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Scottish Parliament: Feverous Nationalism Held at Bay – For Now

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It doesn’t look like The Scottish National Party’s plans to hold a referendum in 2010 and let Scots decide whether or not to split from England and the United Kingdom are going to become a reality — despite their impressive victory in the Scottish elections. Nobody knows whether the estimated 140,000 votes being scrapped because they were improperly filled out or otherwise inadmissible would have changed the overall result. I for one don’t want to see an independent Scotland. After all, if something ain’t broke don’t fix it, so I am rather glad hopes of such a vote are at least postponed.

My reasoning for fearing independence is not based solely on that old proverb, but on listening to countless debates in the run up to both the 2003 and the recent election, where Labour and other anti-independence MP’s made the nationalist policies sound unworkable and the ministers foolish.

Also, though I can not speak for all nationalists, all the people I have spoken to who are in favour of an independent Scotland don’t care whether the policies of the SNP are workable, or whether the Scottish economy can survive alone, or that the EU might reject our application for membership, or if the whole nation collapses into anarchy and poverty — as long as it’s independent chaos.

Their desire for an independent Scotland has been passed down through the generations, and comes from a Braveheart-like patriotism, mistrust of English rule and more often than not hatred for the — stereotypical — “English”. Don’t get me wrong, if I lived in Scotland during those times I would have been at Wallace’s right shoulder with whatever I could lay my hands on as a weapon, but times have changed. My dad is English and my mum Scottish so I have relations on both sides, I have also lived on both sides of the border.

In England, when Scotland is playing in the football World Cup qualifiers on pub TVs, most of the English people in the pub are supporting Scotland, as part of the U.K.. The same goes when Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland or Wales are playing. Obviously this would change in the later stages if one of the other sides were competing for the same place as England. But in Scotland, if England is playing on pub TVs, there is raucous support for whatever side is against England and abuse is hurled at the English side from the first game — even after Scotland is out of the competition.

It was the same when I moved back to Scotland from England and went to a Scottish primary school, complete with the strong Yorkshire accent I had picked up. There was one boy who openly agreed with me that we should support all teams from the U.K. in the world cup, including England — all the rest said they would support any team but England. I have lived in Scotland for most of my life including currently, but I am happy to be part of the United Kingdom and enjoy easy access and shared currencies when visiting relations over the border — and all the other advantages unity brings. So, when I heard that the SNP had won the most seats in the recent election I was decidedly worried.

Thankfully, Scotland’s electoral system is proportional representation. So, although the SNP had the most seats outright with 47 out of 129, 20 more than 2003 and one more than Labour with 46, with the Conservatives only managing 17, the SNP needed to form a coalition with one of the other parties with 18 seats or more. A coalition was quickly agreed between the SNP and Scotland’s other pro-independence party — the Green party –, who had secured two seats in the election. But the SNP needed another 16 to form a majority government.

The SNP began to approach the Liberal Democrats with 16 seats, seeking a coalition with them, which would have given the SNP a majority government by 1 seat. However, the SNP wanted the coalition on the grounds that the independence referendum was guaranteed. The Lib Dem’s said they would not meet to discuss such a coalition unless the SNP dropped the plans for the independence referendum. As the SNP attempted to lure the Lib Dem’s to the table with offers to be flexible over the issue, refusing outright to drop the policy before talks were held, all hopes fizzled out.

The SNP has retired — on the surface quite happily — to set up a minority government with the Greens.

As a minority, the SNP would be presenting the plan for a referendum to the house, almost guaranteed to get 49 votes for and 80 against. Suffice to say an independence referendum won’t be held anytime soon. But given the growth of the SNP’s vote, as feverous nationalism is passed down through generations of families growing larger and living longer, I fear that the longer the other parties can hold the SNP’s plans at bay, the more likely that Scotland will become independent if a vote is ever held.

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About Liam Bailey

  • Dr Dreadful

    I suspect that with a lot of Scots it’s not so much undiluted patriotism as it is envy of the Irish: the idea that an independent Scotland, no longer subject to Westminster economic policy, could become the new Celtic Tiger.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Liam,

    The issues that devolution revolve around in the UK have interested me for some time and it is a real pleasure to read an article on the subject by a fellow who has lived in both England and Scotland.

    I understand clearly the politics of proportional representation, and why there might not be a referendum in Scotland on independence. And I understand why you are against independence. My question is this.

    Wouldn’t the government of the UK be rushing in troops to quell an independent Scotland? How many centuries and how many wars did the English fight to force Scotland under their thumb? They would let the whole of Caledonia walk out without a fight?

  • STM

    I can tell you with absolute certainty that the vast majority of Scots do NOT want to break up the UK. A couple of my friends, normally solid Labour voters, have told me they and many others they know voted SNP for one reason and one reason only – as a protest against Tony Blair’s policies, not because they wish to split from England after so many years of shared history.

    A small proportion of Scots want an independent Scotland, most don’t. Most Scots too are aware that any referendum on that score would likely fail. Let’s not get too carried away here.

    Should the SNP push the envelope, it’s likely they’ll spend a long time in the political wilderness.

  • http://potluck-leejay.blogspot.com Liam Bailey

    Ruvy:

    The history of patriotic Scots trying to rid themselves of the hateful and corrupt rule of the English monarchy and all their self-serving laws is long and very-very bloody. But as I said in the article, times have changed.

    Tony Blair’s devolution gave Scotland its own parliament, I’m sure at the time he was aware that if Scots wanted independence, their own parliament would eventually give them the power to achieve it. There is no way that Westminster would ever mobilize troops to quell Scottish nationalism. Even if they wanted to, after years of friendship and families inter-mingling it would likely cause an uprising.

    At any rate, there are many Scottish regiments now, with proud reputations as great warriors — quite willing and capable of defending Scotland if neccesary. But it will never happen.

    I understand that, living in Israel you will have gotten used to your government mobilizing the full force of the military to quell the ideas of civil liberty and free will, but there is no way that England and Scotland will ever again fight a battle-field war — it is a ludicrous suggestion.

    As in Northern Ireland, where it looks like those in the north are airing towards unification with the economically vibrant republic in the south, if Scotland chooses independence then it will be so.

    Now: STM:

    Just like I couldn’t speak for all of Scotland in my article, I wonder how you can speak for everyone in Scotland “with absolute certainty”?

    Actually, according to opinion polls one third of Scots favours independence, and as I said their beliefs tend to go down through generations of families growing larger and living longer. So, it is logical that the number favouring independence will continue to rise — is it not?

    And FYI: The SNP are pushing the envelope, they have been pushing independence since they started their political career, most of which has been spent in the political wilderness. Their vote has been increasing evey election, even before there were any such protests against Blair’s policies.

  • STM

    Yeah, Liam, try reading my post again. I didn’t say all Scots, I said the majority of Scots, which is what the polls say too (as you also point out). I’ve lived in Scotland too, Liam, in Ayr and Troon for some time.

    The Labour Party had a very solid majority in the Scottish parliament previously, now whittled down heavily. If most of the professional political pundits in Britain say it’s a backlash against Blair, who am I going to believe mate – them or you?

  • http://potluck-leejay.blogspot.com Liam Bailey

    I am not denying that there is a backlash against Blair, only pointing out that the vote for the SNP has been in an upward trend long before there was any reason to hate Blair’s policies. I can’t see that the backlash against a PM already on his way out, would make up enough votes to take an additional twenty seats.

    And I see you still haven’t denied my logic about growing nationalist families living longer, meaning more generations are voting concurrently, and how this makes an independent Scotland more likely in the future.

    What reports and what pundits are talking about the back-lash against Blair. Scottish or English ones?

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Liam, you clearly haven’t been listening to enough Proclaimers songs. You need to get your nationalism on.

    Here in the US a lot of Scots-descended Americans remember the genocidal policies which resulted in our ancestors’ removal to this (then) wilderness, and in our own quiet way we’re as much for Scottish nationalism as those crazy Irishmen in Boston are for the ending of the partitioning there.

    As for the SNP, I’ve always had the impression they’d just as soon not be in the EU at all, an attitude which is pretty understandable. They may be crazy, but I sure would like to see an independent Scotland which didn’t bend a knee to England or the EU. It would make life more entertaining if nothing else.

    Dave

  • Alec

    Liam- Very interesting stuff. There is a Scottish comedian here, Craig Ferguson, whose humor at times unleashes an unvarnished resentment of England and its past domination of Scotland. I am not sure that an independent Scotland would collapse into poverty and anarchy, and note that a great deal of the UK’s rise to prominence, from the age of sail through the Industrial Revolution, was due in part to the contributions of its Scottish citizens.

    On the other hand, I also find it interesting to note that according to the recent Sunday Times Rich List, there is only one Scots-born billionaire and that the assets of the richest 100 Scots totals 16.9 billion pounds, while there are a number of Irish billionaires and the wealth of the 250 richest Irish totals more than 44 billion pounds. Putting this in context, there are a total of 68 billionaires in the UK, and the total wealth of the 1,000 richest Britons exceeds 360 billion pounds, so by any standard an independent Scotland would have to experience some serious growth to become a true Gaelic tiger.

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Alec, the argument could be made that the reason the Irish are doing so well is that they got very clever with their economy once they were free of British rule. Scotland might go through the same sort of process.

    As for Scots billionaires, if you count in those of Scots descent you suddenly get an awful lot of them, including the Walton and Forbes families, Rupert Murdoch and quite a few others. Hasn’t Murdoch been known to gad about in a kilt?

    Dave

  • STM

    Liam wrote: “I am not denying that there is a backlash against Blair, only pointing out that the vote for the SNP has been in an upward trend long before there was any reason to hate Blair’s policies. I can’t see that the backlash against a PM already on his way out, would make up enough votes to take an additional twenty seats.”

    A swing of that magnitude (which has only given the SNP a majority of one seat, BTW) is almost always the result of a backlash among traditional voters for one party, who temporarily switch allegiences to another in protest. Check out the Scottish Tory and Liberal votes – they are pissweak. The big swing to the SNP comes from Labour.

    Otherwise, the status quo is nearly always maintained, or close to it, with swings of a few seats. It wasn’t the rout predicted for Labour, either in the Scots assembly, the Welsh assembly or the local government elections in England. And pundits from across Britain, Liam, not just England.

    And mate, when you say the Scots nationalist movement has been growing, it’s worth noting that they’ve only had a Scottish parly for a short time, and even then it’s been dominated by Labour. My guess, it will continue to be dominated by Labour once ther dust settles on the Blair era.

  • STM

    “But in Scotland, if England is playing on pub TVs, there is raucous support for whatever side is against England and abuse is hurled at the English side from the first game — even after Scotland is out of the competition”.

    That’s the same everywhere Liam … when I’m watching the rugby, I only cheer for three teams: Australia; whoever is playing England, and whoever is playing South Africa (unless it’s England).

  • Alec

    Dave – Ireland was long hobbled by the baneful influence of a kind of knock-off socialism, the influence of the Catholic church, and the challenge of crime bosses and some Irish nationalists long after its nominal independence from Great Britain, so it is too simple to attribute its current prosperity to its independence from the UK.

    British political and economic history is fiendishly complex. For example, it is noteworthy that although the monarchy fell to a Scot, James, after the death of Elizabeth I, Scotland itself did not particularly prosper under the deal, nor did the sphere of influence move from London to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Ironically, today both the current prime minister his likely successor are Scots (Tony Blair, born and educated in Scotland, and Gordon Brown), while I do not think that Irish ancestry has been significantly represented in past monarchs or prime minsters.

    I don’t think it is particularly meaningful to lump together people of Scots descent when talking about the present wealth concentrated in Scotland. It would be like adding the wealth of Irish Americans to the GDP of Ireland.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Ireland was long hobbled by the baneful influence of a kind of knock-off socialism, the influence of the Catholic church, and the challenge of crime bosses and some Irish nationalists

    Also by:
    1. The Troubles
    2. Some kind of spell which seemed to fall on a succession of taoisigh as soon as they walked into Dublin Castle which told them “must… be… corrupt…”

  • STM

    Also, and I hate to say it being half-Irish, but Ireland’s economic wellbeing has long been tied to that of it’s bigger, closest neighbour. In recent times, that’s been less the case with Ireland’s economy becoming more tigerish, but for all their 21st century cultural differences – read: hardly any – you’d never know which country you were in sometimes if you walked around with your fingers stuck in your ears. That’s really the tragedy of what’s gone on up north, and speaks volumes for societies like Australia and America where differences of religion have largely taken a back seat to tolerance in the modern era.

  • Dr Dreadful

    you’d never know which country you were in sometimes if you walked around with your fingers stuck in your ears.

    Oh, you know, Stan. Apart from Dublin, which could easily be a good-sized English provincial city, the landscape, the people… it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly, but… everything’s just different.

    But I can understand how that might be harder to perceive for someone who didn’t grow up in the English landscape. Kind of like me trying to distinguish between the Aussie and Kiwi accents!

  • STM

    Yes, I know you can really tell the difference. I’m just trying to make a point Doc. It WAS Dublin I was thinking of here. I actually went to school in England for a few years, so I know the English and Irish landscapes are quite different. It’s not the landscapes I’m talking about though – it’s 21st century culture, and they look pretty similar in the cities these days, across most of Britain and Ireland.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Ah, but Ireland always will be Ireland, so it will. I was just thinking of a joke our Irish tour guide told us, somewhere in the wilds of County Kilkenny:

    Q: Why do Irishmen wear two condoms?
    A: To be sure, to be sure.