurdly self-contradictory. If Scots are saying that it is intolerable for us to live in the same country as English people, how can we expect to find it tolerable living with people who differ from us to a far greater extent than the average person born in England. A typical English person speaks  the same language as a Scot, with a somewhat different accent. His culture and attitudes are broadly similar to ours. His religion, if he has one, will probably be a variant on the theme of Protestantism, just like in Scotland. His ancestors will probably be the same mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Viking, Norman and Roman as our ancestors. Scottish Nationalists maintain that they cannot bear to live in the same country as such a  person, who differs from us to such a small degree. But how then can they expect to be able to bear to live in an independent Scotland, which will contain people born in countries far away, people with different religions, with different skin colours, indeed with people who were born in England? What are they going to do? Send them all homeward tae think again.
The SNP moreover, wants an independent Scotland to remain in the EU post independence. At present Scotland is already in a union with three other countries. If Scots are really saying that we can’t bear to be in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, how can we then say we can bear to be in a another union with 27 more countries, including those we have just left? If Scots can not stand being in a union with the English, how can we expect to long endure being in an ever closer union with Germans, French, Italians and Poles?
At present it’s as if Scotland, England Wales and Northern Ireland, like old friends, live in a house together. We’ve lived that way for a long time. We all speak the same language and have broadly similar attitudes and cultures. However, friction has developed in our house, primarily over bills, how to share our money and how to run the house. Scotland wants  to leave. Does Scotland want to live on its own? No, Scotland wants to live in a large dormitory, containing not only our former housemates, but people from whom we are very different in terms of language and culture. The residents of this dormitory, i.e. the EU, might well wonder whether they really want such a fractious new dormitory member. If Scotland could not bear to live in the same house as the English speaking people of the UK, would we not be a source of trouble and disharmony in the EU dormitory? Would we not set a bad example to other residents, such as, for example, the Spanish speakers. The EU might well see the wisdom of the proverb  “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

Failing to face up to the logic of independence

There’s an interesting undercurrent to the debate about whether an independent Scotland would automatically be a part of the European Union. Unionists are generally delighted by the idea that Scotland would have to apply for membership, while nationalists either deny vehemently that such a scenario could occur, or are dismayed when European politicians appear to suggest that indeed an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the club. Yet in the last two or three years, since the crisis in the Eurozone began, the EU has become less and less popular in the UK as a whole and in Scotland as well. Something quite strange is going on in this debate. Huge numbers of unionists are also Eurosceptics. I imagine quite a large number of nationalists are too. Why then do unionists react with delight at the idea that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU, when it is is exactly this that they would like the UK to do? Why do nationalists react with fury to the idea that Scotland would have to leave the EU, when this is exactly the policy of the other independence party in Britain, UKIP? Scotland would certainly be more independent if it was both independent from the rest of the UK (rUK) and from the EU. Why then does the prospect not delight nationalists?
The two sides of this debate have tended to concern themselves with involved and complex ideas about international law, treaties about the succession of states, secession theory, EU law and other arcane matters such as the Treaty of Union of 1707. None of this really matters. The possible scenarios are as follows. Both rUK and Scotland would have to apply for membership. rUK would retain membership, but Scotland would not. Both rUK and Scotland would retain membership. Each of these scenarios is perfectly possible and the one that occurs will be the one which the rest of the EU deems to be in its best interest. The EU clearly makes the rules up as it goes along. If it were to want to retain rUK in the EU there is zero chance that it would make rUK reapply for membership, as under that scenario there is zero chance of rUK voting to join. If, on the other hand, rUK were still part of the EU and an independent Scotland were outside, there is a great likelihood that an independent Scotland would want to join the EU as quickly as possible. Why the difference when Euroscepticism is probably as strong in Scotland as in rUK? This is where we come to the undercurrent in the debate.
The debate is not really about the EU at all. The reason that membership of the EU is so vital to nationalists is not because they love the EU, its because this membership guarantees Scots the same rights that they have at present in rUK. If it could be shown that Scottish independence would mean that Scots would need a passport or visa to live and work in England, there would be very few Scots who would vote for independence. It is for this reason that nationalists react with fury when unionists point out the possible disadvantages of independence, accusing unionists of scaremongering at the least suggestion that Scots would lose something if we became independent. The logic of this position is to make unionism as a political position impossible. If unionists are not allowed to point out what they consider to be disadvantages, if the suggestion that Scots would lose anything at all is to be dismissed as scaremongering, then any unionist argument is ruled out from the start as illegitimate. This is to accuse unionists of suffering from some sort of false consciousness and is the tactic of someone who does not wish to debate, but to assert.
Fundamentally nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence. They want freedom from England, but want to retain all the rights of being a citizen there. This means that logically they want to be both independent and not independent. Nationalists react with rage if it is suggested that England would treat Scots as foreigners. But what is a foreigner other than someone who lives in an independent state. Independent states have the right to treat foreign citizens differently from their own citizens, so why do nationalists react with such anger at the suggestion that England could treat them differently post independence?
What is it to be dependent? My right to live and work in England depends on my being a citizen there. If I renounce my citizenship in England, I have become independent of England. Being an independent Scot requires that I no longer retain the rights, which depended on my being a citizen of the UK. To expect to retain such rights, while being independent is to wish to be both dependent and independent. Nationalists, when they accuse unionists of scaremongering, really show they they want to have the rights of a Scot who has achieved independence, while retaining the same rights as an Englishman. What they want is to be both Scottish and English.
This really is a classic example of what Sartre called “mauvaise foi” (bad faith). Unless nationalists are willing to give up the rights they have at present as UK citizens they have no right to demand independence from the UK. To do so would be craven, dishonest and selfish.
This is then the undercurrent of the debate about the EU. The reason for the SNP developing the slogan “Independence in Europe” was not so much so that Scots could live and work in France, Germany or Poland. Few of us do. The reason was so that Scots could continue to live, work and receive all manner of benefits in rUK. Hundreds of thousands of us do.
When Eurosceptics say that they want UK independence from the EU, they accept that this may entail losing certain rights. It may afterwards be no longer possible for them to live and work in France or Germany and to receive free healthcare and other benefits there. However, they think this loss of rights would be worth it. Imagine however, if the debate was phrased in such a way that the UK expected to be able to leave the EU, but to retain all the rights of a citizen of a state which was still a member? The EU could rightly respond if you wish to retain these rights, it is only fair that you remain in the club. To wish to leave the EU, while being unwilling to lose any rights of membership, is to be a hypocrite. What nationalists show when they react with annoyance to suggestions that Scots would lose the rights of membership of the UK if we became independent, is exactly this same sort of hypocrisy. If they are so concerned about their rights in the rest of the UK, they should not vote for independence.
The UK can be likened to a marriage. If a husband leaves his wife and gets a divorce, he cannot very well expect to retain the right to sleep with her. But this is exactly what nationalists expect if Scotland divorces England. Nationalists are unwilling to face up to the logic of independence and they are treating the rest of the UK with contempt. At present we are members of a club called the UK. This gives us certain rights and responsibilities. To expect to leave the club, to give up the responsibilities of being a member, while retaining all the rights of membership is to behave without honour. The SNP would make Scots behave like someone who leaves a golf club, but still expects to play there. They would make us all scoundrels.

What if Scotland had voted for independence in 1997?

Scotland voted for its own parliament in 1997. But what if we had instead voted for independence? This is, of course, what the SNP wanted at the time. How would Scotland’s history up until the present day be different if we had made such a choice back then?
Some things might have turned out for the better for both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). it is hardly likely that rUK would have accepted two Scots as Prime Ministers, if Scotland had become  an independent state. Both Scotland and rUK might thus have avoided Tony Blair’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rUK might have avoided Gordon Brown’s attempts to wreck the economy. In attempts at counterfactual history however, it is generally better to focus on fundamentals rather than the details of what this or that leader might or might not have done.
An independent Scotland in 1997 would have faced many of the same choices as it would in 2014. The most important choice would have been about its currency. Scotland would have had really three options in 1997. It could have tried to remain in a currency union with rUK, it could have created its own currency, or it could have decided to join the Euro.
It is almost certain that Scotland would have chosen to join the Euro in 1997. For example, In 1999 Alex Salmond said:
“I think that being outside the euro area is already penalising the Scottish economy. In the medium-term, the longer we stay out, the more damage will accumulate. The euro is an example of why Scotland needs membership status so that it can take a decision on entry into the single currency” (10 November 1999 in the Scottish Parliament (Official Report))
It is worth investigating however, the alternative scenarios of Scotland setting up its own currency and remaining in a currency union with rUK.
One of the most important events in post-war history began on September 15th 2008. The trouble had been brewing for some time, but on that date, with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, began the present economic crisis, with which we are still living. This crisis would have affected Scotland whether we had been independent or not. But let’s imagine how an independent Scotland would have coped under the three possible currency scenarios.
If an independent Scotland had been part of the Euro in 2008, our position would have been very similar to that of Ireland. The bankruptcy of Halifax/Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)  would have been for an independent Scotland, the same sort of situation which Ireland faced when it had to bail out the Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. The problem for Ireland was that its banks were too big to be bailed out by a country of its size and in attempting to bail out its own banks Ireland soon found itself bankrupt too and itself in need of a bailout. This happened in November 2010 and led to the Irish economy effectively being run by the European Central Bank and the IMF. The terms for this bailout were onerous and led to a massive loss of sovereignty on Ireland’s part. Scotland’s position if it had been in the Euro would almost certainly have been like Ireland’s. Scotland could not have bailed out HBOS and RBS on its own and so would have had to turn to funding from other members of the Eurozone and the IMF. As we have found with the examples of Greece and Portugal. These fellow European countries have not been particularly generous. They have set terms for the bailout which amount to never ending austerity and recession with little possibility for growth. The interest rates on any bailout loans have been high. Each country, which has been bailed out has lost a great deal of sovereignty and control of its own affairs. Electorates have faced a gun to their heads and threats from abroad when deciding how to vote and so they have really lost their democratic rights as well.
If Scotland had remained in a currency union with rUK after becoming independent in 1997, the Bank of England would have been forced to bail out the Scottish banks. This, of course, is one reason why rUK might not consider it to be in its own interest to maintain a currency union with an independent sovereign state called Scotland. However, just as the European Central Bank imposed onerous conditions on Ireland, when Ireland was forced to seek help, so the Bank of England could have imposed whatever conditions it chose on an independent  Scotland. If Scotland had refused these conditions, the resulting bankruptcy  would have forced Scotland out of the pound zone and led to Scotland defaulting on its debts.
One of the main advantages Scotland gained from being part of the UK in 2008, was that the bailout of the Scottish banks occurred without conditions. No austerity was imposed on Scotland, no conditions, no rules, no control over Scotland’s economy or parliament. No foreign bank would have been so lenient. We were incredibly lucky that the Bank of England at that time was not a foreign bank, it was our bank. Because we were part of the UK.
If Scotland had chosen to have its own currency in 1997, Scotland’s position in 2008 would have been similar to Iceland’s. When faced with the bankruptcy of its banks and its inability to bail them out, Iceland chose the route of default and devaluation. In the short term, of course, this was disastrous for the Icelandic people. The value of savings and salaries was drastically reduced. The cost of living rose. However, one of the main advantages of being a sovereign state is the ability to have one’s own currency. By defaulting and devaluing, Iceland went through a traumatic operation, but it came out the other side with an economy far more healthy and with much greater potential than either Ireland or Greece.
The best option for an independent Scotland in 1997, with the benefit of  hindsight,  would have been to set up its own currency.  The lesson that we have learned from the Eurozone crisis is that monetary union without fiscal union and political union is a recipe for disaster. Either you end up in the position of Greece, dependent on subsidy, enduring permanent austerity and recession, or you end up in the position of Germany, having to permanently transfer money to your poorer neighbours. The problem with setting up your own currency is that it is something of a risky business. New currencies are liable to fall at least initially, while markets assess their strength.  Thus if Scotland had announced that it was setting up its own currency,  Scots would be liable to wake up the day after independence to find that their salaries and savings were worth much less than they had been previously.
The financial crisis would have been a disaster for an independent Scotland. In a storm it is always better to be sailing in a battleship than a yacht. Likewise, when the economic storm hit Scotland and the Scottish banks in 2008, we were fortunate that we were part of a large economy which could deal with the crisis effectively and protect the UK economy from much of what has happened in the Eurozone. The help that Scots gained from their fellow countrymen was without conditions, we would not have gained such help from foreigners.

The unfulfilled promises of independence

One of the most important things to realise about the referendum on independence is that no one really knows what would happen if Scotland chose to secede from the UK. Both unionists and nationalists speculate, each striving to gain some advantage from these speculations, but in the absence of a working crystal ball, everyone must finally accept that the future is unknown. The past, on the other hand, at least the recent past, is both known and well documented. History is an imperfect guide to the future, but however flawed, it is the only guide we have. It is worthwhile therefore looking at recent instances of independence in Europe and, as it were, ask ourselves how did secession work out for these countries.
The boundaries of European countries had changed hardly at all from the post-war settlement until 1990, but this all began to change with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was probably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It has always struck me as something of a miracle that the collapse of the USSR did not lead to World War 3, but it did lead to a number of quite serious conflicts and territorial disputes. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought each other over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict is as yet unresolved. Georgia seceded from the USSR and then fought two wars when the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia chose to secede from Georgia. Moldova fought a war with separatists in Transnistria, who succeeded in setting up a tiny strip of a country, which is de facto independent even if unrecognised by the rest of the world. Russia, of course, fought two very bloody wars with separatists in Chechnya.
Even when there have not been wars there have been conflicts. Ukraine is a potential future flash point owing to the fact that there are Russian majorities in the eastern and southern parts of the country, some of whom would prefer to be part of Russia now. The Baltic states likewise have sizable Russian minorities, many of whom are denied the rights of citizenship owing to the various nationality tests administered in these states.
During the Olympics, I came across a nationalist MSP writing about how glad he was to see all the former Soviet Republics competing on their own. No doubt, he could plead ignorance as the reason for this remark, but he not only showed ignorance of history, he also showed ignorance of the present. How has independence in Europe worked out for all these newly formed states? According to the well respected Democracy Index 2011, not one former Soviet Republic is a full democracy. Some are categorized as flawed democracies, some as hybrid regimes and a number as authoritarian regimes.
Prior to independence in each of these countries there were nationalists, who promised the people living there that all manner of good things would be theirs if only their country was independent. Such nationalists promised their supporters that they would gain freedom. But this promise turned out to be an illusion. No doubt, many people now who expected freedom wonder if these nationalists were lying.
Not only are these countries lacking in political freedom, they are also corrupt. According to the well respected Corruption index, each former Soviet Republic remains highly corrupt.
What about wealth? Well, according to the following index, each of the former Soviet Republics remains by western standards poor. Sometimes extremely so.
The reason for this is that each of these countries remains fundamentally uncompetitive.
Separatists in all these countries promised the people living there, that if only they could achieve independence they would soon be living in a wealthy, honest and economically competitive society. But again this all turned out to be an illusion. So how is independence in Europe working out for these former Soviet states? They gained war, partition, lack of political rights and freedom, corruption, poverty and uncompetitiveness. They also gained independence.
Perhaps, this is all the fault of the Soviet Union. Perhaps, there are other examples of European independence movements, which have been more successful.
Take the example of Yugoslavia. The growth of Serbian Nationalism was answered by nationalisms in each of the republics which made up that country. The result was war, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, partition and where once there had been one small country now there are eight tiny ones. Not one of these countries is a full democracy, each is highly corrupt and each by western standards is poor and uncompetitive. So how did independence in Europe work out for Serbs and Croats?
One last example of a recent European independence movement remains. It could be described as poster child of secession movements. Scottish nationalists frequently cite the breakup of Czechoslovakia as a favourable example for Scotland. Soon after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, known as the Velvet Revolution, nationalists in Slovakia began to seek independence and soon there followed the Velvet Divorce. One reason why Scottish Nationalists see this as such an ideal example an independence movement is that Czechs and Slovaks get on very well and the two states have excellent relations. Why couldn’t the same sort of Velvet Divorce occur in the UK?

But let’s look at how independence in Europe has worked out for Slovaks. While the Czech Republic is a full democracy, Slovakia is a flawed democracy. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are corrupt, but Slovakia is somewhat more corrupt. Both countries are poor by Western European standards, but Slovakia is poorer the Czech Republic, probably for the reason that it is much less competitive. Worst of all however, while the Czech Republic retained its own currency, Slovakia had the misfortune to join the Euro. This  means that it is liable for a share of  the debts of countries richer than it, such as Greece. No doubt, the separatists in Slovakia promised their people that if only they would vote for independence they would soon be rich and free. Nationalists tend to promise that independence will turn a country into something resembling the promised land. People who are foolish enough to believe these promises however, quickly find they did not get what was promised. A nationalist’s promise is at best a pipe dream, at worst a lie.
Scotland is very different from all these European countries, which recently gained independence. The point to take however, from these examples of independence movements, is that nationalism frequently promises much, but delivers little. As an ideology, which appeals to the selfish side of human nature, emphasising the differences between peoples, it frequently leads to unintended and unplanned consequences and conflicts. What really matters to most people is their standard of living and the fact that they live in a free, fair and honest society. Scotland already is a full democracy, because we are part of one one of the oldest and most democratic countries in the world. Neither Scotland nor England were especially democratic countries when we joined together to create the Union. Rather, through a gradual political process, we became the democracy that we are today. It is the UK which created our democratic traditions and which granted us the rights, which we now enjoy. Scotland is lucky enough  to be part of a very wealthy country. We are free and we don’t have to fear corruption in our daily lives. The UK is the 8th most competitive country in the world, which means that we have a much better chance than many countries to retain our living standards in the face of the present economic depression. We should rejoice that we live in such a country. The majority of the world’s population lack what we have. Nationalists everywhere promise the earth, but it is obvious from a glance at recent history, that such promises amount to very little. They don’t amount to what we in Scotland already have. If Scotland were part of an undemocratic, corrupt, poor and uncompetitive Great Britain, it might just be possible to argue that independence would bring vast improvements. Such promises, would probably turn out to be false, for these fundamentals change slowly if at all. But when a country is already close to the peak of democracy, freedom, wealth, lack of corruption and competitiveness, the idea that nationalists can suddenly massively change everything for the better by waving a magic wand called independence is scarcely credible. The UK has given us peace, freedom, wealth, honesty and competitiveness. Why would we exchange that for an uncertain future leading in who knows what direction?

Why independence is not a matter for children

Recently I came across an old friend of mine from the Aberdeenshire village where I grew up and we got to reminiscing and somehow or other she mentioned a story about the 1979 General Election. She had been a teacher in the primary school and told the story of how an English family arrived in the village, no doubt because of the oil industry. There were very few incomers in those days and the people there universally spoke Doric. Well, it seems one of the children of this family attended the primary school and initially found it quite tough, not only was he mocked for being English, but he could barely understand the language in which he was being  mocked. The upshot of this was that within a few months he picked up the language, was as fluent as anyone who had been born there, was vehemently pro-Scottish and during the 1979 election put up SNP posters in the windows of his parents’ house and threw mud pies at posters depicting Albert McQuarrie, the Tory candidate for East Aberdeenshire. My teacher friend used this example to explain a couple of things. Nearly all primary age Scottish children support the SNP, in the same way that they nearly all support Scotland at football. It’s a way for them to express their sense of patriotism and it gives them a feeling of belonging and also of exclusivity. It’s as if by the simple means of expressing support for a political party they all get to shout “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us?” The SNP would win every election if only those under the age of 18 could vote. Nationalism is a superficially attractive ideology, appealing to the tribal instinct which is present in all of us the world over. It is for this reason that politicians everywhere are so tempted to play the nationalist card appealing to the emotions of the electorate, their prejudices, hatreds and fears. Children are particularly susceptible to this, for which reason the voting age quite sensibly is set at 18 in nearly every properly democratic country.
The other thing that this anecdote explains, is the phenomenon of people who are not from Scotland voting for the SNP. It’s a matter of conformity. The English boy had a choice of remaining fully English with his accent and allegiances intact, or he could try to become like his friends. He chose the latter and took on the identity of the community around him. Adults are faced with the same choice. Some choose to retain their identity complete, others choose to assimilate. One way of assimilating is to vote for the “Scottish party.”
After this conversation I began to reflect a little further about 1979 and what seems now to be a strange political world. Albert McQuarrie won East Aberdeenshire despite the best efforts of the English boy and his mud pies. The Tories won 22 seats in Scotland compared to Labour’s 44, but the SNP won only 2 and the Liberals just 1. The referendum on very limited Scottish devolution saw only 51% vote in favour. What really interests me now however, reflecting about this period, is that all these parties had clear cut ideological differences from each other. The Conservatives favoured free market economics and capitalism, the Liberals favoured social-democracy, while Labour favoured democratic socialism. The SNP’s main focus was to campaign for Scotland to become fully independent. They were generally sceptical about membership of the EU and completely sceptical about membership of the UK. Traditional SNP members were keen that their party should not argue with itself over issues of right and left, but should focus on winning the argument for independence. In this sense the party was apolitical, a broad church of nationalists, left, right and centre.   
From the 1980s onwards however, the SNP step by step changed. The reason for this change is straightforward. The main, indeed really the only, policy of the SNP had been rejected by the Scottish people. The Scots did not want the vision of independence, which the SNP was offering. This vision was, of course, retained by the leading nationalists, but they set about finding ways to sweeten the pill of independence. The first step was to introduce the slogan “Independence in Europe”, so as to reassure Scots that they would still belong, that they would not be separate. The second step was to adopt the policies of the left, reasoning that if Scotland consistently voted for Labour, there was more chance of them consistently voting for the SNP if nationalism was presented in a left of centre guise. When eventually the SNP, by means of these policies, gained some power in Holyrood, they began a process of gradually bribing the Scottish electorate. Scots were presented with the idea that they could have a Scandinavian level of public spending without  having to endure Scandinavian levels of taxation. The result of course is a childish, irresponsible model which is both incoherent ideologically and economically. Such a model inevitably leads to unsustainable debt, economic decline and lower standards of living for everyone.  
The clear vision of independence put forward by the SNP in 1979 amounted to Scotland becoming a country like Iceland or Switzerland. I disagreed with this vision, but I respected it. It made sense ideologically and was possible. As a unionist I knew what my opponent was proposing, I knew what I was fighting against. But look how this vision has become murky. In order to reassure the Scottish public, the SNP proposes now that an independent Scotland will not only remain in the EU, but in effect will remain part of the UK. The slogan “Independence in Europe” might as well be replaced by “Independence  in the UK” assuming the SNP does not forbid its supporters from using the word “independence.”
Faced with voters who either don’t want independence or who are scared of it, the SNP continually says “don’t worry, everything will be just like it is now. We’ll keep the Queen, we’ll keep the pound, we’ll still be British, as we’ll remain part of the British Isles, we’ll still have a United Kingdom just like we did from 1603-1707, we’ll have a partnership, a social union, with the countries we just waved goodbye to.” Sometime soon I would not be surprised if the SNP announced that we would retain our MPs at Westminster and our share of funding according to the Barnett formula.
This is all subterfuge. The vision for independence held by people like Alex Salmond is exactly the same as it was in 1979. SNP supporters know that if only they can get the people of Scotland to vote for independence, they can make Scotland as fully independent as they want anytime they please. Whatever they promise to keep now, they could equally decide to drop the day after independence. Moreover, all this talk of cooperation and social union is not something, which the SNP can decide on its own. It’s not within their gift. Cooperation requires the agreement of both parties. For example, Quebec separatists promised that there would be a “sovereignty association” with Canada if the people of Quebec voted for independence in 1995. However, this was an attempt by using subterfuge to con the Québécois into voting for independence as no politician outside Quebec had expressed any intention of agreeing to such an association. The SNP likewise can not dictate the relationship, which would exist between the rest of the UK and an independent Scotland. Each party would be free to choose how they wished to relate to the other.
Independence would make a real difference to our lives. That is why nationalists want it and why unionists oppose it. The issue is far too important to be influenced by spin and disputes about the usage of words like “independence” and “separation”. There must be only clarity from all sides without subterfuge. The SNP seem to think that it is wise to promise anything, give up any cherished policy, just so long as they get 1 vote more than the unionists. But if the referendum were to be won by cunning, if the Scots were to feel that they had been conned by clever politics and salesman’s tactics, it would hardly be a good result either for patriotic nationalists or for patriotic unionists. It’s not a game and we should give up childish things.

What Scots could lose with independence

Being a citizen of a state provides that person with certain rights and responsibilities. The rights may involve, for example, the right to live and work anywhere in that country, to receive certain benefits such as diplomatic representation and protection, or on a more everyday level, social security and healthcare benefits. A person does not automatically have these rights unless he is a citizen. Thus as a British citizen, I do not have the right to live and work in the United States or in Australia, nor can I expect to obtain many of the benefits, which are given to citizens of those countries.
Of course, reciprocal arrangements can be made by which I may receive certain rights in a foreign country. A good example of this is the European Union. As Britain is a member of the EU, a British citizen has many of the rights given to citizens of other member countries. In principle, I can live and work anywhere in the EU and receive whatever benefits a citizen of that country receives. When Poland  joined the EU in 2004, I gained a right which up until then I did not have. I could now live and work in Poland and Poles could live and work in the UK. We each could receive benefits in each other’s country. My rights in Britain and Poland, however stem from different sources. I have the right to live and work in London, or Cardiff by virtue of the fact that I am a British citizen. I have the right to live and work in Warsaw, by virtue of the fact that Britain and Poland are members of the EU. My rights in Poland are contingent on both Poland and Britain retaining that membership.
It is not necessary to be a member of an organisation such as the EU, or EFTA in order to have rights in another country. Citizens of New Zealand and Australia have the right to live and work in each other’s country, simply because these countries came to that agreement. In a similar way, there was a reciprocal arrangement between Britain and Ireland prior to both countries joining the EU. It is important to realise however, that such reciprocal arrangements are contingent. They depend on both sides of the bargain continuing to agree that the arrangement is in their interest. New Zealand could decide to require Australians to have a visa in order to live and work there and vice versa. A country has the right to do so, because it is sovereign and independent. Treaties and acts of parliament can be amended and changed or revoked. Thus the right of a Scot to live and work in Dublin is contingent in a way that his right to live and work in London is not. Either Ireland or the UK could leave the EU or the parliament of one or other of these countries could decide to revoke any reciprocal arrangement. A sovereign independent country has the right to do this. That is what being sovereign and independent means.
This has important consequences for Scotland if it became independent. At present a Scot has the rights of a British citizen inalienably, so long as the British state continues. If Scotland became independent however, these inalienable rights would be lost and would be replaced by contingent rights. The rights which a Scottish citizen would have would depend on both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK) remaining in the EU and on any reciprocal arrangements which the rUK and Scottish parliaments decided to make.
The EU at present has entered into a very uncertain and unpredictable period. Its future development may reach a point where countries have to give up so much sovereignty that a number of them will choose to leave. It is highly likely that there will be a referendum on UK membership at some point in the near future. The demand for this is becoming so great that a politician eventually will realise that it is politically expedient to offer the British people the chance to settle this matter once and for all. Would the UK leave the EU? Polls at present suggest that it would. Where would this leave an independent Scotland? Whatever rights Scots had to live and work and receive benefits in rUK, by virtue of both countries being members of the EU would be lost. It is possible, indeed likely, that a reciprocal arrangement would be agreed between rUK and Scotland,  but it is important to realise that these rights would be contingent and could be changed at any time if it was the wish of either country’s parliament. No independent country has to give such rights to another independent country. That’s what being independent means.
If divorce occurs between Scotland and rUK, it may go well and be entirely amicable. But divorce is not always friendly and whatever reciprocal arrangements could be obtained would depend on negotiations between the two sides. It is for this reason that SNP claims that the decision with regard to independence is a matter for Scotland alone, that it has nothing to do with Westminster, is potentially very short-sighted. For example, the Scottish Parliament could decide, on its own, that it had competence with regard to a constitutional matter, which the UK government considered was reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Parliament could arrange a   referendum, which Westminster considered to be unauthorised and Scotland could gain independence on that basis. But under these circumstances rUK would be perfectly within its rights to treat this as a case of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and simply refuse to cooperate with the newly formed state. There would thus be no negotiations and no reciprocal arrangements for the citizens of the two states. The SNP have to accept that obtaining the relationship they would like between an independent Scotland and rUK requires consent and agreement and is not simply a matter for Scotland alone. Beggar-thy-neighbour nationalism can invite the same response.
No doubt, this is all highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine that if Scotland became independent, that Scots would lose their right to live and work in England and receive free healthcare and other benefits there.  But then, no one living in the Soviet Union thought that they would lose the right to live and work in Moscow, but many did. When Russia became independent, owing to the breakup of the Soviet Union, it decided to use that independence in ways which had unfortunate consequences for its neighbours. Thus it chose to erect borders and impose trade tariffs on former members of the USSR. Ukrainians suddenly found that gas cost a great deal more than it did previously. It is highly unlikely that an independent rUK would act like this. Free trade is in everyone’s best interest. But independent countries do sometimes act out of spite and do act contrary to their own best interests, especially in the case of a bitter divorce. Such independent countries have the right to act as they please. That’s what independence means.
The SNP would like Scots to believe that nothing would change post independence. They would like us to believe that we would have exactly the same rights as we do at present by virtue of being British citizens. What they fail to explain is that these rights would then become contingent rather than inalienable. It is in no way scaremongering to point this out. Whereas at present every Scot has the inalienable right to live, work and receive social benefits in England, a citizen of an independent Scotland would have those rights contingently only on the basis of both countries remaining in the EU or of their developing reciprocal arrangements. It is highly likely, in the event of Scottish independence, that Scots would continue to be able to live and work in England, but it is vital to realise that the SNP want us to give up something. They want us to exchange an inalienable right for a contingent one. When a sovereign, independent country grants a right to the citizens of another sovereign, independent country it can equally take it away. If it could not, it would be neither sovereign nor independent.

Scottish Independence: a question of identity

It is becoming clearer, as Scots debate about the independence referendum, that in Scotland there exist different identities. Some people feel wholly Scottish, while some, though very few, feel wholly British. Many people feel both Scottish and British, with a difference in emphasis often depending on context. Watching Scotland attempting to win the Grand Slam in rugby a Scottish spectator may feel entirely Scottish. On the other hand while watching Mo Farah entering the final 100 metres of the Olympic 5000 metres, that same Scot may feel mainly British. Similarly while reflecting on history and literature each Scot’s identity may have differences in emphasis. While reflecting on D-Day or the Battle of Britain, a Scot may find the British side of his identity coming to the fore, on the other hand that same Scot could feel especially Scottish when attending a Burns night or listening to traditional Scottish music or reflecting on the tragedy that occurred at Flodden.
As a unionist Scot, these kinds of difference of emphasis are familiar to me. While reading Shakespeare or Jane Austen, I feel that this literature is a part of me, it is my tradition, because I am British and all that occurred in Great Britain is part of me, no matter where it comes from or when it occurred. I loved the story of the Spanish Armada as a child and never once thought it was someone else’s story, just because it occurred before the Act of Union in 1707. Elizabeth the First was as much my Queen as is Elizabeth the Second. When Welsh people sing their national anthem, I thrill to the sound, though I understand not one word. I don’t think that’s theirs and therefore not mine. Rather I think it’s all ours. We’re all one.
As a unionist Scot I feel these differences in emphasis. I feel a fluctuating Scottishness and Britishness. It all seems natural and I don’t notice the change. I am Scottish and British and there is no contradiction between the identities. I accept however, that some Scots feel only Scottish. They may support team GB at the Olympics, but in doing so they completely retain their Scottish identity. They support in the same way that an Irish person supports the British and Irish Lions. Most Dubliners do not feel in any way British when they do this. People with an exclusively Scottish identity can support team GB in the same way that they support the European team in the Ryder cup.  When someone with an exclusively Scottish identity supports the European Ryder cup team, he does so because that team contains Scots. He does not have to feel  European when he does so. Likewise, he may support team GB, because it contains Scots, but need not feel at all British in doing so.
I may disagree with a Scot who feels exclusively Scottish. I may argue against him and point out that he is mistaken, but questions of identity are not really amenable to reason. They are the product of experience and upbringing.
The reason that we are having the present debate in Scotland is that Scots who feel exclusively Scottish long for independence. They want their feeling of exclusive Scottishness to be reflected in Scotland being an independent nation state. But nationalists must realise that those Scots who feel Scottish and British also want this identity to be reflected in their nation and in their nationality. A unionist would not feel that his British identity was being reflected in an independent Scotland, because Scotland would no longer be part of the British nation. Some nationalists have suggested that Britishness would remain, as Scotland would still be part of the British Isles. But a Scottish unionist would in no way be satisfied by being only part of a geographical entity called the British Isles, because identity is not a matter of geography. The issue of dispute, for instance, in Northern Ireland is about being part of the British nation or being part of the Irish nation. Questions of geography do not come into it. A Dubliner does not feel British, owing to the fact that he is part of the British Isles, as he is no longer part of the the British nation. A Northern Irish Unionist knows that geographically he lives in Ireland, but he maintains that he is British because he continues to live in the British nation, continues to be part of the UK. The Ulster unionist does not want Northern Ireland to join with the Republic because he wants to maintain his Britishness, which can only be kept by Northern Ireland remaining in the Union. These are real issues of identity and to suggest that there is a geographical solution is to misunderstand the nature of identity.
A Scottish nationalist may feel that such a concept of Britishness is mistaken. He may disagree with it and try to persuade his fellow Scots not to feel British, but he is unlikely to make someone who feels both Scottish and British change his sense of identity, for this sense of identity is something deep in a person, that has grown gradually from how he has experienced life.
The two kinds of identity in Scotland are really incompatible. An exclusively Scottish identity will only be satisfied by independence. The British and Scottish identity will only be satisfied by maintenance of the UK.  
That identity is the crucial factor in determining how someone is liable to vote in the independence referendum is easily seen by reflecting on the following examples. A person who feels exclusively Scottish would want independence even if it meant that Scotland would be economically poorer. Likewise, a person who feels both British and Scottish would prefer to remain the in the UK no matter whether an independent Scotland would be wealthier than it is at present.  For this reason, the issue of identity is the most crucial factor in determining the result of the referendum on independence, far more so than issues of economics or politics.  
It is vital for all Scots that the vote should be fair, decisive and final. If either side does not accept the result and continues to campaign for the losing position, Scotland will remain a divided society. If Scotland votes for independence, unionists must accept the result and not campaign for Scotland to rejoin the UK. Likewise, if Scotland votes to remain in the UK, nationalists should not continue to campaign for independence and must give up their dream for the foreseeable future. Thus if the majority of Scots feel exclusively Scottish, let nationalists rejoice in their victory, but if the majority of Scots feel both Scottish and British, let nationalists accept their defeat.

The argument for independence depends on a linguistic anomaly

The historical process which led to Scotland being part of the United Kingdom is not unusual in a European context, nearly all European countries are made up of formerly independent states. What is unusual is that while the constituent parts of, for example, Germany or Italy are not normally described in English as countries, the parts which make up the UK nearly always are described as countries.
There are, of course, many linguistic anomalies in English, but this one is worth investigating in the present context of a referendum on Scottish independence, as Scotland being a country forms one of the fundamental justifications for the nationalist argument for independence. Commonly nationalists complain that unionists would have it that Scotland is the only country in the world incapable of being independent. They argue that being a country, it is only right and proper that Scotland should take its place in the world of nation states. But what if the description of Scotland being a country is really a linguistic anomaly? Would that not be to base the case for independence on something as tenuous as an irregular feature of English usage?
Of course it would still be possible to argue for independence even if Scotland were not described as a country. An area does not at present have to be a country in order to want independence, as the example of Quebec shows. Quebec is a province of Canada, many of the people living there however, want it to become an independent country and form a new nation state. It would likewise be possible for a federated state to seek independence. An example of such a state might be South Carolina, or New South Wales or Bavaria. But none of these places are described as countries. If they were to want independence, they would be wanting to become a country.
Being a country normally implies that a place is already independent. Why is it that Scotland is already described as a country, when in reality that is what nationalists wish it to become? Is there something in Scotland’s history, which sets it apart from the European historical context, where so many countries are formed from formerly independent states?
If you go back far enough, nearly all European countries of any size were made up of formerly independent states. Most of what we now call regions in a European context were formerly states. Britanny, for example, was an independent state until 1547, while the Kingdom of Navarre was independent until 1620. English speaking people do not now describe Navarre or Britanny as countries. It would be strange if asked, which countries did you visit on your holiday to answer Britanny and Navarre. Rather it  would be correct to answer France and Spain.
Perhaps Scotland has a special status as a country because it was independent until relatively recently. The date when the UK really began is normally taken to be 1707. In historical terms this is relatively recent, but it is easy to find present day regions in Europe which were independent states long after this. Germany was formally made up of literally hundreds of independent states. Bavaria was a fully independent state until 1871 and in some ways retained a large degree of sovereign independence, such as a separate diplomatic service and military, until 1918. Italy likewise was made up of independent states until unification in the 1860s. Thus the Kingdom of Sardinia remained independent until 1861, while the Kingdom of the two Sicilies remained independent until 1860.
Scotland has been a part of the UK far longer than  the constituent parts of Italy or Germany, but if someone asked me which countries I visited in Europe, it would be considered a simple mistake if I answered Bavaria, Saxony, Sicily and Sardinia. These places simply are no longer countries, even though formerly they once were.
What makes Scotland so special? Why is Scotland still considered to be a country when Bavaria is not? There is no really rational explanation, but it is this difference in how these places are named that explains why nationalism has a strong minority following in Scotland, while it is almost non existent in Bavaria.
Imagine if each formerly independent state in Europe were described in the way that Scotland is described. Scotland is described as being a country, sometimes even a nation. Moreover, it has a Parliament and a Government, it has a flag, which many Scots prefer to the Union flag, it has its own banknotes. What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually. Imagine if Sardinia called itself a country,  refused to fly the Italian flag, issued its own banknotes, called its regional council the Parliament of Sardinia, which formed the Government of Sardinia and continually complained about the wicked Roman government. Would this aid Italian unity or harm it?
Some Scots say that they only feel Scottish. But this is really the equivalent of a Bavian denying that he is a German, of a Sicilian denying that he is an Italian. If I seriously suggested such a thing, it would imply that I simply did not understand the words “German” and “Italian”. Yet highly educated Scots routinely give the impression that they do not understand the word “British”.
Linguistic anomalies exist for the most accidental of reasons. Formerly, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries,  there was a move towards using the term North Britain instead of Scotland and Scottish nationalism or the desire for independence was, practically speaking, non-existent. Now the term North Britain is considered hopelessly archaic. What changed this? The answer perversely enough, I believe, is football.
Owing to the UK being at the forefront in the development of football, each part of the UK remains in the anomalous position of having its own international  team. There is absolutely no rational justification for this irregularity continuing, but it does and continues to feed nationalistic feelings. As we have seen with the Olympics, when the UK competes as a single team the tendency is for everyone in Scotland to cheer on members of the British team, no matter where they are from. The Olympic team thus acts as a unifying force and for this reason is damaging to the aspirations of Scottish nationalists. By the same token the existence of separate football teams is a dividing force, which aids the nationalists. Imagine if Bavaria had its own football team. Would this make it more or less likely that Bavaria would desire independence? The answer is obvious.
There are two main sides to the debate about independence. The economic/political side and the identity side. The latter is the more powerful. But it is my contention that this identity side of the argument depends on a linguistic anomaly, which describes Scotland as a country, underpinned by Scotland continuing to compete internationally as if it really were a country. Do we really wish to make the the most important decision of our lives, in the forthcoming referendum, on the basis of an anomaly?