The Scotland in Union ‘data dump’ raises a number of questions about the nature of the Unionist coalition, the power of conservative Scotland and the prospects for any future Better Together campaign. At first sight the organisation of SIU and allied projects seem formidable. Scotland in Union is ahead of the curve, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, organising social events and matched by an impressive academic coalition of writers and thinkers in These Islands. This is serious money and serious people who are confident and well organised.
But a closer examination suggests all is not well.
Scottish Unionists and British Unionists are vulnerable as the cultural sinew that has held Britain together is dissolving and the economic models they rely on are collapsing before us. The British crisis is well developed and the castles, palaces and fortresses that these people live in can’t protect them from the coming storm.
The Social Makeup of British Nationalism
The spreadsheets show that far from being a grassroots campaign this is Landed Money clinging to power. Amongst a scattering of journalists and oddballs the predominant profession is property and real estate, but mostly it’s just the aristocracy.
This is an ageing rural class of people who probably know their way round Burberry online better than Reddit. This is Toffs for Dependence, hashtag #iwanttokeepmycastle
In fact what the dump shows is British nationalists and Scottish unionists converging in a very precise social class.
The SIU demographics are mirrored in the Tory Party.
The current party of UK Govt is the fourth largest party in members (behind Lab, SNP & Lib Dems).
On the Andrew Marr Show the Chairman Brandon Lewis said he wasn’t prepared to “play the numbers game”, and the party have refused to declare party membership numbers for four years now. Whilst party membership may not correlate directly to electoral appeal, it must be a worrying metric for Unionist forces in Scotland. The party is dwindling, ageing, ineffective online and under-active off it. No wonder they love The Colonel.
But the SIU isn’t all Conservatives. It’s a former Labour MP Pamela Nash who has replaced Graeme Pearson (himself a former Labour MSP) as chief executive of Scotland in Union in 2017 and Labour are currently willing to attend Scotland In Union events – Johann Lamont MSP is joining Alistair Carmichael (Scottish Liberal Democrats) and Murdo Fraser to somehow re-recast Robert Burns as a British nationalist on the 2 February in Glasgow.
Noticeable by their absence is any kind of demographic diversity.
There are Torquils and Tamara and at least two Ruperts lunching with a handful of Boyds and Blairs.
There are more double-barrelled names than at the gymkhana. There are enough ruddy-cheeked Lords, Earls, Viscounts, Marquises and Barons to fill a vast banquet hall in one of their stately homes, but where are Scottish workers, innovators, or entrepreneurs?
Who would want to be associated with such reactionary hereditary power? What does someone like JK Rowling for example, who pictures herself as a liberal committed to social justice, and does engage in philanthropy, see in allying herself with the Duke of *********, the Viscount of ***** or indeed Lord ********* (*******) ******* ******* *****, 3rd Baron ********* ?
What’s deeply ironic about this is that the organisations that claim to be unifying and positive represent a tiny shard of Scotland. The only thing “grassroots” about them is the amount of land they collectively own.
These people have unimaginable amounts of money, power and land, but they only have one vote.
As is often the case with the powerful, they are in fact far more vulnerable than you might realise.
The Economic Case
Back in 2016 Scotland in Union boasted of a ‘Union Dividend’. They wrote:
“Scotland in Union has welcomed new research which shows Scotland enjoys higher spending on public services, more capital investment and lower taxes as a result of being in the UK. A new report by economic consultants Europe Economics – commissioned by Scotland in Union and using the latest GERS figures – has shown that being part of the UK is worth c£8.8bn to Scotland.”
This has been described as Scotland’s ‘Union Dividend’ by Alastair Cameron, Director of the Scotland in Union campaign.
The key findings are:
• Total public expenditure in Scotland is 14 per cent higher than the rest of the UK – worth £8.2bn, or £1,530 for every individual in Scotland.
• There is an emphasis on capital spending, which is 34 per cent higher than the rest of the UK, while current spending is only 12 per cent higher.
• Spending on key public services is higher with 188 per cent more on economic development, 126 per cent more on housing, 11 per cent more on education and training and five per cent more on health.
• Combined council tax and non-domestic rates have fallen since devolution in 1999 relative to the rest of the UK from £252 per head higher to £118 per head lower.
• The total ‘Union Dividend’ is estimated by Europe Economics to be worth £8.8bn to Scotland.
Responding to the report, Scotland in Union Director Alastair Cameron said:
“This clearly shows the enormous financial benefits that we in Scotland enjoy from our place in the UK. The ‘Union Dividend’ is a return on our long contribution to the success of the United Kingdom and all that we have achieved together over generations of shared history, culture and endeavour.
No wonder there are splits in the Unionist camp.
With Carillion showing corporate Britain like pigs at the trough and the Scottish Government’s ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment’ modelling a financial catastrophe for Scotland, the ‘Unionist Dividend’ (fictional as it always was), is now dead in the water.
‘Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment’ concludes that if the UK was to pursue a WTO relationship, the cost to Scotland would be about 8.5% of GDP. That’s £12.7bn a year by the year 2030 – equating to a loss of about £2,300 per year for each person in Scotland.
Not only is that devastating to their economic case it doesn’t even to take into account the supposed largesse of the ruptured rUK in a post-Brexit economy. If establishment Scotland had a fit of the vapors at the modest tax changes only a few weeks ago, can you imagine the gnashing and wailing if we actually said we want our country back?