Monday, December 04, 2006

The fate of the Union

Things seem to be hotting up in Scotland in the advance of next year's election, with polls showing the SNP currently ahead of Labour. The nastiness of last weekend's Scottish Labour Conference attacks upon the nationalists, with John Reid continuing to spout the most idiotic nonsense about how independence could be a sop to terrorist (I mean, please....) throughout the last week has brought some unlikely defenders of sense rather than nonsense out of the wordwork, as these reports show. Possibly the most thought-provoking piece of commentary I have read is this comment in the Sunday Herald, by Iain MacWhirter, which focuses on English nationalism as much as it does on the Scottish variety:

However, I have been acutely aware in recent conversations with metropolitan editors and commentators of a resentment, an irritation with Scotland right now which is as unmistakable as it is puzzling. It is not my perception that Scotland is going through one of its anti-English phases, yet I keep being told the Scots just won't stop moaning and attacking the English. That we ask for more and more subsidies and then claim London is responsible for all our problems. That we "run" the Cabinet and are over-represented in Westminster. Yet, Scottish public spending is in relative decline and Scottish MPs were reduced by one sixth after devolution.
This has little to do with the Barnett Formula or the West Lothian Question. It's personal. Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian that: "Gordon Brown, probably the next prime minister, wears his distaste for England on his sleeve, and English voters sense it." That was an astonishing thing to say, when the chancellor has gone to such lengths to stress his love for the union and support for England in events like the World Cup.
There is a note of condescension, even contempt, creeping into a lot of media commentary which is becoming more than a little disturbing. This hostility is reflected in rather more Anglo-Saxon terms in emails and internet comments, many racist and unprintable, on my pieces. When will the Scots learn to stop complaining? Why don't you just Jock Off?


Indeed, having done it, having mentioned English nationalism in the text of this piece, I will probably be subject to the same barrage, as Bondbloke has been before, both here and in his other place.

The other thing that struck me recently was the overwhelming hysteria that seems to attend any debate about the future of the Union. It would seem that a vote on the part of the electors of the Scottish Parliament next May is equated in most people's minds with the automatic break up of the Union. This is clearly nonsense. There are many who might vote SNP in May who would do so in order to signal a dissatisfaction with the status quo, without necessarily expressing a firm desire for independence. Moreover, any SNP-led government will be a coalition government, and independence would still be a distant prospect. There is more to the debate about the government and governance of Scotland than simply the question of voting SNP, or not, in May 2007.

Nonsense and hysteria, I'm afraid, also tinged a short conversation I had at a dinner last week with a prominent radio presenter, who is Scottish, but who resides currently in London. I was first told that if I suggested that arguments about the relevance of passports to the issue are made, then such arguments should also include reference to passport unions and such like, then I was being "academic". I plead guilty as charged, if that's the case, but it's still an important argument, because it about using balance in arguments, rather than raising scaremongering which is as likely to drive voters into the arms of the SNP as it is to put them off. Second, when I suggested that the government of an independent Scotland would not necessarily be composed of the current leadership of the SNP, this argument was waved away as truly ridiculous. Who else, I was told, could comprise the leadership of Scotland? Well, I suppose the argument does need to be made that an independent Scotland would have political parties, and would be a liberal democratic state, so who knows who its political leadership might be, especially if a form of PR is used for national elections. Oh well, at the end of the day the significance of my views (bear in mind, please, that I still remain pro-Union) was dismissed because I've only been here two years. Consequently, I am not only "academic", but also "romantic". Oh dear. Good job said radio presenter tends to use stronger arguments when broadcasting.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Bondbloke said...

Bondbloke would like to have it known that this is nothing to do with him, and to tell the loonies who visit that he is only temporarily out of action and that HE WILL BE BACK!!!!!

Monday, December 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bondwoman - You were right! Attention seeking :-)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very insightful post. All the debates surrounding these matters get really, really heated. I wonder how it will all pan out ? I think there is a huge difference between what you say in a consequence free opinion poll to how you might vote in any referendum. If I was in Scotland I'd probably vote SNP next year as well, just for a bit of a shake-up, but probably NO in an independence referendum.

I am old fashioned in still being attached to being British ? Britishness gets caricatured into a flag waving, GSTQ kind of right-wing campery by nats across the UK. For me it's about the unity in diversity, the solidarity, the sense of a shared landscape. I think the North of England has as much if not slightly more in common with the Scottish central belt as it does the Home Counties.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Bondbloke said...

Definitely not attention seeking Peggy - if I was attention seeking would I be giving up, I think not I would be jumping up and down shouting and screaming, waving flags and whatever else came to hand... In fact I have another idea in mind but it is going to take a while to formulate it!

Interesting comment Martyn, cerainly made me think about 'Britishness' and about the similarities between the North of England and the Central belt of Scotland, which is very true in very many ways

Wednesday, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got the feeling that the present settlement for Scotland is about right - I see far less case for leaving the Union since I moved "hame" than I did when exiled south of the border.
Unfortunately, I'm also of the view that PR tends to reduce the standard of politicians to the lowest common denominator and have yet to be impressed by anyone in Scottish politics. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of good historic examples, but none seem to be be around in the executive at the moment. I am a strong believer that the rigour necessary of seeking a personal mandate does loads for the quality of the resulting elected member.
Scotland would be better for no party lists, smaller constituencies and STV elections; England would lose its angst and stop worrying about Scottish success if it had its own assembly or assemblies.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

thanks for the comments folks. Because I have just migrated "Bondbloke" to blogger beta it looks as if the identity of the various contributors has been lost.

Saturday, December 16, 2006  

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