THIS election sees a battle between Tory Unionism and SNP nationalism. Other issues and parties will be marginalised. The nature of both have changed over the years. At one stage Unionism was the outward-looking doctrine and nationalism inward. Brexit has changed all that.
The Union came about through a desire for access to trade. Scotland sought to share in the wealth of the Americas and it was the price to be paid. In many ways Unionism was about allowing Scotland to participate on a world stage. With the threat of the English Navy, trade for Scotland could have been problematic to say the least, and new markets across the Atlantic cut off. Nationalism was much more parochial and risky. As it was, Scotland became an active participant in the Empire and thrived in many ways.
Now the positions have changed. The attitudes of those championing the causes have likewise altered. Post-Brexit the Unionists are for withdrawing Scotland from the largest trading bloc and becoming insular. The Empire has gone yet it’s the EU or other arrangements which offer peace and prosperity. It’s nationalism which offers an outward-looking society with access to trade, not a wing and prayer for a second empire.
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The progressive route for Britain post-empire was to be a major player in the EU where by size and experience it would punch well above its weight and in an organisation where the sum of the whole was considerably greater than the constituent parts. Instead it’s chosen splendid isolation. It’s not just trade that will be affected, social attitudes seem to be set to become at best highly parochial, if not highly unpleasant in aspects.
When Scottish Unionism was at its electoral height in the 1950s tt was unashamedly Scottish, though proud of its shared British identity. Conservative with a small “c” it delighted at what Scotland and the Scots had both contributed and gained from the world. It was of course a period when the Empire still existed – though unravelling –and when a shared British consciousness had been forged in world wars. Its Scottish heritage though wasn’t foreworn and some even chided those voters as the Church of Scotland at prayer.
Now there seems almost to be a desire to disavow any semblance of a Scottish identity and embrace a narrow British nationalism. It’s more akin to an old-fashioned Ulster Unionism that sought to deny any Irish influence. Moreover, the Conservative-lite positioning adopted under David Cameron has been jettisoned for the restored British Empire doctrine of Theresa May, as preached in her Easter sermon.
It’s ironic that it’s this narrow British nationalism which is also undermining the United Kingdom. As the Scottish Tories adopt a tone more redolent of Northern Ireland, Brexit is proving to be the best recruiting sergeant for a united Ireland. For younger people, it’s the Republic that has embraced same-sex marriage and diversity. Indeed, Empire 2 proponents seem already to have written off that union.
Moreover, it’s a narrow British nationalism neither sought nor appreciated by countless millions of English people who are now content in a multicultural land, as evidenced by the overwhelming Remain vote in London.
Now positions have been reversed and the risk factor also. It’s Scottish nationalism that offers an outward doctrine not just in trade but in enlightened attitudes. Unionism offers forlorn hopes of possible trade deals, growing marginalisation internationally and a narrow prejudiced social policy.
This vote’s about where Scotland is to stand in the world and the society you want it to have. Three hundred years ago, Unionism offered access to trade and brought the enlightenment. Now it’s closed borders and narrow minds.