1. I read that in researching your new book you ended up by becoming a nationalist. Would you elaborate on that and tell us what in particular has brought about this unexpected change in your views? Have you been contemplating this change for a long time?
Like most conservatives I don’t find nationalism, as such, to be alien territory. In fact it is part of the conservatives’ stock-in-trade in all countries of the world - with the sole exception of Scotland, where the Tory party has got itself into the untenable position of being an anti-patriotic party. Its resulting electoral record speaks for itself, and is little recommendation for other conservative parties to follow its path. I myself have been by no means unsympathetic to devolution, but hoped that it might be the means of combining two patriotisms, Scottish and British. That consideration has, however, been in my mind swept aside by the sheer awfulness of the Scottish Parliament, combining pork-barrel politics with political correctness. The conviction has been growing on me for several years that something more thoroughgoing has to be done to the government of Scotland for the situation to improve. What my studies of the Union have taught me is that the choice between Union and independence is not simple and clear-cut, not in 1707 and not now. It is a matter of weighing up the situation and the possible ways of changing it. An ambiguous preference for Union in 1707 turned out to be of great benefit to Scotland in the end; an ambiguous preference for independence seems to me the more likely to have the same effect now.2. You have rejected joining the SNP because their policies are anti-liberal. Do you think that there is any likelihood of a radical realignment in Scottish politics? I’m thinking of some kind of merger between the “liberal” forces in the SNP and those Scottish Conservatives who are frustrated by the current state of their party. Might we even see a low-tax, small government party in Scotland while England dithers under Mr Cameron?
I don’t think a realignment of parties in the present Scottish Parliament likely. They are all still frozen in the postures of the period before 1999. That, precisely, is one reason for favouring independence. It would at once bring home to the Scottish people the choices they face, some of them rather stark – the economic ones in particular. Only in these circumstances are liberal policies for Scotland likely to look realistic – indeed they would, in my view, be the sole way out of the fiscal crisis that would face the new Scottish state. In those conditions we might expect Tories to revert to the ideal of small government and enter into alliance with those latent forces in the SNP, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, which look with dismay on a bloated and wasteful public sector.3. Many English journalists, both in print and in the blogosphere, see Scotland as an economic basket case. It seems to me that the Scottish GDP per-capita isn’t too far from the UK or European average and that our problem is too much government spending and control rather than a fundamental weakness in our ability to produce. Do you agree?
I do agree. Scotland is an average region of the UK and of the EU. It can improve its position only by the means which independence makes possible, rather than by the lobbying of a central government sited elsewhere.4. Many of the aforementioned English journalists are now calling for Scottish independence. Do you think that they would be quite so keen should it become apparent that England/England and Wales/England, Wales plus NI would have a reduced status in the EU and the UN?
The situation of countries reducing in size is unusual. But the proposed reduction is only of one-twelfth, since Scotland makes up just over 8 per cent of the UK population. In the European Parliament this might require a small adjustment, but nothing drastic, and in the other European institutions the continuing UK would, even without Scotland, still be a major country. As for the UN, the UK holds its position, for instance on the Security Council, by virtue of the founding charter: I doubt if anyone would want to amend that, or would succeed if they tried. In any case I think the reduced UK would soon make up for its slight loss of population: London is booming (whereas Scotland is stagnant).5. Sticking with Northern Ireland: In the event of Scottish independence, do you envisage the NI unionists moving towards a rapprochement with the Republic?
NI politics have a dynamic of their own, little affected by whatever happens in Scotland. I doubt if, in particular, unionist attitudes to the Republic would be shifted by Scottish independence.6. To what extent are you concerned that prominent Scottish companies – the Royal Bank, Standard Life etc. – might flee southwards if independence looked likely? What could be done to counter any such plans?
These companies can flee any time they like, with or without the Union. The reasons they stay in Scotland are many, but some sort of sense of patriotic tradition is probably one of them. I expect that to continue, but it would be shaken if an independent Scotland adopted policies hostile to business. That is one more reason why it should adopt policies friendly to business. Scottish companies will then stay, and foreign companies will come.7. I’m now thinking of my own situation. Like many born here I have English connections. My late father was English and one of my two sisters was born in England. Most of my adult life was spent in London. How can you reassure the many people like me who may be concerned about a splitting of family connections?
The UK was an imperial power and, even without that, always had to become a worldwide trading nation, otherwise it would not have been able to feed itself. So the foreign connections have been strong and continuous for two or three centuries, and they have included a steady stream of emigration. As a result I should think almost everyone, in Scotland above all, has relations, close or remote, in other countries. My own family has sprigs from California to Hong Kong, and in fact is Irish Protestant in origin. We all, or at least many of us, keep in touch over two or three generations, after which the connections tend to fade a bit. Still, they have survived the independence of Ireland, despite the almost complete disappearance of the family from its original homeland. It would greatly surprise me if the citizens of an independent Scotland would want to break their own bonds of this kind, or would in any way need to.8. I now turn to foreign affairs. Assuming the Scottish people wished to remain in the EU, would the Union accept us? Would the rest of the UK (perhaps just England & Wales) be deemed to be the continuing UK?
The prevailing opinion in Brussels, as I understand it, is that the continuing UK would inherit membership of the EU on the present basis. Scotland would not be treated as a successor country, and so would have to renegotiate its membership. In principle this appears to present no great problem, since the SNP (assuming it formed the first government of an independent Scotland) is committed to membership. But there could well be some thorny problems, such as the Common Fisheries Policy. In any event, the exact position is unclear because no similar case has yet arisen.9. What should happen to the nuclear weapons based on Clydeside?
I think the nuclear base would have to close, if that is what an independent government should decide. Nobody is interested in making Scotland a nuclear power. At the same time I hope that this, along with many other matters of detail, would be a matter for amicable agreement between Scotland and the UK.10. What should an independent Scotland do to alleviate poverty and welfare dependency in Glasgow and its surroundings?
The nation’s watchword should be self-reliance. The aim must be a liberal democracy with limited government sustained by the capitalist system.