You’re History


Thus far, it seems like the much-vaunted Positive Case for the Union is nothing more than a bunch of platitudes and historical references. You know what I’m talking about – references to how we defeated fascism together, how we created the NHS and the welfare state together, how we’ve been in this union for over 300 years. This should come as no surprise really, as British identity (or what passes for it) is itself based entirely on history. Things like the idea of the Bulldog Spirit, which is meant to invoke images of Britain standing tall and proud against the forces of fascism in World War II (conveniently ignoring the role of other countries, in the same way that the USA conveniently forgets that it was actually the Russians marching on Berlin which brought Hitler’s demise, as this ruins the idea that “you would be talking German now if it wasn’t for us”); things like… Well, actually I can’t really think of anything else. The fact is, Britain has never quite come to terms with the fact that the British Empire no longer exists. The idea that Britain is this great nation is a throwback to the colonial era, when Britannia ruled the waves and presided over a large chunk of the world. Even if we ignore the realities of colonialism, and pretend for argument’s sake that this was indeed something to be proud of, the reality of Britain today is so far removed from this “golden age” that to believe this is the Britain we see today is nothing short of complete delusion.

Take immigration. Ed Miliband yesterday invoked images of a Britain that was a welcoming refuge to those who faced persecution, and allowed them to flourish. But today’s Britain is completely hostile to immigrants, looking upon them as spongers and benefits cheats, except those who have the gall to work hard for low wages, thus undermining those who are born here and therefore owed a living. It never fails to amaze me how people fail to see the irony of the situation: a Britain that once populated other regions with its people, harvesting their natural resources for themselves, now complaining about the people of those countries doing exactly the same back. Seriously, how do they do it with a straight face? It’s like complaining that someone has stolen your seat when that very seat was made from a tree you chopped down and removed from their garden in the first place. Oh, and you managed to destroy their house in the process of felling the tree.

Then there’s the NHS. We’re told this is a proud British institution, the insinuation being that independence puts this at risk. It completely ignores the reality of the current situation, where not only is NHS Scotland a completely separate entity which we’re already looking after ourselves, but the NHS which Britain is so proud of is at serious risk of being mortally wounded by the Tories, who are just looking for an excuse to then turn off the life support. This is after the Labour party beat the living snot out of it for 13 years, thus preventing it from being able to protect itself from the knife-wielding maniac going by the name of Andrew Lansley, hell bent on inflicting deep, gaping wounds on the NHS (for the avoidance of doubt, I have never witnessed Lansley actually brandishing a knife, so this is purely metaphorical. He is a maniac, though.)

What about the welfare state? Britain can rightly be proud of building this up to support those who were less fortunate, to prevent people falling into the levels of poverty and degradation experienced in the slums of Victorian England. However, that was then, and this is now. The welfare state is under attack – my old Modern Studies teacher (the late, great Dicky Ewen) told my class something which I’ve never forgotten: “as soon as you start working, get yourself a pension, because there’ll be no state pension when you’re retired”. To my shame (although not entirely through laziness), I’ve never properly done as he suggested, although at least I still have the best part of 40 years to make up for that. But what about those who are not fortunate enough to be a computer whizz-kid from a stable background? The Tories are not-quite-single-handedly trying to destroy the welfare state, seeing it as a crutch for the hoi palloi who should be getting off their arses and getting a job, just like they did (conveniently ignoring the wealth of opportunities a life of privilege provides, be it connections through daddy’s networks, or simply a financial safety net to fall back on if your PR consultation business doesn’t get off the ground, or your PPE degree from Oxbridge doesn’t somehow lead to a route into the worlds of politics or media.) Ed Miliband’s response? “We completely disagree with these reforms – the caps should be set locally” (not an actual quote). The clock is ticking for the welfare state which Britain is so proud of, and unlike the NHS, Scotland does not have the ability to protect itself from these “reforms” (obviously “reform” means the same as when a boxer “reforms” his opponent’s face, or when you “reform” your car by driving straight into a wall.)

When it comes to defence, British pride is not only misplaced in the 21st century, but it was never even accurate in the first place. Talk of us “fighting side by side against fascism” completely ignores the fact that Britain would have been on the losing side in both World Wars had it not been for the international alliances we formed. It also completely ignores the fact that those wars were fought while Britain still ruled half the world, making it a much bigger force than the tiny island of 60 million people left today. These are alliances that we’ve formed in each war or battle ever since – even the Falklands was not as straight-forward as Britain vs Argentina. To suggest that Scotland would not be capable of providing support to England on the few occasions it gets involved in just wars is completely disingenuous, and ignores the huge part played by our allies across Europe and elsewhere in various conflicts over the past 100 years. It’s quite clear that the only situation in which England would be left on its tod trying to fight a war would be if the war was illegal and was not, in any way, in the interests of global security. In such circumstances, how can one argue that Scottish troops should be getting involved? Besides which, the British attitude to these wars is completely abhorrent – Britain must surely be the only country in the world that get a chip on its shoulder because it didn’t lose to a country. How else to explain the on-going hatred/distrust of people such as “The French”, “The Germans” and “The Argies”, other than the fact each had the audacity to challenge Britain’s authority at some point or another many years/decades/centuries ago?

Britain, and the British identity, are anachronisms of the colonial era. Britain has long since suffered its mid-life crisis, and is now completely subsumed by delusions of grandeur, harking back to a history that only partially existed, and even then only for a fleeting moment. Those who use history to justify Scotland’s continuation in the union deem it acceptable to hark back hark back as far as 305 years (but only those who think Braveheart is an accurate document of history would even think of going back further – how ludicrous!), and seem to think history stopped in 1948 with the setup of the NHS. They conveniently ignore the decimation of Scottish industry throughout the 20th century, and even more ridiculously, they ignore the current changes in Britain which are leading to a massive schism between English and Scottish ways of life. How can Scotland continue to follow its desired path of social democracy while chained to a right-wing country that desperately needs to hold onto its nuclear weapons in order to justify its assumed role as an instigator of military action, rather than a mere participant in a democratic process? British hostility to the EU is down to a refusal to admit that Britain needs to co-operate just like everyone else, and this is not helped by the refusal to admit that they always have.

In effect, the “British identity” is the English identity, which is why their search for their own identity remains fruitless – it’s already there. Those Scots who adhere to that identity are every bit as delusional as those in England who drool in anticipation of another chance to “get it up” those Germans, French or Argies whenever it presents itself, be that in football, rugby or tiddlywinks. In an attic somewhere, there is a painting of “The British Identity”, which was painted in 1948 and ever since has been hidden from public view so they do not see that it bears the scars of the past 60 years where everything that made Britain “Great” has slowly been destroyed (although again, I would question to what extent you can even call the British Empire “great”.) It’s time the painting was taken out of the attic so that Britain can finally witness what it has really become.

Let’s stop living in a past that only half-existed. Let’s move into the 21st century and embrace the future – independence in an interdependent world. It’s the only chance we have for Scotland and England to stop dwelling in the past.

Comments (40)

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  1. Brian Ritchie says:

    Spot on article Doug! And I love the implied reference to Dorian Gray! One only has to be aware of the continual dwelling on WWII on the TV and the truth of what you say becomes obvious.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      It’s making people aware that is the main hurdle, though. The parroting of empty mantras like “better together, weaker apart” show that people believe what they’re told if they hear it enough times. It probably doesn’t help that kids are generally brought up to believe that Churchill was all that stood between the Nazis and world domination, in the same way that Americans are brought up to believe that they played the dominant role in WWII.

      1. Brian Ritchie says:

        Well the Americans did play a dominant role, but it was not the only one of course, and Churchill’s stance was important. It’s the exaggeration of the British role and capabilities which is the problem and the repeating of mantras is a classic technique of propaganda. Making people aware of it is indeed a task needing considerable effort.

  2. Tom says:

    As a group, I think there is a danger of the pro-indy movement protesting too much about the historical viewpoint that the pro unionists are taking (and this is not a dig at you Doug). In my view, we should be using the same arguments but with the telescope reversed.

    What is actually happening in England today, is the dismantling of the NHS whose history is held so fondly by so many. At UK level, the erosion of welfare and benefits are an attack on MacMillan’s 1960s when we “never had it so good”.

    So rather than carping about Miliband and Cameron’s attempts at rewriting history, we should take every opportunity to point out that it’s them that are leaving behind some of the things that made the union work more effectively in the past, not us. Scottish independence is a means to maintain these great institutions and we should take every chance we can to point this out.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      I see what you’re saying, but my point is that we need to highlight this ridiculous revisionism to people whenever it rears its head. What galls me is that nationalists are accused of harking back to history, claiming that we’re all just obsessed with Bannockburn or whatever, and yet it’s unionists who are doing the history revision. Their history is incomplete, as it completely ignores the past 40 years or so. Remember that Mr Darling even accused the SNP’s digging up of the McCrone report of being “typical” of the SNP’s obsession with history. This was over a report which was written LONG after the world wars and the set up of the NHS, welfare state etc.

      We need to get the historical debate framed properly. Britain didn’t stop in 1948, and the things that have gone on since then have had huge negative impacts on Scotland. But we also need to highlight the present and the future. We’re told you can’t decide constitutional matters based on the present, but these indicate what the future will bring, and it’s not pretty. This is how we need to argue the case for independence. When naive fools like Douglas Alexander say we’re “stronger together, weaker apart”, we ask them in what sense we’re together, so when they come out with the NHS line and fighting fascism lines, these are the arguments we use.

  3. Edinburgh Quine says:

    What a great piece. I remember years ago when policy in the SNP was thin and not properly articulated, being critisised by someone who said that Nationalists only looked back to justify their reasons for wanting Independence. How right he was. Carry on rousing rabbles Mr Daniels, that was brilliant!

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      DANIEL!!!! 馃槢

      Apart from that, thanks!

  4. fourfolksache says:

    Excellent article Doug. It’s a shame so many Scots can’t see this and are too focused on whether we’d be better off financially – the 拢500 question proved that I think. Anyway we need to tell both stories as often as possible before the referendum

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      The irony being that, in 2006 at least, we were already 拢500 in the black for every man, woman and child in Scotland.

      http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-economy/4235-would-an-independent-scotland-be-financially-sound

      The above article should be read by everyone. Very well argued, and shatters the myth that we even need to rely on oil to be prosperous.

      1. John Souter says:

        Ref: the Newsnet article- here’s my comment on it –

        # John Souter 2012-02-01 14:10
        “Who are the real subsidy junkies?

        Any lingering doubt that Scotland more than pays its way, or survives on subsidies, was dispelled by a new report published in October 2007. Whilst the Daily Mail, which by no stretch of the imagination could be described as a supporter of Scottish nationalism, devoted a whole page to the analysis of the report which was based on tax paid per capita as against spending, Northern Ireland received 拢4,212 more than it paid in tax, North East England 拢3,133, Wales 拢2,990, N.W. England 拢1732, South West England 拢978, West Midlands 拢931, East Midlands 拢185 and lastly Scotland 拢38. Only the South East corner produced a small surplus due to tax paid on the high wages within the city of London at this time (pre-Credit Crunch).”

        Assuming the Mail has ever got anything correct these figures are a damning indictment of Thatcher’s neo liberal fantasies and their effect in impoverishing a nation for the get-rich -quick financial ponzi scheme.

        Westminster is damned by its own incompetence in all aspects of governance other than its perfidious ability to cover up its flaws.

        For 2010 it has been calculated it lost 拢68bn due to tax evasion – that’s two thirds of the total cost of the NHS and equal to the total cost of Welfare, an issue which it’s assiduously trying to cut (by all parties) in order to save arguably 拢5-6 bn over four years. Of course what isn’t factored into the statistics is the effect of de-industrialisati on on the welfare bill, coupled with the fact of a major proportion of the avoidance deficit is directly related to the mandarins of the finance industry.

        All of which begs the question – can any region outside London afford Westminster?

  5. Osbert says:

    Love the fact that whatever algorithm that picks the ads for this site has chosen “malpractice lawyers” when I read the article!

  6. Allan Ross MacKenzie says:

    Great article Daniel. As this is my first response to an artical online. I am reminded of the powerful but singular use of words. Emancipation for Scots and Scotland.

      1. Allan Ross MacKenzie says:

        Ooooops.. I should start to wear my glasses. Great work though Doug. Many appologies for the obvious mistake,my excuse ,is that it was a product of one of the habits I picked up whilst serving my family and Scotland as cannon fodder. A.

  7. Peter Mc says:

    Quote:

    “It never fails to amaze me how people fail to see the irony of the situation: a Britain that once populated other regions with its people, harvesting their natural resources for themselves, now complaining about the people of those countries doing exactly the same back. Seriously, how do they do it with a straight face?”

    So true, Rob Newman does a stand up routine about a tour he did of the U.S, he was listening to a radio call in show and heard somebody complaining about all the “vietnamese” people moving into “their” neighbourhood, the caller finishes by saying, “How would they like it if a bunch of Americans went over there?”

    Churlish at best.

    1. Si么n Jones says:

      In Wales (I’m sure you get them in Scotland too) we are innundated in some areas by ‘white flight’ English people, fleeing immigration in their home areas, complaining about the lack of integration, but totally unaware of their egregious impact on local culture and their own insensitive failure to either respect the local culture or attempt to integrate linguistically.

  8. Yep. Spot on. The misappropriation of British imperial is a fundamental part of life in the British state, and goes right back to the reasons we entered the First World War, and even maybe the Boer War before it. “Don’t mention the war” takes on a sad context when you realise they don’t want us to mention that’s over, that peace has broken out.

    It’s also worth thinking about that the entire reason Scotland joined the British state was for access to England’s empire, whatever various historians want to tell you about “bailouts” or “colonisation”. For nearly 200 years between 1730 and 1930, and a brief renaissance in the 1950s, it worked in our favour, providing us with overseas markets and protectionist tariffs to take advantage of our fabulous natural resources, particularly the Clyde’s fantastic location for the shipbuilding industry. Once the Empire began to disappear, however, the advantages of the Union went with it and we see the rise of Scottish Nationalism coinciding with a collapse in the economic benefits we had been able to count on. The entire thing has dragged on longer than is really necessary and it’s time to put the question to bed. The Empire is over, it’s time to go home.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Absolutely, the age of empires is long gone, and it’s rather tragic seeing it’s death in Britain played out in such a horrific, drawn-out manner. Even if Scotland doesn’t vote for independence in the referendum, our relationship with England is going to be irrevocably changed, not least because of all the bad blood that’s going to rise up from the nasty anti-independence campaign. Unelected upper chamber, first past the post, unequal MP voting rights – the system is completely broken and out of date. It needs to go.

      1. Andrew says:

        First of all good article Doug,aye empires are long gone and worse than being horrific and drawn out Doug is,”for me anyway” the fact that its embarrassing to watch, in the same way that makes you cringe when one of your friends does something stupid but are unable to see there actions as others do. I feel truely sorry for the English people as there’s will be a hard lesson to learn, as the truth of something often is.

  9. Thomas McCarthy Reynolds says:

    Absolute rubbish.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Thanks for providing such a detailed argument. You’ve completely changed my mind, and I will now be voting against independence in the referendum. Good stuff!

    2. Andy says:

      The Unionist argument in a nutshell!

    3. Si么n Jones says:

      The unionist case? Yes it is absolute rubbish, is it not?

    4. Allan Ross MacKenzie says:

      How spiffing old boy…….Vote yes.

  10. Max McKay says:

    What a load of drivel! Its more like the much-vaunted Positive Case for Independence is nothing more than a bunch of platitudes and historical references!

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Err, the case for independence is based on what we can do in the future, not what we’ve done in the past. As for platitudes, we use concrete examples of things we can do better (like the removal of Trident from out shores, setting up an oil fund to look after future generations, having direct input in EU negotiations instead of having David Cameron at the table ignoring our wishes), whereas if we just did what unionists did, we would merely say “stronger as an independent, weaker as a dependent” without giving examples.

      I’ll take your comment to mean I’ve hit a nerve though, excellent.

  11. intentionally blank says:

    I might be missing something here but surely all national identity is based on history?
    “British identity (or what passes for it) is itself based entirely on history”
    If not history then what? So accepting that, then Scottish identity is also based entirely on history so there is no more justification for independence than there is for unionism, less in fact (qv inertia).
    And as for “Britain these days being entirely hostile to immigration” – well certain sections of society are – certainly the majority of the press – but the country is far from outright hostile. Think you might have got a bit carried away with the rhetoric there.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Aye, national identity builds on history, but it also continues to take on the present so it can adapt with the times. My point is that the British identity stopped doing this somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, so it is now completely based on history, rather than just drawing from it.

      As for immigration, the main issue here is that Scotland depends on immigrants making up for a historically low birth rate, as well as a continued brain drain of our talented young adults. This is completely at odds with England, which wishes to decrease immigration. There’s a perfect example of something that can only be resolved by full independence, rather than just devo max.

      1. intentionally blank says:

        Good reply. I particularly like the first paragraph, but I still don’t really agree. British identity stopped evolving, seems to be what you are saying, but it didn’t |(and that’s where that argument is going to end as I don’t think either of can prove our position). However you must be using that as a position from which to talk about Scottish identity, and yet there are a couple of Scottish identity and at least one of them stopped developing with Scott! (aka Tartan and Shortbread). If there is a modern Scotch identity then it is not a particularly positive one.

        The see what you are trying to say with the second paragraph but once again I disagree with you “absolutist” approach to the debate. I don’t agree that England’s attitude to immigration is diametrically opposed to Scotland’s – I don’t think anything is that black and white – but I see where you are coming from.

        I am undecided about separatism, yet I would much rather see the argument concentrating on the only thing that matters, the economic arguments, than it getting diverted into flag waving and patriotism.
        Issues of national identity fall firmly into the camp of an irrelevant distraction.

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comments.

  12. onyertodMax says:

    Thank you for your insightful and enlightening article.
    I remember Winnie Ewing winning Hamilton but I can’t vote in the referendum
    Living in a former colony, (I left Scotland for Australia in 1976), I know the rest of the world equates British with English and the connotations are more negative than positive. From this distance sad old England looks like a basket case and wee Scotland just gets dragged along with it, deeper into the mire. For Scotland the only way forward is to cut the ties.

  13. Si么n Jones says:

    Even the British Bulldog breed is in fact the English Bulldog – another con. And the British stiff upper lip – a quintessentially English (toff) attribute – we Celts are very emotional and don’t trust people who bottle it up. The ethos of ‘fair play’ – well of all of us, the English appear to be the least magnanimous in victory and defeat, meaning that is not exactly a ‘British’ characteristic either.

    So what is this ‘Britsh’? I think they should be challenged at some time during the next 2 years to explain exactly what it is, and why it is so important. NO hurry, mind, as it is a question that hangs there, unasked and unanswered, because there is no answer.

    1. intentionally blank says:

      Increasingly ill considered nonsense revolving around national stereotypes…

      Coming soon “not all Italians are cowards” “Frenchmen who don’t smell of garlic”.

      What exactly is the point here (and love that you consider the famously stoical Scots to be more emotional than the English) – are you trying to show that the Scots are a separate race to the English and thus shouldn’t be described as British?

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        You’d do well to note that Si么n said “Celts” rather than “Scots” – his criticism is that many supposedly British traits do not actually describe those of us in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which merely lends more weight to the idea that when people talk of “British”, they really mean “English”.

        It’s nothing to do with race, merely how we’re generally brought up to conduct ourselves. Don’t make the sort of insinuations you’re attempting, please.

  14. intentionally blank says:

    Doug,

    Those traits don’t describe lots of English either (although confusingly he makes that point too).My point was, and remains, that national stereotypes, in fact any stereotypes, are just generalisations. And no generalisation holds up to close examination – it is a broad brush. If he’d kept going with his train of thought he’d have reached that conclusion too. Which leads on to the next logical step that if you can’t describe the English in terms of stereotypes then why are you attempting to describe the Scots, sorry Celts that way either.

    It is just as valid to question whether Italians are cowards as it is to question whether the English have a strong sense of fairplay – both are ludicrous in what I clearly misunderstood to be a serious blog.

    “Nothing to do with race – just how we are brought up to conduct ourselves”

    So the people of Scotland are brought up differently to the people of England, however all Celts have some commonality of rearing?
    So it’s not race, not genetics (and I’m sure this site won’t contain any nonsense about common genetic links that make Celts different from the English and thus deserving of their own sovereignty) but parenting that makes for a common Celtic bond? Perhaps you think it is a common culture, common between Glasgow’s East End, Edinburgh’s Morningside and Sumburgh. But different to Manchester, Carlisle and Newcastle.

    Don’t get me wrong, this article (not the comment) has a kernel of truth, passion and smartness to it but there’s way too much ill thought through flag waving and lunatic rhetoric in the way.

  15. bellacaledonia says:

    ‘Intentionally Blank’ writes: ‘I don’t agree that England’s attitude to immigration is diametrically opposed to Scotland’s’ – and amongst the people, in the general population that may be so (I doubt it actually taken by the relative popularity of tabloid-hate press, BNP, EDL, UKIP and Tory party), but it’s unquantifiable, or at best contentious.

    But as far as UK and Scottish Govts approaches to immigration they are in fact diametrically opposed – see for example the Fresh Talent initiative.

    The Fresh Talent Initiative was a Scottish Government policy framework to encourage people to settle in Scotland. The initiative was launched in February 2004 by then First Minister, Jack McConnell as a way of countering the ‘biggest challenge facing Scotland’ of its falling population. The Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme was subsumed into the UK immigration system on 29th June, 2008 when the UK government brought in a new points based immigration scheme.

    In this sense – Doug is quite correct in his assertion. Whilst we can get overly romantic that ‘we’re all Jock Tamsons Bairns’ and ‘there’s no racism here’, I think there are different more progressive attitudes in Scotland, which probably need to be nurtured, articulated and advanced. My hope for a sovereign Scotland is it would have a progressive immigration and asylum policy.

    1. intentionally blank says:

      bellacaledonia writes “I doubt it actually taken by the relative popularity of the tabloid-hate press”
      The Sun, the Mail and Metro are in the top four in both countries.

      But I was objecting initially to “But today鈥檚 Britain is completely hostile to immigrants”. As you have so eloquently explained at least part of Britain, Scotland, is not hostile. Indeed far from it. So the statement is demonstrably wrong.

      Your point on “Fresh talent” is well made but this is well outside the scope of the rhetoric that the article was attempting.

      I don’t know what your evidence is for Scottish progressive attitudes, it’s not my experience but I am very wary of quoting direct experience in debates as it is meaningless in the face of actual statistical evidence.

    2. Donald Adamson says:

      Mike,

      It鈥檚 true that there鈥檚 no compelling evidence to support the contention that Scots are less hostile to migration than other parts of the UK but there are suggestions that this is the case, supporting Doug鈥檚 original argument.

      For example, last September Ipsos-Mori conducted a poll, albeit with a small Scottish sample, that lends some credence to Doug鈥檚 argument:

      http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/understanding-immigration-tables-ipsos-mori-september-2011.pdf

      One of the interesting results in this poll was the 鈥渘et difference鈥 that was identified, that is, the difference, in various areas of the UK, between those respondents who thought that immigration should be reduced compared to those who thought that it should be increased. Scotland showed the lowest net difference of any area in Britain, surprisingly, lower even than London. The results showed a net difference of -34% in Scotland (that is, 56% of Scottish respondents thought that immigration should be reduced, against 22% who thought that it should be increased). In the north of England the net difference was -68% (70% for a reduction, 3% for an increase). In the midlands of England, the net difference was -72% (75% for a reduction, 4% for an increase). And in the south of England (excluding London), the net difference was -71% (75% for a reduction, 4% for an increase).

      This is hardly incontrovertible evidence but it does suggest a discernible difference. What we do know is that Scotland has had low population growth in the post-war period compared to most other OECD countries, both small and large. For example, in 22 OECD countries (16 of them in Europe), in the period 1965-1999, the size of the average electorate increased from 16.7 million to 26.1 million (an average increase of 64%). In Scotland, in the same period (1966-1997), the size of the electorate increased by only 17.6%. Given that electorates comprise between 75-80% of total population in most countries this small Scottish increase suggests a disturbing trend in Scotland鈥檚 population growth that, historically, until recently, Scotland鈥檚 political classes seem to have been remarkably relaxed about, given the trends in many other countries.

      Although counterfactual history can鈥檛 prove anything, it doesn鈥檛 seem unreasonable to me to argue that, had Scotland been independent in this period, a Scottish government would have taken a much more proactive stance on migration and shaped a migration policy to suit Scotland鈥檚 changing needs. As it is, the devolved Scottish government is reduced to pleading with the British government to relax the tight migration policies that it is implementing (in order to restrain the growth of migration to the UK, particularly in the densely populated south east of England). Most UK migrants settle in London and the south-east of England, leaving Scotland to compete with the other regions of England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland for what will, in all likelihood as a consequence of UK policy, be a decreasing UK migrant population in the future.

      This is another important feature of the independence debate. For example, although economists disagree about the direction of causality 鈥 does an increase of migrants 鈥榗ause鈥 an increase in a country鈥檚 GDP, or is it the case that more migrants are attracted to countries with higher GDP growth? – they do seem to agree that migrants contribute to national economies. And it鈥檚 not unreasonable to argue that stagnant population growth may be one of the factors underlying Scotland鈥檚 comparatively poor economic performance over the last three or four decades, particularly when compared to many other small developed EU countries.

      Another aspect of population worth noting here is that, as a consequence of the large growth in England鈥檚 population in the last three decades, Britain鈥檚 demand for energy has increased significantly since the 1980s. As a result of England鈥檚 high population growth, Britain is now an importer of oil. An independent Scotland would have enough oil to be self-sufficient, and to be a net exporter of oil, for several more decades. Given the phenomenon of peak oil and the likely increase in oil prices in the future, the costs to Scotland of continued membership of the UK will become increasingly significant here. In other words, this is an example of one of the diseconomies of scale of Scotland鈥檚 continued membership of the UK. This doesn鈥檛 allow for any other putative benefits of independence, for example, the cumulative beneficial effects on Scotland鈥檚 economy of the establishment of an oil fund.

      Why is this significant? Notwithstanding the impact of Scotland鈥檚 membership of the UK on its population growth, many neutral mainstream economists (neutral in the independence debate) have criticised successive British governments for squandering this precious resource, Joseph Stiglitz being perhaps the most famous example. And although many contributors to Bella feel uncomfortable with such discussions, first, because they reinforce the hegemony of mainstream economics and, second, because we should be looking to reduce our dependence on oil, nevertheless, these are issues that many people can understand, however partial that understanding may be.

      This is also significant because at the heart of the independence debate are the issues of the enhanced capacity for action and the achievement of results that independence could provide, on issues like migration, the shaping of policies to suit the specificity of Scotland鈥檚 needs, using the full range of powers that independence would deliver and so on. Whilst everyone should try to resist the temptation to idealize an independent Scotland, one thing we do know, is that other countries have these powers and many of these countries have been quite successful at using them. But they鈥檝e been successful because of not in spite of their independence, precisely because they can use all the powers available to them as independent nation-states to shape their policies to suit their national needs.

      One debate that Bella ought to have, because it does tie together some of these issues, not to mention numerous other related areas, is a debate on the recent book by Engelen et al, After the Great Complacence, Oxford University Press 2011. Chapter 7 of this book, 鈥楾he Limits of Expertise: The United Kingdom as an Unhappy Family鈥, charts the way in which successive British governments since the 1980s have, among other things, 鈥渋nsulated鈥 financial markets and their numerous agents and advocates from democratic accountability. It seems to me that the prospects for improving this democratic accountability in the UK, in spite of all the current rhetoric about 鈥榬esponsible鈥 capitalism, are poor. The question is, are they more hopeful in an independent Scotland? Clearly, we鈥檇 like to think so but we don鈥檛 know, which is one reason why this is an important debate, particularly for the more 鈥榩rogressive鈥 elements in the independence movement.

      Also important is the approach that the authors take in this book. Refreshingly, they don鈥檛 compartmentalize 鈥榯he economy鈥. They draw on a range of sources from different disciplines, everything from Levi-Strauss鈥檚 theory of bricolage to C. Wright-Mills鈥檚 theory of elites. Encouragingly, they鈥檙e critical not only of mainstream economics but of some schools of heterodox economics. These are just some of the areas that Bella has been exploring since its inception, but as a consequence of the present crisis and the possible opportunities that independence affords, these debates now take on an added significance.

      The authors also demonstrate how data and statistics are used to promote and manipulate political and economic agendas, which is something we can expect in the independence debate. The SNP won鈥檛 be above this itself, of course, so it鈥檚 not just the unionists who鈥檒l be culpable here. Their work is a salutary reminder, though, to exercise caution about using and accepting data and statistics as the final arbiter in any debate. Not least because mainstream economics has enough difficulty trying to explain the past so it wouldn鈥檛 be sensible to look to it to predict the future, including the future prospects of an independent Scotland.

      1. intentionally blank says:

        What an excellent reply.

        Thanks.

  16. Leslie Thomson says:

    Quite an excellent article. I find it laughable that the unionists hark back to (fairly recent) history to try to push a positive argument, which isn’t at all positive, and yet accuse of us Scots Nats of having some sort of rosy-tinted romantic view of Scottish history. The reality however is that it seems to me that the vast majority of Scots Nats look forward, not back. True, you need to know where you have been before you know where you are going, but there comes a time when you have to forget what happened at Bannockburn 700 years ago and ask what the people of Broxburn want for future generations.

    The “two world wars” argument is fatuous. I would invite any unionist to visit Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, where there is a monument entitled “The Call”, dedicated not only to the Scottish-American soldiers who fell after 1917, but those who volunteered to come to Scotland and join up BEFORE they were conscripted or the USA joined the First World War. If that were not enough, they can visit Drum Brae Cemetary in Edinburgh and see the rows upon rows of Polish war graves from the Second World War there. And that of course are only Americans and Poles I am talking off. It seems to me the term “world war” is lost upon many unionists. And as for fighting fascism, how many of them aware that Churchill despised the working class, whom he referred to as “the enemy”? How many of them are equally aware that when the Protestant firebrand John Cormack invited Mosley and the British Union of Fascists to Edinburgh, they were chased off by a united front of most of the usual preachers, atheistic and religious, from The Mound? These are the same unionists who still do nothing about fighting fascism at home. Indeed, some of them have contact with those who openly embrace fascism.

    This harking back to the “glories” of the Union is not only jingoistic, it can also be seen as racist in that it can be perceived as being anti-Scottish. The references to the NHS and the welfare state (which I rightfully believe all those in the UK fought for and established can be rightfully proud of) are just one more symptom of the malaise which claims that we would have nothing, be nothing and acheived nothing were it not for the Union. Well, let us just examine that; the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh was founded in 1505, a good 202 years before the Union. Go back further and in 1460 the Trinity Kirk was founded – with a poor hospital attached to it. Who were the true architects of the welfare state? It was the Liberal Party which first introduced state pensions, under the Welshman David Lloyd George and which had previously been campaigned for by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman – a Scot. From it’s inception the Labour Party wanted a welfare state. And who was their guiding star in their early days? James Kier Hardy – a Scot.

    I have also heard it said that were it not for the Union, Scotland would never have had the industries we once had in the first place. Firstly, as the Union predates the Industrial Revolution, there is absolutely no proof that would be the case. Secondly, without the Scotsman James Watt vastly improving Boulton’s steam engine and making it viable, there would have been NO industrial revolution, or the things that followed. One of Watt’s apprentices was George Stephenson, the man who turned early railways into what would become the most viable means of transport of the time. And as he was semi-literate, he wanted his son to have the best education possible, so sent him to THE seat of learning of the time – Edinburgh. Even that symbol of all things English, Tower Bridge in London, was built by Sir William Arrol & Co. And were that not enough, not many people are aware that the engines which currently power the bascules were designed and built by McTaggart-Scott of Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland. Scotland played an enormous part in the Industrial Revolution and, with the vast coalfields which fuelled it, it is entirely possible that Scotland would have had one of its own had we rejected the Union.

    Then we have people pointing to the “Scottish renaissance” and claiming that academia and the arts would never have flourished without the Union. This again is fatuous and does not explain why it was Edinburgh, not Oxford or Cambridge, that at that time became the greatest seat of learning in Europe, known as “The Athens of the North” and the place where Hugh Smellie said he could stand at the Tron Cross and shake the hands of fifty learned men in one hour. In central Edinburgh, one is surrounded by constant reminders of great men of learning and literature, and it is not much different in other Scottish cities. But then, this is the country where Sir David de Lindsay was writing plays and poetry long before William Shakespeare. And even as far as the arts are concerned, one wonders just how much they have been hindered by the Union? In the late 18th century Robert Burns was advised not to write in Scots as his works would never sell. Two hundred years later The Proclaimers were told exactly the same thing. Who was right? Who was wrong?

    Make no mistake about it, many of those who oppose our cause are not just anti-independence, those opposed to it north of the border are not just “North Britons”, they are anti-Scots. I have even heard some Unionists try to claim that Burns never wrote one original poem of his own. These are the lies and propaganda we are up against.

  17. Major thankies for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

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