Nationalism is like religion; it’s a matter of emotion rather than logic. Occasionally it make sense to create a new country as a means of protecting a race of people from racist attitudes found elsewhere, but other than that, there’s very little point in having new countries.
National identity is an emotional lever used by scoundrels to control populations throughout history. In western Europe it’s taken over from religion as the best way to manipulate the emotions of a population, and it’s seldom used for good.
The National Socialists in Germany use racism and nationalism to unite the population for a common purpose. Britain used nationalism to stand up against fascism, rather than joining what was a European movement. Germany, Italy and Spain were fully fascist. France was largely fascist (although airbrushed from history after the war). Belgium and Holland were inconsequential.
So nationalism has its uses, but more often these uses are evil.
Nationalism doubtless played its part in the Brexit debate. The UK was half-in the EU and voted for full-out. Was this a tribal desire to avoid be subsumed into a forthcoming European super-state for emotional reasons, or a distrust of the “former” European fascists and communists? Probably a bit of both.
And this brings us to Scottish Nationalism. This is very different from Brexit. Scottish independence is about a major change to the status quo. Brexit was about future direction; the status quo wasn’t on the ballot as the EU is mutating; expanding its powers and geography. It wasn’t what we signed up for in 1975.
The Scottish Nationalists want a self-governing Scotland based on communist principles. Scottish politics is like that. Whether they’re rational or not isn’t the question here; the situation exists and a high proportion of the people living there want this at an emotional level; pathos trumps logos.
So what is the rest of the UK to do about this? We had a once-and-for-all referendum to settle the question in 2014, during which the Cameron government basically bribed the Scottish people with disproportionate funding and won the day. (The people of England, who had to pick up the tab, weren’t consulted).
Broadly speaking the main political parties are split. The Conservative and Unionist party, to give them their full name, is obviously unionist on principle. The Labour party is less sure. Blair started the process towards independence (termed “devolution”) for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1997, as soon as he came to power. Or was this an electoral bribe that went wrong? You’d have to think Blair pretty stupid and reckless if that were the case, although this has been said of him in other areas.
Either way, both Cameron and Blair tried to buy off the nationalists one way or another, and it has simply emboldened them. Being granted and losing a referendum changed nothing.
We need a new plan. It would be possible for England to say simply say “We’ve had enough – get into line or leave”. The Conservatives won’t do that, and Westminster in general recoils at the idea of an English a referendum on splitting from Scotland as they know what the result would be.
The Conservatives are being governed by noble motives here. It’s obvious that without Scotland they’d have a permanent majority in the House of Commons. It’s equally obvious that Labour would become the permanent opposition, which amply explains their opposition to Scottish independence.
The final point in this preamble brings us back to Brexit, or more specifically the lessons learned. As soon as the result was known, the Remain camp started waving their arms about shouting “The people didn’t know what they were voting for!”
This is true on many levels. Much of Leave was playing the nationalist card, and Remain was telling the world the sky would fall if we left. Both were outright liars. But it was also very true to say that the referendum was a simple in/out question and no one knew what “out” meant. (No one was keen to explain what “in” meant going forward either).
To those of us watching this disaster, and the ensuing years of recrimination, it was obvious that an in/out referendum was a spectacularly bad idea and should never have taken place. People really didn’t know what they were voting for; they assumed we’d have a trading deal with the EU, and this was the key. Remain said it was impossible. Leave said it was inevitable. No one knew.
So, another Scottish Independence referendum like the 2014 one is clearly a bad plan. There are two possible outcomes:
Leave: Years of argument about the terms and what to do next.
Stay: Years or argument for another bite of the cherry.
Here’s a better way.
If the Westminster government was smart it could deal with this by playing the Nationalists at their own game. Grant them another referendum, but not on independence. Give the Nationalists three years to negotiate an independence treaty, and one with the EU while they’re at it. Then put that treaty to a referendum.
My guess would be that simple-minded nationalism may melt away when the reality of what they’re being sold sinks in. The Scottish people are being sold a pig in a poke right now.
As part of the deal to hold a referendum, Westminster should withdraw the bribes given by Cameron in 2014. Scotland should get its fair share of funding, and not a penny more. The Nationalists deny they’re being subsidised, so how could they object?
If Scotland would really be better off independent from the UK then fair enough. However, there are plenty of people in Scotland who don’t want a communist-inspired local government, or haven’t realised it yet, and the UK has a duty to protect them.
The Scottish Nationalists don’t think ahead, so the UK should force them to explain to the people of Scotland exactly what they’d be voting for if they chose independence. The Nationalist voters aren’t going to listen to the facts from anyone else. It’s easy to sell flag-waving nationalism; less easy to sell economic reality.