Cutting off the Branch on Which She Sits

BY EFFIE DEANS

When I read that Nicola Sturgeon wants to chop off the bottom of all the classroom doors in Scotland to increase ventilation my first thought was why don’t they open the windows instead? Decades from now as people wander through Scottish schools with doors like no others in the world, they might be curious about the phenomenon of the Scottish door. It locks, but small people or at least children can crawl through the bottom. Perhaps this was a Scottish way of trying to redistribute wealth. Each word a teacher spoke could be heard from the corridor outside. Perhaps this was a way to make sure nothing subversive was being taught, such as that the miracles needed for the beatification of the blessed Nicola were not genuine. But while Scottish doors let in fire through the bottom, the SNP continued to tell visitors to Scotland about the benefits of Scottish fire doors, which although failing to stop the spread of fire did let those trapped escape. They were clearly superior to English doors.

But it is not so much the bottom of the doors that Sturgeon is chopping off as the branch on which Scotland is sitting.

The SNP continues to insist that everything would go on exactly the same after independence as now.

We would still watch the BBC and English licence fee payers would still pay for TV channels in Gaelic even though the vocabulary of 99% of Scottish independence supporters extends no further than Saor Alba.

The British armed forces would still protect us even though there would no longer be any such thing as being British.

We would still be able to live and work anywhere in the Former UK and we would still be able to claim benefits. Our pensions would be paid by former UK taxpayers, but Scottish taxpayers would have no liability to pay the pensions of anyone in England.

We would be able to access NHS treatment anywhere we wanted, even though the word National in NHS would no longer refer to the state that created it, but rather to two states which now had an international relationship to each other.

We would still be able to spend pounds Sterling and we would not even notice that there was no longer a currency union between England and Scotland. Indeed, we would not notice the fact that we had ceased to live in the same state as people in London, Cardiff and Belfast.

We would continue to be British citizens for as long as we wanted even if we also had Scottish passports, but British citizens would not be able to become Scottish citizens unless they were born in Scotland, had Scottish relatives or had lived here.

The SNP is arguing in essence that Scotland could be independent, while remaining a part of the UK. It is for this reason that it is cutting off the branch upon which it is sitting, because it is unaware that the UK is the branch connected to the trunk and with deep roots going back centuries. When you try to make your branch independent from the tree it has an unfortunate consequence for those sitting on it. It also has an unfortunate consequence for the tree.

I keep coming across English nationalists who claim that they would look forward to Scotland’s departure. But what would you call your country after Scottish independence? It couldn’t be called England unless you kick out Wales and Northern Ireland, nor could it be called the United Kingdom. It would be anything but united. It could not be called Great Britain, because Great Britain includes Scotland. It would have to be called The Disunited Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland.

At the moment the UK is a bit of a laughing stock internationally because we are more bothered about birthday parties in Downing Street than fighting a war on two fronts with China threatening Taiwan and Russia threatening Ukraine. Mr Putin and Mr Xi therefore don’t take us very seriously. But they would take us still less seriously if we became the Former UK and so would everybody else. Oh, but it would be worth it, you say, just to say good riddance to the annoying Scots and that bossy little woman. Really, partitioning our small island would be worth it just for that.

But if other parts of the UK would lose out from the breakup of our country, Scotland would lose out more, because the whole SNP argument is really that cutting off the bottom of a door won’t change its nature as a door, nor will cutting off a branch on which we are sitting lead to us falling to the ground.

Most Scots like those aspects of being a part of the UK such as spending pounds and getting pensions guaranteed by the Treasury. If we thought we were going to lose the right to live and work in England and receive benefits there we wouldn’t vote for independence. This is why the SNP keeps telling us that everything we like about the UK would continue after independence.

But the UK would be no more after independence. Once you unstitch Scotland who knows where you end up. The threads that held us together would have unravelled. So, everything that all of us have now that is due to our being part of the UK, would become contingent on what the Former UK decided and what Scotland decided in its divorce settlement.

It may well be that the governments of these two states might allow some reciprocal arrangements, but they could equally decide not to do so. There would be shared assets and liabilities, but how these were shared would not be as the SNP thinks that Scotland would get all of the assets and none of the liabilities. If for instance Scotland refused a population share of UK national debt, it could not reasonably expect that the Former UK Government would be generous enough to continue to pay the pensions of those Scots who had paid taxes while living in the UK. What would Scotland do if a future Former UK government simply refused? Invade with claymores only to turn back at Derby.

The breakup of the UK might be amicable in which case some of the SNP wishlist might be granted, but it could equally be as hostile as Brexit. We now have very few of the rights that we previously had as citizens of the EU. We cannot live and work in the EU without permission, we cannot access most of the services that people from EU member states can. The EU was as difficult as it could be in the divorce negotiations. It used its greater population and power to demand as hard a bargain as it could, including treating a part of our territory (Northern Ireland) as if it still remained part of the EU. If the EU can do that to the UK, then the Former UK could do likewise to Scotland. After all, it would still have ten times our population.

The more fanatical Scottish separatist would revel in descending through the air on his free branch crying Saor Alba, but it might be more than his elbow that got hurt when he hit the ground. He might delight in eating skirlie with root vegetables in a draughty croft, but the vast majority of Scots tempted by the idea of independence are only tempted insofar as the SNP can persuade them that what they like about living in UK would continue after cutting off the branch.

But we would be not only cutting off the branch but cutting down the tree digging up its roots and pouring weed killer in the hole. It might seem mad to cut off the bottom of all the doors in schools when you can just open the windows, but it looks positively sane compared to destroying the tree on whose branches every British citizen sits. That is mere vandalism.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.