2007 - 2022

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:

  1. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo
  2. BBC Scotland
  3. The Open at St Andrews
  4. Balmoral

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.

Comments (34)

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  1. Bill says:

    Hutton misses the point about Labour. When they joined with the Tories to campaign against Scottish independence – that was the point at which they lost credibility and relevance. For Labour as currently constituted, there is no way back. Allegedly, Keir Hardie was in favour of Scottish independence – perhaps if the latter day Keir were to embrace that position then they may have some hope.

    Labour in Scotland and to a similar extent the Tories have forgotten to play it long. After independence, what will be the relevance of a party the has independence as the main policy. In an independent Scottish republic, there will be a place for a range of parties, even the Tories. As long as Boris and the boys play to English nationalism then the mood in Scotland will inevitably move to independence, wanted by all of us who live here


    1. Laurence Davies says:

      Bill, thanks for two excellent posts.

      Keir Hardie and Robert Cunninghame Graham, who co-founded the Scottish Labour Party in 1888, the oldest in the UK, advocated Home Rule for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. Too bad their successors have lost their vision.

      1. David McCann says:

        But just as important are these words of CG
        ’The enemies of Scottish Nationalism are not the English, for they were ever a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our real enemies are among us, born without imagination”

  2. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Yes, yes, yes, Simon…. So, so tired of it all. Thank you for explaining this so pottery and gently to Will – hope he reads it and learns. But don’t hold your breath, eh?

    1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:


  3. Derek Cameron says:

    Shooting fish in a barrel but I like it. We should be sharing Hutton ‘s deluded ramblings far and wide.

  4. Anna says:

    What about offering this article to The Observer / The Guardian for publication? It’s unlikely, I suppose, that they’d accept it but they might want to get a debate going – or they might have a bit of space to fill up and be feeling lazy.

    1. Douglas Leighton says:

      loved the suggestion but it made me laugh, not raucously but inwardly.
      Is the Guardian ‘into’ debate these days?

  5. Richard Gunn says:

    The best thing that can happen to the Union is that it crumbles into nothing in Boris Johnson’s hands.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I had just finished reading Mr Hutton’s article when I turned to this article. Mr Brooke has been admirably restrained when writing about Mr Hutton’s bombastic, turgidly maudlin, condescending, ignorant twaddle.

  7. Thomas Dunlop says:

    Well said, every point.
    Should also note that with LibDems now swallowing the Brexit “decision” pill, there is NO UK political party vehicle (forgive me , Greens) that serious contends fighting this British national disaster.

    Scotland you have a life boat -use it it to get off the Titantic

  8. RSM says:

    Yes this. The F word again too. The fantasy fairy land of a federal UK. Henry McLeish was spouting it yesterday on GMS too. I turned the radio off. As if there wasn’t a viable obvious and better option just staring them in the face. Its a kind of crumbling of what they thought was true and they Just. Can’t. Admit. It. It’s over union people. Go and lie in a darkened room if you must. It’s time to do Indy.

  9. James Mills says:

    If Will Hutton , who is no moron , cannot get his head round the reasons for Scotland’s growing love affair with Independence then what chance have the minnows who currently constitute the UK Government , to say nothing of the readers of the Daily Mail and Express !
    When educated and erudite ( sometimes ) thinkers in England constantly embarrass themselves with their lamentably ignorant views on Scotland and its political direction then the battle for ”The Union” is , thankfully , clearly lost .

  10. Peter Wilson says:

    Rip van Hutton – asleep for the last 20 years, still not quite awake but thinks he has the answers that will sort out all the horrible things that the Labour Party brought on itself in his bad dream.

  11. Zen Broon says:

    Hutton is undoubtedly a leading English political analyst, but his article was sentimental British nationalist trash; ignorant, imperialistic and vaguely sinister. Scotland reduced to a therapy pet for Brexit-bruised English cosmopolitans. If this is the mental state of the London intelligencia, we need to get out pronto.

  12. Wliie L says:

    “Let me say this very gently to you, Will: take yourself homeward, and think again”
    I could say that in two words.

    1. William St Clair says:

      Me too, two words, firmly stated and no argument.

  13. Hamish says:

    Agree with all except this:

    “There is no sense whatever, for any nation, in being a member of two hierarchic super-national unions.”

    I think this very much depends on what the EU member states decide they want it to cover.

    For instance, without an EU-wide armed forces, surely we might wish to be in a super-national union with England regarding defence?

    (FWIW, I think that continuing to house the nukes will be the compromise Scotland is forced to make in the first incarnation of independence.)

  14. Kevin Anderson says:

    Well said and succinctly put. At last an article that gets to the point. Thanks

  15. Dougie Harrison says:

    Oh dearie me Simon, this piece isnae as daft and factually inaccurate as that of Will Hutton. No quite. But he doesnae support Scotland, and you do.

    If you’re set tae get intae a fight, ensure you have the right weapons. Some of your critical ‘facts’ arenae facts at all. And in this wee land, as you know, facts are chiels that winna ding. Even in a world of fake news, they can sometimes be critical in winning or losing a political debate. Scotland doesnae need fake ‘facts’. We can face the truth with pride.

    Your most glaring error; your chosen comparator EU member countries, in your words, ‘all more or less the same size as Scotland’. You do not state in which way you mean by size. In geography, the most common measures of size when comparing countries are land area and population.

    Since the countries you mention vary enormously in both geographical land area, and in population, it’s hard to know which you mean in this case. Sweden is quite big in area; about twice the entire UK, but it has only 10.3m people, or almost twice as many as Scotland. Estonia is the smallest nation you mention, by any measure, with under 1.3m people, and 14,366 sq m of land. Tiny compared to Scotland, closer to the gerrymandered six counties of Northern Ireland.

    The only country you mention which is close to Scotland in population, and fairly close in area (about two thirds Scotland’s size) is Slovakia. Why you don’t mention the two EU countries which are most commonly used as comparators, because they are fairly close to us by several measures – Ireland and Denmark – I have nae idea, They are fairly near us in land area and population (excluding the Faroes and Greenland for Denmark); and close in relationship to the sea, and latitude.

    So that readers of Bella are not tempted to follow your example and employ poor European comparators with Scotland, here are the populations of the nations you mention.

    Much larger (double or triple) in population: Sweden (10.3m folk); Czech Republic (10.7m); Netherlands (17.4m); Belgium (11.5m).

    About the same population: Finland (5.5m); Slovakia (5.4m).

    Much smaller in population: Estonia (1.3m); Latvia (1.95m); Lithuania (2.8m).

    Ach, ah ken, Bella’s a forum for discussion about Scottish independence, not about basic geographical knowledge. But having the correct geographical facts to support Scotland’s case for independence can be rather important.

    I urge all those striving for independence to take careful note.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      Sorry folks, I realise on re-reading this that I was so intent on getting my geographical facts right, that I didnae mention the several matters on which the author is dead right. Including the vital distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism. And the total factual impossibility, given England’s determination not to be divided into smaller units, of federalism in the UK. Mea culpa; ah didnae mean to be that awfie tae ye, Simon.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        At the risk of sounding like Monty Python, Mr Hutton might have got some things ‘dead right’, but did he do in making a case for the union, which was what Mr Brooke was criticising.

        The left – of which Mr Hutton is, undoubtedly a part – in England is so bereft of ideas that their argument is essentially, “stay with us, because we need your votes to aspire to the kind of England we want and we will give you some sweeties for being so docile.”

      2. Dougie Harrison says:

        Since my geographical pedantry hasn’t been commented on here, no reader of Bella is likely interested in the fact that I have now sent the ‘Observer’ a refutation – many months in the thinking/researching/writing-time, of Will Self’s most potentially damaging nonsense. The old canard that federalism will solve the ‘national question’ in the ‘UK’. Of course it cannie; as Simon has explained. I hope (but don’t expect) that you’ll be able to read my factually-based argument in next Sunday’s ‘Observer’. But I’m no huddin ma breath…

        1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

          I had not read Mr Self’s piece. If it was as you reported, I am disappointed because I had always perceived him as knowing Scotland pretty well via his late ex-wife, Deborah Orr, whom I think was in favour of independence.

          Federalism has never really had an extended public discourse in England (outside of politics departments, and then only in small ways) and especially in the Labour Party, which is, in many respects the Party of Great Britain/England, while proclaiming itself ‘internationalist’ and for the workers of all countries. “Federalism”has been the blancmange put forward by the Labour Party in Scotland to stem the flow of voters from it. We saw the vacuity of the infamous ‘Vow’

  16. Liz Murray says:

    Thanks Simon. I started writing a letter to the editor of the Observer but could not condense my wrath succinctly enough! You have expressed all my thoughts on Will Hutton’s article so well. I hope Will Hutton reads your riposte.

  17. Margaret Tees says:

    Well said Simon.

  18. Ros says:

    Spot on Simon.

  19. Alisdair McNicol says:

    Some very well made points above, but can we please cut Will Hutton some slack? He’s a left wing liberal, virtually an endangered species in England, (and ultra hate figure for the right wing mouth foamers), who is desperately seeking some (any?) help from North of the Border. He, like many of us resident in England, is tearing his hair out at the prospect of the Trumpian Dystopia that Cummings & Co. are leading the UK towards. Unlike the English Regions, Scotland has the option of piling into the last seaworthy life boat available. As you pull away, please spare a thought for the rest of us left listening to the string quartet, as the water starts to lap around our ankles. (Levelling up? Please don’t make me laugh, Boris.)

    1. William St Clair says:

      There’s always room for more in the life boats. Come and join us. You’ll be very welcome.

  20. SleepingDog says:

    Are Scots really better-educated than populations of those other small European countries? By what criteria? I am no expert, but I have heard good things about Finnish education, for example:

    And if you are really against parasitism, I wouldn’t big-up the financial services industry.

    I have to wonder about the motivation of someone who makes the case for Unionism as badly as Hutton, but then, what case can be made?

    However, I strongly agree with the second-last paragraph. At the moment Scotland acts as a facilitator of the British (neo)Imperial project. Time that ended.

  21. Colin says:

    Um. Typo?

    “Which means we must open an enormous concatenation of cans of works, ”

  22. John Noble says:

    Love it Keep it up.

  23. Edward Harkins says:

    After actually carefully reading the Will Hutton article, can I say that the author here has been far too unheeding on the nuances and strengths underlying Hutton’s deeper messages. In particular on a truly radically reformed and ‘modernised’ progressive patriotism for Scottish and UK Labour. – That’s something like what I half-expected to say, as a hitherto admirer of Hutton (including at some of his many speaking events in Scotland). Unfortunately, I have to instead express my dismay that he could have written such a misguided, uncomprehending and even wrong-headed article. Frankly there’s much trite about Saltire, pipes kilts and battle honours, and even Balmoral. Latterly his plea for Labour to reject Brexit is woefully mistimed. That train left the station some time ago – even the Lib Dems now seek to renege on their European credentials. I’m confused about the entire perspective of the piece. Is is seeking a ‘new patriotism’ for Scottish Labour or for UK Labour or both? In any event it seems to emerge from an Anglo-centric viewpoint seeking only to retain the ‘United’ Kingdom that it hankers after (although increasingly less so). Scotland and its ‘patriotism’ to be as a functional subset of support for the UK. It seems I might have to add Will Hutton to my increasing list of failed or failing institutions, conventions and members of the politico/media caste of the old Union.

  24. Tim O’Sullivan says:

    Can you reference your assertion that Scotland has a better educated population than Sweden, please.

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