Wednesday, 12 May 2021

What the SNP needs to do to get indyref2

 

It is likely that we are safe from an independence referendum for the next five years. The only way that the SNP can achieve a legal referendum is if it gets Westminster’s permission. So long as Boris Johnson continues to say No, Sturgeon can get her wish only if Labour wins the next election and forms a coalition with the SNP. The price of such a coalition would obviously be a referendum. But after Hartlepool it looks unlikely that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister so can we all forget about Scottish politics, kick indyref2 into the long grass and get on with our lives? Sure, we can, but not if we want to win in the long run.

After the next General Election, the SNP will say that it has a mandate for an independence referendum no matter how much or how little it mentions the issue during the campaign. The same will be the case at the next Scottish Parliament election. There may be something unexpected that stops the SNP, but the scandals and splits this year did not dent its support, so it is hard to see what might. Sturgeon will eventually depart and the SNP would struggle to replace her with someone as talented, but that alone will not be enough to seriously lessen SNP support.



It would help if there were only one Pro UK party or at least if Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives worked together to maximise Pro UK seats at elections. But they each are more concerned with self-preservation and self-interest so I doubt that they will. We have learned that even Alex Salmond cannot set up a new party capable of winning a seat, so it is hard to see how anyone else can unless it is someone with a vast amount of money and access to the media.

We may feel reasonably safe for now. If Sturgeon tries to have an unauthorised referendum, we will challenge her in the courts with a Scottish Gina Miller. Not me. I am far too poor. But there are already tentative plans for this. If the SNP control the courts enough to defeat MacMiller's  challenge, we will ignore the SNP’s referendum. We will not debate. We will not publish leaflets or appear on TV. Let them play with themselves winning 100% of the vote. It will merely make them look farcical and will not take them one step closer to their goal.

But the task is not merely to win during the next five years. What does it matter if we win now, but lose ten years from now or twenty? This is the problem with the Pro UK strategy. It depends on Westminster continuing to say No, while granting the SNP the right to ask for a referendum with the expectation that eventually they will be told Yes. After that it would be a coin toss.

Even if the Pro UK side won the next independence referendum so long as the population remains evenly split the SNP will want a third. It might have to wait, but after another twenty years it would get another go. If you keep going that way, eventually it will win. The present Pro UK strategy involves losing in the end. What’s the point?

The instinct of many politicians such as Gordon Brown is to make concessions to Scottish nationalism. Let’s make the UK a federal state, with more powers for its parts. Let’s organise a forum of the nations and regions. Let’s assert that we are more Scottish than British.

But all of these ideas, like the idea of the Scottish Parliament that fuelled nationalism in the first place are based on loosening the UK rather than uniting it. Mr Brown’s federal state would not be like the USA or Germany where most people feel primarily American or German rather it would be like the pre 1860 United States where the allegiance of citizens was primarily to their state, except Mr Brown would not fight a war to stop South Carolina seceding he would give it a referendum.

A four-nation approach merely emphasises that we are not one nation. Mr Brown is proposing a forum that emphasises our division and separateness. Sturgeon too demands a four-nation approach, but only if it gives her a veto on anything she disagrees with, which turns it into a one nation Sturgeon approach. She takes the view that Scotland cannot be outvoted because she sees no unity in the UK at all, but rather loose bonds of pink ribbon that can be untied whenever she wishes. The more people like Sturgeon and Brown view the UK as four nations, the less reason there is for them to be joined at all. The endpoint of the four nations journey is that you get four independent nations.

Scottish nationalists view the UK as a “Union state”. They deny that the UK is a nation or a country. What they mean by this I think is that the UK is a confederation where each part maintains its separateness and sovereignty. If that were the case, I doubt the UK would have lasted five years let alone three hundred. A confederation is inherently unstable. It either becomes a federation like the United States or it reverts to being separate states.

The EU at present is similar to a confederation. Each member state partly retains its sovereignty and its identity as a separate nation state. Scottish nationalists therefore must believe that they would be leaving one confederation (the UK) in order to join another larger one (the EU). They must also believe that the EU will not become a federation despite the promise of "ever closer union". Fiscal transfers within the EU remain limited for now. While the EU has monetary union, it does not have full political or fiscal union. The wealthier parts of the EU do not automatically transfer money to the poorer parts. It is this that enables the states to retain part of their sovereignty and their separate identities as countries.

But this is the problem for the Scottish nationalist. If the UK were really like the EU why does the Treasury send money to Scotland to help us get through the pandemic? If the relationship between the parts of the UK were really like the EU, what justification could there be for fiscal transfers? After all Germany does not bail out Greece.

The existence for centuries of fiscal transfers within the UK demonstrates that we are not a confederation. If people like Mr Brown really think that we are more Scottish than British and that we are four nations loosely connected, why does he think that Scots should receive money from English people when Greeks don’t get anything from Germans?  If we only minimally share our identity with English people, because they are more English and we are more Scottish, then there can be only be a tiny thread of Britishness connecting us, why then should we share any more than Greeks and Germans. 

Just as sharing a European identity was not enough to keep the UK in the EU it is also not enough to make Germans and Greeks feel like fellow countrymen because they both feel more German and more Greek than European. But Mr Brown is turning Britishness into something like the sense of being European, a mere secondary identity. If Scots and English people cease to feel that they are fellow countrymen why should the taxes raised in the south of England be used to help Scotland? But without fiscal transfers there could be no internal market, no shared currency and no concept that the citizens of the UK owed each other any more than we do any other human being.  

Those Scots who benefit from the economic conditions in Britain due to our monetary, political and fiscal union and who benefit from transfers from the wealthier parts of the UK to the poorer parts, i.e., who benefit from British pooling and sharing are doing so under false pretences if they deny or minimise their Britishness for in that case, they have no right to what the UK provides us because we are fellow citizens rather than foreigners. To benefit from your British citizenship while campaigning for Scottish independence exposes you as being a mere hypocrite not least because you do not intend to reciprocate if only Scotland can leave the UK.

If Scotland were part of a confederation, it would be wrong to prevent it leaving at any time. But the UK’s fiscal transfers show that Scotland is not a part of a confederation. The fact that Scots are treated as fellow countrymen and receive freely whatever is necessary from the whole of the UK means that our fellow countrymen have the right to expect that we will reciprocate and not merely leave whenever we please. The balance of credit and debt not merely financial built up over the centuries joins us in such a way that we cannot merely walk away when we please.

But if the UK is not a loose confederation, it must then be something else. It is not a federation, otherwise Mr Brown would not want the UK to become one. The only other alternative is that the UK is a unitary nation state that happens to have parts which are called countries. But the fact that a thing is called something does not mean that it is that something. The Isle of Dogs is neither an island nor does it have more dogs than anywhere else in London.

Those who favour the four nation approach and who want to set up forums where each nation is represented or who wish to create a federal UK want there to be a looser relationship between the parts of the UK than there is at present. They hope that being looser will preserve the UK. But it is only because the UK is a unitary nation state that it can legitimately refuse a referendum on independence. After all an independent Scotland would not allow the Borders to secede even if a majority wished it, because it would view Scotland as a unitary nation state which forbade secession.

By emphasising the four nations of the UK rather than one unitary state and by seeking to make the relationship between the parts less close than they were previously Mr Brown not merely fuels nationalism and separatism he justifies the SNP’s demand for a second referendum. Unitary nation states routinely refuse independence referendums. The looser and less unitary we view the UK by emphasising it being four separate nations, the less justification there is for denying a referendum whenever the SNP wants one, but also crucially the less justification there is for pooling and sharing and fiscal transfers.

If the UK is a unitary nation state with parts that happen to be called countries, then we have no more duty to give Scotland a referendum than Germany has a duty to give Saxony a referendum. Saxony is not a sovereign nation state and neither is Scotland, because neither is part of a confederation. But if either wished to secede it’s first task would be to give up the fiscal transfers from the nation state it is a part of.

Most people in Britain treat our country as if it were a confederation, where each part has a separate identity and has the right to independence when it wants it. This means that England counts the cost of sharing with Scotland and begrudges what it sees as English money subsidising ungrateful Scots. It is only for this reason too that the SNP thinks that an election to a devolved parliament can give it a mandate for independence. But Scotland would only have the right to a referendum on leaving the UK if it had already for some time ceased to benefit from the pooling and sharing which come about because of the UK’s unity, its internal market and the fiscal transfers which go wherever they are needed with no one counting the cost or expecting repayment. To demand independence when you are receiving Treasury money that pays your wages and keeps your business afloat from those fellow British citizens who you wish to reject is to have the morality of a thief.

The condition for a second independence referendum must be that Scotland ceases to receive fiscal transfers from the Treasury and that all Scottish spending is covered by revenue raised in Scotland. When the SNP have made Scotland live within its means so that we are no longer dependent in any way on the other parts of the UK, then and then alone if the SNP wins a majority can it ask for an independence referendum. You cannot expect to benefit from sharing, if you plan to leave and not reciprocate and not even repay your debts.

So, unless the SNP is willing to renounce all money from Westminster let there be no more talk of referendums for it dishonours us and turns us into tricksters who are happy to be treated as fellow countrymen so long as Mr Barnett sends us money, but if ever the roles were reversed would not hesitate in refusing to reciprocate on the grounds that the English were bloody foreigners.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The dependent vote for independence

 

I have no interest in going abroad so long as I might have to follow Covid regulations in a language I understand poorly if at all. I don’t see the point in going to a Spanish café while I have to wear a facemask. I don’t want to have to find whoever might give me a Covid test before I fly back and I don’t want to stand in a queue at the airport when I get home. I don’t much like very hot weather anyway, so I will stick to Scotland.

I have been discovering some of the places that I have missed all my life because I was going abroad. The glens of Angus are now easier to reach because I can bypass Aberdeen. I have been exploring each cliff and bay along the north coast from Fraserburgh to Inverness. On a few occasions I have got up very early so that I can get to the west coast and back again in a day. I know Scotland better and find nowhere in the world to match it.



Just after the election I stopped in one of the larger Aberdeenshire towns on the border with Moray. I had been there a few times as a child, but had not gone through it for many years. I remembered a place that was solid and prosperous. It still had the type of building that suggested Victorians with enough money to use the best stone to carve the idea of solidity. But it was all crumbling now.

The bank had shut and been turned into a café, but that had shut too now. Shops that might a year or two ago have been making a profit had for sale signs in the window. Half of the pubs and restaurants had for sale signs as well, the others were shut though it was Sunday afternoon. But who were the estate agents going to sell them too?

Would you open a pub or a café in a small Aberdeenshire town which is just about too far to commute to Aberdeen? I wouldn’t. The farming round about is still probably profitable, though it might require a subsidy to make it so. But what other work is there? A few will work in the distillery. There will be doctors and teachers paid for by the state. But who will be running the businesses that make the profits that pay for the doctors and the teachers?

I saw lots of yellow SNP signs on my tour of Scotland. But they were most in evidence in those places that were most obviously dependent on money from elsewhere. In a small Highland coastal village, there were only old people. The only obvious sources of money were very small-scale fishing, crofting which could not survive without a subsidy, i.e., it was making a loss and tourism, much of which comes from a place the inhabitants wanted to separate themselves from.

If I lived in a place that was completely dependent on money from elsewhere, the last thing I would be arguing for would be independence. If you are not self-sufficient, but dependent on someone else’s taxes, grants or subsidy then your concept of independence is based on someone else paying your wages. But if that someone else is from one of the more prosperous parts of Edinburgh, why can’t he be from London? What’s the difference, you are as dependent on the one as you are on the other.

The yellow SNP signs are concentrated most in those parts of Scotland that are most dependent. Where there are poor Highland roads and rural poverty, there you will find a whole wee village voting for the SNP. In the post-industrial Central Belt with high rates of drug abuse and sickness benefit claiming almost everyone will vote for the SNP and no one at all will vote Tory. Whenever there is somewhere that votes Conservative, you will find signs of prosperity. But this means that those Scots who are most independent, who pay more taxes than they receive benefits are least likely to vote for Scottish independence.

It means that Scottish independence supporters are depending on the taxes of Pro UK people to continue to subsidy them if they vote for Scotland to leave the UK.

But what if the Edinburgh banker votes to stay in the UK precisely because he knows that his financial independence depends on Scotland remaining a part of the UK. What if he knew that in the event of Scotland leaving, he would have to leave too in order that his bank would have a lender of last resort and because the bulk of his customers would not use his bank if it were in an independent Scotland?

If the most successful Scots who universally oppose independence are outvoted by those who dependent on their taxes, they would still have the chance to move their assets and perhaps their jobs elsewhere to avoid the tax rises and spending cuts that independence would involve. In that case who would pay for the crofters and the sickness benefit of the drug addicts in Dundee?

Whether you support the UK or independence Scotland needs to be less dependent on Treasury money and more Scots need to be financially independent before we can begin to think about affording going it alone.

The SNP offers the hope that independence would bring better times for the once prosperous towns with boarded up shops. But Scotland receives more from the UK than we pay in, much more, which means that initially at least an independent Scotland would have less money than it does now. If you think you can make up the difference by taxing still more those Scots who already pay your wages and your crofting subsidy, you might just discover that they would prefer to pay less taxes elsewhere. Then who would pay for your pretty wee village where no one makes a profit?

If I were an independence supporter, I would be doing all I could to help Scotland be more prosperous so that more Scots no longer made a loss but instead made a profit. Once we were living within our means and once, we had done something to solve our problems with healthcare, drug use, education and rural poverty I would look again at whether Scotland’s problem was that we were part of the UK. It isn’t the biggest problems in Scotland are within the remit of our devolved parliament, which prefers to ignore them and is rewarded by the poor and neglected in Scotland for doing so.

At the moment I would conclude that far too many Scots are dependent on the state and until that changes there can be no question of independence being successful. Let us work together to make Scotland more prosperous for all Scots before we talk again about separation from the UK taxes that we depend on.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Sturgeon's Grand Tour

 

Nicola Sturgeon is planning to go on her travels again. After the Brexit referendum she went on a Grand Tour of Europe trying to win support for Scotland staying in the EU. She gained some sympathy and her unauthorised diplomacy caused some trouble for the Brexit negotiators, but she failed not least because Scotland was never an EU member state. It could not be forced against its will to leave the EU, because it never joined in the first place. Sturgeon found out that constitutional matters and international relations were indeed reserved and that she was merely a pretender rather than the actual Queen of Scotland.

Sturgeon will go seeking international support for a second independence referendum. She may indeed find sympathy from some of Britain’s enemies. Iran for instance will endorse her desire for secession, even though Iran limits rather severely the democratic rights of its own people and would under no circumstance allow an independence referendum in its own territory.



Sturgeon will receive some support in Ireland. No doubt if she visits the Dáil she will get another standing ovation for standing up to the Brits. The Taoiseach, the Irish President and Sinn Féin will give Sturgeon their support, because they would hope that the breakup of the UK would make it more likely that Northern Ireland would unite with Ireland. But it is worth remembering that no part of Ireland at present would be granted a referendum on secession and if a united Ireland were ever achieved Northern Ireland would never be allowed to vote to leave.

As she continues her tour of the EU there will no doubt be EU officials and leaders of member states who want to take revenge on Britain for leaving the EU. What better than for the UK to be punished by being broken up. But although Sturgeon may get some words of support, they will be qualified. There isn’t a single EU members state that would allow a legal referendum on independence for one of its parts.

France will not give Corsica a referendum on independence though it was conquered by France in 1770.

Germany will not give Saxony a referendum on independence though it became part of a United Germany only because it lost the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866. It was independent until then.

The Netherlands will not give neither North or South Holland a referendum on secession nor any other province.

Belgium will not allow Flanders to separate from Wallonia, even though they speak different languages.

Spain will not allow Catalonia to separate from Spain even though it is called an autonomous nationality.

I could continue through each of the 27 member states, but the point has been made. If the EU encourages Sturgeon, it does so hypocritically.

Sturgeon will no doubt get support from Vladimir Putin. He would be delighted if one of the strongest members of NATO ceased to exist and if the British Army was destroyed not by another army but by the SNP. But no part of the Russian Federation would be allowed to secede and Putin went to war against Chechnya to prevent it leaving.

Ukraine does not recognise the secession of Crimea even though it is likely the vast majority of Crimeans prefer to be part of Russia. An illegal referendum unauthorised by Ukraine led to de facto secession, but almost no one recognises it. Crimea is still legally part of Ukraine. It has no right to leave.

Sturgeon may go to the United States to find support for Scottish independence. President Biden if he is wearing his Irish hat may be sympathetic. But President Biden would fight a war to prevent Hawaii leaving the USA even though it was annexed in 1898. He would also prevent New Mexico leaving to rejoin Old Mexico even though it was annexed by the United States in 1848. It’s OK to prevent Mexican reunification by force but not OK for Northern Ireland to be separate from Ireland.

In her desperation to find a country that allows secession and legal independence referendums Sturgeon may go as far as China. But she will discover that not merely does Hong Kong have no right to leave China, neither does Taiwan, which is de facto independent, but China would certainly go to war if it declared itself to be independent and might do so anyway.

On her tour of the world Sturgeon might point finally to Canada where Quebec was given not one but two referendums on secession. But since narrowly losing a vote to leave Canada, the Canadian Parliament passed a Clarity Act setting out the conditions for secession. It also argued that unilateral secession was not possible in international law and that it was a matter for the whole of Canada not merely Quebec. The effect of this Clarity Act was that the secession movement in Quebec has lost popularity and there is no prospect now of a third referendum.

All around the world and especially in Europe there are countries made up of formally independent states. Many of these states were independent long after Scotland merged with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The merger of kingdoms was how Europe moved from the Middle Ages to modernity. There is nothing special about Scotland historically, there are the equivalents of Scotland all across the EU. It is for this reason that Sturgeon will struggle to find anyone who wishes to set a precedent.

If Scotland can leave the UK and not pay any debts, why can’t Veneto? It only became part of Italy in 1866 because Austria lost the Austro Prussian war in 1866. The boundaries of Europe are arbitrary and the people and languages are mixed. EU member states may hypocritically support Sturgeon, but they will not allow an independence referendum in their own countries, because if they did there would be secession movements all across Europe and the EU would descend into chaos and war.

Scotland has no more right to secede that Crimea or Hawaii. If there is an international law granting the right to secession why do the permanent members of the Security Council not allow it in their own countries? Only the UK allowed such a referendum once. We are not required to grant another because a devolved parliament wants one, even if the SNP won all of the seats. If the SNP can have a mandate for secession so too can South Carolina, Saxony or Corsica? No one thinks the USA, Germany or France is held together by force.

Let Sturgeon go on her travels, she will get nowhere because no one wants their own country to be broken up. But let us work on our own Clarity Act and devise it in such a way that it similarly leads to a fall in support for the SNP.

 

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Repeating the same mistake

 

There is a failure of imagination on the Pro UK side of Scottish politics. We keep repeating the same tactics and keep failing in the same way. Tactical voting is only ever going to work to a limited extent. It is worth doing in a Scottish Parliament Election, but it is never going to win the Pro UK side more than a few extra seats. It is never going to be enough to overcome the SNP getting somewhere around 45% of the vote.

The SNP don’t have enough to win an independence referendum, but with a divided opposition it has enough to win nearly all of the constituencies. The only issue is whether it wins an overall majority or has to rely on the Greens. It looks as if Alba won’t win a seat. It might have been useful if at least Salmond had been elected to cause trouble. It looks as if the list only experiment has failed even for the Scottish nationalist side and so will probably fail for our side too. The logic is irrefutable, but voters don’t understand the logic.  



Were the BBC told to ignore Alba or did that merely come from its natural inclination to help Sturgeon? The concerted campaign to strangle All for Unity at birth may have protected a couple of MSP salaries, but at the expense of thinking that this is what matters. What really matters is coming up with a strategy that protects the UK by finding a way to defeat the SNP in Scotland. The attacks on All for Unity achieved a similar result to 2016 when we did not exist. Well done for coming up with a strategy that eventually means you don’t exist.

This can’t continue. Eventually the pro-independence side will realise that it is completely stupid giving 40% of the list votes to the SNP. If those 40% of the votes had gone to Alba, then there would be a pro independence super majority. It’s a matter of very simple arithmetic. The both vote SNP strategy is very stupid indeed if you want to maximise the nationalist vote. The SNP wins hardly any list seats and will gain them an extra one or two seats at best. But the both votes strategy is still worse for the Pro UK parties.

Relying on the list vote as the main source of seats for Labour and the Conservatives only works so long as the pro-independence vote doesn’t realise that it is pointless voting for the SNP on the list. But eventually a list only independence party is bound to succeed. When this happens the Labour and Conservative list seats will be halved. The list seat strategy guarantees failure, simply because there are fewer list seats than constituency seats. It amounts to vote for us because we will lose and eventually, we will lose very badly indeed. This isn’t a strategy. It’s mere capitulation.

We may if we are lucky have another chance at a Scottish Parliament election where it will still be possible to be Pro UK. We now rely on the Conservative Government saying No to a second independence referendum and the SNP not being able to get anywhere with an unofficial or illegal referendum. This might be slightly easier if the SNP fails to obtain an overall majority, but it will still involve saying No to a majority even if the Greens help the SNP.

If we continue along this route, then there will come a time when the British Government does not say No. It could be that Labour forms a Government with the help of the SNP or it could be that the Conservatives decide that if the SNP keeps winning it should be given what it wants. At the moment the SNP can win most of the seats at Holyrood with 45% of the vote. It could win 75% of the seats if SNP supporters understood how the voting system works. So, either we make changes to our tactics or eventually we will get indyref2 and then it will be mere chance, a coin toss that decides our fate.

It no longer matters whether you are Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative in Scotland. None of your party policies are within a million miles of being implemented, because you have zero chance of being a part of a Government.

It would help if the three main Pro UK parties were willing to make a pact where they agreed that only one of them would compete in each seat based on the percentage of the vote achieved in that seat at the previous election. If Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservatives stood down candidates where they had no chance of success, Pro UK voters would have the choice of voting for a Pro UK party or the SNP. It would concentrate minds.

It would be even better if there were only one Pro UK party competing for each constituency, while there was a single but different Pro UK party competing in the list. The difference politically between moderate Scottish Labour and moderate Scottish Conservatives is merely a matter of tribalism. It would be better if they buried the hatchet in the SNP head if only, they could agree that they each want to spend more than Scotland earns and each think the solution to every problem is that the Government spends more money on it. Lib Lab Con are all lefty clones, so it hardly matters if they merge so long as the merged party defeats the SNP.

If Lib Lab Con cannot bear to merge, then they could be list only parties or perhaps compete in a few constituencies where they can still win. But where the SNP win and there is no prospect of defeating them with three parties competing, let us form one party that stands a chance. If Labour and the Conservatives follow a list strategy, then it is logical that a constituency strategy be left to someone else.

If Alba fails to win a seat it may turn out that All for Unity does not win a seat either. But if all our votes had been divided between Lib Lab Con it would hardly have made a difference. But the logic behind All for Unity is still valid. If we are lucky, we get one more chance. We don’t really deserve it, but let’s hope we get it anyway. There is only one way to defeat the SNP with the arithmetic we have. We need a single Pro UK party competing for the constituency vote and a different one competing for the list. Give up your loyalty to Lib Lab Con or else we will lose next time and the time after that until there is nothing left to lose.

Friday, 7 May 2021

The only difference between Hartlepool and Hamilton is nationalism

 

The North East of England is the place that feels most similar to Scotland. It is post-industrial like the Central Belt. The accent and dialect are similar as is the culture. If by an accident of history, the North East of England were part of Scotland no one would notice the border. After all Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish football league and “South” Berwick was once as much a part of Scotland as North Berwick. But while voters in both Hamilton and Hartlepool have deserted Labour it remains unimaginable that Hamilton would vote Tory.

Both Hamilton and Hartlepool suffered during the 1980s as the British economy moved away from heavy industries that were no longer economic, but while this left a legacy of hatred of Tories in Scotland, the Northern parts of England have moved on. While going on about Margaret Thatcher and the Miners strike no longer wins votes for Labour in the Red Wall, in Scotland these events are treated as if they were current affairs, which is not surprising given that we are still refighting the Battle of Bannockburn.



Conservatives are able to win in Hartlepool because voters there don’t much care about the 1980s and no longer vote tribally according to how their parents voted. But Scotland still votes tribally it’s just the tribe’s colours have moved from Red to Yellow. The SNP took over the Labour bloc vote in Scotland en masse and took on the same grievance that used to make Scotland vote Labour and we nurse that grievance to keep it warm.

Everyone else in Britain has forgotten about the poll tax. You have to be in your fifties to have been asked to pay it. Thatcher is fading into history like Wilson, Heath or Callaghan. But in Scotland somehow it was much worse that we had to pay the poll tax a year earlier than the rest of the UK and it matters more that our pits had to close than those in England and Wales. The reason perhaps is the Scottish Parliament.

The root of the Scottish nationalism that makes Hamilton vote SNP while Hartlepool votes Tory is the long years of Thatcher’s reign when Scotland voted Labour but got a Tory Government in Westminster. It was this grievance that motivated the Scottish establishment, but not the SNP, to establish the Scottish Parliament that would continue to receive English subsidy, but would forever be a coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour. It was these parties too that organised tactical voting with the SNP in order to keep the Conservatives out of Scotland. It was this above all that fuelled the nationalist idea that it was unfair if Scotland did not get what it voted for, but instead was outvoted by the English.

It is of course a feature of democracy that you can be outvoted by others. Scottish nationalists would not consider it unfair if Aberdeenshire was outvoted by the Central Belt. The only reason it is considered unfair is if you already view Scotland as separate, indeed as an independent country. It is after all not unfair if South Carolina votes for Trump, but gets Biden.

The establishment of the Scottish Parliament to address the grievance of Scotland voting differently to the UK fuelled Scottish nationalism and ultimately destroyed Labour’s hold on Scotland. It left with it a hatred of Tories that is the primary motivation of SNP voters. Nicola Sturgeon speaks about Tories in a way that would be disgraceful if she was talking about a nationality or a race, but of course she is because Tory has become synonymous with posh people from England who go to Eton and that has been used to disguise the similarity of the people of Hamilton and Hartlepool. Scottish nationalism has made a distinction where there is no difference.

Scotland has no genuine grievance. There are parts of the UK much worse off than we are. Tories are no longer posh. Many are working class people who used to vote Labour just like we did. The only difference is that voters in Hartlepool were not told that it was unfair that they voted Labour, but got a Tory Government. For this reason, there is no nationalism in Hartlepool. Hartlepool doesn’t want England to be independent nor Britain to break up.

While the Conservative Party can smash through the Red Wall in England, it cannot spread northwards beyond Berwick and Carlisle, until the nationalism that was stoked in the 1980s by Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems and the whole Scottish Establishment with them is put out. Never play the nationalist card. It is the most powerful one in politics and it will destroy you if you are not careful. It can make people vote to be poorer. It can make people vote to put a hard border between Hartlepool and Hamilton.

If there is hope for Scottish Conservatism it lies in being more like Boris Johnson. There is something in Johnson’s message that appeals to former Labour voters in Hartlepool and it could equally appeal to former Labour voters in Hamilton. Scottish Conservatives should be the party of business arguing for policies that would bring Scotland prosperity rather than dependence on the UK Treasury. They should cease nursing their grievance about Brexit, which helps the SNP argument, and instead embrace its opportunities. Rather than trying to be as different as possible to Johnson Scottish Conservatives should emphasise continually the similarity between Hartlepool and Hamilton. They should stand up to the media narrative that views Scotland as separate and which still uses Tory as if it were a swear word. The last acceptable prejudice in Scotland is hatred of Tories. Perhaps then Conservatives might have a chance of defeating the SNP not merely in Hamilton, but also in those parts of Scotland were historically Conservative.

The only difference between Hartlepool and Hamilton is nationalism. If you defeat nationalism, you defeat the SNP.

 

 

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The SNP won't have a mandate for independence

 

Nicola Sturgeon does not have an independence plan. The last one produced in 2018 is completely out of date and she hasn’t got another one. The SNP hope to produce another before a future independence referendum if and when it happens. But she will argue that the election to the Scottish Parliament will give her a mandate for holding it even though she does not herself know what independence would involve.

But if Nicola Sturgeon does not know what the plan is for independence, how can the Scottish voters know either? Sturgeon either refuses or is unable to answer various questions about independence. The practical questions such as EU membership, currency, border and Scotland’s share of the national debt are unanswered. But this means that every single voter who choses the SNP does not know what he is voting for. Logically the Scottish electorate cannot give informed consent to a referendum on Scottish independence, because it has not been informed about it. But without informed consent there can be no question of a mandate for a policy.



An election is about setting out before the electorate not just a wish list, but a detailed policy, which is then tested by debate. But there has been no debate about the SNP’s plan for independence because it doesn’t have one. For instance, the SNP plan when it arrives might say that an independent Scotland would join the Euro. If Scottish voters now knew this, they might reject the idea of an independence referendum. This means that the SNP cannot claim a mandate for a policy that might be rejected if only the voters knew about it. The SNP cannot therefore claim a mandate at all.

Let’s imagine that the SNP comes up with a new plan. It is not possible to imagine that Nicola Sturgeon would publicly state, I’m sorry fellow Scottish nationalists, but given our new plan I have decided that for the moment independence is a bad idea. Likewise, many SNP voters want independence come what may, no matter what it involves.  

But the SNP has put forward various policies in its manifesto which will depend on various economic circumstances not least that Scotland will continue to receive funding from the Treasury. If it turned out that a future SNP independence plan would involve no free bicycles, but instead spending cuts, it would have deceived the Scottish electorate by attempting to bribe it with free bicycles for the sake of obtaining an independence referendum that would involve walking rather than riding a bike. If SNP manifesto promises are contingent on Scotland remaining a part of the UK, it cannot logically use them to justify an independence referendum which would mean it would break them. Deceit gives you a mandate for nothing whatsoever.

The Scottish Conservatives have rather foolishly been arguing that we need to vote Conservative in order to prevent the SNP having a mandate for independence. The problem with this argument is that the Scottish Conservatives would be obliged to say that the SNP have obtained a mandate under certain circumstances. Mr Ross may calculate that his party will gain a few seats if only Pro UK people believe that voting Conservative will prevent an SNP mandate, but what if it doesn’t work? He would be left with the position either of saying to Boris Johnson, you must grant a referendum, or saying he didn’t really mean it. But this would merely make him look both foolish and insincere.  And for what? The SNP are likely to form the next Scottish Government either by itself or in coalition. It will make very little difference if there are two or three more Conservative MSPs. But the Conservative electoral strategy will have undermined the UK Government’s argument that now is not the time for a second referendum.

What does Mr Ross think would give the SNP a mandate? It cannot be that he thinks a pro independence majority at Holyrood would justify it, because that is almost certainly going to happen and under no reasonable circumstance could the Conservatives prevent it. If instead he thinks that the SNP should have a mandate if it wins an overall majority of seats, it is hard to see the difference. Why should a bill that requires the help of the Greens or Alba be ignored while one that requires only SNP MSP votes be so decisive that it gives the SNP a mandate? The Greens and Alba also have made manifesto commitments to hold an independence referendum. Does Mr Ross think some MSPs are more equal than others, or that coalitions don’t have mandates to do anything? Worse Mr Ross has no idea if the SNP will gain an overall majority of seats. So, he is betting the future of the UK in order to gain two or three extra Conservative seats. Mr Ross selleth his birthright for a mess of votes and the salaries of his friends.



It cannot be that the UK is risked every time there is an election. No country can long endure under those circumstance. But what then would give the SNP a mandate to hold an independence referendum? This is to look at the matter in the wrong way. The Scottish Parliament can only decide devolved matters. It cannot therefore have a policy about a reserved matter such as independence. There can therefore no more be a mandate for an independence referendum than there can be a referendum for annexing the Faeroe Islands. Such issues are simply outside the competence of the devolved parliament the Scottish electorate voted for in 1997 and 2014. We chose at these times to reject having a parliament that could decide issues of foreign policy and the constitution.

Does this mean that there is no democratic route to independence for the SNP? It would be possible to argue that this is the case and that there is no democratic right to secession. I would argue for this view. The referendum in 2014 was simply a mistake. It fuelled Scottish nationalism. Moreover, David Cameron who had neither a Conservative majority nor a manifesto commitment to granting a Scottish independence referendum, had no right to risk the breakup of the UK which we had fought to maintain for three centuries because Alex Salmond happened to win an overall majority in a Scottish Parliament election. No other European country would take such a risk, nor would the United States nor would Japan. He should have simply told Alex Salmond, the UK is one nation, indivisible, if you want independence you will have to win a revolution. Good luck.

But many Scots and many people in Britain generally do not share this view. They think that there ought to be a democratic route for Scotland to secede. But that route cannot be that the SNP wins an election to the Scottish Parliament either on its own or in conjunction with other parties. The reason for this is a Scottish Parliament election can only grant a mandate on devolved issues, because we voted for a devolved parliament in 1997 and 2014. This is the answer to Nicola Sturgeon’s question about having a second go. It is logical and irrefutable.

But many Scots and British people in general will say this is undemocratic. We alone think our country can be broken up by a vote. But what then might constitute a democratic mandate for secession. Firstly, there would have to be clarity not merely about the SNP’s plan for independence, but also the British Government’s response. Secondly it would have to be obvious that the overwhelming majority of Scots both want independence and want a second independence referendum. Opinion in Scotland about independence is erratic and fluctuates wildly. It cannot be that a three-hundred-year-old country is broken up because of a temporary change in opinion about how Nicola Sturgeon has performed during the pandemic or whether you will get a free bicycle.

For those who favour a democratic route to independence, it might be argued that a sustained and constant measure of opinion showing at least two thirds of Scots wanting independence would justify a second independence referendum. Let polls and Scottish elections show that for a generation and you can have another go. But you cannot reasonably claim a mandate for a referendum when some polls show support for independence to be in the low forties and most Scots don’t want a referendum anytime soon.

Some Scottish nationalists intend to respond to a denial from Boris Johnson by going down the unofficial or illegal route. The response to this ought to be to instantly cut all Treasury funding to Scotland. This is especially the case when people like Alex Salmond say they don’t intend to accept Scotland’s share of the national debt. Why should the UK Government get itself into debt by giving money to people who don’t intend to pay it back?

Mr Ross should have argued that the SNP would not have a mandate for an independence referendum even if it won all of the seats at Holyrood. In fact, the only way the SNP could gain a mandate for independence would be if it were able to form a Government at Westminster on a manifesto commitment to independence. Only Westminster can grant permission. All else is a mess of thinking.  

The task is to make achieving independence as hard as possible for the SNP. Ideally it should be impossible. The folly is that the Scottish Conservatives while pretending to be Pro UK are actually undermining the argument. Don’t make the future of the UK depend on a Scottish Parliament election when your party polls in the low twenties. It may be in the interest of the Scottish Conservatives, but it is not in the interest of the UK.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

How to beat the SNP next Thursday

 

I haven’t been writing much about the Scottish Parliament election lately. This is for a number of reasons. I am not very interested in election campaigning. I’m better at political argument. I have minimal interest in the peculiarities of the electoral system where we have one vote for the constituency and one vote for the list. It strikes me as overly complex and potentially unfair. But it is the system we have until someone changes it. I follow polling like everyone else, but I am more and more convinced that there is something fake about it, even something corrupt. I don’t follow the day-to-day events at Holyrood and frankly could not care less what MSPs do there. So long as there is not another independence referendum in the next few years it is a matter of complete indifference to me how well or how badly the SNP rule with the help of the Scottish Greens and perhaps Alba.

For the same reason I don’t care very much how many Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrat MSPs there are. If there are enough to deprive the SNP of a majority that would be great. Still better if there was not an independence supporting majority. But otherwise, it will make very little difference to me if this or that Pro UK MSP is elected or not.


The odd thing about a Scottish Parliament election is that in reality it is a giant poll on independence. This is the issue that all of us vote on. It’s a bit like having a referendum except our Yes or No vote or after Brexit more likely our Leave Remain vote goes through the mincer of voting for various constituencies and lists. This churns out various MSPs. The SNP can either rule on its own or must work with other parties. This does not matter.  What matters is how many voters chose independence and how many rejected it.

Let’s say SNP, Greens and Alba win a majority even a supermajority, but they only get 45% of the vote. It will be hard for them to argue that Scottish voters want independence or that they want a referendum now. If they ask the British Government for permission to hold one, the request can be refused because they represent a minority, even if this minority elected a majority of seats. Salmond’s supermajority in that circumstance will be merely unrepresentative or rather a swindle.

What this means is that every Pro UK vote counts. Even if we suspect that the SNP will win a majority and perhaps an overall majority it is worth voting. It is worth putting your cross on a piece of paper even if you live somewhere where a Pro UK party has no chance. We cannot influence the electoral system, nor how many vote for nationalist parties, but we can influence the Pro UK turnout. You may think that it is pointless voting as the SNP will win anyway, but this is completely untrue. So long as there is a Pro UK majority of votes, it will be very difficult indeed for the SNP to hold a referendum and still less likely an illegal referendum. If we are the majority, we could wreck it simply by ignoring it.

There has been a lot of debate about Pro UK strategy and there has been some ill feeling too especially about list votes. I think there are way too many Pro UK parties on the list.

As soon as Alba entered the race independence supporters who had set up list only parties closed them down. Scottish nationalists are much more organised and disciplined than we are. The word goes out that this party is unhelpful and it shuts down. Meanwhile we have loads of small parties all attracting a few hundred or a few thousand votes, none of which will lead to any list seats. Put all of those votes together into one list only party and we would have a far greater chance of succeeding.

It makes sense to have a list only party. It is for this reason that I have supported All for Unity. I think that George Galloway and Jamie Blackett would do a better job in Holyrood than most MSPs. All for Unity has a more interesting manifesto than any of the others that I have read and has candidates from all sides of the political spectrum who would bring something new to Parliament. I believe these people deserve your support.

The alternative is the both votes strategy of Labour the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives even when they know they have no chance of winning a constituency and sometimes a small chance of winning on the list. This strategy is bound to fail. This is why I opposed it. If your tactic is to compete mainly for the list seats, you are bound to come second, which may make you a considerate lover, but it won’t win a majority at Holyrood.

It is easier to win seats on the list if you don’t win any constituencies, which is why a list only party makes sense, but it still requires you to win about 6% of the vote. This is where each of us has to reflect.

1. Will Labour Lib Dems or Conservatives win a constituency in your region?

2. If so, vote for someone else on the list.

3. Will your party get 6% on the list?

4. If not vote for someone else on the list.

I voted Conservative in my constituency and All for Unity on the list because I hope the Conservatives will win constituencies in North East Scotland and also hope that All for Unity will get 6% of the vote. I cannot predict the future about either hope, but it is an experiment worth trying. I have been told that All for Unity have a good chance of winning seats. Other people disagree.  We will see. All for Unity would have an even better chance if all of the tiny list parties that have no chance of winning a seat ceased to exist. I would love to abolish the Scottish Parliament, but Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party would have a far better chance of achieving something if its votes went to All for Unity.

Any votes for a list party that fails to reach 6% will be wasted and could have helped other Pro UK parties to win a list seat. Let us all reflect honestly about our chances and vote accordingly. The same goes for constituencies. If your party can’t win, vote for a Pro UK party that can.

We will only know after the election how the various strategies have worked out. But let’s not fall out about it. The battle against Scottish nationalism is long term. We can only defeat it if Pro UK people who support a variety of parties and strategies are willing to work together even when we disagree.

Neither the Liberal Democrats, Labour or Conservatives have the right to complain about All for Unity because they refused to work together by standing down candidates where they had no chance of winning. This would have given us the best chance of winning more constituencies. Tactical voting rarely makes a difference because the main Pro UK parties neither endorse nor encourage it. But even so the thing that we all can do that is likely to make the most difference is to vote for the Pro Party with the best chance of winning the constituency where you live. The SNP will rarely win a constituency with more than 50% of the vote. If we all chose the party best placed to defeat them it would make the biggest difference to the overall number of Pro UK seats.

This is particularly the case if you live in Dumbarton where Jackie Baillie may need all our votes to keep her seat. You don’t have to be a Labour supporter to realise that Ms. Baillie was one of the best MSPs. She is solidly Pro UK and one of Sturgeon’s best opponents. So too anyone living in Glasgow South should vote for Anas Sarwar as he could just possibly defeat Nicola Sturgeon.

The most important thing of all is to vote. I hope all Pro UK parties do well. Every single Pro UK vote adds to our share of the vote. Every one of us should get out and vote and help a friend to get there too.

Our task is to continue to make the argument against Scottish independence. Next, we must demonstrate that we are still the majority. Fewer Scots want independence than a few months ago. Scottish nationalists are divided and we are winning the argument. This is how to beat the SNP. Every Pro UK vote counts. The more we raise the Pro UK vote above fifty percent the more we win, just like in 2014. 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Only England can afford independence

 

There is something odd about independence movements in the UK. They are all in parts of the UK that can’t afford it. The one part of Britain that makes a profit, the South of England, has no secession movement at all and England as a whole shows minimal desire to ditch Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, though it would save money if it did so.

The Institute for Government recently published some figures which tell us that the English taxpayer subsidises the other three parts of the UK.



But somehow this is either not believed or not taken into account when voters in those parts express a desire to leave. The figures available are for 2018/19, which is the year before the pandemic began. They will be much worse for 2020/2021 during which the Treasury has massively subsided all of us through furlough and support for businesses that could not open due to lockdown.

 

The public sector deficit per person is:

Northern Ireland    £5,118

Wales                    £4,412

Scotland               £2,543

England                £91





 

This means that England was making a slight loss, Scotland rather a large loss and Wales and Northern Ireland were making a huge loss.

One of the reasons for this is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland spend much more per person than England does.

Public spending per person is:

Northern Ireland   £15,182

Scotland                £14,850

Wales                   £14,032

England                £12,864


 


If either Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland were to leave the UK then it would have to make up the loss of UK money either by borrowing, taxing, cutting spending or growing the economy. It’s hard to see how the standard of living of people living in these places could be maintained. Independence by itself brings in no money at all.

Public spending makes up a lower percentage of GDP in England than the other parts of the UK. Public spending is higher in Scotland and much higher in Wales and Northern Ireland.


But this makes these economies more dependent on Government expenditure which would be the one thing that would have to be cut if they were to leave the UK. It’s much easier for a country to make a profit if it has lots of private companies making a profit. The Welsh and Northern Irish state sector looks in particular looks unsustainable if either left the UK.

While Scotland and England raise a similar amount in taxation (around £12,000 per person), Wales and Northern Ireland raise considerably less (slightly less than £10,000). Scotland’s problem if we want to become independent is primarily that public spending is too high. Any party that was serious about independence would be trying to reduce spending while growing the economy. But the SNP are doing the opposite to this and intend to increase spending massively in the years ahead. It may win support this way and may even win support for independence, but it is simply increasing Scotland’s deficit and making us ever less ready for independence by making us ever more dependent on the UK taxpayer.

If the idea of independence is to make a country richer then the only part of the UK that would actually end up richer is England.

Surplus deficit 2018/2019

England                 surplus 2.3%

Scotland               deficit 5.1%

Wales                   deficit 14.3%

Northern Ireland   deficit 15.8%



These figures will be considerably worse now.

Scotland’s position is financially rather worse than it was in 2014 and independence would involve considerably more difficulty now that the UK has left the EU and independence would most likely involve a hard border.

The SNP are in effect asking Scots to accept large public spending cuts, higher taxes, the problems involved in using the pound unofficially or perhaps creating a new Scottish currency, plus trade barriers with our largest trade partner the former UK in order that all decisions would be made in Holyrood rather than some of them continuing to be made in Westminster. Initially at least Scotland would have to be poorer because the fiscal transfers from the Treasury would cease. If you deny that there are such fiscal transfers then you deny that the Institute for Government knows what it’s talking about.

For Wales independence is at present simply a nonstarter. It is extraordinary that it has increased in popularity as it has become less and less practical. Wales is already poorer than both Scotland and England and would become massively poorer if it chose independence.

Northern Ireland is unlikely to seek independence which puts it in a different situation. Clearly independence for Northern Ireland is no more possible than for Wales. It depends too much on UK money. But if Northern Ireland were to leave the UK it would be in order to join the Republic of Ireland. In that case either Northern Ireland would have to see huge cuts in public spending, increases in taxation or the Republic of Ireland would have to take on the burden of subsidy.

The UK pays over £10 Billion per year to Northern Ireland, but that’s more than Ireland spends on Education at present and would amount to about a tenth of the Irish budget. It’s one thing for more than 60 million people to subsidise Northern Ireland, it’s another for less than 5 million.

We have seen lately that some Protestants in Northern Ireland are willing to riot because of a nominal regulator border down the Irish Sea. Would they be liable to behave better or worse if a close border poll saw a united Ireland without their consent? How much would it cost Ireland to police any Troubles that arose from unity. Would the Irish Army have the resources and the skill to control such Troubles? How much would that cost?

In economic terms only England can afford independence and particularly the South of England, which would become one of the wealthiest parts of Europe if it could only ditch the rest of us. England would lose the reputation and soft power that is associated with the UK and would gain neighbours that would initially at least be much poorer than it. It would be the equivalent of Russia losing the less productive parts of the Soviet Union. The re-emergence of England might be no more beneficial than the re-emergence of Russia.

But in the case of each part of the UK prosperity after secession would depend on the decisions of future governments. The most likely route to prosperity is small state, low taxation, low regulation free market capitalism, which might be possible in an England dominated by Tories. It is the rejection of this and the SNP’s desire for high public spending that would keep Scotland poor until it rediscovered Adam Smith.

The loss of the United Kingdom would be devastating for those parts that at present depend on UK subsidy. Scottish independence can only happen with massive spending cuts, but if that is what Scots want why do we vote for the SNP that gives us spending increases? Northern Ireland can only viably leave the UK if Ireland can pick up the tab, but that depends on Ireland introducing tax rises and spending cuts to pay for their northern cousins some of whom might pay them back with bombs. It’s hard to see how sensible Welsh people can even contemplate independence. Who would pay for Wales?

The only part of the UK that can afford independence is thankfully willing to stick with the rest of us even when large numbers of us bite it. But there is no serious England Independence Party perhaps because English people can see how the UK has benefited not just them but all of us. The loss of being British would diminish us in ways that cannot be added up on a balance sheet.

 

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Is the Union voluntary?

 

In a recent debate Douglas Ross was asked “Is the Union voluntary?” and failed to give a convincing answer. The point of the question of course is that either answer he might give is problematic for his argument. If he says the Union is voluntary, then how can he oppose indyref2? If he says the Union is not voluntary, he will be accused of being antidemocratic and turning the Union into a prison. Faced with such a dilemma the natural response of a politician is to waffle and avoid answering the question.

The correct response is to point out that there is no Union, there are no unionists and therefore the question of whether it is voluntary or not is redundant. But this answer may have got Mr Ross into even more trouble, because many if not most Scots on both sides of the constitutional divide assume that there is a Union. Unfortunately, it is this assumption that gives the SNP it’s best arguments.



It is simply historically mistaken to say that there is now a Union between Scotland and England or that the relationship between the four parts of the UK is similar to that between the 27 member states of the EU. The Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 merged the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England into the Kingdom of Great Britain. This is essentially no different from how the Kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia etc merged to form England and how the Kingdoms of Lothian, Dalriada etc merged to form Scotland. These processes happened in most European countries. France united in the same way as did Spain.

The United part of United Kingdom refers only to the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland. People who favoured this were historically called unionists. At this point there was no debate at all about the relationship between Scotland and England. The Unionist part of Conservative and Unionist does not refer to Scotland and England at all but merely reflects traditional Tory support for the Union of the crowns of Great Britain and Ireland. Unionist is about Irish politics, not Scottish politics. It has sectarian connotations because of this and therefore has nothing to do with those Scots who could not care less if someone is Protestant, Catholic, Hindu or Taoist.

The truth is that the UK is a unitary sovereign nation state in exactly the same way as France. The only difference is that while people who live in Burgundy probably don’t think of themselves as Burgundian and certainly don’t think that Burgundy is a country let alone a sovereign nation state, people in Scotland, do think this. They think it precisely because they think the UK is a union.

Once you concede that the UK is a union like the EU, then you concede the argument. If Scotland is a country just like France and the UK is the equivalent of a mini-EU made up of four countries, then it follows of itself not only that this union ought to be voluntary, but that each part should choose independence. What sort of second-rate country would Scotland be that it couldn’t manage to be independent, when Vanuatu, Chad and Moldova can manage?

The same argument of course could be made about Mercia and Lothian if they were thought still to be the kingdoms that they once were. If Vanuatu, which is much smaller and poorer than Lothian can manage independence, why can’t Lothian or even Midlothian?

There is nothing pathetic about Burgundy, Bavaria or Sicily being content to be parts of their respective countries. But this is only because they ceased at some point to think of themselves as countries.

There is no issue of it being voluntary or not for a part of France to secede because France thinks of itself as single country rather than a country made up of four countries. If someone asked a French politician is the union of France voluntary, the question would be met with bemusement, but there are just the same historical treaties of union that were made to form the Kingdom of France as were made to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, it’s just no one in France thinks that France still is a union, for that would be to imply the possibility of separation. Even Corsica conquered by France in 1769 has no choice but to stay. No one asked the people of Elsaß-Lothringen whether they wanted to return to France after World War One and Two. But no one thinks that the unity of France is involuntary. The issue of voluntariness simply does not arise.

Neither France nor any other European country would give a referendum on independence to a part. There is a good reason for this. The borders of many European countries are contentious. There are parts of Slovakia and Romania which have Hungarian speaking majorities. The South Tyrol in Italy has a German speaking majority. If given the choice, it is likely that the people in these countries would choose to join Hungary and Austria. But to revisit the boundaries of Europe that resulted from the two World Wars the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and the fall of the Soviet Union would be to invite chaos and perhaps war. For this reason, there is no voluntary secession in Europe.

Only in the UK do we have elections which question the existence of our country. It would be better by far if we treated the UK as the French treat France as indivisible. But this would mean we would have to give up the idea that Scotland is somehow separate from the other parts of the UK. It is this sense of being a separate country which gave rise to the demand for a Scottish Parliament because it was considered somehow unjust that Scotland didn’t always get the UK Government it voted for. It was this that gave rocket fuel to nationalism and the SNP. If Scotland is such a separate country that it needs its own Parliament, which is what the devolutionists believed, then why shouldn’t it be independent? Why indeed? We are left with mere bribes and the contingency that Scotland would be worse off after independence. But why should that trouble someone who thinks Scotland is separate enough to deserve its own Parliament? Why not have a proper one rather than a subordinate devolved one? There isn’t really a good argument except we are better off financially in the UK. But this is always going to be a poor argument against the passions of Scottish nationalism. It depends on keeping Scotland poor and on Scots not working hard to make Scotland rich. If the inventor of the next major innovation, like Google or Amazon, is a Scot then the SNP win the argument.  

So long as most Scots think Scotland is a separate country and most other British people agree, then the “Union” will be voluntary. It would be better if we thought like the French and other European nations, but we don’t. It was for this reason that David Cameron granted an independence referendum. The Union was voluntary, we chose to remain in it. That too is a good answer that Mr Ross might have given. Whether it should be continually voluntary whenever the SNP want a referendum is a different matter. We have already granted to separatists more than anyone else would by allowing them one referendum. But once you grant the principle it is really only a matter of time until the SNP gets another go if it keeps winning elections. This is because most Scots even those who are Pro UK share the SNP’s assumption about Scotland being a separate country. Are you still keen to be a Unionist? It gives the SNP what they want in the end.

If the SNP won independence, then it would refuse, if it could, to allow those parts of Scotland to secede which voted to remain in the UK. No one would ask if being a part of Scotland was voluntary because the nationalist assumption shared by most Scots would be that Scotland has a unity and a right to territorial integrity that the UK lacks. This is assumed by nearly everyone in Britain. This is why we are threatened by separatists and no one else is.

Scotland’s place in the UK is secure enough at the moment. While the SNP may win a majority at Holyrood, the path to independence is difficult while Scotland is making a loss and depends on the Treasury to sustain our standard of living.  Would enough Scots be willing to take a pay cut, a hard border and uncertainty about currency just so our country could be truly separate? Who knows? But both sides of the argument would be taking a big risk, which makes it something of a Mexican standoff.

If the SNP lost twice, there would be no question that the Union was voluntary and that we had chosen twice to stay. The SNP would plead for a third try the day after losing indyref2, but the patience of everyone else must require at some point that we accept that the UK is one nation indivisible, that there is no union, there are no unionists and we are not four countries, but only one. That in the end is only way to stop separatism. If we will have to choose eventually or else suffer permanent instability, then we might as well choose it now. Is the Union voluntary? There is no Union. There is no secession.