Saturday 9 September 2023

The UK is not an equal union, because it is not a union at all


The key to winning a long-term political battle is to control the narrative. In this language is crucial. Scottish nationalists know this, for which reason they continually strive to avoid being called nationalists. They hate being described as trying to break up the UK. They don’t even want to say that they hope that Scotland will leave the UK. All of these things are perceived as negative, for which reason the whole SNP emphasis is on something positive. Independence.

There are limits to how much we can change the words in a debate. If I could do one thing it would be to take away from Scottish nationalism the word independence. When we leave school, get a job, marry, and set up home, we become independent. It’s a positive step in our development.

But independence was part of the referendum question in 2014 “Should Scotland be an independent country?” I have always thought the question grotesquely unfair. Not only did the SNP have the advantage of campaigning for Yes. It had the advantage of campaigning for Scotland being a country, which almost everyone thinks it already is and being something positive “independent”.

It may be too late to completely kick the word “independence” out of the debate, but we can try to modify the use of this word and others.

Above all never adopt language which our opponents have invented to portray us in a negative light.

Muscular Unionist

This term was obviously invented by people hostile to the Pro UK argument. It is supposed to remind us of Muscular Christianity. Muscular Unionist is similarly a term of ridicule. The aim is to make Pro UK people appease Scottish nationalism and to prevent us arguing that the UK is a unitary nation state just like any other. Any attempt to assert the unity of the UK or to limit the powers of devolution is portrayed as Muscular Unionism. Winning elections against the SNP is indeed too muscular. We must be weak instead.  


I never describe myself as a unionist. The term unionist in British politics invariably referred historically to the union with Ireland. This was contentious for which reason parties in Northern Ireland call themselves unionist. The Conservative party sometimes referred to itself as unionist too, but this was about Ireland not about Scotland.  The term unionist has the negative connotations of men in bowler hats and orange sashes and the Troubles. This has nothing to do with me.


I never describe the United Kingdom as a Union or the Union. The Act of Union of 1707 created the Kingdom of Great Britain. This was a merger of England and Scotland, just like the merger of Castile and Aragon and any number of other mergers in Europe. To call the UK a Union rather the result of a union implies that the parts that were united still exist and are held together by a union. This is to concede the argument to the Scottish nationalist. It says that the UK is a sort of confederation like the EU made up of countries. But in that case these countries would already be independent, which again concedes the argument. To describe the UK as a union is to conflate the union (marriage of England and Scotland) with the result of the union (the baby, the Kingdom of Great Britain). The UK is not an equal union, because it is not a union at all.

Four nations

Don’t describe the UK as being made up of four nations or four countries. No one is doubting that Scotland is commonly called a country, but its true status is that of a region of the UK. Real countries are sovereign nation states like France. If Scotland is like France, then it already is independent. Instead, the UK is made up of places that used to be independent countries, which happen to be still called countries and which happen to play international sport. But none of this changes the reality. Formerly independent countries being part of countries is commonplace in Europe. All of these places are regions. Only members of the UN and other international bodies are really countries.


This term gets an immediate and automatic block from me on Twitter. It is an attempt to come up with an equally negative equivalent of “Nat”. I am not a unionist. I don’t believe there is a union, and I won’t allow myself to be referred to by a misspelled abbreviation of this term. Above all don’t adopt this term about yourself.

Brit Nat

The concept of British nationalism is an attempt to come up with an equally negative equivalent of Scottish nationalism. It is applied to all Pro UK people. So, it refers to Mr Tomkins even if he thinks he is moderate and is friendly with people who support the SNP. There is nothing nationalistic about wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of the nation state in which you live. If that were the case then the word nationalist would refer to the inhabitants of every country, which would make it cease to be useful. The only context in which British nationalism makes sense is when it is applied to the far right. So, they are calling us fascists when they call us this. There are two varieties of nationalism. One wishes to secede (Scottish) while another wishes to join with someone else (Irish). British people want to do neither so to call us nationalists is either false or offensive.


There is no Yes movement. Nor are there Yes supporters or Yessers. Don’t keep giving them the benefit of Yes. There is no reason to suppose that a future referendum would have a Yes/No question. It would have a Remain/Leave question or something similar. Even the nationalists accept this by arguing for a de facto referendum that wouldn’t have a Yes/No question because it wouldn’t have a question at all.


Scotland leaving the UK would destroy the UK. There would be no Kingdom of Great Britain if Scotland left, so there could not be a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So don’t say rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) instead say former United Kingdom, like former Yugoslavia.


Wherever possible use words like secession, separation and leaving the UK rather than gaining independence. It may not be possible to cease using independence completely, but always make clear that it involves breaking up the UK. It brings home the destructiveness of the SNP’s aims.


Don’t be negative about Scotland. We believe in Scotland just as much as the SNP does. We love Scotland, its symbols and its flag just as much as the nationalists. We simply prefer Scotland to be part of the UK. Indeed, this is the only Scotland any of us know. To suppose that the SNP uniquely believes in Scotland is to suppose that Bavarians disbelieve, dislike or hate Bavaria, because they are happy for it to be part of Germany.


The SNP are not Nazis, nor are independence supporters fascists. Using these sorts of terms and other forms of abuse makes our side look bad. Winning the narrative involves us being more polite, more reasonable and more pleasant than our opponents.

The UK is almost uniquely threated by sub national nationalism and by the irredentism of a neighbouring state. The reason for this is as much linguistic as it is historical.

There is no reasonable distinction between the formerly independent states of Germany and Italy and those in the UK, except the UK allowed sub national identity to continue long after Scotland, Wales and England ceased to exist.

Instead of asserting that the UK is a single unitary nation state, successive British Governments have attempted to appease nationalists with devolution and the bizarre idea that the UK is in some weird way a union of four nation states.

No one else in Europe has this problem as the formerly independent parts that make up European countries are not allowed to maintain a separate identity as countries from the whole. This invariably enables European countries to make secession and referendums on the issue illegal without this being described as undemocratic.

So too the British Government has appeased Irish nationalism by uniquely in Europe offering Ireland the chance to annex UK territory by means of referendums. No one thinks that it would be legitimate for Russia to seize Crimea by means of a referendum. No one thinks that formerly German Silesia could be given back to Germany by means of a referendum.

Try reuniting Old Mexico with New Mexico to form a United Mexico and see what happens.

The UK is unique in the world in allowing its territorial integrity to be subject to referendums. The reason for this is that we appeased nationalists rather than asserting that the territorial integrity of the UK was indivisible, which is what every other country in the world does.

We did this because we accepted the nationalist’s own language and story about the UK.

It’s very easy to change this. Parliament is sovereign. Pass a law that forbids both referendums and secession. Make the existence of devolved parliaments subject to their not being used to further the destruction of the UK. Tell foreign powers that they will have to win a war to gain our territory.

If that is too muscular for you, then you no doubt prefer appeasement and weakness, which is the very reason we have a problem with sub national nationalism that no one else does. 

I am not a muscular unionist, because I am not a unionist at all.

If you liked this article, then cross my PayPal with silver and soon there will be a new one. See below.