Posts Tagged ‘United Kingdom’

Let me take you back. It’s September 2014 and David Cameron faces the very real prospect of being the Prime Minister who oversaw the demise of the United Kingdom.

Scotland is to vote on independence and the polls are horrifyingly close. Cameron the hard-nosed Tory melts away and his soggy leftovers entreat the Scots to stay.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Scottish Government (www.flickr.com/photos/scottishgovernment)

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Scottish Government (www.flickr.com/photos/scottishgovernment)

Yet if a week is a long time in politics, imagine seven months. Those who agitated for independence lost the vote, but still the Tories have surrendered Scotland to them.

The Conservative campaign now takes it as given that the Scottish National Party will win the Caledonian constituencies, leaving Labour short of a majority on May 7.

What’s more, Cameron and co continue to insist that Labour will make a deal with the SNP, no matter how often or loudly Ed Miliband denies it.

This is partly about winning Tory votes in England – reaffirming unionist values on one hand, while implying Labour links with secessionists on the other.

Just as important though is the effect on Scottish voters. Every anti-Tory is being told you can vote SNP and get Labour just the same – no need to be tactical.

Under normal circumstances, anything that puts your rivals further from power is par for the course, but this loss is not a Conservative gain – the SNP get the spoils.

I won’t be voting for them, but I know Labour are the last levee against the nationalist flood and I would rather they ran the UK, than the Tories ran what’s left of it.

Besides, how woeful is the Conservative offering that they must endanger the union, not even to get a majority, but merely to keep its opponents from one?

Nor would a Tory majority, were it possible, protect our United Kingdom.

Only the blue team will hold a referendum on EU membership and only something like an EU exit would enable Nicola Sturgeon to push for another independence vote.

Plus there’s no doubt that a Conservative government would benefit the SNP – their independence rhetoric is laced with anti-Tory bluster which Labour would neutralise.

It’s doubtless true that the reds will take a beating in Scotland. Miliband may also go back on his word and jump into bed with the SNP, as his rivals say he will.

The political realities are what they are and merit discussion, but the Tory party and its supporters in the press have gone beyond this.

The Sun warns against the SNP in England, but rallies behind them in Scotland. After a debate, Conservative leaders praised Sturgeon for her performance.

This party wants to carve up our country. It deserves our contempt.

Make no mistake, the referendum has not settled the independence question “for a generation.” It has left a cut across the throat of our country – one that may not heal.

One people has started to think of itself as two. SNP membership has quadrupled and, in England, English votes for English laws and even a new Parliament are talked about.

With such a close result, nationalists will want the question asked again and again until they get the answer they want – it’s the neverendum.

Nationalism is the politics of division, left or right. Now is the time for our country to heal; to emphasise what unites us, not what separates us.

The election is done in a day. The United Kingdom must continue.

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Hadrian’s Wall. Photo: Quisnovus (www.flickr.com/photos/quisnovus)

In 1861, the two halves of the American republic went to war. In the increasingly enlightened northern states, political debate was turning against the practice of slavery. The largely agricultural south, meanwhile, had benefited hugely from the practice and was growing impatient with the perceived radicalism of northern politicians.

So, with the line in the sand drawn, the south declared itself a separate Confederate nation and began seizing government property within its boundaries. The crisis erupted into war with the attempted seizure of Fort Sumter in North Carolina. In the ensuing conflict, 600,000 were killed. The United States, however, survived.

Today, America is the world’s leading superpower and largest economy. But across the Atlantic, that same question is being asked: one country or two?

Whilst no threat of military conflict looms, some of the factors that tempted the Confederacy into secession are also tempting Scotland into independence. I talked about the political split in my last post, here, but I want to take a bit of time over the economic argument.

The Yes campaign is arguing (perhaps honestly, perhaps not) that an independent Scotland would be wealthier. When the Confederacy went its own way, it was to maintain the status quo rather than disrupt it, but no doubt part of the consideration was economic.

Now many have gone over the economic ups and downs of Scotland going it alone. I will not repeat that Yes leaders have failed to ensure a currency union, or even a currency. Others can chart the flight of capital southwards and say how empty scaremongering is having some very real effects on markets. Nor will I delve into how risky it is to base all your projections on the best case scenario.

Rather, let’s say (somewhat indulgently) that everything turns out exactly like the independence movement projects. Picture a world in which the Caledonian Xanadu is a reality, with every Scot wealthier than before. Even if the economics of independence works out – is it the right move?

Put it like this, had America fractured into two separate nations, would the combined strength of those countries (be it economically, militarily or politically) be as mighty as it is now? Even if a split had worked out for one side, does anyone really believe that two bickering, smaller Americas would pack the same punch on the world stage?

Why not look at those countries that have split? India fractured first into India and Pakistan, then Pakistan itself fractured into Pakistan and Bangladesh. As with America, there was no shortage of perceived difference or enmity in either of these splits – the first between Hindus and Muslims, the second between Muslims and Muslims.

What followed these divorces however were not harmonious, homogenous groups. Pakistan and India ended up at war with each other repeatedly and border tensions eventually went nuclear. Bangladesh meanwhile, endured two decades of hardship after the break.

Never mind the menu costs of setting up a new state, were the resources here spent posturing at, competing with and defending against each other anything other than squandered?

Alex Salmond says that if Scotland goes independent, England loses a surly lodger and gains a good neighbour. As a line, it’s about as convincing as ‘we can still be friends.’ Borders rarely resolve our differences, but they often accentuate them.

Already, the referendum has sown seeds of difference between two peoples who have been one for more than 300 years. Nationalist rhetoric has told many Scots that they’ve had three centuries of bum deals from the English, while spurned voices south of the border have started lashing out at northern neighbours as being something like ungrateful millstones.

Nor do the differences stop there. Scots have bitterly fought among themselves. Nationalists claim they were attacked outside a football game while Unionist MP Jim Murphy had to cancel his speaking tour after being called a terrorist, a quisling and a defender of paedophiles.

It goes deeper. As with Pakistan, the threat of further disunion lurks. The Shetlands Islands have their fair share of North Sea oil and by all accounts are largely against being part of an independent Scotland. With their strong historical links to Norway , there has been speculation that the islanders will either jump ship or even claim independence themselves.

If personal gain is a good reason to break up a nation, why shouldn’t they? Their share of the oil could probably make for quite a wealthy little state. At the risk of carrying over a theme from my last piece, why stop there?

Even the ceaselessly optimistic Yes campaign admits on its website that Scotland’s economic product per head is less than that of London. Why shouldn’t London throw up some borders too? We could end up with a return to the city-states of Ancient Greece, each unstable, each bullying the smaller settlements around it and each vulnerable to attack from foreign foes.

My point is that – when used as an argument for independence – economics (as with politics) doesn’t support Scotland’s case exclusively.

This spiel has been finished for a couple of days now, but whilst I’ve been mulling it over the referendum has caught up with me. All that remains to say now is that I hope I wake up tomorrow in a country that’s agreed it’s better in one piece.

The time is nearly upon us. In just a few short weeks, our cousins to the north will decide whether to put an end to the marriage between Scotland and England after more than 300 years.

Photo: Julien Carnot (www.flickr.com/photos/julien-carnot/)

Photo: Julien Carnot (www.flickr.com/photos/julien-carnot/)

As with any divorce, it would be messy. Squabbles have already broken out over subjects like joint-custody of our currency, who’s taking how much of the debt and of course there is the oil to consider – the flat screen TV of our divorce analogy.

But some marriages aren’t built to last and just because it’s painful, it doesn’t mean a split is the wrong move. Yes campaigners cite the prospect of political freedom from a country lurching wildly to the right. They cite (as you’d expect) the riches their share of the oil would bring – about 90 per cent of the total if it’s split geographically. They also cite statistics showing how – given that oil wealth – they’d be better off in terms of debt and indeed more economically productive than the rest of the UK.

I’ll try and cover all these points and others in coming articles, but first let’s broach the political argument.

On this point, the frustration can seem easy to understand. Scotland returns 59 parliamentarians to Westminster – just over 10 per cent of the total. With this amount, Scotland’s power only really comes into play in a close contest. If the rest of the UK is agreed on a government, the Caledonian constituencies can only top up or diminish a majority, not topple it. This is pretty much what happened in 2010, when the Conservatives lost all but one seat north of the border, but were still making decisions on behalf of the Scots.

Yet it’s worth remembering that Scotland is home to something like 5.3m people – only about eight per cent of the UK total and three million less than London alone. Scotland’s slice of the political pie is roughly what it deserves. Granted, the electorate there are overwhelmingly (almost uniformly) against the government, but this is not unique to Scotland.

In Wales – another part of the UK with its own national identity – only 10 per cent of the seats are Conservative. The minority is less resoundingly small, perhaps, but it still raises the question; should Wales should go its own way too? The electorate in Cornwall now has minority status on par with that of the Scots, Welsh and Irish. In 2005, it returned only Liberal Democrat MPs. Another nation, maybe? If we’re willing to compromise on the area having a distinct national identity, why not the whole deindustrialised north?

One reason why is because places like Scotland aren’t always as helplessly disenfranchised as the nationalists like to pretend. All parts of the UK are governed to some degree by councils of varying size and scope, each reflecting the political make-up of the area is covers. On top of these, Scotland has its own (nationalist run) parliament with control over – among other things – law and order, education, housing and social services. It also has control over NHS Scotland, which rather rubbishes the claim from the Yes campaigners that this service would be better protected as part of an independent nation.

Generally speaking, matters reserved for the national parliament are of national significance; immigration, foreign policy, the constitution, etc. Some may say that even in these matters, Westminster – being where it is – has no mandate in Scotland. After all, Scotland at its northernmost point (in the scarcely-populated Shetland Isles) is some 650 miles away from Westminster.

Compare this, however, with the situation in America, where the westernmost point on the mainland (excluding Alaska) is in Washington state – 2,435 miles from the nation’s capital in Washington DC. If we’re doing a fair comparison and counting island territory as well, then Guam is nearly 8,000 miles away.

The span of American authority covers places with far less historical connection to Washington than Scotland has to the UK. Puerto Rico was a spoil of war taken from Spain in 1898. On the mainland, Texas was once an independent nation – today it has the second largest economy in the union. Are these candidates for independence too?

Each American state may have its own provincial government, but – as with Scotland – decisions of national significance are taken at the national level, however far away. While I am beholden to an online distance calculator of questionable veracity for this data, the point stands that you could be a lot further away from your government than even the most remote citizens of Scotland are.

What I’m trying to say is – in political terms – Scotland’s need for independence is no greater than that of many other places. But, even if this is accepted (by a great many, it is not) there will still be those who feel Scotland would be better off on its own.

For these people, my final political argument would be where does the fracturing stop? The comparison with Cornwall made earlier wasn’t made to belittle Scotland’s claim to independence, but to establish that – on the basis of the political arguments in support of it – we could argue for the creation of innumerable statelets of ever-diminishing size. And why not? Is size the deciding factor? If so, where do we (arbitrarily) draw the line?

History shows that new borders tend to accentuate divisions rather than soften them and I mean to demonstrate it in my next piece on this subject. For now though, I’ll conclude by saying that a democratically elected government is never going to please everyone, but by this time next year, we may well be have one which will leave the Tory heartland dissatisfied.