Dis-United Kingdom

A new poll shows that support for the Scottish National Party has risen to 49%, up from the 45% support they earned in the elections back in May 2011 – which gave the SNP a majority in the Scottish parliament for the first time since it was created in 1998. The SNP holds 69 of the 125 seats in the assembly. Support for Liberal Democrats in Scotland has collapsed to 5%,a result of dissatisfaction with their entry into the Tory-led coalition government, while support for Labour has shrunk to 29%, and the Tories 13%. The SNP, led by Alex Salmond, is intent on holding a referendum on full independence for  Scotland. Blogging for the Spectator, Hamish Macdowell notes that “Support for independence is still far below support for the SNP, but has edged up from 35 per cent to about 39 per cent. If the Nationalists can get that figure to anything over 40 per cent then the referendum result is definitely in the balance – if only because committed nationalists are more likely to vote in a referendum than status quo-backing unionists.”

One of the factors holding back the independence movement is the fact that Scotland is still somewhat economically dependent on England. A recent Treasury report stated  that Scots receive £1,600 more in state spending per head than people in England. The Scots receive £10,212 per head as against £8,588 in England, £9,829 in Wales and £10,706 in Northern Ireland. This distribution is a result of the labyrinthine Barnett formula hammered out back in 1978. This means that for example the Scottish Government can afford to waive fees for prescriptions and university tuition. Writing in the Guardian, author Ian Jack argues that in the wake of this summer’s London riots “from the Scottish perspective, England looks a more fractious, turbulent and uncertain society.” Alex Salmond actually complained about one broadcaster describing the riots as having occurred “in the UK”, when in fact they were confined to England.

A number of authors interviewed for the Observer of August 28 likewise argued that support for Scottish independence has more to do with disdain for the corrupt Westminster political elite, and support for the SNP’s progressive policy agenda, than a concern with Scottish ethnicity per se. The one exception is Shena Mackay, who comments that “I want Scotland to be Scottish through and through – I hate to hear English accents in the shops there.” Ironically, Mackay notes that while born in Scotland she has lived in England since her childhood, and herself has an English accent.

Moving across the Irish Sea, In a September 12 blog for the Irish Times, their foreign affairs correspondent Deaglán de Bréadún calls for a wholesale revision of the entire Nationalist project. In a sweeping historical overview, he regrets that both Unionists and Nationalists turned to violence at an early stage – the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and the Easter Uprising in 1916. He argues that by fixating on Britain as the problem the Nationalists failed to reach out to Unionists and assure them that they too had a place in a free and united Ireland. Recent scandals over the Church’s handling of pedophiles and the banking crisis that wrecked the Irish economy have revealed deep flaws in the republic’s political foundations. Bréadún suggests it is time for a fresh approach. It is rare indeed to see nationalists anywhere engage in this sort of critical self-reflection. Bréadún is the author of The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland (Collins, 2008).

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One thought on “Dis-United Kingdom

  1. Hi Peter

    The Scotland Act was 1998, but the first election was 1999. The Scottish Parliament (not assembly) has a 129 seats.

    The funding issue is not just about Barnett. I don’t think the treasury figures take account of the huge chunks of UK government expenditure on defence, the civil service, etc, investment in infrastructure and other economic activity, that are heavily skewed to South East England and London. Barnett provides compensation for that.

    It is also a convergent formula – if Scottish GDP per capita rises towards the UK average, the Barnett allocation will drop.

    Independence would probably not leave Scotland hugely worse off, but it would raise the economic risk factors for no good reason other than petty nationalism.

    As for the UK / British / English / Scottish thing, remember that it is the (Dis) United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so our Irish friends have a right to object to being referred to as Team Britain. In Scotland we are used to Scottish sportspeople being British when they are doing well and Scottish when they are not, while others are English when achieving and British when doing badly.

    There are many other examples, such as the weather maps that view the British Isles from the south making Scotland somewhat smaller on screen than Cornwall; and the game of Diplomacy where Edinburgh is part of England. While in principle I object to this, it was a good wind up when Alex Salmond, in his formative years, was playing the game with us …

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