Sunday 22 September 2019

Is a shared future possible in Scotland?

I can’t really see how there can be another referendum on anything in the UK. What would be the point? But the problem with holding referendums has been demonstrated lately not merely by losers trying to block the result in Parliament and through the courts, but perhaps more importantly by it becoming ever clearer that the nature of the question asked dramatically changes the answer given.

If Scots are asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” we get one result. If they are asked should Scotland remain in the UK or leave the UK, we get another. It’s quite clear that campaigning for Yes gives independence supporters an advantage. It is for this reason that the Electoral Commission did not allow a Yes/No question for the referendum on Brexit. The precedent is clear. But why should asking what on the surface are similar questions result in widely differing results? After all the result would be the same if Scotland left the UK as if we became an independent country.

There is however confusion in the minds of many independence supporters. When they are asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” many of them think we already are. The use of “be” in the question rather than “become” plays on this.

When I point out to independence supporters that Scotland is to the UK as Saxony is to Germany I am met with incomprehension and frequently fury. I sometimes wonder if this is because independence supporters are unaware that Saxony was independent as recently as 1866. Are they equally unaware that nearly all European nation states are made up of parts which formerly were independent as indeed were the various parts of Scotland? Historically Scotland’s position as part of the UK is no different to Burgundy’s being a part of France, so why should pointing out something that is self-evidently true lead to such fury?

The difference is that people living in places that used to be independent in Italy, Germany or France do not generally think of themselves as living in a different country from their fellow citizens. It is correct to call Scotland a country, but it is anomalous. How many non-independent countries can you name?

Scotland has many of the things that typically go along with being an independent nation state. We have our own bank notes. France doesn’t. We frequently play international sport.  We think that people from England live in a different country to us and that there is a border between us. No wonder many Scots answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” by replying, of course, because we already are.

For the past centuries Scotland has maintained an independent identity, but many Scots also have been happy for us to be a part of the UK. What they want therefore is for Scotland to be both independent and to remain part of the UK.  This is why when I point out to a Scottish nationalist that Scotland isn’t really independent, but is rather similar to Saxony, I am met with fury. Yet perversely this same person wants Scotland to become independent. You cannot logically become what you already are.

But none of us is entirely rational.  We do live in a different country to others in the UK, but neither England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland are sovereign nation states, though they are frequently called nations. The UK like Germany, France and nearly all the other countries in the world is part of the UN, it is a member of NATO and a contributor to the IMF. Scotland isn’t. The UK has diplomatic relations with other countries, Scotland doesn’t. The UK is a country in every language of the world except that spoken by some Scots. Most languages and most countries use a different word for their non-independent parts. But we don’t.

There is an ambiguity about Scotland that has allowed us in some ways to think of ourselves as separate even independent, but in other ways to think of ourselves as part of a whole. This is why different questions get different answers.

A similar ambiguity applies to the EU. Can member states both be in the EU and maintain their independence? The issue here is what will happen to the EU as “ever closer union” reaches its τέλος [telos, or goal]. Will the EU become a sovereign nation state like the USA or indeed the UK. Will the parts of the EU while still being called countries really become the equivalent of Saxony or dare, I say Scotland? Some EU supporters try to argue that a United States of Europe could never happen. But it already has many of the characteristics of an independent country. It has its own currency. Its own president. Soon it will have its own army. The EU now is much more united than the United States was in 1859, and arguably more united than the Second Reich was between 1871 and 1918.

Scottish nationalists who want to remain in the EU obviously think that independence is compatible with EU membership, why then do they think that it is incompatible with UK membership? EU law would supersede the laws of an independent Scotland and what an independent Scottish Parliament wanted would depend in part on the agreement of the EU. But if you are happy with that, why are you not happy with a similar arrangement with the UK?

If the EU were modelled on the USA, I would have been happy to remain a member state. I think the USA has the advantage of a common language and identity, but perhaps the EU could develop these over time. It’s the lack of genuine democracy in the EU that makes leaving essential.

But in what respect does Scotland’s membership of the UK lack democracy? We vote for MPs who have just the same power as every other MP. Not only that we vote for MSPs who have the power to control huge areas of Scottish life. We cannot of course veto what the majority in the UK want, but we would have to go along with the majority in most cases as part of the EU. In any democracy including an independent Scotland the parts may be outvoted by the whole, but this is not a fault in democracy, it is rather the main feature of any democracy. But anyway, why should Scots be happy to accept the majority view in EU wide elections, but unhappy to do so in UK wide elections? This makes no sense as we have far more in common with other people in the UK than we do with almost anyone in the EU.

Independence supporters had the advantage of campaigning for Yes, but they also had the advantage of campaigning for something that most of us think of in a positive way. When a child leaves school and goes to university he becomes an adult. He gains his independence. The same is the case when someone gets his first job or goes on holiday without his parents for the first time. Independence in all our lives is a positive concept. It is dreadful when an older person loses his independence. 

There is therefore an intrinsic bias in asking people if they want independence. But let’s look further at the case of someone going to university. That person wants independence, but does he also want to lose his family? If independence meant destroying his family would he take it, or rather would he do everything to protect and defend his family.

If Scotland left the UK, the UK would cease to exist. It could hardly be called united when it was in fact disunited. But does one member of a family have the right to destroy the whole, without that whole also having a say. We each as individuals want to be able to live independent lives, but we take into account the wishes of our family.

I believe that many Scots want us to be both independent and part of the UK. We need therefore to clearly define what is compatible with this and what is not. Only in this way would it be possible to ask a fair question and perhaps come up with a solution that satisfies those Scots who voted Yes and those who voted No.

It is necessary to recognise the sovereignty of each part of the UK and indeed each part of Scotland. Each voter is sovereign. But we all share this sovereignty.  As individuals we should be as independent as possible but recognise that there are limits to our independence. A family depends on a husband and a wife promising to be faithful. They have a responsibility to look after their children. The children have duty to their family even when they become independent adults and create their own family.

The UK needs stability. No family can survive constant threats that the husband or wife will depart. We don’t need anybody else’s model or constitution. But we do need to find a way to reflect the reality of what living here means.

Scottish international rugby players may belt out flower of Scotland and are clearly willing to fight for Scotland, but many if not most voted for Scotland to remain a part of the UK.  Andy Murray plays his heart out for Britain but voted to leave. Each of these people have a mixture of feelings about Scotland and the UK. They both want Scotland to be independent and part of the UK. We want to remain part of the family while being able to metaphorically go to university and get a job. We want to be grown up.

Somehow Pro UK Scots and independence supporters need to work together. If we satisfy only one half of our country in a winner takes all battle, we will always be divided. The referendum of 2014 did not bring unity, just more division. It would be no different if there were to be a second referendum. Whatever the result, the loser would try to annul it. Better by far if we could find what would satisfy some of the wishes of both sides. Better for both sides to gain something than to lose everything. Don’t we want somehow to be both independent and a part of the UK? Like the Trinity this is not easily comprehensible. One God in three persons or in our case four. It may even involve a contradiction, but unity in diversity is the only way to bring harmony back to Scotland.