It has always been and remains the case that immediate family – husbands and wives, grandparents, children, nephews and nieces – are the closest, strongest, and most enduring bonds of all. My immediate family comprises 11 in Scotland and 14 in England, and we must be typical of many millions more across the Union, particularly so in Scotland and England.
We can also speak of the Family of Nations comprising The Union which over hundreds of years emerged out of otherness, enmity, and strife, and evolved into a family of nations with a shared territory, language, economy, and culture, with one of the most flexible political systems in the world, capable of endless adaptation and improvement as a democratic system allows.
And Our Cross-Pollinating Populations
Extrapolating from the last Census in 2011, there must now be around 1 million Scots-born living in England, and maybe 50,000 in Wales and Northern Ireland. And in Scotland there will be around 500,000 English-born, 20,000 Welsh-born, and around 45,000 from Northern Ireland. In a population currently estimated in Scotland of 5.5 million this is a profound intermingling. Add to this the many millions living in England but descended from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, all of whom will be at home in England but also hold an affinity with their country of heritage, then you have a remarkable but genuine union of identity and diversity.
This unity of shared identity and respected diversity is borne out by a Deltapoll Survey reported in 2021 which asking respondents of their national identity, showed that in Britain 49.4% identified as British, 32.6% as English, 7.2% as Scottish, 5% as European, 3.7% as Welsh, and 2.1% as Other. In Scotland, 63.8% identified as Scottish, 29.2% as British, 4.7% as English, 1.6% as European, 0.8% as Other, and 0% as Welsh.
The almost complete lack of identity with the continent of Europe contrasts starkly with the strong linguistic, cultural, and political affinities also shared with the wider English-speaking world spread over 4 continents in which many tens of millions of their citizens acknowledge and cherish their commonality and origins in the 4 nations of the United Kingdom, and between which millions travel freely and easily, hardly feeling as foreigners at all.
By contrast, the estimated 1.2m born in the UK (including possibly 100k Scots) living in the EU disappear demographically in the EU’s hundreds of millions, and politically and culturally represent nothing.
The Question of Separation – What Is It For ?
The self-styled Scottish Nationalists do not want independence. They want to separate from the union of the United Kingdom and join the union of the European Union. They are separationists not independentists. There is nothing illegitimate about this but we should be clear that as far as we in the UK are concerned this is about separation not independence. It is about leaving one Union and joining another.
And bearing in mind the ties that join us together outlined above, this becomes not only a political, economic, and strategic question, but equally and perhaps more so, a social, emotional, and even a moral and ethical question.
What is separation for? It cannot be for freedom, because you already have it. It cannot be for economic prosperity, because you already share it with the UK and the rest of the developed nations of the world, including the EU. It cannot be for a different legal system, because you already have your own legal system distinct from England, and have had so for the past 400 years. It cannot be for a different culture, because you already have your own distinctive culture and share equally in the culture of Britain and the rest of the European, Western and wider world. It cannot be for a different educational system, because in the Union you once had the finest educational system in the world which successive devolved Scottish governments have spoiled (although it remains in your devolved power within the Union to recover the position). And it cannot be for linguistic freedom when you already have the freedoms of English, Scots, and Gaelic.
So, what is separation for?
There is something fundamentally right about Scotland in Britain and the UK
England never conquered Scotland. It was under that much maligned, learned, imperfect but politically wise Scottish King James V1 of Scotland, and then James 1st of England, that he first tried to unite the parliaments of England and Scotland, but was foiled by the English Parliament. But then via the James 1st Bible he succeeded in fostering a common English language and religious culture shared by a critical majority in Scotland and England. He also kept England and Scotland out of wars with France and Spain, and was reviled by some for doing so. A century later the grandees of the Scottish and English Parliaments aided by an unavoidable chicanery, succeeded in the Act of Union, politically uniting the countries and people of Scotland and England.
Thereon, both countries flourished politically, economically, and culturally. The relative smallness of Scotland never gave rise to discrimination, marginalization, or oppression – on the contrary, Scotland has played an outsize role throughout the life of the Union. The geniuses of the Scottish enlightenment – David Hume, Adam Smith, Walter Scott – never thought their passionate Scottish patriotism was in contradiction with the Union, and nor did the geniuses of Scottish Science and Engineering who inspired the industrial and scientific revolutions of the 19th century.
There have been 10 British Prime Ministers of Scottish origin, along with hundreds of Scottish politicians of all creeds who have played a prominent part in British life, as did the hundreds of writers, historians, and artists who continue to do so to this day, all contributing to one of the most diverse, wide, varied, and storied cultures ever seen, and one shared as they wish to choose by all the peoples of the UK. Truly an achievement of which to be proud and thankful.
And what is so special about Scotland and Britain in the UK is that it is a voluntary union. In this, the UK is relatively unique in recognizing the right of its constituent nations to separate from each other if that is the serious, settled will of their people as expressed in a democratic vote. No other major state of Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Americas (except Canada) allow such a decision either constitutionally or practically, and certainly not the major states of the EU – France, Germany, Spain, or Italy. As Ai Weiwei said, “Never love a person or a country that you don’t have the freedom to leave” And that is another reason why there is something fundamentally right about Scotland in Britain and the UK.
There is something fundamentally wrong about Scotland in the EU
Compare the respect with which England and the institutions of the UK have always treated Scotland with the lack of respect with which the EU and its dominant states, France and Germany have treated Ireland, Greece (trashing their economies to bail out French and German Bankers), Cyprus, Catalonia, and are now trying to dictatorially browbeat the East European countries and others into accepting their views of civic life.
Scotland has achieved a remarkable degree of self-governance, prosperity, and influence within the UK union and the single market, despite the disproportionate population and economic power of England with its population of 57 million (62 million with Wales and NI) compared to Scotland’s 5.5 million.
In addition to its substantial devolved Parliament, Scotland currently has 59 MP’s within a total of 591 in the UK Parliament, 10% of all MP’s. In the EU Scotland would have 6 MEP’s in its Parliament of 751 MEP’s i.e. 0.8%, 11 times less, and in a “Parliament” which does not issue or control primary legislation. Thus, in joining the EU Scotland would lose the considerable powers and influence it wields via Holyrood and Westminster in the UK, in exchange for virtually no power or influence in the EU, all of which would disappear.
Scotland would lose its independent judiciary, having to accept all the rulings laid down by the unaccountable European Court of Justice; it would have to accept all EU legislation coming from the EU Commission, and it would lose control of its agriculture and fisheries which once again would be subject to the predatory industrial fishing of Spain, Holland, Denmark and France. And it would lose its currency, the £, and be forced to join a Euro dominated by Germany, France, and the Benelux countries.
And this is just the minimum of what separating from the UK and joining the EU would mean for Scotland.
The Break-Up of the Union would damage England, put Scotland at serious risk, and could unleash Geopolitical Turmoil
To those who argue that for Scotland to leave the UK is no different to the UK leaving the EU, it should be sufficient to point out that breaking the ties of a common territory, language, economy, politics, culture, and personal, family bonds shared over hundreds of years in the United Kingdom, is in no way equivalent to the United Kingdom joining what it thought was a trading bloc, and leaving with its integrity intact when it discovered it was morphing into a political-economic union.
Such a break-up would undoubtedly damage England’s economy (and RoUK) which, however, would be able to weather it. For Scotland, however, with its huge current account deficit and its share of UK debt no longer supported by the UK, it is undeniably obvious that this would precipitate a series of crises which Scotland on its own would be unable to deal with. It is ironic that the chronic, misdirected, overspending by the separationist government can only be sustained by an indulgent UK government.
Given that the break-up would also have broken the geographic integrity of Britain, it is entirely predictable that desperate politicians would seek desperate remedies. As the EU would be unlikely to step in and bail out Scotland (given its rules and past performance with Greece and Ireland), the possibility of such desperate politicians seeking “help” from dictatorial but cash rich powers such as China or even Russia are not implausible. As they have already done elsewhere, the price they would exact for such “help” would be some sort of physical base in mainland Scotland buttressed by suitable “guarantees” and “concessions”, thus breaching the wall of the Western democracies in what would be a serious defeat and a further weakening of the West against its anti-democratic adversaries.
Who would benefit from the separation of Scotland from the UK?
Clearly, none of these outcomes would be intended by Scotland’s elected politicians but we have to assess the motives, beliefs, and illusions which could lead to such unintended consequences.
Going on their past statements, it is evident that the separationists see themselves in the EU rather like Denmark and Sweden in which they have the double privilege of a semi-independent Parliament with the latitude of defence and foreign policy powers and the dubious benefits of the dwindling single market and of course they would wallow in the EU perks of non-accountable expenses, endless grandstanding and pontificating, and ludicrously excessive salaries and pensions, as the EU is a cornucopia of goodies for its politicians, bureaucrats, and advisors.
What separationist politicians fail to realise is that Denmark and Sweden have evolved stable economies over long periods of time, and have secured a series of critical opt-outs from the Euro, Justice, and Home Affairs legislation, all of which would be unavailable to Scotland. And, unlike the separationists, they have a realistic and practiced approach to state spending. Moreover, these countries are already seriously questioning the direction of the EU and its merits, bearing in mind they only joined after Britain had done so in 1973. Economically and politically, there is no possibility of Scotland becoming a Denmark or Sweden, and even if that were not the case, why would that be better than being part of the UK where they have all the benefits of devolved powers and the shared security and strength of being part of the familiar UK? Truly a case of having your cake and eating it.
So, in answer to the question of who would benefit from Scotland separating from the UK, the answer is no-one, except of course a handful of politicians, bureaucrats, and their professional hangers on.
For Scotland the security and benefits of staying together and maintaining the ties that bind us far outweigh the very serious risks of separation.
Not long before his death in 2021 the erudite Scottish Marxist turned separationist Tom Nairn said in a Times interview about leaving the UK – “Let’s go ahead and see what comes out of the maelstrom”. A “maelstrom” is of course a large, powerful, violent whirlpool, but in societal terms, according to the Cambridge Dictionary it is “A situation where there is great confusion, violence, and destruction.” And this is what the eminent socio-political analyst Nairn meant. He well knew the risks of separation but in the irresponsible cavalier manner of a protected intellectual he was willing to advocate such risks for the Scottish people.
In contrast, the political philosopher and practical politician of genius, Edmund Burke said: “I feel an insuperable reluctance in giving my hand to destroy any established institution of government, upon a theory, however plausible it may be” (1783).
The United Kingdom constitution is one of the most flexible in history and has proved itself capable of endless adaptation to the needs and beliefs of its peoples through the peaceful evolution of democratic politics and can continue to do so in the future. We should stick with what works and cherish the ties that bind the people in all the nations of our union, confident in the knowledge that we are all better together.
Peter Semper is a retired business executive whose political views have evolved from 1960s Marxist-Leninism to today’s Burkean traditionalism.