Saturday 6 October 2012

A fundamental flaw in a nationalist truth

When addressing the arguments for and against independence it is useful to find an opponent who is willing to state succinctly the fundamental basis for Scottish nationalism. 

“The point is that everyone – of all parties and none – who supports independence believes in the fundamental truth that it is far better for Scotland to have decisions made by the Scottish Parliament, which is 100 per cent elected by the people of Scotland, than it is to have policies imposed by Westminster, where decisions are made by MPs of whom less than 10 per cent are elected in Scotland.” (Scotsman 26th July 2012)
There is something, on the surface, very appealing and democratic about this statement, but when looked at a little closer, this fundamental truth has some fairly obvious flaws in its logic.
For a truth to be fundamental it clearly cannot apply only to Scotland. But let’s try to apply this logic to other countries. 

On the same basis it would be better for Bavaria to have decisions made by the Bavarian Parliament, which is 100 percent elected by the people of Bavaria, than have to have policies imposed by Berlin. The same could be said of any formerly independent country in Europe such as Piedmont in Italy, or Burgundy in France. But by this logic it would be better for the EU not to be made up of 27 member states, but by dozens of little statelets.

The fundamental truth moreover, would imply that the United States of America is an undemocratic country because it would be far better for Texas to have decisions made by the Texan Parliament, than to have policies imposed by Washington. Each state in the House of Representatives is represented in proportion to its population, Texas gets about 8%, and if this is a flawed model for Scotland, with 10% representation,  then it clearly must be a flawed model for Texas and every other state in the Union. The logic of the SNP position would imply that the United States should revisit the politics of secession.

But let’s look once again at the basis of the SNP’s fundamental truth. Why does it object to having policies imposed by Westminster? The word “imposed” shows the reason is that it disagrees with these policies or potentially disagrees. But in any democracy it is always going to be the case that some people will not obtain the government that they desire. Take the example of Scotland. Some constituencies vote for the SNP, some for Labour, Lib Dems and Tories. At the moment the SNP forms the government, but people in, for example, the Shetland Islands did not obtain the government they voted for, as they voted for the Lib Dems. These people too could argue that it is a fundamental truth, that it is far better for Shetland to have decisions made by the Shetland Parliament, which is elected by 100% of the Shetland people than to have decisions imposed by Edinburgh where decisions are made by MSPs of whom only 1 is a Shetlander. The same argument of course could be made for Aberdeenshire, Sutherland, or any other region of Scotland, which happened to disagree with the policies of the government in Edinburgh. 

The fundamental truth of the basis for Scottish nationalism, turns out to be deeply flawed. The United Kingdom is no more undemocratic than, France, Germany or the United States. The logic of nationalism is to divide into ever decreasing fragments.