Monday 4 September 2023

Wings over Britain.


When I first came across Stuart Campbell and his site Wings over Scotland it must have been in the years leading up to the referendum. He was combative, extremely popular with Scottish nationalists and was able to make a living from his site.

Naturally we disagreed. I disliked his site. I kept telling myself he was a charlatan and for a long time I stopped reading.

But I came to reevaluate the site over the past few years. Campbell has the best inside knowledge of anyone writing on the pro-independence side of the argument. He has very good contacts and quite frequently makes original points you won’t find elsewhere. He is the best critic of the SNP because his attack like a Trojan horse is from within.

I began to read his site regularly. I rarely read anything written by independence supporters. I think Ian Macwhirter is clever and willing to think about the issue. I think Craig Murray was brave and sincere but always approaches eccentricity. Robin McAlpine, I come across sometimes and usually find worth reading. But it’s Campbell I read regularly, because he tells me what my opponent is thinking.

A lot of Scottish nationalists especially those dissatisfied with the SNP think like Campbell. It’s extraordinary to me that the SNP didn’t give Campbell a job or make him an MP, instead preferring the likes of Ferrier and McGarry. This is someone who from nothing built the most popular pro-independence site and made a living doing it. If that’s not talented what is? Better by far to have him inside the SNP shooting cannon balls at opponents than outside the SNP lobbing those same cannon balls first at Sturgeon and then at Yousaf.

But what struck me most the other day was coming across Campbell’s reasoning for supporting independence. It gets to the essence of the issue.

Of course [Scotland] was a country. It had its own dialect and an identifiable culture, both things personified to my young self by Oor Wullie and The Broons …It had national football and rugby teams. It had a flag. Why would it be any less of a country than Germany or Italy or Holland or Brazil or Argentina?

This is why Scottish nationalists support independence. If you discuss the issue at all, you immediately come across Scottish nationalists telling you that Scotland is a country. From this everything else follows. 

A long time ago I put their argument this way:

Scotland is a country.
Countries ought to be independent.
Therefore, Scotland ought to be independent.

Campbell makes the same point. If we are a country, if we have a football team like Germany and Italy why should we be a lesser sort of country that is not independent? This is a very good argument.

There are large numbers of countries in the world. I can only think of the four parts of the UK that are not independent. What makes these four out of so many so second rate that they are unable to be independent countries?

But this argument is interesting precisely because it cuts both ways and cuts in a worse way for Scottish nationalism.

The Pro UK position must logically deny that Scotland is a country. By all means accept that Scotland is called a country, which for odd historical reasons has separate international rugby and football teams, but once you accept that Scotland is a country like France it’s game over. I can think of no respectable argument for why a country ought not to be independent. Chad manages to be independent, why not Scotland? Why not Wales?

The problem for the Pro UK argument is that nearly all of the Scottish population believes that Scotland is a country just like France. Most Pro UK Scots believe this too.

So, if nearly everyone in Scotland believes Scotland is a country and the statement countries ought to be independent is self-evident, how is it that Scottish nationalism doesn’t have overwhelming support?

People are not logical. This was ably demonstrated by the march for Scottish independence within the EU. What about those Scottish nationalists who oppose the EU? I strongly suspect a large number turned up at the march. If you oppose England and Scotland forming a union in 1707, why would you support a union with 27 other countries? Because it is a different sort of union. Really? How can you be sure that Scotland won’t end up a region of a United States of Europe just as it is now in truth a region of the United Kingdom?

Worse I think for Scottish nationalism is this. The overwhelming majority of Scots think that Scotland is a country. They accept that countries ought to be independent, but still, they voted No.

There is something deeply craven about Scottish nationalism and the yellow streak goes right down the back of the SNP and its supporters.

Scots are willing to support Scotland at football and rugby and are willing to get angry if someone suggests that Scotland isn’t a country, but at the least sign of difficulty they give up.

2014 was the best chance that there will ever be. The UK was in the EU. If Scotland had left the UK, it would probably have managed to retain the same relationship to the former UK as Germany has with Austria. But arguments over currency and the Barnett Formula and whether we could still watch Strictly come dancing defeated the SNP. Such trivia compared to being free!

If you can’t win when the conditions are that favourable, how do you expect to win when they are so unfavourable that independence might involve a hard border and having to wait 8 years and more to join the EU?

Scotland is full of 90-minute nationalists. It harms the Pro UK argument because very few Scots feel genuinely British. Few people nowadays in the other parts of the UK feel very British either. But it harms the Scottish nationalist argument more.

Scots and I think Welsh, English and the green side of the Northern Irish have a limited common identity, but we are not going to change things unless they will be obviously and significantly better.

Living in the UK is not that bad. There are things to grumble about. There are things that don’t work. There are things that are rubbish. But the UK standard of living is high by international standards. A few countries are better off, but the vast majority are much worse off. We have a fairly good democracy. There isn’t much corruption. We are fortunate.

Scottish independence is a risk. Welsh independence is a still greater risk. Northern Ireland leaving the UK to join the Republic is perhaps the biggest risk of all. It’s not just that you might lose the NHS, it’s what happens if a bomb blows off your leg and you have to pay 50 euros to see your Irish doctor? Who knows the price that would have to be paid in blood for Irish unity. I doubt very much it would be peaceful.

This is the problem for the SNP. Campbell’s argument about Scotland being a country wasn’t good enough in 2014. But that really is the only argument you have. That’s your best argument. I sometimes think it’s your only argument.

But it’s not enough and it looks like it’s never going to be enough. The UK has endured for more than 300 years even though most people think it is an oddly contradictory country made up of countries because we have separate international football teams. 

Nowhere else is like that, precisely because the countries that made up for example Italy and Germany prior to unification didn’t have separate football teams and lost their sense of being separate countries. But there is historically no difference between Saxony and Scotland apart from football. If you think there is a difference please point it out. Saxony fought a war against other parts of Germany in 1866. 

It would be better to tell the truth, that the UK is a unitary country with regions that happen to have international football teams and which for historical reasons are called countries. But no one quite dares. It would upset the 90-minute nationalists who might become permanent nationalists. And so, we appease Welsh, Scottish and Irish nationalism and hope that the English don’t notice the appeasement. 

Devolution is appeasement based on the lie that the UK is made up of separate countries. It almost cost us our country in 2014. 

But until someone convincingly shows that your standard of living would be massively better in an independent Scotland and there is no risk at all in leaving the UK, then the SNP will continue to gather only a few thousand true believers in Edinburgh. But these true believers will have no chance of achieving their goal, because no one else can be bothered enough to turn up.

Scots may continue to vote for the SNP, but only because they perhaps reasonably think this is the best way to gain more subsidies from London. This is the limit of Scottish nationalism. They may think that Scotland is a country. They may not feel at all British. But they dare not risk even the smallest hit to their living standards to achieve independence. Safely housed in Bath neither for that matter does Mr Campbell. Why risk living in an independent Scotland if you might be arrested for being a transphobe or anything else that might come with it? Safer in Bath. If this logic applies to Mr Campbell, it equally applies and still more to those of us actually living in Scotland who risk who knows what. 

My mortgage, my savings, because you think Scotland is a country and you like to dress up as a Jacobite. Why should I pay the price for your cosplay and your inability to understand the distinction between Scotland was a country and Scotland is a country?

Scottish nationalists want independence in theory, but not in practice. This is why we voted No in 2014 despite not feeling very British. It turns out nationalism isn’t enough and if nationalism isn’t enough to get you independence, what would be enough? Nothing. 

When you have nothing left you have nowhere to march. Nowhere to go. It must be devastating. This is why Scottish nationalists are in despair. This is why we need to establish a rescue mission to help them through their stages of grief. 

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