Unionists need to find reasons for England to remain in the Union, as well as Scotland

As it was reported this morning that several leading Scottish-elected Westminster politicians were up in Scotland campaigning in favour of a pro-Union vote in the Scottish referendum on Scottish independence – whenever it happens – the Daily Telegraph reported that a majority of those in England who expressed a preference in a new ICM poll favoured independence for Scotland (43% for, 32% against). By contrast, in Scotland, there was a majority in favour of remaining in the Union; and not only that, the share of those in favour of independence was lower than in England (40% for, 43% against).

While Scottish and English nationalists will doubtless take comfort from these figures – the Scots because the margin between the no’s and the yes’s has narrowed, and the English in particular taking delight at the massive majority in favour of an English parliament (49% for, 16% against) – the fact that support for Scottish independence is greater in England than in Scotland itself should surely make Unionists pause for thought, if not substitute some of their scheduled speaking engagements north of the border with similar events to its south.

Many of the Unionist persuasion may not in fact be terribly surprised at English people’s lack of enthusiasm for the 300-year-old Union. The ICM poll also shows that 61% of people in England think that higher per-capita public spending in Scotland is unjustified, while 53% of Scots believe it is justified. What did Westminster politicians, who’ve continued to justify the Barnett Formula for so long as a bribe to keep the Scots sweet and to provide a spurious justification for MPs elected outside of England to vote on English bills, think that the long-term effect of these injustices would be?

But the bigger point is that it’s the English that most need persuading that the Union is worth preserving. OK, the Scots may vote against independence; although they might just vote for it. But even if they opt to remain in the Union, how sustainable will that Union be if the English no longer believe in it? The English majority can be ignored only for so long.

And that’s the Unionists’ dilemma: they have ignored England for so long that they no longer have a language in which to present a positive case for England to remain in the Union. The phrase ‘for England to remain in the Union’ is itself a revealing paradox. The idea of the Union – any Union – persisting if England decided to leave it is a complete non-sequitur. If such an eventuality arose, all you’d be left with is a set of disparate nations and territories that would have to make their own minds up as to how they wished to govern themselves and relate to one another. However, despite the fact that the Union between Scotland and England is supposed to be a marriage of equals, no one assumes – but perhaps they should – that the consequence of a divorce would be to break the bonds between the UK’s other nations. Using the marriage analogy, if England and Scotland are the parents, why is everyone assuming that, after their divorce, England will automatically gain custody of the kids (Wales and Northern Ireland, and perhaps Cornwall)? Perhaps Scotland should take on some responsibility for them, such as paying them maintenance out of its oil reserves. Or perhaps they’re grown-up enough to take care of themselves.

The absurdity of this analogy shows how invalid the marriage analogy is. The Union is not a marriage, it’s a family of four children, the largest of whom – England – has acted in loco parentis (the parent being called ‘Britain’) for so long that she has invested her emotions and personality wholly into the role, to the extent that she has lost sense of who she is apart from that role. But now her siblings are growing up, they understandably want to manage their own affairs; and England, who has thought of herself as Mother Britannia for so long, has now got to rediscover a new mission in life as a grown-up, independent person – albeit that she might continue to play a key role in the family business going forward.

But this is my point: once England starts to think of herself separately from the Union, then this is as much a consequence of the Union having already begun to break up as it is a precursor and cause of England’s political separation from the Union. The Union is as much in England’s mind as it is a political reality; and for the thought of ‘England remaining in the Union’ to even be possible, that Union must have already have begun to dissolve.

It’s that England that the Unionists must try to convince of the Union’s merits. But the mere fact of that England existing as a distinct entity means the Union as it has existed for 300 years has already begun irrevocably evolving into a different set of relationships between its constituent parts.

English parliament

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3 Responses

  1. When are we the English going to be asked if we would like our own parliament? Maybe Clegg won’t let Cameron end the undemocratic nature in which England is governed or scrap the skewed Barnett Formula, after all why would England need the Lib Dems or a coalition if it was allowed the luxury of getting the government it votes for just as the Scots, Welsh & NI enjoy. Cameron and every MP with an English seat who continues to put the so called ‘Union’ first and England a poor last will come to regret treating England with such contempt. I am sick of hearing ‘Unionists’ saying how much we all benefit from a ‘United’ Kingdom. In what way exactly does England benefit? Scotland needs England to pay the bills for their socialist extravagances but they can’t name one benefit for England because there aren’t any. It’s about time they channelled some of the energy they are putting into keeping the Scots on board into giving England democracy. The Scots are never going to vote for independence whereas the English just might but of course they’re never going to ask us are they? Either we don’t count or they don’t want to know the answer or probably both. Isn’t democracy a wonderful thing???

  2. Jools – interesting exercise for you when you have a spare day or to, Google English constituencies – and see who sits in them. You will be appalled how members, who are supposed to represent English seats, identify themselves – the number who call themselves English are far less than those that call themselves Pakistani, or Indian for example.

    We should get a campaign going to write to every single member sitting in an English seat and ask them how they’d vote on a motion for an English Parliament, and campaign against them if they would vote against it.

  3. I am beginning to think that Scotland is already recognised as a wholly separate entity when I see, for example, Marks and Spencer selling a drink labelled British fruit with Scottish raspberries and so on and so forth. (The equivalent Elderberry drink is not labelled as English elderberries – they are, as the small print says, from Kent or some such.) Also, Andy Murray’s recent return to Scotland saw him greeted by a sea of Scottish flags whereas the English generally celebrate with a wave of the Union flag. And no, I’m not anti-Scottish – my (chosen) flatmate is Scottish – I would just like to see a little more parity.

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