Is the UK dying?
I remain a Conservative and Unionist to this day. I’m proudly a Yorkshire man and very aware of my Englishness, but the defining characteristic of what I believe myself to be, is British. Very much so. In that sense, I feel myself to be in a diminishing minority. It saddens me beyond belief.
I get sick to the heart when some Scots moan on about how badly treated they are by Westminster and even sadder when some English folk simply say “good riddance” in response. In the 2019/20 UK financial year, public spending in Scotland was 12.4 per cent higher than the UK average, whilst revenue raised in Scotland was 2.5 per cent below the average. So what the hell have SNP supporters really got to moan about? Westminster gave Scotland a devolved Parliament, which we were told would strengthen the Union. It has merely weakened it, as I believed it would.
I said precisely that when Blair’s government introduced their White Paper in the Commons, outlining their “devolution” proposals for a Scottish Parliament, in 1997. I warned that the seeds of the break-up of the United Kingdom, in 20 to 30 years’ time, were being sewn that day. Here are some extracts from my speech, made after hearing SNP anti-Englishness in full flood and too many English MPs rising to the bait and responding in kind:
“We already have a Scottish Parliament, this is it [Westminster]. We have a Northern Irish Parliament, an English and a Welsh one. They all meet here. We cast that aside at our peril. These islands counted for nothing in the world until they came together, then they changed the world, forever. If we want to consign ourselves to the dustbin of history, then Scotland will lead the way by accepting this White Paper.”
The Union is held together primarily by the Union of Scotland and England (1707). If that goes, so does the rest. The UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world, a nuclear power, a member of the UN Security Council, with a monarch who is head of the Commonwealth. Because of Brexit, it is making trade deals around the world, on its own terms, which will power the post-Covid recovery. Our military forces are still modern and effective, being a key component of Nato, our main security barrier. England on its own, losing all those British advantages, would count for next to nothing; Scotland, out of the EU, and potentially out of the UK as well, would count for even less. That is no insult, it happens to be the stark-staring truth. England is Scotland’s biggest market and the majority of its exports head to the rest of the world through England. The SNP want to rejoin the EU and KEEP the pound. They can’t. A hard border with England would therefore be staring them in the face. In that regard, Scottish realities need to overcome Scottish emotions. It’s the UK’s future, not just theirs.
The truth is Boris Johnson is as much a Unionist as me. Due to the Covid pandemic his eye has understandably been taken off the Unionist ball. He needs to get back on that ball without hesitation. The SNP are making an unchallenged case for the destruction of the British nation state, despite it being an easily dismissed and very weak case. Scottish opinion polls are recently showing a clear majority in favour of independence. The SNP are on the verge of achieving it by default. The destruction of the UK affects every part of it, not just Scotland, including all Britons who live in the TRNC.
Nicola Sturgeon’s threat to hold an independence referendum without Westminster’s permission is unconstitutional and probably illegal. It would also be in direct conflict with SNP promises that the result of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum (in which Scots voted overwhelming to remain in the UK) would be “honoured for a lifetime”.
Sturgeon has the same view of referendums as the EU demonstrated in the past, with the likes of Ireland and Denmark. You can have as many referendums as you like, until you get the answer right. When you do, that’s final.
Sturgeon’s referendum threat may be illegal, but it would be politically advantageous for her if Boris refuses outright to hold one, making the result, whenever it came, more likely to be in favour of Scottish separation. On the other hand, he should not agree to hold one immediately, on Sturgeon’s terms. Let’s be honest. He would lose it. He should utilise the pandemic and the time needed to return to “normality” as the reason for delay, setting a referendum date in two to three years time. It would be an honest and demonstrably practical suggestion, very difficult to deny. It would take the wind out of Sturgeon’s sails (somebody certainly needs to).
He should also insist that those born in Scotland and living in England should be entitled to register their opinion in any future independence referendum. They were denied that opportunity in 2014. Had they had a vote, I believe that referendum would have delivered an even bigger majority in favour of the Union. I have no reason to believe that situation has changed. If Scotland is to decide, then let all British resident Scots decide the matter, not just those currently north of the border.
It would give the forces of Unionism (including a good percentage of Scots) time to form a cross-party, referendum coalition, capable of showing up Sturgeon’s separatist arguments to be the practical nonsense that they are. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories are all Unionist parties, with figures like Gordon Brown within them, who are perfectly capable of taking on Nicola Sturgeon and beating her. Furthermore, by then, the benefits of Brexit will be all too apparent, even to Nicola Sturgeon.
You delivered Brexit Boris, against all the odds. Now save all of us, be we English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, from the chaos of Sturgeon’s UK break up.