Sunday 21 February 2021

No star for Sturgeon


One of the most divisive aspects of the SNP is how it has politicised the use of flags. The saltire used to be the flag of all Scots. It was completely uncontroversial. Now it is the flag of independence supporters. Likewise, the Union Flag used to be completely uncontroversial in Scotland. No one objected, no one much noticed. Now the Union Flag has become a political statement in Scotland in the same way that it makes a political statement in Northern Ireland. It is no longer the flag of every British citizen living in Scotland but is rejected by independence supporters as something alien in just the same way Irish nationalists reject the British flag in Northern Ireland.

In most countries a flag says nothing about politics. It is used at sporting events and flies mostly unnoticed on public buildings. These countries are fortunate because they don’t have nationalism. People don’t have to take sides about flags and so flags fade into the background. This is how we used to be in Scotland before the SNP came into power. We would fly Scottish flags at football or rugby matches, but we were happy to fly the Union Flag at the Olympics and didn’t notice if it appeared on public buildings. It simply reflected the truth that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom. There was no need to notice, because this simply a fact rather than something to disagree about.

The SNP don’t want Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom, but they also don’t want to acknowledge even that we are a part of the United Kingdom. Somehow, they hope that politicising the Union Flag will make it more likely that one day their wish will come true. By delegitimising the Union Flag in Scotland, they hope to delegitimatize the idea that we can be both Scottish and British, which again merely expresses the truth that Scots are also British citizens. If we are not, what are we? Stateless.

The hypocrisy of the SNP however is that it wishes Scotland to receive all of the advantages of being part of the UK while denying that we are a part. If any UK wide initiative did not apply to Scotland, the SNP would be the first to complain, but it is unwilling to give any credit to the UK for what it does, but only blame for the fact that it exists at all.

The truth is that nearly all Scottish voters including Scottish nationalists hope that various features of the UK would continue after independence. They want there to be open borders and they would prefer that there was a continued currency union. No one actually prefers to use the pound unofficially.  They want to be able to live and work anywhere in the UK and receive exactly the same benefits as they do at present. They would like the BBC to continue broadcasting in Scotland and the British Army and intelligence services to continue to keep them safe. There is rather a lot in fact that independence supporters like about the UK while at the same time rejecting the flag that indicates the unity of our country that made all of these things happen.

While being unwilling to fly the flag of the United Kingdom that we are a part of Nicola Sturgeon has decided to fly the flag of the EU which Scotland was never a member of. A SNP spokesman said

The EU flag is flown to reflect the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in Europe, and as a mark of solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who continue to call Scotland home despite Brexit.

But by the same logic the Union Flag should be flown as a mark of solidarity with the 55% who voted No in 2014 who expressed their wish to continue to be British citizens. By doing so we explicitly voted to accept the will of the UK majority. We could instead have voted to leave the EU in 2014, which would have deprived every EU citizen of their leave to remain which they obtained from the UK.

Scotland’s geographical position has not changed. We are still in Europe. Every single EU citizen living in Scotland who wanted to stay after Brexit was given that right not by the Scottish Government but by the UK Government. Why anyway do EU citizens need any more solidarity than people from Africa or Asia who also live in Scotland. Everyone who has the right to live in Scotland has the same rights as everyone else.

Nicola Sturgeon likes to give the impression that she is a Europhile but dig a little deeper and it turns out that she is not. The two main ways in the which the EU seeks to bring its people closer together are Schengen and the Euro, but Sturgeon wants Scotland to continue using the pound unofficially for the foreseeable future after independence and wants Scotland to remain part of the Common Travel Area which is incompatible with being part of Schengen.

It is reasonable to assume that she would oppose Scotland becoming a region in a United States of Europe so the relationship she would want Scotland to have would be as semi-detached as the UK used to have with the EU. Whatever new initiative the EU proposed to bring about ever close union would doubtless be opposed by “Europhile” Sturgeon and indeed most of the Scottish electorate. Support for the EU is at best conditional because precisely the same arguments that the SNP use about the UK can equally well be applied to the EU. No wonder the EU is wary of secessionists.

If you insist that Scotland is country rather than a region then it makes no sense to leave the UK in order to gradually be drawn into a European super state. If you dislike being outvoted by your fellow citizens in the UK, why put yourself in the position where qualified majority voting will outvote you in the EU?

Many Scots think of the EU as benign, liberal and generally preferable to the UK. It is this that is reflected in Sturgeon’s decision to fly the EU flag while apart from one day a year rejecting the flag of the sovereign nation state that we are a part of whether we like it or not. But it the UK that has provided Scots with furlough and business support. More importantly it is decisions made by the UK that has led to 25% of British citizens being vaccinated as opposed to 5% in the EU.

A reasonable response to the debate about the EU is to accept that there are plusses and minuses to membership and that Brexit may involve gains as well as losses. This means accepting that Britain’s decision to not take part in the EU’s vaccine programme (despite the opposition of the SNP) was correct and that this was politically only possible because we had left the EU. If we’d followed Sturgeon’s advice, we would have vaccinated hardly anyone and would be looking at lockdown continuing for most of this year.

If Scotland had not been part of the UK during the past year but instead was part of the EU, we would not have received furlough and business support from the EU and we would now be 20% behind the former UK in protecting our elderly people from Covid. So, the UK not only provides us with currency union, free movement and benefits across the UK it also provides us with free vaccines and free furlough while the EU would provide neither.

Scotland will gain the economic benefit of being able to open sooner because of the UK’s vaccination programme. Many Scottish jobs and businesses will have been saved by the Treasury. To wish to leave the UK under these circumstances would be the most perverse form of nationalism, because our recovery would be due to Union Flag that we reject even though it contains a saltire in favour of an EU flag that never had a star for Scotland because we neither joined nor left, because only independent nation states can be members of the EU.