I married into a Scottish family. From the outset they fed me haggis and bought me tartan clothing apparently in an effort to … well, to “tartanwash” me. Our politics differed. I was left-wing, they were assuredly not. Bit by bit Scotland came to feel ever more like home and, of course, I have come to care about the future on offer to my Scottish family. What this has meant is that for a long while I have had some skin in the Independence game.
I have never made any secret of my dislike of nationalism — not Scottish nationalism in particular, but all nationalisms. They are machines fuelled by a sentimental and, I feel, delusional belief that one’s “people” are different and special and a concomitant hostility to “the other”.
My Scottish nationalist friends told me that their nationalism was different; that it was uplifting and hostility-free (which has not always been my own personal experience) and that they would be delighted if the English were to embrace their own nationhood with similar fervour. I could not tell if they really were enthusiasts for English nationalism. I certainly wasn’t for reasons that I save for some later day.
To test the proposition that they might welcome a rampant English nationalism, I ran a thought experiment. What if the Scots decided that remaining in the Union was where their interests truly lay (as well they might on Thursday) but an upswing in English nationalist fervour led to the rUK deciding that:
- Self-determination by individual countries was better than union;
- The English would be better off financially if they were rid of the Scots;
- The English were specially virtuous and concerned with issues of social justice that the Scots just couldn’t be trusted to care about;
- Any adverse consequences for Scotland arising from the English pushing them out of the Union were their problem; and
- The Scots should keep quiet whilst the English made up their minds?
Would my nationalist friends have been saying “Good on you! This is what we hoped for! We are exhilirated by the sight of the mighty English people relentlessly pursuing their own best interests”? Perhaps, but, to be frank, I doubt it. By far the more likely result would be that the Scots would bitterly resent the exercise.
The reason why that conclusion matters to me is that I would expect the same reaction here. There is no doubt the English want the Scots to stay (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/scottish-independence-referendum-new-poll-4244149). But what if they go?
The Yes campaign have been saying that the English do not properly understand the Scots but that once they are “free” from us and our disappointing tory-voting, scots-oppressing ways we’ll all be great pals. Whatever we may presently be saying we will agree to a currency union and we will not at all resent fiscal measures designed to hoover jobs northwards. I fear that means that they do not properly understand the English.
Until now the only thing which has mattered is how the Scots feel. If they opt for independence then the picture changes. The question then will be how will the English react if the process causes an economic shock? Will their equanimity survive being threatened with a debt renunciation? Perhaps. Perhaps, but I doubt it. It is worth noting that whilst 81% of English and Welsh voters want the Scots to remain in the Union, at the same time 61% of them are opposed to a currency union (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/15/independent-scotland-not-use-pound-english-welsh-voters). That may be, as Mr Salmond puts it, the “sovereign will” of the Scottish people, but it requires the agreement of the English and Welsh people.
In Trafalgar Square last night one speaker said “I don’t want to compete with the Scottish, I want to co-operate with them.” But if competition is what the Scots choose and if nationalism is forced upon the English by default, the English would not only be entitled but, I suspect, will actively want to make sure that their own best interests are preserved. I view this prospect with horror. It is grist to the UKIP mill. This may be the biggest unintended consequence of all. Independence will not magically dis-integrate the Scots economy from that of the rUK. New markets will not instantly appear that will immediately reduce Scottish dependence on trade with the rUK (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/209891/13-635-scotland-analysis-business-and-microeconomic-framework.pdf). The Scottish economy will, therefore, be strongly affected for the foreseeable future by rUK politics. Independence will mean that Scots lose any say at Westminster whilst the supposedly longed for parallel rise in English nationalism will leave the English in no mood to adapt decisions for the benefit of Scotland.
My friend Jonathan Chamberlain said recently: “It will be awful”. I fear he is right.