Saturday 15 February 2020

Why I'm not a Unionist

There’s a long street in Aberdeen called Union Street, but the name has nothing to do with England and Scotland. It was named after the Act of Union between the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland in 1800.

The Conservative Party is officially the Conservative and Unionist Party. But the Unionist bit is due to the merger in 1912 with the Liberal Unionist Party that broke away from the Liberal Party because of opposition to Gladstone and Irish home rule.

I oppose Scottish nationalism. I’m not a Unionist. I’m British, not Irish. I block anyone who on either side who uses the quite hideous and insulting "Yoon" not least because I don't wish to interact with anyone so stupid as to think Unionist begins with a Y and includes a "oo" sound.

The correct name for those who want independence from a larger sovereign nation state is “nationalist”. It is also correct to use the word “nationalist” to refer to those who wish to unite several nation states into a larger whole. But it is incorrect to describe those who wish to maintain the territorial integrity of a nation state that already has either separated or united as nationalists. Such usage of the word would imply that every nation state in the world is full of nationalists, which would render the concept meaningless.

James IV married Margaret Tudor in 1503
I am not a Unionist because I do not believe that Britain is a Union of four countries. I am not trying to maintain this Union. Rather I think that the word “Union” in relation to the Britain is obsolete and refers to something that happened long ago.

We know that because Elizabeth the First died childless the closest heir to the throne was in Scotland. Henry the Eighth’s sister Margaret had married James IV of Scotland. She gave birth to James V whose wife gave birth to Mary Queen of Scots, who gave birth to James VI. The rest as they say is history.

This was how places all over Europe united in those days. The various parts of what we now call Spain came together to form united kingdoms. But we don’t call them united kingdoms now. When Isabella Queen of Castile married Ferdinand heir to the throne of Aragon in 1469, they set Spain on the path to unity. But it would be absurd to suppose that Spain today was the united kingdom of Castile, Aragon and the various other kingdoms that later formed the mix. Those kingdoms by uniting ceased to exist and became lines on a map just as in prior centuries the uniting of kingdoms had caused places like Wessex, Mercia and Strathclyde to cease to exist. It is as absurd to suppose that Britain is a Union of kingdoms as it is to suppose that modern England is such a Union or that Scotland is. Present days countries are the result of these Unions annulling kingdoms not preserving them.

Scottish nationalism depends on the assumption that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the equivalent of the European Union. Unionists are those people who want to preserve this Union of sovereign nation states. Independence supporters are those who want to leave this Union. Scottish nationalists always assume that Scotland already has all of the qualities associated with being an independent sovereign nation state. They use this to prove that Scotland ought to be one. If you once grant their assumption, then the conclusion follows of itself. It amounts to sovereign nation states ought to be sovereign nation states.

This is the mistake that Theresa May made when she used the word “Unionist” to refer to her desire for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. It effectively granted the SNP’s assumption about Scotland. So too every time the Scottish Conservative Party bangs on about our precious Union or when we had a campaign called “Better Together” we accept the SNP’s assumption that Scotland is in some way already separate.

It would be unimaginable for people in the United States who all support the territorial integrity of their country to describe themselves as Unionists or to argue that it was better for Vermont to be together with Mississippi. Rather they don’t think of these places as being separate at all and cannot imagine them ever being so.

In every other European country, the process by which the various parts were united into a whole has become a matter for history. Kingdoms which were once independent are now lines on a map and don’t in any way think of themselves as separate. This didn’t happen accidentally. It happened through a process of unification in education, culture, identity and language.

Only in Britain did we allow separate identities to be maintained and a fiction to develop that our country contained four countries. Only in Britain did we play international sport with each other, because in the beginning only we played these sports. Only in Britain did we carefully preserve our separate identities so that we could call each other Unionists.

If we had gone through the process of unification that France, Germany and Italy imposed on their very different peoples we would have no problem with separatism now. It would have been annulled. But we didn’t. Because we only thought that unity was a problem only with Ireland.

This is why Unionist refers to Irish politics, not British politics. Nationalism is a nineteenth century phenomenon, but the only part of the British Isles that was affected then was Ireland. While waves of nationalism caused revolution in Europe, Britain was immune. Scottish independence supporters were as rare as Jacobites in 1845. It was this that made us complacent while the rest of Europe fought to hold itself together.

We must cease thinking of ourselves as separate from each other. This only helps the separatists. If you think of yourself as primarily English, Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish, you are part of the problem. The official name of our country the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is itself an anachronism. It is too long. It implies that we are really ruled by a King when in fact we are ruled by a parliamentary democracy and it implies division. The short form Britain is far preferable. Britain is to British as Italy is to Italian. It matters not one little bit that Italy includes more than its geographical boot and ball, but also has a large offshore island. So too Britain includes Northern Ireland. When people in Belfast say we are British, they are not mistaking the island on which they are living. So too people in Sardinia when they describe themselves as Italian are quite aware that they don't live on a peninsular.

Don’t think of Britain as the Union of anything. Cease thinking of our country as made up of four separate parts, united by something that happened in 1605 and then again in 1707 and 1800. We are not four. We are one. The process by which we united centuries ago is just that ancient history. It's something remote like Gettysburg or Valley Forge.