In the last Scottish Parliament elections (2016), most voters in Scotland (53.5%) did not vote for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Listening to the SNP minority-government’s political pronouncements over many years, one could be forgiven for thinking that Scotland was defined by Scottish nationalism. Sure, the SNP is defined by Scottish nationalism (not surprisingly), but evidently most Scottish voters are not. Notwithstanding, we’re told endlessly here in Scotland that the be-all-and-end-all of voting at the national level is the future of Scotland’s union with England. For most of us, however, that is not the case – were it not for the fact that the nationalist message is rammed down our throats, day in, day out. The electorate has little or no choice about political priorities in Scotland. We’re never left in any doubt that there is but one item on the political agenda: the secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom.
Across 11 opinion polls conducted during the month of March posing the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, the average of those polled (16,000 people) answering ‘Yes’ was 46% of the total. Scotland’s voters are not tripping over themselves to see Scotland secede from the United Kingdom. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the recent fall in support for independence comes at a time when the SNP is publicly self-immolating.
We’re Not All Rob Roys
The SNP manipulates endlessly the political message. The Party uses – well, misuses actually – the mighty resources of the Scottish state, largely unchallenged by a depressingly supine news media, to give the appearance that pretty much every citizen here is a claymore-wielding Braveheart down to the last daub of blue paint on their face. Well, we’re not actually. On two occasions since the 2014 Independence Referendum – the Referendum itself and the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections – the majority of Scots voted for the union between England and Scotland; certainly they didn’t vote for nationalism and secession. This enrages the SNP; on both occasions, the voters delivered the wrong result.
How Not To Govern A Country
For those of us on the unionist side of the fence, we would say it’s an abuse of power for the party of government – a minority-government, at that – to prioritise its single-issue, party-political message, held by the minority of the electorate (see polling evidence above), to the detriment of virtually every other government responsibility. The deleterious effect of this narrow-minded philosophy of government is writ large when one looks at the grim state of affairs across our society after 14 years of Scottish nationalist rule.
Education standards in Scotland under the Curriculum for Excellence strategy are shameful. Scottish pupils perform worse in maths than pupils in Czechia, Estonia and Slovenia. For a country that used to boast some of the finest education standards in the world, the international evidence shows that standards of education in Scotland are in long-term decline. In 2019, almost 40% of those from Scotland’s poorest backgrounds left primary school without meeting basic literacy benchmarks, and almost one-third failed to achieve the same in mathematics. Research by Reform Scotland has recorded a ‘sharp reduction’ in subject choice. Schools allowing pupils to sit more than 6 exams at National 4 or 5 level are now a minority in Scotland. Dr Stephen Curran, writing in the Times Educational Supplement, said ‘progressive education is leading Scotland into a crisis’.
The performance of the NHS in Scotland is woeful. Health Boards are failing to meet in-patient target waiting times; Accident & Emergency targets are being missed; financial management of the NHS in Scotland is weak to put it politely; the British Medical Journal reported that higher per capita spending on healthcare in Scotland fails to deliver better outcomes, referencing a report prepared by the Centre for Public Policy in the Regions (CPPR) and KPMG:
‘Health outcomes in Scotland have shown no improvement over those in England despite higher spending and employing almost a third more staff. Spending in Scotland per head of population is the highest in the United Kingdom and in recent years has run 12% to 16% higher than in England. Scotland has argued for extra resources because of its higher death rates, high levels of deprivation, and scattered population. However, the CPPR/KPMG report found no evidence that this extra money has delivered better outcomes’
The centralising of policing in Scotland is another example of the dead hand of Scottish nationalism. You can take your pick on what’s wrong at Police Scotland, but poor governance, financial mismanagement and a catalogue of incidents of operational incompetence are all on the record. The common theme here, whether it’s incompetence of the political oversight of education, health, substance abuse or policing (it’s incompetence in the governance of all those public services as it happens), is that the SNP minority-government’s main effort is not on the things that matter most to you and me in terms of our quality of life; it’s on obsessing endlessly, and to the exclusion of virtually all else, about independence.
Freedom of Speech
Meantime, if presiding over chronic declines in Scotland’s education, health and policing services wasn’t enough, the Scottish National Party is devoting significant energy to reversing the Enlightenment. The SNP’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill will make it a criminal offence for, inter alia, you and me to discuss (using hateful phrases) in the privacy of our own homes subjects that the Scottish government doesn’t want us to discuss in our homes. No, I’m not joking. As a blogger, I find the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill one of the most sinister political initiatives one can imagine; it is a desperately regressive piece of ill-conceived and poorly drafted legislation. Standby for shame and confusion in our courtrooms as the first alleged criminals get hauled up for tweeting hateful stuff about some proscribed topic or other (there’ll be a list of subjects you can’t have a pop at on the Scottish government website if you can be bothered to search for it). Remember, it’s illegal to have impolite conversations in the privacy of your own home in Scotland now. For what it was worth, I made a contribution, through my colleague Professor Andrew Tettenborn, to The Free Speech Union’s development of its submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on this execrable Bill.
When it comes to Scotland’s economy, it’s enough to make one weep. Scotland’s fiscal deficit – the money the Scottish government spends over and above its income – sits at 9% of Gross Domestic Product; that’s 14 times the Euro region average, and higher than any other individual OECD country. The Scottish National Party is economically illiterate and lives far and away beyond the nation’s means. Pour a dram, brace yourself and read the full horror story here, courtesy of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (to which I’m a subscriber).
Andrew Wilson is an economist and was an SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 – 2003. Mr Wilson chaired the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission established to make recommendations to the Scottish government on economic policy. Here Mr Wilson gets ripped apart by the journalist Andrew Neil in a train crash of an interview about Scotland’s economic strategy as an independent nation. Spot the European Union scatter cushion on Mr Wilson’s sofa; how sweet:
In 2016, I campaigned, stood for election and voted for the United Kingdom to recover its sovereignty from the European Union (EU), an obsolescent, failing, anti-democratic political construct, revered by the Scottish nationalists (see the EU scatter cushion on Mr Wilson’s sofa). My vote was a patriotic gesture, cast in the name of democracy. Patriotism, it is said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Samuel Johnson is often misquoted in this sense; Johnson made clear that he valued what he considered ‘true, self-professed patriotism’. I love my country of residence, which is Scotland, a unique and much-loved nation bound in the precious and enduring union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom. But as George Orwell said, ‘Patriotism is not to be confused with nationalism’. He went on:
‘Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally …
Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.’
Read again Orwell’s description of nationalism. Then consider the philosopher A C Grayling’s somewhat more severe take on nationalism:
‘Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to nobody else. Disguised as patriotism and love of one’s country, it trades on the unreason of mass psychology to make a variety of horrors seem acceptable, even honourable.’
One’s Lived Experience
Now, you might read Orwell’s and Grayling’s characterisations of nationalism, raise an eyebrow or grin, and say, ‘Yes, but that’s not Scottish nationalism.’ Really? Well, look at it this way. In the past ten years or so, my personal experience of living and working in Scotland (my home for 40 years, by the way) has shifted from what I would term ‘peaceful enjoyment’ to ‘uncomfortable unease’. At certain times and places, in certain situations, there’s a prevailing air of menace. Statistically, depending to some extent on where you live, around four in ten of the people whom one knows or meets in Scotland will be an SNP supporter, at the last count anyway. However, unlike the broader churches of the other main political parties, the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, the SNP has manufactured itself into what can only be described as a cult.
This cult-like nature of the Scottish National Party manifests itself in several ways. First and foremost, a Scottish nationalist has no truck with any point of view other than Scottish nationalism. Unlike the catholic nature of the other UK political parties with all their internal conversations, wrangling and shaping and optimising of policies, the SNP has a single policy: secession from the Union. It’s members have not the time of day for any other perspective on what it means to be Scottish, how and what Scotland should be as a nation, what life should be like in Scotland. If you don’t accept pure, stand-alone Scottish nationalism, you are by definition an enemy of Scotland. It really is as profoundly politically and socially destructive as that. This culture of aggression towards non-nationalists has evolved and grown in recent years to the point that one becomes wary of touching on politics in conversation in Scotland for fear of the consequences. Any such discussion moves swiftly from the subject itself to ad hominem attack. The message is that if you don’t support Scottish nationalism, your political views simply don’t count; you have a personal problem and deserve only to be ignored or silenced. It’s that depressingly bad.
‘The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war’
Sydney J Harris
Journalist and Author
1917 – 1986
Democracy and Independence
What about democracy then? If I’m a democrat, on what grounds would I wish to see the Scottish electorate denied the opportunity to express their desire for independence? Well, in 2014, in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Scottish people were indeed invited to express their desire for independence. By a considerable majority, 24% more Scots – well over a third-of-a-million citizens – voted for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom than voted for Scotland’s secession, on an 85% turnout. That was a comprehensive rejection of Scottish nationalism in what was coined by the SNP as a ‘once in a generation event’. Typically a generation might be thought of as 30 – 50 years.
Today, 7 years later, the SNP is banging the drum for another Scottish Independence Referendum. The SNP argues that since 2014 things have changed. Presumably, the result of a referendum, or any democratic vote for that matter, only stands if nothing changes after the result is announced – which seems an odd approach to democracy. Notwithstanding, what has changed? Well, the UK has left the European Union and, according to the SNP, this somehow nullifies the Scottish Independence Referendum. Ironically, the SNP craves ‘independence’ but on condition that, if achieved, Scotland would fall back into the arms of the EU to be governed from foreign soil by an unelected, unaccountable, bureaucratic elite known as the European Commission, the EU’s de facto government. One does wonder quite how any self-respecting Braveheart ever squares away this political contortionism? By the way, more people in Scotland voted for the UK to leave the European Union than voted for the SNP in the last UK General Election, but that’s a minor detail.
Scotland’s Politics Today
One could easily get bogged down in the homemade quagmire that is Scotland’s politics today. The SNP is at war with itself. It’s two principal personalities – one the erstwhile SNP Leader and First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the other the current SNP Leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon – are at each other’s throats. The nationalist cause has been rent asunder by Mr Salmond’s formation of The Alba Party. Scotland’s constitutional and political institutions and arrangements are in disarray having been found to be grotesquely dysfunctional in the heat of the war between these two cult personalities. To say that Scotland’s politics today stinks would be an understatement. As a citizen of the land that gave birth to the Enlightenment, for the most part one feels ashamed of where the SNP has taken this otherwise beautiful country during its 14 years in power. Power corrupts indeed.
The difficulty is that for as long as the SNP remains a single-issue cult, life in Scotland will be intolerable for those of us excluded from the cult. There is no such word as eclectic in the SNP lexicon. The SNP says, either you are for us, or you are against us; and if you are against, you are despised and excluded. Full-stop. However, democracy only works if the governing party governs for all. If, as is the case in Scotland, the governing party governs for a minority clique, then society becomes a most unpleasant place – as it can be for us Unionist Scots who in the last two elections made up the majority of the electorate. The reason for that, by the way, is the structure of the Scottish Parliament’s preposterous voting system (on which more below).
Suspend your disbelief for a moment. Let’s look at the prospect of a second, ‘once in a generation’ Scottish Independence Referendum. Assume that owing to the dog’s breakfast of a voting system pertaining to the Scottish Parliament – the Additional Member System, invented by Labour’s Tony Blair to lock the SNP out of power forever (that didn’t quite work out) – between them, the SNP and the Alba Party secure a majority in Parliament. The new SNP government, backed by the Alba Party, exert overwhelming pressure on the UK government and the Westminster Parliament to authorise another Referendum. Consequently, a second Scottish Independence Referendum is granted, however reluctantly: ScotIndyRef2. How should that referendum look?
The Voting Hurdles
Well, first up is this: it should be written into the laws of Scotland and the United Kingdom that whatever the outcome of ScotIndyRef2, there will not be another ScotIndyRef for at least 30 years and ideally not less than 50 years. We can’t go on like this. Next, the hurdles for securing Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom should include a voter turnout of not less than 80% and a total of not less than 65% of the vote in favour of independence. Breaking up a 300-year-old union whilst making no reference to the other tens of millions of voters forming that union cannot be allowed to happen lightly. Destroying the United Kingdom on the strength of a single Scottish nationalist vote, a referendum justified supposedly under a bonkeroony Parliamentary voting system, would be unspeakable and simply should not be permitted.
Furthermore, Scotland’s voters should include not only the nation’s residents, which include 142,400 EU citizens living here, and 73,600 children, together gerrymandering the vote, but also Scotland’s diaspora – those native-born Scots living abroad for one reason or another. Scots abroad should have as much a say in the destiny of their homeland as does a Bulgarian who happens to be living in Stirling at the moment whose vote would influence the existence, or not, of the United Kingdom.
Before ScotIndyRef2 takes place, Scotland’s ‘Independence’ must be defined in detail and in law. Independence should mean this: Scotland’s own head of state; Scotland’s own currency and central bank; Scotland’s own foreign and defence policy; Scotland’s own armed forces; Scotland’s own share of the UK national debt; Scotland’s own stand-alone fiscal (tax and spend) arrangements; Scotland’s own monetary (borrowing and interest rates) arrangements; Scotland’s own border arrangements; Scotland’s own everything that goes with being an independent nation of the world order.
Thence, the transition to Scotland becoming independent should be like the best way of removing a plaster: rip it off in an instant. In other words, there cannot and must not be years of horse-trading and uncertainty as Scotland seeks to disengage itself from 300 years of union. Scotland must move from being economically dependent on the UK (as it is today) to being a free-wheeling member of the tapestry of the world’s sovereign nations in a thrice. Why should it be permitted to be any other way given the Scottish nationalists’ desperation to leave the United Kingdom?
What would be the result of this strategy? Easy answer: ruin. Scotland would be bankrupted overnight by leaving the UK to become a fully-fledged independent nation. Have another look at the section above on Scotland’s economy in the incapable hands of the SNP, gilded as it is with its vast subsidisation by the people of London and the south-east and east of England (who subsidise not only Scotland, but also the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom).
Now, here’s the rub. The prospect of Scotland’s economic ruin is not a reason per se for not seeking and securing independence. It’s important to realise that nationalism is not an economically-rational sentiment. The minority of Scots who crave independence don’t crave their strange interpretation of Brussels-governed ‘freedom’ for economic reasons. Tipping our hat to Orwell again, Scottish nationalism is a desire for power and prestige, not for the individuals themselves as such, but for Scotland itself in which the nationalists have chosen to sink their own individuality. What the Scottish nationalists think they can do is make Scotland a globally powerful nation and then themselves bask in that power. The idea is, of course, risible but that won’t change the mind of a Scottish nationalist.
How Should One Vote on 6 May?
Reading this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that I was most likely a Conservative. Well I’m not. I’m politically conservative, which makes me politically homeless. The Conservative Party lost its conservative credentials a long time ago and I relinquished my membership then. If there was an LDP Party – a Libertarian Democratic Patriots Party, I’d join in a shot; but there’s no such thing. UK politics is crying out for a right-of-centre libertarian political party, but I’m not holding my breath on that one (despite being asked recently if I’d consider standing as a List Candidate for The Reform UK Party). That said, my Member of Parliament (MP), Mr Douglas Ross, is a Conservative, a good constituency MP and a good man; I admire and respect him and speak up for him publicly and privately. But that doesn’t make me a Conservative.
So, if one is in that majority of Scots unimpressed by nationalism and unwilling to see Scotland secede from the United Kingdom, how should one vote in the Scottish Parliament elections on Thursday 6 May? In Scotland today there is only one political party that can oppose Scottish nationalism: it is the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party. It grieves me to say so and you may also be despairing somewhat at the notion. However, to cast one’s constituency vote for any party other than the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party – much as you may have to hold your nose so to do – would be a gift to nationalism, and everything that goes with it. Scotland deserves better, much better than crude Scottish nationalism.
If you’re an SNP supporter reading this post, it’s unlikely that anything I’ve written will have changed your mind. Indeed, the chances are you’ll be steaming (the truth hurts). Like I said, the SNP is a cult and members of cults tend to be impervious to argument. On the other hand, I can see the argument for independence; indeed, I’ve acceded that point in some detail above. It’s just that I have a strong suspicion that the consequences for Scotland would be dire.
So, again, if you’re a Unionist and you’re wondering how to vote next month you could do no better than heed the advice of my fellow blogger, Effie Deans over at Lily of St Leonard’s. If you click on this link – How To Maximise the Pro-UK Vote in Scotland – Effie explains clearly and in detail how best to vote to prevent a landslide nationalist victory stitched up by the SNP and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party under a banana republic voting system. In short, Effie recommends the following strategy:
1. Vote for the Pro-UK party with the best chance of winning in your Constituency. In my case, that would mean me voting for Tim Eagle (Conservative) and, like I said above, only the Tories, so viscerally-hated by the SNP, stand any chance of ousting the nationalists at constituency level.
2. Vote for a different Pro-UK party on the Regional list. In my case, that would mean not voting Conservative on the Regional list.
3. Effie Deans recommends voting for the All for Unity party on the Regional list, a party headed up by Jamie Blackett. Effie caveats this recommendation in her blog, so you should read that in relation to your own constituency. In the case of Moray, I’m thinking that Liberal Democrat might be the best option (having lived here for 40 years), but will wait to see if All for Unity is on the ballot paper. Update: Scotland in Union has recently published this tactical voting guide.
As I said earlier, nationalism itself is not a rational sentiment, it’s more an emotion as Orwell and Grayling so astutely observed. Of course, I have friends and acquaintances who are SNP supporters and I accept their political views for what they are, disagreeing with them as I’ve expressed here in this post. Clearly, I’m not a Scottish nationalist, but I am a Scottish patriot (seen here on the left – of the picture, not politics).
It’s not hyperbole to state that the future of the United Kingdom is in our hands on 6 May. Use your vote wisely.
Finally, please consider donating to, and supporting Scotland in Union, an apolitical, not-for-profit campaign which makes the positive case for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.
‘Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill’
English Novelist and Poet
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