Monday, 27 December 2010

My first piece on Newsnet Scotland

Many years ago I read a letter in the Scotsman that went something like this:
“I’d love there to be a United Kingdom. The only trouble is that the English would never stand for it.”
That is also my position.

My own background is not untypical in today’s UK. I was born in Annan, my mother’s hometown. My father came from Millom but grew up near Penrith. I lived in Scotland until I was six, then spent three years in Leeds, back to Scotland again for another nine years and moved to London when I was 18. After not that short of 40 years down South I came up to live in Edinburgh.

My Scottish born sister has lived in England and is now in Wales. My English born sister lives in England but has also lived in Scotland and Wales. Unlike anyone else I’ve met, I’ve been to every county in the UK. I think that generally speaking Britain has been a good thing. English liberalism and the Scottish Enlightenment helped create the United States – another “good thing”, though one that would be a much better thing had it kept to its Constitution.

Politically I am a libertarian. That’s to say I believe that it’s wrong to initiate force or fraud – even if a majority votes in favour of such wrongs. Consequently, the only legitimate function of government is to protect us from those who do initiate force or fraud. That rules out government funding of schools, hospitals or welfare. Ah, a “hard right” conservative, I hear some of you saying. Not so. I favour complete freedom of speech and the abolition of all drug laws. I’m a libertarian, not a Tory. So why does this somewhat anglicised libertarian support Scottish independence?

It’s not because I think that an independent Scotland would automatically be better off. No, that would depend on the policies adopted and we’d need to get rid of a hell of a lot of socialist thinking if we were to prosper. That’s true of every country, of course. But for me, the case for independence is all about identity.

Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of the rest of the world using the word “England” to mean Britain, or the UK to be precise. Surely that’s not important, some will say. But these things do matter. I’m sure that our English friends would be rather miffed were the rest of the world to use the word “Scotland” to mean Britain. A nation and a people without identity will lack self-confidence.

The “E” word is ubiquitous. On American web broadcasts, at Italian airports, in French newspapers, from German work colleagues – they all think that we are English. And I’m fed up with it!

Until ten years ago or so all of this was something I did put up with, albeit through clenched teeth. But devolution has changed everything. We all know that things like the Barnet Formula and separate Scottish legal and educational systems long predate the re-establishment of the Scottish parliament. But, generally speaking, our southern friends hardly ever thought about Scotland and had very little knowledge of the differences between the two countries. Once Holyrood was set up, suddenly Scotland was on the English radar. We’ve had ten years of moaning about the Scottish Raj, the West Lothian Question and, above all, the “subsidy”. Of course, in a UK parliament it shouldn’t matter where the leading politicians come from. And the first opinion poll that I saw on the WLQ showed more Scots than English people in favour of removing the right of Scottish MPs from voting on England-only laws!

But what about the “subsidy”?

I don’t need to tell readers of Newsnet that the financial balance between Scotland and England is not what you’d read in the Daily Mail. I believe that the GERS figures show us to be in surplus. Few English folk have heard of this, and for that I blame the media down south. Ah, say some, Scotland should bear the cost of bailing out HBOS and RBS - then you’d have a hell of a deficit. No, Scotland shouldn’t be so-charged. And neither should England! Remember, I’m a libertarian and so I don’t think that governments should bail out any private companies. Caveat lender.

So, I’m fed up hearing that Scotland is a subsidy junkie - although it’s true that all governments are. I’m fed up hearing that waters off our shores really belong to someone else’s government – although I do believe that the oil should belong to those who discovered it. And what about the claim that there’d have been no soldiers here to help move the snow were Scotland to have been independent last week! You see, the English don’t really see us as being in a United Kingdom, but in a greater England.

The truth is that Scotland is a pretty good patch of this earth. It’s reasonably well endowed with resources and has a history of innovation and entrepreneurship. But something’s not quite right, is it? Yes, we need policies of social and economic liberty. But I don’t think that we’ll vote for those without there being a much stronger feeling of national and individual self confidence. I can’t see how that’s going to happen without independence.

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Simon Jester
I inadvertently phrased my initial post somewhat ambiguously - I meant that those Scots who hate the English are unlikely to get over it this century, even if independence comes in the next few years.  
As you can probably guess from my pseudonym, I whole-heartedly agree with you on the dangers of statism. I think a Scotland that was run on minimalist-state lines could be the freest, most prosperous nation in the world - but one run on quasi-communist lines would be another North Korea.  
Unfortunately for Scotland, it seems (to me) that small-state ideals there are associated with the English (regardless of how accurate this actually is).

4 January 2011, 13:18:26 GMT
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David Farrer
I don't accept that most Scots hate the English. Because of my family background and varied residency I have an accent that most people think is English. Despite that, I've never come across any signs of hatred since moving back to Scotland nine years ago. What's hated is the kind of thing that I described - the use of the word "England" to describe the UK. As I wrote, English folk wouldn't like it if the rest of the world used the word Scotland (or France!) to mean the UK. Blame for this problem is almost always laid at the feet of the London media (especially the BBC which just doesn't "get it") and on politicians who should know better. I don't think that the English "man in the street" gets blamed.  
There are certainly some Scots who blame "the English" for all sorts of economic woes. That blame is usually aimed at politicians down south, not the English as a nationality.  I, of course,  blame socialists no matter where they come from. I think that independence will come a bit sooner than you do and one good outcome would be that those fools who do blame England would have to face reality.  

4 January 2011, 11:13:11 GMT
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Simon Jester
Last "Guest" post was me, BTW.

2 January 2011, 21:41:40 GMT
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"Once Holyrood was set up, suddenly Scotland was on the English radar."  
Speaking personally, Scotland was on my radar ever since I became interested in politics (circa 1980). This is because, as soon as I did, I discovered that most Scots hate the English.  
I think that, in the long term, Scottish independence will be good for Scotland, as they will *eventually* stop blaming every woe on their southern neighbours.  
But I don't expect that to happen this century.

2 January 2011, 21:39:58 GMT