2007 - 2022

Why is the Union So Special?

It feels like a rhetorical question. It’s not entirely clear where to put the emphasis. Is it ‘Why IS our Union so special?’ Is it ‘Why is our Union SO special?’ Is it ‘Why is OUR Union so special?’ The question hangs in the air like a gas.

I mean we had the Poll Tax imposed on us and Thatcherism before that. We host Trident against our will and our land is scattered with the toxic detritus of the British State. We’ve had decades of government we didn’t elect. Scotland voted overwhelmingly in every region to remain in Europe. 96% of Scotland’s Westminster representatives requested that all UK nations should agree before Brexit was carried. The Tories, with just one Scottish MP, overruled this. That’s kind of ‘special’.

But beyond all this the Unionist argument is that, even if the Union is profoundly and  intrinsically undemocratic, it’s good for us. Boris will ‘put his arms around us’ and Scotland benefits from Britain’s largesse. It’s never really explained just why Scotland is perpetually poor, and why such a special Union has been so economically bad for us to require permanent life-support. But that is the argument.

The furlough was the exemplar of this argument. As evidence from around the world pointed to small independent countries being able to make bold and decisive actions in public health, and as Johnson’s handling of the pandemic was exposed as a venal shambles, Unionists resorted to the pressing need for a OneState approach worthy of Yevgeny Zamyatin.

‘Why is the Union So Special?’ was of course the subject of Douglas Ross’s speech for the Policy Exchange think-tank this morning. It was broadcast online and viewed by over a hundred people.

Now combining a sort of mea culpa with a basket of very odd policy ideas and the expression of a complete disconnect from reality. At one point, after having listed al the great benefits of the Union he said: “Instead of taking pride in the decision that they made in 2014, there are people who have begun to question it. They ask “Why is our Union different? The UK is a partnership of nations just like the European Union.”

It’s really not.

“Let the healing begin” he pleaded.

“The Covid-19 crisis has put the structures for interaction between the UK Government, devolved administrations and indeed the English mayoralties to the ultimate test, and I think that even the most committed defender of the current system would admit that they have been found wanting.”

Well, er, quite.

Ross started by establishing himself as something of an EdgeLord saying: “In my speech last month to Conservative Conference, I said that the “case for separation is now being made more effectively in London than it ever could in Edinburgh” Of course, I knew when I made that statement it would be seen by some as provocative.”

But the speech quickly descends into a blancmange of strange homilies and slightly hokey factoids, so we learn:

“…our Union is not just one single relationship, Yes, there was an Act of Union in 1707 that brought Scotland and England together and created the United Kingdom.

But before that event there was already a tight web of connections, tying together our four nations” [maybe best not go that in too much detail].

He continued:

“…that web of connections is deeper today than it has ever been. It brings together not just nations but communities and people. 23,000 students from the rest of the UK are enrolled in Scottish universities. Lincolnshire farmers supply barley that produces Speyside Whisky in my Moray Constituency. And the most popular children’s book series in the world was written by an Englishwoman in Edinburgh cafes.”

At this point you might be wondering what the fuck he is talking about, but it gets better.

Warming to his theme and now speaking as if he’s talking to a pre-school nursery he explains:

“Our Union even exists in our families. My grandfather – Geordie Sorrie – was one of nine boys, brought up in small tin-roofed two-bedroomed croft in Monymusk, Aberdeenshire. One of his brothers – Jimmy – moved to Corby originally employed in the Steel Works and then with Golden Wonder. Our family kept close links with Jimmy and his Evie and their family as well as cousin Mervyn and his family in Northern Ireland.”

I’m not quite sure why people having families – surely a universal truth – should be the strongest case for this special Union, and we’re left none the wiser, just with the image of young Geordie Sorrie rattling around the tin-roofed croft with his eight brothers and content to know that close links are kept up with Mervyn and his family.

Getting back to the question at hand Ross continues:

“Our Union is special because it respects our right to have multiple identities while still building a deep and strong partnership. We do not have to choose between being Scottish and being British, we can be both. This extends to how we govern our country. Scotland has two governments and in contrast to international comparisons, there is no rigid hierarchy between the different tiers of government. They both have areas of responsibility and management. They both have a role.”

Well, sort of I suppose. I mean there’s the government we don’t and can’t elect and there’s the government we do and can. But we don’t have much choice in it.

You’re left rubbing your eyes in disbelief as Douglas chunters on:

“We do not have to choose between governance from Edinburgh or London, we have both.”

I mean, what is this?

Just when you thought that Ross was maybe just an imbecile who didn’t really understand anything at all about the world, things take a darker turn.

“If our Union is to endure then it must continue to be special” he declares.

“As I have said earlier, there is a lot of debate and discussion right now about how we strengthen the Union. It is an easy soundbite inserted into many speeches and comments. Yet there is not a shared understanding of what this means. There are those who see devolution as a massive strategic error. As a pandora’s box that once opened was a “process, not an event” not towards a stable settlement but towards independence. One that has given the SNP a platform from which it has the resources and the exposure to destroy the British state. And therefore, the only way to strengthen the Union is to abolish the Scottish Parliament and return to a pre-1999 situation or severely constrain its powers. I say to them firstly, we live in a reality where devolution enjoys widespread public support. And secondly, our problems lie not with the machinery of devolution but with the SNP Government that is controlling them. And they will not vanish with the removal of the Scottish Parliament.”

I mean this is sort of reassuring but it does suggest that the only reason that the Tories wouldn’t abolish Holyrood completely is that there’s ‘public support’ for it, and anyway the SNP won’t “vanish”  with the removal of the Parliament.

And here we get to the “meat” of the speech, such as it is:

  • The UK Government needs to seize the opportunity to create a more tangible role for itself in delivering previous EU funding schemes.
  • The UK Government needs to do more to involve the Devolved Administrations in delivering our new international role. They will have to implement trade deals so should have a role in producing their terms.
  • More flexibility in our immigration system to account for the needs of different parts of our country, which the Devolved Administrations are well placed to represent.
  • A restatement of the “respect agenda” in engagement and communication.
  • “On one hand the UK Government’s suspicions around the security of information has been legitimate. But on the other, Devolved Administrations, responsible for managing the virus in their nations, have been forced to look for detail on announcements from publicly available press releases. Trust has broken down and when it does we see time and time again popular opinion siding with their devolved representatives.The SNP benefits from inter-governmental disputes, the UK Government does not.” The solution lies in a formal framework for interaction, with rules underpinning the flow of information and regular engagement.Supported by a clear arbitration process to manage dispute and disagreement. This will not just reduce the opportunities for nationalists to claim a “constitutional crisis” but encourage more collaboration and working together,

Much of this is to support policies Ross has publicly (and vehemently) opposed before. But this won’t phase him at all. His notion of an arbitration of disputes is extraordinary and based on a presumption of “equality” between the four nations that has no basis in reality. This is a mixture of power grab and fantasies about Scotland or Wales having a meaningful role in international relations.

Then things get really weird.

“It is also time that we delivered a voice for the Devolved Administrations and English Mayors at Westminster. It is ridiculous that the Church of England and hereditary peers are better represented in the UK legislative process than the Scottish Government. Many governments have flirted with Lords reform, but when we finally get around to it, we need to deliver formal representation for our nations and regions. These suggestions are in no way the totality of what the UK Government could do, but they do show how our Union can evolve to meet current challenges, how it can encourage the collaboration that the Scottish people want to see between their governments. while continuing to ensure that all parts of our country share equally in its benefits.”

This version of Blue Sky Thinking is vague and hazy but essentially he sees elected Scottish politicians somehow being brought into the world of Britain’s crusty feudal Knackers Yard of the House of Lords, as if that is a step towards democracy. It’s eye-wateringly incoherent.

Unfortunately for Ross his pay-off line is a plea for the furlough:

“The furlough scheme has not just been a lifeline to people who would have otherwise lost their jobs, it is also a real and tangible reminder of the economic security of the Union.”

Yet precisely the opposite is true, the UK government’s refusal to extend the furlough outwith England’s borders is as crude and cruel an expose of the failure of the union.



Comments (23)

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  1. Richard Easson says:

    Since we can be both,like Jekyll and Hyde, we in Scotland have two Governments as you say. But England only have one Government in Westminster, since there is no English Parliament in the devolved sense, as with its other three partners in the Union. (No elections , no parliament building, no “fair” electoral system etc.)
    MPs are not MEPs (Members of the English Parliament)

  2. Wul says:

    “If our Union is to endure then it must continue to be special” he [Douglas Ross] declares.

    And there’s one problem right there. Only “special” things endure.

    In fact the opposite is true. Only practical, mutually beneficial unions endure. Only respectful, equal, honest arrangemments grounded in every day, boring reality endure.

    Douglas Ross could have saved a hundred-odd people’s time and entitled his video:
    “Why is our Union so special? I honestly have no fucking clue about anything happening in Scotland. The End”

    1. William St Clair says:

      Brilliant synopsis of D Ross’ speech. Much more succinct and, I have to say, coherent.

  3. Alexander Conn says:

    Ever since the 1979 Scottish Devolution bill, I have heard and and used so many countless arguments for dissolving the union between England and Scotland . At the tender age of 17 I watched the travesty of democracy that was the ’79 referendum. My mother now 92 but much younger then in tears and me standing while watching the television result being announced, incredulous- “how can that be?” At 17 I was not hell bent on ending the union but I knew that for Scotland to have it’s parliament was the right thing morally. At 17 I thought morality was morality, truth was truth, right was right!

    In reflection I now know that I got it right as a teenager, no country should be allowed to rule another. Simple as that, and that has been the truth for me ever since. The BBC, Westminster et al had drummed into me that the Kremlin in Russia should not have the right to control the Eastern Bloc countries this was the universal truth wasn’t it?

    Douglas Ross, Ruth Davidson and so many others can see the universal truth about the democracy amongst nations but choose not to see it in their own country because it suits them. Ruth now has her ermine and jolly good pension, and is notably quieter now than when she was doing the ground work serving Westminster whilst not serving her country in Holyrood. She got what she wanted, Ross is still on the look out for his cut.

    The Union is “so special” not because of any intrinsic value in the political relationship between England and Scotland but because it gives special rewards to those who give themselves to the bigger and highest bidder. Davidson and Ross stand on the shoulders of the many who have gone before them, to be fair their immorality is lesser than many who went before them.

    There are many different ways to argue it and to say it but they still all fall under the same principle- one country should not control another. There is no union, there is only one parliament desperately trying to keep control of another. There is only one country and it’s agents struggling to keep control of another country.

  4. Blair says:

    I agree with Douglas Ross on this point

    “It is ridiculous that the Church of England and hereditary peers are better represented in the UK legislative process than the Scottish Government.”

    Douglas does not appear to be able to offer any new solutions to the problems of the union. He might have got an answer from Boris on Furlough payments but this just shows how the Scottish Tories are against real change. If Douglas really wanted to he could & probably should be asking for some form of special income for Scots to guard against the reality of Covid-19 pandemic, BREXIT and increasing automation.

    There is nothing special in this failing UK system unless you are one of the privileged who can make the system work for yourself.

    It’s long overdue, but we need to to replace the House of Lords with a fully elected house of elected members who can make the system work for all the citizens of our Union.

    Failing this our Scottish Parliament must be independent and Free to make the Scottish system work for the people they represent.

    It’s not entirely clear where the emphasis is in question , however if we turn things around it’s possible to seel why our union is so special.

    Tony Blair came to power with the mantra Education, Education, Education. With 3 decades of education behind us we need to be asking why we find our union(s) are not working as they ought to be and why our United Kingdom has not been reformed to meet the real needs of society.

  5. Jack collatin says:

    Ross was running the line at the Aberdeen Celtic semi yesterday afternoon…
    His ‘day job’, full time MP, and leader of the North Britain Branch Office is apparently not enough to fill the week.
    In this piece he refers constantly to the Scottish Welsh and Norn Ireland governments as ‘the devolved administrations’, conflating our democratically elected Parliaments with England ‘Northern Powehouse’ (no don’t laugh) cities like Manchester.
    To Ross Scotland is not a country, just a Northern region of England, like Greater Manchester or Cornwall.
    He is an empty headed place man, and the arrangement where Baroness Davidson of Rape Clause comes out of retirement when they sack Carjack Lawson, after 11 months peddling her wares to the highest bidder. abortive attempts at £50 k for 25 hours work ‘lobbying’, books and TV appearances, and ahem, spending more time with her wean, is an insult to Scottish Democracy, and epitomises the corruption at the heart of all Brit Nat Parties operating by farce in Scotland.
    I have had enough of moaning from the sidelines.
    It is time, and the SNP Government need to act, and act now.
    In a few days time, Brexit will hit the fan.
    England has been brought to its knees by Johnson Gove and Rees Mogg. Now is the time to strike.
    That Douglas Ross sees nothing wrong with prancing about on a football field while Johnson pisses all over his country, Scotland,tells me all I need to know about this pointless little man.
    Like all Empires on decline, the Brit Empire has sunk into bread and circus Strictly Celebrity Top Gear sex obsessed decadence, and Ross, Davidson, Leonard and Rennie, and their ilk, are hoovering up as much loot as they can before we rise up and drive them from our land.

    They are beneath contempt.
    Now’s the hour, not May 2021.

  6. Thomas Dunlop says:

    “Act of Union in 1707 that brought Scotland and England together and created the United Kingdom” Oh dear. He does even know the history. The country created in 1707 was Great Britain, not the UK…in the words of the document “United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain”

    To me, it looks like he he is setting himself up an escape route. No murmur or official consideration that they want to abolish Holyrood, but since he mentions it, I am sure it is being discussed. SO Im wondering if he has seen the writing on the wall and has decided to jump ship so he can position himself as a right of centre leader in an independent Scotland.

    Now there is a thought.

    1. Wul says:

      Thomas, you’ve made me wonder…when did this change to our country’s name happen?

      I remember as a child toys and things being labelled “made in Great Britain”. This changed at some point.

      1. MBC says:

        It was ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain’.

        1. Thomas Dunlop says:

          ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain’.

          That came only in 1801, with the incorporation of Ireland, in the Act of Union , of that year.

          1. Wul says:


            The popular usage changed in more recent times. It was always “Great Britain” I remember being used when I was younger ( in the sixties) then “United Kingdom” became the default. Maybe around the time we joined the EEC?

      2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        The British Isles comprise a group of over 6,000 islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe. Great Britain is the largest of those islands. The inhabitants of this island came to be governed by two kings, those in the northern half by the king of Scots and those in the southern half by the king of England. By happy accident, in 1603 the king of Scots inherited the throne of England, bringing to an end to centuries of conflict between the two kingdoms.

        In 1707, the parliament in England took fright at a threat by the parliament in Scotland to offer the Scottish crown to someone other than Sophia, Electress of Hanover, on whom the parliament in England had, in 1701, settled the succession in the event of the incumbent monarch dying without issue. It hastily agreed to an act of union, which the ruling class in Scotland broadly desired as a means of accessing England’s expanding colonial markets. The act united the two kingdoms in a single kingdom, by the name of ‘Great Britain’ that covered the whole of the island.

        In 1798, the parliament of Great Britain took fright at the threat of French invasion from Ireland and hastily agreed to an act of union, which the ruling class in Ireland broadly desired in defence of its ascendency over the population. Again, the act united the two kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into a single kingdom, by the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

        So, technically ‘[the Kingdom of] Great Britain’ was superseded by ‘the United Kingdom [of Great Britain and Ireland]’ in 1801. The latter was superseded ‘the United Kingdom [of Great Britain and Northern Ireland]’ in 1927, following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

        Here endeth…

        1. Wul says:

          Thank you very much Anndrais for the potted history. Much appreciated and interesting.

  7. MBC says:

    Thank you Mike for providing this commentary so I don’t have to listen. It must have been hard.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    I am surprised that Douglas Ross referenced The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire:
    but even bolder is his begging the question of who is at the centre, spinning these webs? Queen Shelob?

    Surely the title then is really Why is Our Empire Special? Those outlying little parts where the little people have little say (Spider’s Web calls them ‘tax havens’) are so rarely mentioned these days. It’s almost as if something embarrassing is going on in them, for example, oh say, off in the Chagos Archipelago or something. Embarrassing enough to lose our special seat the special table of the UN?

    Anyway, Douglas Ross does not have to appeal to those non-self-governing territories because they have no say, no votes, no entitlements to the blessed specialness of Unionism. But that’s not special in itself, because other Empires like the USAmerican one also have territories where millions cannot vote in their national elections. Maybe the Empire is special in its make-believe qualities, its finely-fabricated histories, its stubborn backwardness, its awesome living-fossilness, like an evil coelacanth armed with planetcidal weapons, a magic mirror and an awfully convenient memory.

    Or maybe it just comes down to this. Our Empire is special because no-one can think of a single good reason why it should continue, and every good reason to drive a stake into its heart, cut off its head and bury its body down among all those slave ship wrecks on the bottom of the Atlantic.

    1. Jack collatin says:

      ‘an evil coelacanth’; simile of the year, Sleeping Dog.
      Chapeau !

    2. Blair says:

      “Our Empire is special because no-one can think of a single good reason why it should continue”

      There is no good reason why it should continue as it is. Our UK government machine has not been working for many decades, not surprising considering it is still geared for the bygone age of British Empire without sufficient regulation or ideas to properly incorporate Scotland and rUK together whilst allowing open & transparent union with others in our globalised world.

      Sleeping Dog, our Empire is special, it has the capacity do what Scotland requires beyond that which our country can do on its own.

      The goal we need to achieve is to realise the greater sums created by all the individual parts and start working together towards what is currently out of bounds.

  9. Gerald Keogh says:

    Ross has just rambled on and on about how better together can work for Scotland and England however the proof of the pudding is the tasting. A Scot that agrees with any of his rubbish beliefs would relish rotten food with a poison chalice included. The Tory Scroungers have joyfully shown quite openly at Westminster what they really feel about our Scottish MPS and this distasteful attitude seems to be inherent with many Tory Party Members towards Scottish Independence Supporters and the very thought of seeking it.

  10. James Mills says:

    Dross’s ”thoughts” would have been more at home in The Beano , although the Bash Street kids have a more genuine grasp of reality than this flagging linesman .

  11. Robbie says:

    James you said it first word DROSS,no need to go any further

  12. Sue Cox says:

    Boris has promised to put his arms round the North of England. Speaking from Manchester – there are no words!

    1. Wul says:

      Sue, if he does put his arms round you….check your pockets afterwards.

  13. Lon Spear says:

    It’s hard to say

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