Who governs Britain? According to the SNP, they are the sole voice of the Scottish people, and have a mandate to have an independence referendum. The British Government, despite what its name may imply, and its own part-Scottish mandate, holds no dominion north of the border, we are told. Nothing should stand in the SNP’s march to freedom, since that would evidently be interference from the malign influences of Westminster. Instead, the swathes of barbarians from the rest of the United Kingdom (or, rather the English), should resign to the destruction of the country whilst the citizens of North Britain are unleashed from their historical shackles, free to ascend into the utopian uplands.
What a load of rubbish.
The Government is right to finally declare that Westminster has the prerogative to decide whether or not Scotland can have a referendum, and indeed whether it is binding. There needs to be more Unionist assertion, including proper destruction of the SNP’s arguments, which seem to follow these themes:
- The Scottish Executive (which the SNP rebranded ‘Government’) is the voice of the Scottish people: The SNP may command a majority in the Scottish Parliament, but they did not win the election because the Scottish people demanded a referendum, and therefore supported them for that reason alone. Labour has the majority of Scottish MPs in Westminster, and overwhelmingly sent Unionist MPs to Westminster, where referenda decisions are made. Surely they are the voice of the Scottish people? Westminster is sovereign, not Holyrood.
- The referendum is bound to happen and it is with the SNP’s right to decide how and when it happens: they do not have the legal right. Local councils do not set monetary policy simply by virtue of their councillors promising to replace the Bank of England if elected.
- Scotland as the sole political unit: for all counties and unitary authorities that wish to remain in the United Kingdom, they should be allowed to. Why is it that the SNP dictates who stays and who goes? Maybe I should demand that the ancient Kingdom of Kent be allowed independence.
- Seamless terms of secession: the SNP may believe that Scotland would happily remain part of the EU, NATO, IMF, & WTO, enjoying a special relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. They would think that they are free to peak and choose political separatism without the risks of economic nationalism. There is no reason why Westminster could not hold Holyrood to ransom, if Holyrood is currently willing to do the reverse. There are wonderful reasons for being in the Union and being British, and there are also costs for abandoning it.
- Residents of Scotland have the only say: I see myself as British and not defined by the home countries of pre-1801 and 1707. If a Scots-only referendum happens, shouldn’t there be a UK-wide affirmatory referendum as well? If my country is to disappear, a commensurate say would be nice.
- Fiscal imbalance: one the SNP’s old chestnuts about Scotland’s economic possible independence. There is nothing wrong with fiscal transfers to citizens, but the SNP should not be able to hold a veil over people’s eyes.
The reason I believe that a stronger Unionist line needs to be taken is because of my own experience in Canada-Quebec separatism. Indeed, this current Coalition Government draws many parallels with the Canadian Government in the 1990s. Not only have Francis Maude et al. sought to learn from their deficit cutting programme, but in 1995, Quebec – Canada’s second-most populous predominantly francophone province almost voted to leave the Canadian federation, by 0.6 of a percentage point. The Canadian Liberal Government fought furiously during this third round of referenda to keep Canada together, against the separatist Parti Quebecois (notionally left-wing like the SNP), who had voted the provincial legislature to conduct a referendum. Although only advisory, the PQ ‘had a democratic mandate’ to hold Canada to ransom. Such was the near-destruction of Canada, the rancour the referendum debate had created, and the searing experience it left on both sides in Quebec, especially for the Canadian side of my family, that I have always been against Scottish devolution. It is also why Unionists needs to step up their game. Labour is increasingly an irrelevance in Scotland, which therefore leaves no credible strong voice in the Scottish Parliament. Alex Salmond and the SNP have created their own narrative and sense of fait accompli whilst the Unionism has remained mute.
It is right to put forward the positive aspects of the Union, but it is also correct to rebut Alex Salmond’s myths. At the head of his march to independence, both intellectually and politically, he is running rings around his opponents. Rather like Napoleon, he is masterful at gaining dominance of his political realm. To continue the historical parallel, Salmond’s return from exile in Mount Elba (read interregnum of his SNP leadership) has been allowed to continue for too long. Let us hope that at this next critical juncture, his opponents unit to ensure that he meets his Waterloo. Perhaps, he might then elect to be despatched to St Helena. Indeed, in
2015 2016 (the latest possible date for the next Scottish parliamentary elections), this would happily coincide with the bicentenary of Bonaparte’s arrival.