Saving the Union? Maybe Naw
The answer to Scottish Labour’s woes, is, wait for it … Balmoral … Simon Brooke reports .
My first response to Will Hutton’s piece today (‘If the union is to survive, the left needs to shape its own bold and hopeful patriotism’) is to sigh wearily. He doesn’t understand what he’s writing about, and he doesn’t want to understand. He – clearly – isn’t interested As far as he’s concerned, Scotland must stay in the union so that he can continue to wave his union jack and sing Rule Brittania with the rest of the braying mob at the last night of the proms.
Why, then, should Scotland wish to stay in this union?
Hutton thinks we should stay because we’re too wee, too poor, and too stupid to leave. He writes:
There are potent arguments to be made: about the economic non-viability of an independent Scotland…
One’s first reaction is to look, point, and laugh derisively. Is this, seriously, the best he can do? But a better reaction would be to try, through gritted teeth, once more to educate.
In northern Europe, there are Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands, and Belgium, all within the EU, all more or less the same size as Scotland, all of them economically viable. Of them, we have the best educated population, the highest number of world-class universities, and the greatest amount of harnessable renewable energy. We also, of course, have the greatest reserves of recoverable fossil hydrocarbon, but I shall ignore those as, in these days of climate emergency, we cannot responsibly pump them. We also, clearly, don’t need them.
Like England, we have a thriving financial services industry. Like England, our manufacturing industry has been largely destroyed by Westminster misgovernment in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Unlike England, we are substantial net exporters – over all sectors, but significantly, of food. Unlike England, we are widely liked and trusted around the world.
So if it were the case that Scotland – uniquely among the medium sized nations of northern Europe – was not economically viable, the only possible reason for it not being economically viable must be participation in the union with England; and that is not a strong argument for us to remain in that parasitic embrace.
In the same sentence from which I have quoted above, Hutton goes on to write:
…breaking the ties of love and kinship built up over 300 years and the emotional value of the union…
The emotional value of the union to whom, Will? We feel none here; and as for love, we’ve been shown damn little of that. We will, after independence, maintain many individual friendships and kinships with individual people in England, as we do with people across Europe and the world; but England has never treated Scotland as you would treat a friend, and we’ve no great expectation of this changing any time soon.
Yet still he goes on, still without so much as a period:
…about the essentially regressive, poisonous nature of any nationalism…
Oh wad some po’er the giftie gie us, Will, tae see oorsels as ithers see us.
Here is a British nationalist lecturing us, Scotland, about the poisonous nature of nationalism. Nationalism is precisely what we’re reacting against, Will. Have you not noticed? In Scotland’s elections and referenda, the franchise is based not on where you were born, not on who your parents were, but only on where you choose to live now. Blut und Boden is not how we do things here: we leave that behind us, with those who glory in the name of Britain. The people who will decide whether Scotland becomes independent are not Andrew Neil, George Galloway, or Andrew Marr, all born in Scotland of Scottish blood but who have chosen to become Londoners and Englishmen, but by (among four million others) Christian Allard (born in France), Eva Bolander (born in Sweden) and Mike Russell (born in England). Why? Because they live here; and that makes them, by our rules, Jock Tamson’s bairns.
But, fair enough, we – in seeking to rejoin Europe – are the regressive, poisonous nationalists, while you of England, ripping up your moorings to go boldly out into the wild waters of the North Atlantic, are the progressive internationalists. Aye, as we like to say, signifying agreement, right.
Will now goes on to explore who might right the heinous wrong of the Scottish rats abandoning his sinking ship, and his eye falls upon our hapless Labour Party. Yes, you know the one: down from fifty six MPs in 2005 to one MP – just one – ten years later. How is Labour to return to popularity in Scotland? Why, says Will Hutton, it must own things! Specifically, it must own:
- The Edinburgh Military Tattoo
- BBC Scotland
- The Open at St Andrews
I suppose the Tattoo and the golf are two of the few things in Scotland that people in London have heard of. Let’s be gentle with him on this, shall we? But to continue:
BBC Scotland is so popular that its flagship news programme has no viewers at all, according to British Audience Research Board. The whole channel has about 7,200 viewers, or roughly one in every 750 Scots, according to the same source. According to YouGov, only 53% of people in Scotland support the monarchy. Other pollsters suggest the number is significantly lower, at only 41%.
The summary of this is that Hutton suggests that Labour appeals to Scotland by appealing to everything that is most militaristic, most elitist, most corrupt and most backward-looking in Scotland. Which, given that this is Labour we’re talking about, is perhaps appropriate. But wait: of that 0.75% of Scots who are watching BBC Scotland, of that 41% of Scots who support the monarchy, what proportion, does Will Hutton suppose, support Scotland’s second most popular party, Baroness Davidson’s Conservatives? And would winning over less than half of less than half of Scots be a certain route to electoral triumph? Well maybe, as we like to say, expressing dubiety, naw.
However, this strategy of owning things is not the only string to Hutton’s proposed strategic bow. He also uses the F word:
…it has to offer a federal constitutional settlement offering Scotland entrenched autonomy…
Oh, I am so weary – so weary – of this.
It does not work. It cannot work.
As Gordon Brown correctly observed, England has more than 85% of the entire population of the UK. A federal system cannot work if one confederate always, and automatically, outvotes all others on all decisions. So, for federalism to work in the UK, either England must be split into something between eight and twelve new states, or else England must have fewer seats in the union parliament than the sum of all the other nations put together. But, as we learned in 2004, England has no desire to be split into smaller units. But at the same time, it is impossible to envisage a situation in which England will be able to tolerate the idea of ten English votes for the union parliament being worth one Scottish or Welsh vote.
And if autonomy is to be ‘entrenched’, then we must have some new form of law which English votes in Westminster cannot trivially overturn. Which means we must have a written constitution. Which means we must open an enormous concatenation of cans of works, including the House of Lords, the Monarchy, the First Past the Post voting system, reserved powers, the right to property, the funding of political parties…
Again, however, Hutton, barely pausing for breath, continues:
And [Labour] must repudiate Brexit: the SNP cannot be gifted the pro-EU position.
Again, this is nonsense. There is no sense whatever, for any nation, in being a member of two hierarchic super-national unions. Of course it makes sense for England and for Scotland (and for Wales) to be members of the European Union – but Scotland needs its own seat at the top table and its own veto. Why should we accept anything less? Would you accept anything less for England? Of course you wouldn’t.
But the kicker is Hutton’s next point:
Britain’s national project is as a federal country within an EU that strengthens Britain’s hard and soft power…
Oh, dear, you have not been listening, have you?
No, no, no, no, no.
Scotland wants no part of Britain’s soft or hard power. We want no part in your neo-imperialist adventurism. We want no part in your interference in the affairs of other nations. We want your nuclear weapons off our lawn, and we want them off today.
In summary, each and every one of Will Hutton’s reasons for Scotland to stay within the union is clearly understood in Scotland as a very strong reason to leave the union. Let me say this very gently to you, Will: take yourself homeward, and think again.