UK Politics

Happy Birthday Britain

The United Kingdom, formed when the English and Scottish Parliaments were both dissolved in 1707, is three hundred years old today.

While the merger was unpopular in Scotland in the years immediately following the Union itself, by the Nineteenth Century it was an accepted fact not seriously challenged until the push and pull of North Sea oil and Scottish deindustrialisation allowed nationalism North of the border to attract significant numbers of votes in the 1970’s.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has renewed its calls for a referendum on the future of the Union.

But Labour said separation was a “tired, old-fashioned idea”.

The poll for the BBC’s Newsnight programme indicated that 56% of people in Scotland would like the Union to continue as it is, with 32% wanting it to end.

However, some other recent polls which were worded differently suggested that voters might favour Scotland becoming independent in a referendum.

Would an independent Scotland be good for either party to the Union?

The generally poor calibre of those who sit in the Edinburgh parliament would seem to be the best argument against a ‘velvet divorce’ process similar to that undertaken by the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the early 1990’s; at least from a Scottish angle.

The Nationalists claim that if Scotland were independent those Scottish politicians who currently sit in the Westminster Parliament would be attracted home thus raising the quality of the legislators.

I’m not convinced by this argument. Ambitious Scots have been taking the High Road South to London in large numbers even before the Union and there is no guarantee that those in future who wanted to play on a larger stage wouldn’t simply take out English nationality in order to do so.

It’s also a moot point whether in a globalised world the breaking up of the United Kingdom into its constituent parts would have much effect on either country. Scotland kept its own legal and educational systems after the Union in any event so nothing would change there, and anyone who cares to look knows that economic trends don’t stop at borders these days.

For those on the Left though a stronger argument against independence would be the loss of the Scottish seats in Westminster. There is a real possibility that if these seats disappeared in a new constitutional settlement England would be stuck permanently with an inbuilt Conservative majority.

Is the prospect of a passport with a thistle and a unicorn on it worth the risk? The short answer has to be no.


Update: Unionism didn’t extend as far as France according to national archives recently uncovered.