Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Scots: pleased you gave us English another chance?

Two months ago today, voters in Scotland rejected a proposal for independence.

The British government, which had done nothing for two years to persuade the Scots to stay in the United Kingdom, had woken up a few weeks earlier to the fact that they might actually leave. David Cameron, who has all the energy of a sloth with none of the charm, at least had enough self-awareness not to travel to Scotland himself – he knew that would only strengthen the “Yes” campaign.

Instead, he turned to his much-maligned and beaten opponent of 2010, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and had him revitalise a fairly moribund “better together” campaign previously led without inspiration by Brown’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. To the surprise of those of us who had despaired over his lacklustre election drive four years ago, Brown managed to put some fire into the anti-independence cause.

He also managed to extract a promise from all the main leaders in the Westminster Parliament to grant more autonomy to Scotland, in the event of a “No” vote. This was published by the Labour-leaning Daily Record, which called it a “vow”, a name that stuck.

The “No’ camp ultimately won the vote, by a healthy but not conclusive margin of 55-45%.

Two months on, where do we stand?

Recent polls suggest that if the referendum were held now, the Scots would go. This seems far from unrelated to the fact that since 18 September, the English have done next to nothing about fulfilling the “vow”. With the immediate danger of Scottish secession fading, England has lost interest in the question, and moved on to consider other things, of more importance to it.

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Among other matters, this includes its own secession from the European Union. David Cameron has promised a referendum by 2017 on EU membership, and it’s perfectly possible that the Scots, having stayed in the Union with England, may be forced out of the Union with Europe by the overwhelming power of English votes. It needs to be remembered that the great problem in the UK isn’t Scottish, Welsh or even Irish nationalism, it’s the English variety: its English nationalism that poisons relations with the other nations of the UK, it’s English nationalism that poisons relations with the other nations of the EU.

Leaders at Westminster were exercised by the Scottish questions for all of several days after the referendum. David Cameron, who has all the leadership qualities of a lemming with none of the winsomeness, decided that more autonomy for Scotland could only come at the cost of preventing MPs for Scottish seats voting on English questions. Coincidentally, one might say by sheer fortunate happenstance, that would deprive Labour of any hope of a majority in Westminster for a long time to come.

It may not come as a shock to discover that Ed Miliband, for the Labour Party, didn’t agree. 

The discussion ran into the sands. Since then, Cameron, who has the attention span of a moth with none of the elegance, has done nothing to revive the debate. So the bad feeling festers, the Scots become more restive, and the anti-Union feelings grow.

If nothing is done to meet Scots aspirations and, in addition, if the UK comes out of the EU, the pressure for a new referendum in Scotland will become irresistible.

In September, I was on the side of the “No” vote, for preserving the Union. But if England treats the Scots that badly, if we let them down again after that last minute appeal to trust us and give us one last chance, next time I’ll have to back independence. After the last chance, you don’t deserve another. 

Then we might discover how inconclusive a 55-45 margin really is. We might be forced to watch the Scots heading for the door. And I, for one, will have to admit they
’re right to go.

To be honest, I’ll probably not be far behind myself.


Anonymous said...

I'd probably votes YES next time round.


David Beeson said...

Given the English response this time, I wouldn't blame you