The Union: A Journey into the Unknown

Politicians, commentators and posters have in recent months urged Unionists to make their positive case for the Union. Although some of us are rapidly coming to the conclusion there is no such case to be made, we nevertheless expect our Unionist friends to attempt to spin together crumbs to feed to the faithful.

It’s amazing what deliberations time off, or perhaps immobility due to over-indulgence on the food front, fuelled by a higher alcohol content in the blood, can give rise to. Anyway, over the festive season, I began to wonder about this Union we want defined, its benefits, its shared values. And after some late night research, it dawned on me that I was unclear on exactly what Union our Unionists want to preserve. Is this uncertainty why they too are having trouble defining it?

There has been much talk recently about the gap in political thinking and direction opening up between Scotland and England. How true is that, I wondered? Is it a fiction of Nationalist imagination, anxious to heap reason upon reason for independence? And if it is true, are the Unionists conniving to ensure Scotland remains hitched to England’s green and pleasant land as it was in the relatively near past, as it appears to be now, or as it threatens to be in the future?

Granted my research, such as it is, has been limited to comments on articles in the Guardian, which makes a welcome change from our local rags, but these have provided a surprise to someone who has been more wrapped of late in Scotland’s hopeful future than what is unfolding south of the border. If Scotland has changed since 2007, then so has England, and the signs are that further change is brewing in its cauldron, and not necessarily changes that will be brought about through the ballot box.

This may appear a fanciful remark, but deep unrest is simmering, thickening with bile, beneath the surface of English society. This is having the effect of rendering people more sympathetic to and understanding of aspirations in Scotland for independence. England is not a united country. The north feels deeply alienated from the south and from London, many posters asking if come independence the Scottish border can be moved a hundred or so miles south as many northerners feel a greater affinity with the Scots than the southern English.

Much of the remainder of England feels ignored by London and the knowledge of London receiving the lion’s share of public finance for infrastructure and prestige projects, such as the Olympics, rubs salt into the wounds of ordinary people struggling under Westminster government imposed cuts. London and the South East will do very nicely, most agree, out of both the Olympics and the Royal Diamond Jubilee, but an overwhelming feeling comes across that the rest of Britain (meaning England) will continue struggling, feeling ever more isolated from the seat of power.

“All in this together” cuts no ice. Further riots are predicted during the summer, perhaps even during the Games, with the military rolled out to deal with them, and I came across one ominous prediction of tragedy unfurling in London during the Games. A horrific thought, but it does provide some insight into the English situation.

Suggestions are being mooted that London should be floated offshore, that it should become a city state and leave the rest of the UK to get on with living, possibly under a federal system, unskewed by the City. Occasionally Scotland gets a mention, but the impression dribbling out is that most posters expect Scotland to go its own way and good luck to it.

An elected dictatorship gets numerous outings as a description of the Westminster government. Either that or it being described as a hopeless government propped up by a hopeless bunch of opportunists. Not a democracy, but a government run by a small but influential clique of Bullingdon Boys in hock to bankers and financiers.

The lack of democratic accountability irks. The coalition government pleases neither the Tories, who see Lib Dems as hampering the true blue direction they hanker after, nor the Lib Dems who cower at their leaders’ caving in on totemic issues, and wonder how much more they will require to ditch without even the hope of the end justifying the means. The Lib Dems know they are mince and come the next election they face annihilation both north and south of the border.

Then there’s the Labour Party floundering around in some hot spring, gushing aimlessly into the air. We need a return to good old right/left politics advocate some. Yet the knowledge that Labour has lost all its left wing credentials and bias, and ditched its candidates who didn’t support New Labour to ensure a generation of on-message Blairite MPs, prompts the question of what party would promote the radical leftward leaning policies wanted or needed.

Labour is still viewed, not as an opposition, but as part of the Neoliberal problem, owned by the top 1%, deaf and blind to the other 99% of the population. In England, a Labour recovery under Ed Miliband, who is regarded as having the wrong image and being ineffectual into the bargain, can only be glimpsed through a telescope, a wavering dot in the far distance.

There is much comment on the failure of Neoliberalism over the last 30 years, few believing this has produced more efficient government or improved the economic health of the nation. This frustration and disillusion is spawning an appetite for a change of direction, with the political system increasingly regarded as failing England badly. But there is little expectation of any change happening in the near future, or suggestions on how it could be brought about. So detestation of government, anger, disillusion, depression even hopelessness and despair rule.

Some are blaming the first past the post electoral system for their woes, advocating that if anything is going to change the democratic deficit must be addressed. Is guilt, too, lurking there? An unadmitted shame at being conned in the AV referendum by the very politicians many are now railing against?

Then there are the mentions of revolution, with more than the odd handful of posters certain that nothing short of this will save dear old England. Bring it on, they say.

Compare this situation with Scotland, which always retained deep reservations about the New Labour project, where we have a government with an overwhelming majority being seen as having the good of Scots at its heart, a recent opinion poll showing 51% support for the SNP and a First Minister highly regarded by Scots voters and lauded by institutions around the UK and the world. Cameron, on the other hand, threw a tantrum, showing himself as the difficult boy of the European class, and was relegated to the corner with the dunce’s cap.

We are test driving a number of PR systems which have brought about a radical shift in politics, an SNP government and councils, with the Labour Party having lost its hegemony in local government following the loss of its soul. Perhaps our systems aren’t perfect, but they do make an attempt to reflect the preferences and feelings of Scots. We have a government with ambition and vision driven by the desire to see all those living in Scotland fulfil their potential and everyone living here can feel they have a part to play in it, can feel proud and hopeful of the future.

So, back to the need for the Unionists to portray a positive case for the retention of the Union. My research was limited. Nevertheless it opened my eyes to a situation which has developed beneath my radar. Our dear friends in the BBC haven’t given it much airtime either. Scotland long ago dismissed the Tories. The Lib Dems signed their own death warrant when they went into coalition. Labour is either immersed in digging a hole to Australia, or else is floundering, unable to portray itself as a party with any stance worth voting for. If Labour in England is in deep shit, the likelihood of Labour in Scotland experiencing any kind of wondrous revival prior to a referendum is pretty close to zero. Though Labour activists are still capable of making a nuisance of themselves with their twisted nonsense.

Divergence between Scotland and England is not a Nationalist fantasy but a fact. The chasms are obvious, and growing. Against this background a positive case for the Union is no longer enough. We must now demand from the Unionists a definition of the Union they wish Scotland to belong to. Like Scotland, England too has changed, in its case moving further away into the isolationism of a Tory fiefdom where many feel disenfranchised and left to wither on the sidelines.

Come our referendum, Scots need to be aware their choice is not just between independence and the Union as it was pre 2007 in all its rosy nostalgia, the choice is now between independence and a union with a New England with which we have even less in common. The Unionists must be asked to define that new union and asked for a roadmap of where it might be headed.

It is possibly more of a leap of faith, a journey into the unknown, continuing with an England that is changing dramatically than it is opting to follow a well-trodden path of nations to independence.


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  1. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    Excellent analysis.

  2. Sleekit says:

    “Occasionally Scotland gets a mention, but the impression dribbling out is that most posters expect Scotland to go its own way and good luck to it.”

    I’m afraid that despite thinking that your article is exellent, I have to disagree with this point. If you would care to visit the Guardian today you will see on no less than 5 current threads a total lack of respect to Scotland and the Scottish people.

    We are being called Subsidy Junkies, Sweaties, Incapable of running our own affairs. This is then exaserbated by the comments being posted that wish ruination on Scotland upon independence, threaten to hijack our resources, threaten to disrupt our country if it was independent.

    This vicious underbelly is getting more and more vocal and despite the fact that the language used would be considered racist if used against another ethnic group it is not moderated off as inappropriate, so accepted is “Jock Bashing”.

    Its not just the Guardian (Although it was slightly shocking to see it there). Try going on to the Telegraph and making your way to an Alan Cochran Column or go to the Daily Mail and search for Scottish Stories (Many of which either do not end up in their Scottish editions, or are altered substantially from the English edition).

    The well wishes you speak of are usually from the Northern English or the Cornish (Who are also in the process of trying to gain further autonomy).

    The Union is not fracturing, it is fractured.

    1. Castle Rock says:

      I agree. I’ve been stating for some time that while a handful of pro independence supporters make inappropriate comments, the offensive and derogatory comments from the unionists in Scotland is much more prevalent but this seems to get ignored andor overlooked. While the standard of debate is better in the Guardian compared to the Telegraph and Daily Mail, some of the comments are still way beyond the pale.

      I generally challenge the pro independence supporters when they do make offensive comments but I’ve yet to see anyone challenge the unionists in this country or pick up on the ‘jock bashing’ commentators in the English press. There seems to be an acceptance that it’s okay to ‘bash the jocks’ but if the same comments were directed at any other nation or race then…

      While political awareness in Scotland has come on leaps and bounds over recent years it seems to be massively regressing in England. Not too sure how much this was down to the politics and policies of New Labour (and the Tories before them) but for whatever the reasons I agree with the article that the political and cultural divergence between Scotland and England has now turned into a chasm.

  3. allymax says:

    “We have a government with ambition and vision driven by the desire to see all those living in Scotland fulfil their potential and everyone living here can feel they have a part to play in it, can feel proud and hopeful of the future.”

    How very true Dorothy Bruce; I think that’s the invisible elephant in the room, that we all believe that Democracy is the end result of our participation in this representative democracy, but the truth is far different, we are led as lambs to the slaughter; as drones of the capitalist machine, to be the commodities of The City of London’s trading. To be traded as a debt, and a surplus, at the same time. A debt that we are factored-in as a dependency of the capitalist system, and a surplus to factored-out of their democratic system of power; they tell us how, why, when and where to vote, and to work, while disenfranchising and enslaving us, all at the same time telling us they love us. Commodities Dorothy, that’s what we’ve become to Westminster and it’s apocalypse, The City of London plc.

    I’m well aware that the North of England peoples feel disenfranchised, but they don’t know why because they are told they are English. We feel enslaved, but we know why, we’re Scottish. We’re shackled to a Marxist capitalist entity, whose whole purpose is not to function as a government of, for, and by the people, but for its own capitalist ends.

    As for those above who disparage your article, I can only say they don’t understand Westminster’s psychological warfare; that a promise of something good, ‘Education, Education, Education’, ‘No More Boom and Bust’, and all other ‘caring’ soundbites like these, are actually a counterproductive lie, that, in-fact, will produce the complete opposite of what Westminster tells us it will.

    I like your article; it shows a maturity and newness of thinking. Something Scotland has been lacking for a long long time; being shackled to the msm Westminster propaganda machine is soul destroying, and unfortunately, it has destroyed some soul’s ability to see what’s actually happening. And I do feel sorry for the people of North England, unless they make the change for themselves, I don’t see Westminster trying to change at all. As for the Unionist politicians in Scotland, they have no case to make; all they are after is their own self-worth of money and titles; bought & sold for Westminster gold. You see, Scottish Labour understand the Westminster system; they ‘get it’. They will happily sell all our souls to Westminster for their own gain. There’s absolutely nothing good in any of the Unionist party’s in Scotland, they’re all out for there own gain; nothing for us at all. When in deed has Westminster ever given two Moloch hoots for us?

  4. I have just come here from posting on the Independent site and agree wholly with the sentiments expressed by the author.

    I would go further and suggest the question of Independence has now moved on from Union bad / Independence good in Scotland to a growing understanding of the sort of Scotland we are increasingly at home with and wish for succeeding generations.

    The debate in Scotland is moving on. The issue is increasingly; if you want a social democratic Scotland which looks after all its people to create the maximum opportunity for all, the only option is independence as any of the other options leave you at the mercy of a neo-liberal Westminster intent on self preservation of itself at the cost of the rest of the UK – and dei’l tak the hindmost.

  5. vronsky says:

    My copy of the model constitution arrived today (from Luath publishers – see links on earlier threads). I hope Bella can cut some space for a discussion of this.
    You do a nice simple statement of the position. I don’t think the English media understand what is happening in Scotland – but then they appear not to understand anything that is happening anywhere. I often wonder if they’re dumb, or just acting dumb. And then I wonder if those things are different. Orwell famously asked if the English ruling class were wicked, or merely stupid. Are those cases effectively different?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Bella has big plans for constitutional discussion. Because there are problems with the Luath publication. Particularly if you read the blurb about the author?

      1. vronsky says:

        Not had time yet – thanks for the warning.

      2. vronsky says:

        OK, had a quick glance at the covers. It seems to be endorsed by the right-wing unionist Gerry Hassan. Bad vibe indeed.

  6. Sometimes I wonder whether this is about Scottishness, or the belief that by being independent we can create a better society. I wonder about England and how the people of the North are almost as far away from the SE as we are geographically and in their outlook on life/society. Cameron and co are all about a tiny, privileged wealthy cliquey part of the UK controlling the rest. Why do we all tolerate it? I hope the Scottish ‘rebellion’ inspires English people to do the same.

    Sadly Labour are a limp pathetic shadow of the party that was led by John Smith.

    The problem is neo-liberalism which has failed us by almost every standard that one could invoke. In Scotland there has been a deeper broader resistance to this than in England. That’s why the Scottish Conservatives are such an aberrant kooky bunch of people here.

    So, I think Scotland is much further along the path to rejecting the destructive, top down politics of the Tories in Westminster than the UK Labour Party. Scotland as a whole has a more coherent and real commitment to social democracy than Ed Milliband’s party. The SNP have replaced Labour as the party that represents social democracy – the state ensuring that no one is left behind.

    Also, Labour never understood the Highlands.

    Another thing that bothers me is how on earth did it come to pass that Michael Moore and Danny Alexander have such a decisive role in our future? And it must bother English people that that very odd Scot Michael Gove has such a ridiculous amount of influence over their education system.

  7. Douglas Strang says:

    Good point Chris. My support for Independence is not really to do with happening to be Scottish. It’s based on the belief that ‘small is beautiful’ and on the possibility of genuine radicalism in a parliament which, through PR, more closely reflects the aspirations of its people.

    I wish the same for the English and the Welsh.

    The SNP are to be congratulated for much of what they’ve achieved, and I’m cheering Salmond on as he negotiates what will be a very bumpy ride, but I do look forward to a time, after independence if it comes, when there might be a more capable opposition.

  8. MryMac says:

    Great article. I hope an independent Scotland can learn from global mistakes that are now causing devastation. Hopefully banks and corporations will not be allowed to have the same hold over the new Scottish government that they have over Westminster. My understanding is that Iceland just let their banks go bust, prosecuted the dodgy bankers, and now are on their way out of recession. I am assuming they made this decision because bankers/corporations don’t have the same hold over Iceland’s government. How can Scots protect their government/politicians against bankers/corporations?

  9. John Souter says:

    An excellent article, lucid in its perspective.

    The authority of the Westminster model is being questioned in England. Especially so since the revelations of the financial crash and its exposure as acting as the Human Resource department for the financial shamans.

    This has reduced politics in Westminster to a soap-sop of style over substance; austerity on the one hand using Olympics, Jubilees and dream on high speed rail as a ‘feel -good’ substitute.

    No doubt some will buy, even bray about this feel good factor, but many see Scotland’s independence as a catalyst for England’s democracy not to come to a shuddering and contemptuous stop at the ballot box as it presently does now for the whole of the UK.

  10. Talorgan says:

    Most of the arguments for the Union are historical:

    Europe used to be be a much more dangerous place.

    Access to markets was an argument for Union in the days of Empire.

    The Union served the “elite”, not the majority. They still have their snouts in the trough.

    There are people of mixed ancestry who live here but feel loyalty to England.

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