• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Why I believe it makes little sense to unravel the Union

You'll have noticed that a question mark at the end of a newspaper headline usually means that the answer is "No".

Many are easy to spot: "Did aliens build Atlantis and the pyramids?"; "Can carrots cure cancer?"; "Does this pond hide a pike which eats local dogs?" Some are so daft that several journalists make a point of identifying and sharing the more idiotic instances of the phenomenon.

"Should Scotland be an independent country?" is not that sort of question, even for those of us who think the correct answer is No. True, if you construct questions to which the response, from Unionists, is going to be "No", it's silly then to complain that those replies are examples of "negativity".

But, sensibly, very few from the No camp have actually attempted to peddle the line that Scotland could not become an independent country. And most of us can identify an idiotic or objectionable case, even when made by someone who happens to be on our side on an issue (that would be you, George Galloway).

For the most part, however, those making the case for the Union have merely pointed out that potential benefits are no more certain than likely risks and identified problems which don't have answers or might be pitfalls.

The great achievement of the Yes campaign, by contrast, may be to have reversed the normal rules of political debate. Normally, when proposing a change, especially one as irreversible and seismic as this, the burden of proof rests with those advocating it.

Yet the tenor of the current debate is the opposite. When the UK Treasury is asked whether it would alter monetary policy to engage in a full currency union with what would just have become a foreign country, and answers "No", the First Minister, who is in the business of creating this foreign country, declares the answer is not just negativity, but "bluster".

If anyone dares to point out that independence is not necessarily the only or even the best way to get rid of a Tory government, or nuclear weapons, or a rotten banking sector, we are expected to acknowledge an airy wave of the hand as sufficient rebuttal.

Never mind that, in an independent Scotland, banking would be 1254% of GDP, as opposed to the 492% it is in the UK; unless, of course, the Scottish banks moved to London, as they might and, indeed, might have to under EU rules.

Ignore the fact that, within my lifetime, Scotland and the rest of the UK (bar London) have become culturally more similar than they used to be, for which we can blame the homogenising tendencies of Tesco, McDonalds, The X Factor and other global corporate forces, rather than the Union. It is possible to agree that the power of London distorts the political consensus and accentuates economic division without thinking that the solution is to cut ties with the rest of the UK.

If anything, the citizens of Glasgow have more in common with those of Liverpool or Sheffield than ever before, and less in common with those in rural communities. The same goes for sheep farmers in Wales and the Western Isles, and their relations with urban voters.

Of course there are arguments, good and bad, for both independence and the Union that rest upon the exact modus vivendi after the vote, whichever way it goes, and which, for both sides, are unknowable.

For my money, a currency union is unlikely but that doesn't mean Scotland couldn't use Sterling; just that it couldn't control it. I think there will be problems with EU membership but you could persuade me that it's worth betting they could be sorted out (especially since I wouldn't mind leaving).

If you want to leave the UK anyway, you can probably reconcile yourself to the view that reduced military capacity, or Tory administrations, or any other unintended consequences for England, Wales and Northern Ireland aren't your problem. I also think that some calculations and arguments about independence are basically unworthy.

I can understand the romantic appeal of nationalism and calling on the spirit of Burns and Scott (even if there's plenty in their writings to suggest that both of them would have voted No).

What I can't understand are trivial "rational" claims for or against independence; even if they could be proved true. If we could peep into the future and know with certainty whether we'd be £500 better or worse off, it would still strike me as a poor reason for voting for either side.

That's because, when it comes down to it, what really matters are the psychological factors, how we feel about getting a different passport, opening an embassy, and sticking up a border (even one with a large metaphorical welcome mat for rUK citizens).

This partly accounts for the impression that the momentum will always be with Nationalists. It stands to reason that, if you have once been converted to the case for independence, you are much less likely to be won back round to the status quo or even some improved version of it.

Advocates of independence also know that you can only keep asking the question, and need only to get the right answer once.

These factors account for their optimism and the level of certitude they feel, no matter the merits of the statement being made or the person making it. When Sir Sean Connery calls for independence, that is only right and proper, but when David Bowie or Kermit the Frog backs the Union, that's a disgrace, even though Kermit, and perhaps even Bowie, are much better actors.

Like many Scots, I've spent chunks of my working life in other parts of the UK. My wife grew up in England (though her father is from Saltcoats and most of her uncles, aunts and cousins live in Ayrshire).

Like many Scots, I've no hesitation about feeling Scottish first and finding things about the rest of Britain, from their brick buildings and their beer to their court system and their customs, slightly foreign, even after long acquaintance with them. Like many people throughout the UK, I often feel that those in the Westminster bubble don't understand the rest of us, and that more decisions should be taken locally.

One of the benefits of the Union, however, is that such feelings, which might be shared by a Cornishman in London, or a woman from Bradford in Wales, do not actually make those other citizens literally foreigners. The solution to perceived deficiencies in current politics need not be abandoning three centuries of many shared aims and values.

The Union is rather like an old jumper, perhaps not a perfect fit, occasionally itchy, with a few duff stitches and the odd hole.

But is it worth unravelling it because we might make something nicer with our share of the wool? I believe most of us still think the answer is No.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

227008