BY EFFIE DEANS
The British Government has already ruled out a second Scottish independence referendum during the course of the next Parliament. It was in the Conservative Party manifesto and the Conservative Party won a large majority. That should be the end of the matter. Constitutional matters are reserved. The Scottish Parliament should be getting on with devolved issues and using the increased powers it will be gaining as a result of Brexit. Instead we have headlines about the Union facing its greatest crisis. Why?
The reason is that apparently Pro UK journalists and politicians talk up next year’s election to the Scottish Parliament. They argue that if the SNP or the SNP combined with whatever other Pro Independence group emerges with a majority on a manifesto commitment asking for a second independence referendum then the British Government will be under great pressure to agree.
Would there be any pressure on the German Government to agree if the Saxony National Party (SNP) demanded a referendum on the independence it lost in the 19th century? No. There would be none. The reason is that Germany forbids referendums and does not allow secession. Would there be any pressure on the United States Government if the South Carolina National Party demanded a referendum on independence. Likewise, the United States Government would say no. Such referendums are forbidden in the United States and the United States fought a war in the 19th century to prevent secession and burned Columbia, the South Carolina capital, to the ground.
Why do Pro UK journalists think that Scotland must be granted a referendum each time the SNP asks for it? The reason is that they share the SNP’s assumption about Scotland. They agree with the SNP that Scotland is a country that Britain is made up of four nations and that each one has the right to pack up and leave if it pleases. But this is to concede the argument.
The nationalist argument that countries ought to be independent is unassailable. The only counter argument that we are “better together” depends on threats and bribery. If you once concede that Scotland is a country, then there is no answer to the question why should Scotland out of all the countries in the world not be independent. Why indeed? Does Scotland lack a quality that Montenegro has? Obviously not, but then again neither does Bavaria, Burgundy or Berwickshire. Almost everywhere could potentially be an independent country in a world where there are successful micro states like Singapore.
We can point out the disadvantages of Scottish independence. We can point out why it is a bad idea right now. We can truthfully say that the process of becoming independent would be difficult. It would. But if a Scottish nationalist says that decades of austerity would be worth it so long as Scotland became independent there is no answer. If South Sudan can become independent Scotland surely can.
It is for this reason that granting the first independence referendum was a mistake. There was no great desire for Scottish independence when I was a child. There wasn’t much when by mere chance the SNP gained a majority in the Scottish Parliament. The mere possibility of independence created modern nationalism in Scotland and turned it from being a fringe movement to being a mass movement that could win elections.
Nationalism is by the far the strongest and the best political card you can play. Historically it has been used to justify almost anything. After all people are willing to go to war for the independence of their country.
By conceding an independence referendum David Cameron conceded that Scotland was a country which had the right to independence. He might as well have given in right then.
The first referendum enflamed national feeling in Scotland to an extent that was unimaginable beforehand. A second referendum would enflame it still more.
We have a Scottish education system with its “Curriculum for independence” that is designed to churn out Scottish nationalists rather than educated Scots. We have a Scottish media and opposition that dare not criticise Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. We have a core of Scottish nationalists who do not care if Scotland was made worse off for decades by Scottish independence so long it was independent. They have used the fact that nationalism clouds minds and clear thinking to convince SNP voters that merely putting a cross in a box takes them to the promised land of equality and plenty. It is no longer politics. It is religion.
There is only one way to stop this.
Some English journalists suggest at the end of a piece on the SNP that just one more concession would do the trick. They sometimes call it one thing; they sometimes call it another. Why not try federalism?
There is nothing wrong with federalism. It works in Germany and the USA, but it doesn’t work against nationalism.
If nationalism plus devolution is toxic, then federalism plus nationalism would be equally toxic.
The only reason federalism works in the USA and Germany is that the parts do not think of themselves as countries. They do not think this because since the 19th century they have been told repeatedly by journalists, politicians and academics that they are not countries.
They did not always think this way. Each of the thirteen colonies had independence prior to forming the United States as did Vermont and Texas. The parts of Germany were likewise independent sovereign nation states long after Scotland had ceased to be one.
But whereas Germans and Americans think of their country as one nation indivisible we in Britain insist on thinking of the UK as something like the EU. But this is a category mistake. The Union was the marriage of England and Scotland. What resulted – Great Britain – is the child. The child is the result of the Union it is not itself a union. There are therefore logically no unionists, because there is no Union.
The UK is a unitary nation state. It for this reason we have devolution rather than federalism, but no one thinks of us as unitary.
Journalists and politicians insist on treating Scotland as separate. It is for this reason that there is the fiction that Scotland voted to stay in the EU. It didn’t. No one in the United States thinks it’s illegitimate that a state votes for Trump but gets Biden. No one thinks it is undemocratic if Saxony votes for the Social Democrats but ends up with Merkel.
Once you go down that route, you have already lost.
The task of the British Government is to explain carefully so that all journalists and politicians believe them that there will never be a second independence referendum and Scotland will never become independent. That we will use all our power and influence to prevent this happening.
Far from being undemocratic this is the only way democracy can work. If Scotland can secede because it doesn’t like the result of a UK vote, then logically Aberdeenshire can secede if it doesn’t like the result of a vote in Scotland. It’s no use saying that Aberdeenshire is not a country, neither was South Sudan until it became one and neither for that matter was the USA. Everywhere can potentially be independent, but if any part of a democracy can secede when it loses to the majority then democracy becomes impossible. This was the point Lincoln made in November 1863 at Gettysburg. It is the foundation principle of Western democracy.
Accepting the will of the majority when you lose is the essence of being democratic. This was the lesson that the United States learned in the 19th century. It didn’t matter if the South didn’t vote for Lincoln the United States can use all means to protect its territorial integrity.
Spain stopped Catalan nationalism in its tracks because it had learned the same lesson. Spain endured a few unpleasant headlines, but Spain will stay united forever. If Spain had followed the British approach it would already be split.
Never give anything to nationalism. Appeasement simply fuels it. The only way to get Scotland back to normality is for Scots to believe that independence is not going to happen – not now not ever – and that all their marching and agitation is going nowhere. At that point the SNP might just begin to use its devolved powers rather than continually fight for reserved powers.
There is only one way to stop Scottish nationalism. You say No and mean it. Everything else is the British disease of managing decline.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.