Why I will be campaigning for Scottish independence

My British half is, as far as I know, purely English. But I am rooting for the Scots to vote for independence in their next referendum. It would be good for Scotland. It would be good for Europe. And it would be good for Britain.

I consider myself a patriot. My patriotism is not some arbitrary attachment to a flag, or to a piece of earth, or to a person descended from a Dark Ages robber baron; my patriotism is a love of community, society, and an attachment to a set of values. To me, patriotism is multilayered and fuzzy at the edges. I have a romantic fondness for the England of Arthur Ransome and E. Nesbit, I feel a connection to Marylebone Station and Tottenham Green Lanes, I’m moved by the music of Bach and Boccherini and the architecture of Durham and Rouen and Ulm. These emotional responses give me roots in my culture and they bring a sense of security and continuity which is an important component of human wellbeing. They are the foundations and load-bearing walls which support the practical, rational manifestation of my patriotism: my public service, my campaigning for our values, my politics. There is no inconsistency in my loving England, and Britain, and Germany, and Europe; and in my feeling contempt for the British parliament after what it did on the evening of 13 March 2017. On the contrary, anyone who loves our society and its values must necessarily feel rage at how these have been challenged and weakened by the very people whose job it is to protect them.

Scotland would be better off outside the UK but in the EU. Scots are not represented by Westminster nor have they been for a long time. I don’t see how Scotland’s interests can be adequately represented by Westminster without a fundamental reform of how British government works. After the 2014 referendum, the Scots were promised meaningful devolution. This has not happened and it is obvious to me that it won’t happen, because exceptionalist Westminster cannot understand the concept of meaningful devolution. The very existence of the West Lothian Question proves this, as I’ve argued. To have meaningful self-governance within a meaningfully federated governance structure, Scotland must leave the UK and remain in or rejoin the EU.

Europe would be better off with an independent Scotland. Scotland is European, and belongs in the family. (So does the rest of the UK, of course.) Scottish independence within the EU would be a demonstration of belief in Europe, in our values, in multilateralism, and a rejection of the binary zero-sum nationalism advocated by Putin-backed populist movements in England, France, the Netherlands, etc.

The United Kingdom would be better off if Scotland chose independence. British society is irredeemably broken. We might argue how we arrived at this juncture, but to me this is self-evident. Westminster’s exceptionalism means continued centralisation of power in national government at the expense of effective subsidiarity whether that means Brussels, the regions, or local government. And national government has shown itself to be unfit and captured by toxic special interests. Brexit is the proof. A ruling party captured by zealots for whom no lie was too much, any means justified the end, the end being a corruption of patriotism resulting in its polar opposite: the impoverishment of the country, its decline in status and influence, the undermining of its security, and the destruction of its citizens’ quality of life. Time and again we have seen that Westminster will not reform itself. Only a seismic shock can deliver change, and it’s hard to see what such a seismic shock could be short of civil discord unless it’s the actual break-up of the United Kingdom. A velvet divorce might be the greatest gift Scotland could give to English patriots.

To me, the choice Scots face is clear: they could stay in a dysfunctional United Kingdom ruled from Westminster, unable to rein in a contemptuous and entitled elite who have proven themselves guilty of serious and serial misgovernment; or they could emulate Europe’s other smaller countries which have thrived as independent states within the EU, enjoying higher standards of living and a better quality of life. For Scots, it’s what you’d call a no-brainer. But it should be welcomed by the rest of us, the citizens of the United Kingdom they’d be leaving behind. Because we like the Scots and want the best for them; and because it gives us a chance to mend what is broken in our own system.

22 thoughts on “Why I will be campaigning for Scottish independence

  1. Owen Smith

    At the last referendum, many of the “English Immigrants” living in Scotland agreed with the YES campaign, but felt guilty about the possibility of abandoning the rest of the UK tounlimited Tory rule.
    The Brexit vote and, more importantly, the way it has been handled have made that feeling irrelevant.
    The idea that an independent Scotland could be a beacon of hope to those languishing in the UK is a compelling reason for us incomers to vote YES to 2

  2. Owen Smith

    Here’s another thought.

    At the 2014 Independence referendum, there were complaints that the break -up of the union was too important to be left only to those living in Scotland.

    Well now there’s an opportunity for every one to choose.

    Do you want a UK outside Europe but without Scotland
    Do you want a UK which includes Scotland but stays in Europe

  3. ChrisW

    Owen: My apologies if I’m misinterpreting your comment, but I think it’s pretty easy to dismiss the idea that England should allowed to vote in Scottish independence. If both countries vote on the question “should Scotland leave the UK?”, then the 4 possible outcomes are:

    1. Scotland: go, England: go
    2. Scotland: stay, England: stay
    3. Scotland: stay, England: go
    4. Scotland: go, England: stay

    In 1 and 2 both countries agree, so there’s no point England voting anyway as it makes no difference.

    3 is perhaps unlikely, but implementing England’s vote would imply that Scotland should be forced to leave the UK against its will. That is surely unjust, although probably an attractive option for English Tories.

    4 is more likely, but implementing England’s preference would force Scotland to stay in the UK against its will. This is also unjust and denies the evidence of the last century of post-colonial hustory, from Ireland to India. Does England really want another Northern Ireland conflict on its northern borders?

    So there is no benefit in allowing England to vote on Scottish independence. Either it makes no difference (1 and 2 above), or it should not be allowed to make a difference (3 and 4).

    Scottish independence is a matter for the people of Scotland to determine for themselves.

  4. Samuel Johnson

    As a citizen (not a subject) of a former part of the UK, Ireland, I have to say that my reaction, were I Scottish, to Owen Smith’s proposal would be a hollow laugh.

    Stable door, old boy.

  5. Samuel Johnson

    A good friend in NZ, believing herself to be of 100% English ancestry, did one of those DNA tests recently. The result indicated 40% Irish ancestry, much to her surprise. I don’t know which test and which set of markers was used to generate this, but wouldn’t be surprised if they were Irish by way of Denmark. Jet black hair, which she has, was a Viking legacy (associated with the surname Doyle). The pre-Viking indigenous population was fair-haired with some, ahem, red and ginger tops. We’re all related, and much more so than many realize.

    This is on my To Listen list https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000r370

  6. LuckytohaveIrishpassport

    If I lived in Scotland, I too would be sorely tempted to vote Yes in indyref2. But to point out the obvious: it does mean a land border between Scotland and England, of the type that people fought so hard to avoid in Ireland. Not such a threat to peace, but many of the short-term consequences would surely be hard Brexit-like. Scotland is much more integrated with the UK than the UK ever was with the EU, no?

    An honest question (i.e. not concern trolling): the SNP likes to talk about how “European” Scots feel, but does the general Scottish population actually follow that with action? In particular, how do their language skills compare with those of the English? Is knowledge of how the EU works (as opposed to how tabloids portray it) actually higher?

    1. Andrew Moran

      As an English son of a Scot, born and raised in England but now living in Scotland, I can quite happily assert that Scots in general seem to be far more politically aware than their English counterparts.
      I think this largely stems from education and particular the education of history, which in England largely neglects Scotland, but in Scotland of course, this is passed down.
      There is therefore a significant distrust of UK institutions as a consequence, which makes Scots more canny when it comes to seeing political shenanigans for what they are. The English however simply do not have this (unless they happen to be someone who has also suffered at the hands of the state, for some reason) and are more susceptible to media manipulation, for instance, as a consequence.
      The results of this are there for all to see. The Scots, with pragmatic, open views towards Europe, due to historic links to France and other nations, but which is also in part due to an historic distrust of Westminster, are pro-European.
      The English however have been brought up on a constant diet of Britain is best, it won ‘the war’, etc, with little coming through to challenge that – which has inevitably led to arrogance and a dismissive attitude towards Europe and Europeans (my own Mother hated the French – “they surrendered”, she said, and “we weren’t taught French at school after that”).
      I believe the younger “millennial” generation are better than this, but still subject to the attitude of their “baby-boomer” parents. But Scots don’t have this problem, or at least not to the same extent, so you will find that Scotland is significantly more cosmopolitan and comparatively xenophobe free.

    2. Iain Sinclair

      It’s just a feeling of being European rather than knowing multiple languages or how the eu works i think.

    3. Bruce MacDougall

      A land border between Scotland and England, unlike Ireland would be non-sectarian. There are in Europe land borders between EU and non-EU countries which are basically frictionless. At the worst it could be similar to the US and Canada a fairly quick and painless procedure. If it were anything else it would only be because of Westminster intransigence. You say about Scottish integration with the UK meaning England and Wales. Well that has been diverging since WW2, England longs for tne Glory days of Empire (which never existed for the common people), while Scotland is more outgoing, especially since the start of the Common Market (EU). As for the English language skills, most Europeans speak excellent accentless English.

      1. LuckytohaveIrishpassport

        There are land borders between EU and non-EU countries which are reasonably quick to cross, mostly because the non-EU country has aligned with the EU to a large extent (e.g. Norway or Switzerland) — something the UK has of course failed to do. England-Scotland would be legally similar to Poland-Belarus.

        The US-Canada border is far from frictionless, and I’m a bit surprised to hear that particular Brexiter confusion between “free trade agreement” and “frictionless border” pop up in this context. E.g. if you live in Canada and order something from the US, you may end up having to pay duty (usually because the product is made in China), and you may not know that at time of order, and you may wait several months before it even arrives. E.g. imports of agricultural products from the US are restricted, particuarly where Canada has a supply management system (=no US milk in Canadian supermarkets). E.g. no automatic labour mobility. E.g. extremely expensive medical insurance for Canadians even temporarily in the US. E.g. frequent lengthy traffic jams at border. (Less so at the moment, as border is closed to non-essential traffic.) E.g. US imposing tariffs on softwood lumber, steel, aluminium etc. E.g. quite significant smuggling issues (cannabis going south, firearms going north).

        I can see long-term gains to Scottish independence, in escaping Westminster dysfunction and re-joining the EU. But suggesting there is no short-term pain seems like a recipe for trouble down the road, if the Yes side win.

  7. AnnB

    In response to ‘Lucktohave…’ it could possibly mean a hard border, yes. Perhaps lessons learned in NI situation could generate a better solution. We Scots mostly consider ourselves European. We’ve had historic links to France for hundreds of years, Scandinavia in the north and possibly the Celtic alliance is stronger. I certainly feel more European than British, even though I have family in England. I think it’s been a gradual separation from the days of British Empire when the ‘Britain is Great’ rhetoric was at its strongest, but education of the masses exposed that lie. Scots just happened to cotton on first. We’ve never voted Tory for example but continue to be subject to Tory policies in WM who are clueless to how we think and operate. Regarding language, I don’t have stats but younger Scots definitely are more inclined to speak another language. I, being older, am proficient in Spanish, can ‘get by’ in French and have recently become better in Catalan, because I enjoy visiting there. I’ll try and learn the basics of another language before I visit as it’s good manners. Gone are the embarrassing days when it was taken it as a God given right that Jonny foreigner speaks English or doesn’t get our business! So, hopefully I’ve given a little insight into our psyche. One thing I would emphasise is that we’re a thrawn lot. If you tell us we can’t do something, we’ll do our damndest to prove you wrong. That includes independence. Btw, I encouraged my daughter to get an Irish passport also. Unfortunately, for me, an Irish ex husband doesn’t count . I’ll just need to wait to rejoin EU!

    1. Laz

      “Perhaps lessons learned in NI situation could generate a better solution.”

      I’ve seen this appear a bit, but surely the one fundamental thing we have learned from NI is that there is no way to avoid border infrastructure between two different regulatory and customs zones? We spent years hearing Brexiteers talk about technological solutions which never appeared – so I don’t understand why we expect it to appear when we talk about it in a Scottish accent?

  8. Martin Roche

    In the Scotland of today ethnicity hardly matters and the day cannot be far off (though too far) when sectarianism – the corrosive division between Protestant and Catholic- is a thing of the past. I’m a Scot with an American grandmother who probably had English roots. Some of my family came from the Highlands and others from Ireland and there’s a French or Low Countries line along the way. There may be some Spanish, as there often is in the Western Isles and the Highland West Coast. My wife and children are English, though both sets of grandparents were Scots. None of this matters very much at all. What matters is the sort of Scotland independence creates. I’m a political moderate of a social democratic type. I don’t want to create a socialist nirvana and don’t believe one is possible or desirable. Nor do I want to see a Scotland reduced to a plaything of the hard right of the new Tory party. Like many Scots of my political persuasion I look to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway as small, Northern lands that have found broad consensus as to the type of economies and societies they are. Independence will allow the people of Scotland (anyone who has made their home in Scotland) to decide what sort of land it is to be. That can’t be set in stone and as democrats it has to be recognised that in 20, 30 or 40 years Scotland might elect a Tory government. That’s independence. That’s sovereignty. Will Scottish independence influence England’s political course? Well that was certainly the belief of people like Manny Shinwell and James Maxton, Red Clydeside MPs who thought that an independent socialist Scotland would act as a model for change in England. It will be a two way street, but Ireland has been independent for c100 years and little of the Irish political system or culture has drifted across to London. What’s critical is the very best of relations between an independent England and an independent Scotland. It would be the end of the UK, which came into being as a political entity in 1707. For Scotland, independence will be like being in bed with an elephant, as Pierre Trudeau said of the relationship between Canada and the USA (and later the title of a book by Ludovic Kennedy on the future of Scotland. A Liberal, Kennedy had probably moved all the way to supporting independence by the time of his death). A malign England or resentful Scotland will good for nobody. It will be down to leadership.

  9. Laz

    As a Scot, when I think about the idea of independence, I try to consider the issues it raises and how (and if) these can be addressed. How to address the budget problems? How (and if) an open border can be maintained without regulatory and customs union? When I read the above, I’m more than anything else struck by the fact that it doesn’t really sound like you want independence for Scotland – you want England to be in the EU. Scottish independence is just a means to you of achieving an outcome you want for England, which is why there is little consideration above of what the outcome means for Scotland – only a consideration of what you hope follows for England.

    I’m certain you’re trying to be nice Chris, but Scotland is not something you can just trade for whatever you want England to be.

    1. Chris Kendall Post author

      My desires have absolutely nothing to do with any of it, Scotland will do what Scotland will do. I’m working from the premise that what Scotland will do is leave the UK, because why wouldn’t it? And this being so, how will England react?

      As to the problems you raise, these are technicalities that face every divorcing couple. You don’t divorce because you enjoy spending time with lawyers. Look around Europe at the EU member states which used to be part of other states, and ask yourself whether Scotland wants to be like them. If the answer is yes (which it surely must be) then there is a price to be paid.

  10. Laz

    “because why wouldn’t it?”

    Because the same fundamental issues remain the same as they were in 2014, and sadly in some places are more acute. I think it’s undeniable there are problems with both the UK and Scotland, but it’s hard to see how independence makes life in Scotland easier.

    “ask yourself whether Scotland wants to be like them”

    I think you’re thinking of some some specific small countries – Ireland, Denmark, Norway, rather than eg Hungary or Poland. Independence doesn’t turn us into them, just in the same way Ireland didn’t become a Celtic tiger overnight. When I look at areas like housing and welfare – which are either devolved (housing) or we have a situation where the Scottish Parliament can allocate any additional discretionary funds (welfare) – I don’t see the main issue preventing change being Scotland being in the UK – I see it as being a fundamentally small-c conservative party in power in Holyrood which doesn’t want to rock the boat. As such, I struggle to understand how a hard border at the Tweed, cutting the budget, or spending years trying to establish a new country is going to help address these problems.

  11. Martin Roche

    There are no overnight solutions. Building a new Scotland will take time, imagination, patience, vision, a great deal if hard work and political consensus. Scotland will have full control of ours finances. It can for example use the tax system to encourage certain types of business growth, or incentivise University R&D or develop the food or farming sectors. The point is that decisions will be made based on what Scotland voted for and what is deemed in the Scottish national interests. An independent Scotland in the EU can promote policies that benefit its people and/or economy. Boat rocking is what the Westminster Tory is about, but nit boat rocking in the interests of the people in general or Scotland in particular. Small countries can often be more radical then large, more nimble, quicker to respond to need or respond to mistakes. There is no need for a hard border between Scotland and England, just as there was no hard border between Northern Ireland the Repubkic for the 20 yeads after the Good Friday agreement. There is a hard border there no only because of Brexit and the Tory decision to remove the UK from the Single Market and Customs Union. Issues of poverty, violent crime and drug dependency have blighted Scotland for too long. These are Scotland’s problems to resolve. They were never tackled by Westminster before devolution. Independence obliges Scotland to address its chronic problems and create its own opportunities. “It’s about who we are, how we carry ourselves,” to quote Donald Dewar. Government is not easy anywhere, but the current arrangement is not working for Scotland. I’m nearly 70. I’ve seen promises to Scotland consistently fail to materialise. I’ve seen too many Scots accept the status quo and opt for a quite life. It is time for Scots to grasp the nettle and build Scotland, not keep alive the failed political structure that is Westminster and union.

  12. Owen Smith

    To the folk who made recent comments on my posts, please remember that I made them in 2017.

    Before the Brexit vote, my thoughts were that if England voted Leave, but Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland voted Stay , then England should be thrown out of the United Kingdom , with the other three combining together within Europe, perhaps with closer links to Ireland.

  13. ChrisW

    @Owen: sorry, I missed the date on the blog and your comments, doh!

    I think your solution would have been easier all round, but I suspect that’s roughly where we’ll end up eventually, with a lot of unnecessary pain and hardship along the way.

    Anyone else up for a Celtic Federal Republic?

  14. Owen Smith

    With the questions being asked about the validity of an EU Ambassador in London, could I suggest he/she comes to Edinburgh.
    There is a lot of work to be done in detailing arrangements with the EU before an independence referendum ( probably including a question on Devo Max)

    Remeber, unlike the 2016 referendum, the scots were told in 2014 (with a few exceptions) what they were voting for. It was discussed at school which had an impact on youth turn -out and improved the general level of discussion.
    In the summer leading up to the 2016 event, I was told by friends in France that elderly french ladise had a better grasp of the pros and cons of Brexit than many folk in the UK

    1. Chris Kendall Post author

      We always had a satellite office in Edinburgh but I’m not sure that’s still there post-Brexit. Obviously if Scotland were to become independent the EU would open an embassy there straight away, and our ambassador would certainly be a senior diplomat.


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