I will be campaigning strongly for a “No” vote in the independence referendum in September and, along with Labour activists and supporters of other parties and of none, have been out campaigning in my constituency since 2011.
When international co-operation through mulitnational institutions has become the norm throughout the world, it is absurd that the SNP want to take Scotland backwards to a time when the sovereign nation state was a meaningful concept.
So what is the case for independence?
‘Scotland is different from the rest of the UK’
Nationalists allege that Scotland is somehow different, culturally and politically, from our neighbours in England (and, presumably, in Wales and Northern Ireland too). This is fatuous nonsense, predicated on the assumption that Scotland is a single, unified, homogenous political and cultural identity. Yet anyone familiar with Scotland knows that residents of Glasgow, for example, have more in common, culturally, with the cities of Manchester and Belfast than we have with, for example, Edinburgh or Aberdeen. And Glaswegians certainly have more in common with our compatriots living in Liverpool than we have with natives of many parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. That is not a case for separating ourselves from fellow Scots – it’s a case for remaining in union with the millions of other citizens with whom we share not only the same island, but the same language, history and culture.
But it’s in politics that the nationalist Yes campaign claim there is the biggest difference between Scotland and England. Scotland, apparently, is a much more left wing and “progressive” nation than England; remaining in the UK means being governed by Tories we never voted for. And yet in 1997, the single biggest swing against an incumbent Tory MP didn’t happen in Scotland – it happened in the south east of England, where Michael Portillo was defeated by Stephen Twigg. The nationalists, aware that their leader, Alex Salmond, is often seen as a barrier to winning a vote for independence, insist that the vote on September 18 isn’t about him or any single party. Fine. Then it’s also not about David Cameron or the Conservative Party.
And assertions that Scotland will forever be a left wing country ignores the fact that we were once more right wing than the rest of the UK: the Tories remain the only party ever to win a majority of the vote north of the Border. That was a long time ago – in 1955. Yet independence is a long-term project. No-one can guarantee that a future independent Scotland will never be governened by the Tories.
“Ah, but whatever government we have, at least it’ll be elected by you,” comes the nationalist argument. Well, that depends on who you mean by “you”. I certainly didn’t get the government I voted for at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011. Neither did more than half of those who bothered to cast their vote. Democracy’s a frustrating thing; the nationalists continue to claim that no-one in Scotland voted for the current UK government. Yet at the 2010 general election, Liberal Democrat and Tory candidates won more than 878,300 votes. The SNP won less than half a million (incidentally, in 2010, the “no mandate” LibDem and Tory MPs in Scotland won barely 5000 fewer votes across Scotland than the SNP did in their landslide vistory at Holyrood a year later).
Another central plank in the nationalists’ case for Scotland being different from England politically is the European elections. The English elect Ukip MEPs, nationalists whose central motivation is to wrench their nation out of a political and economic union with other nations, whereas in Scotland we elected THREE MEPs (two SNP and one Ukip), nationalists whose central motivation is to wrench their nation out of a political and economic union with other nations…
Scottish nationalists claim it’s better to sever our ties with England and its extremism and instead make common cause with our European brothers and sisters who, like Scotland, turned their backs on extremism. Apart from the National Front topping the poll in France, of course. And victories for the extreme right across other parts of the EU.
‘We won’t be isolated because we’ll remain part of the EU’
I have always been suspicious of a party that regarded the Union between Scotland and England with contempt and even outright hostility, yet considered our membership of the European Union so much more positively. Union with a people who share the same culture, language and history – not to mention currency – is a natural and stable state. Union with our European partners, although desirable and worth fighting for, is far less natural and fraught with many more difficulties than those which exist within the UK.
A House of Commons Library research paper recently concluded that the EU decides on “up to” 50 per cent of UK laws (and would, according to the SNP, continue to do so for an “independent” Scotland). To describe a future Scotland that was outside the UK but inside the EU as “independent” is therefore stretching the truth. But “independence” is not really what the SNP want; they simply believe in separating Scotland from England.
It is Scotland’s participation in powerful international institutions like the UK, the EU, Nato and the United Nations that allow us to punch above our weight. That is not to say that Scotland couldn’t survive and even prosper separate from the rest of our country; it could. But in an age of political and financial uncertainty, why take the risk? Why surrender all influence over monetary policy but continue to use the pound? Why take the risk that, having left the UK (and therefore the EU), Scotland would have to renegotiate our re-entry into Europe and be forced to adopt the ailing Euro as our national currency? When business desperately needs stability to create jobs and growth, why plunge our nation into uncertain constitutional and economic waters?
Significantly, the language and arguments used by Alex Salmond and the SNP are almost indistinguishable from those used by anti-EU Conservatives like Bill Cash, Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan.
The United Kingdom is the oldest, most successful political, social and economic union the world has ever known. Shattering it simply to satisfy a 19th century notion of nationhood that’s no longer relevant, or to address a 1970s grievance about dwindling oil resources, would be an exercise in arrogance and short sightedness; in short, an unpardonable folly.