The emotions of constitutional change


Here we go again – Scotland is (if Westminster grants a S30 Order) being treated to yet another bitter, divisive and emotional constitutional referendum where lies and spin will confuse one and all and we will likely end up with a narrow result that satisfies no one. What joy!

I voted No before.  This time we are told that circumstances have changed (thus the SNP and the hyper-nationalist Scottish Green Party are demanding the re-vote that they would have demanded whatever happened) and some of my LibDem friends say that Brexit means they will now vote Yes.

Willie Rennie promises to make an “emotional case for the Union”.  I find it hard to get any more emotional about staying with the Union then separating from it.  Where can a liberal find that emotional call?

To me, “British” identity is that it is almost an anti-identity identity.  To be “British” is to be one of a variety of other identities (English, Scottish, Welsh and/or a variety of third country immigrant identities) but to see yourself at the same time as part of a bigger whole that is part of you and beyond you.  Multi-layered, multi-faceted identities are the reality in today’s world and it’s what we have been doing for generations.  The messiness of a modern British identity is a political challenge (on which the nationalists of UKIP/SNP feed) but a cultural strength.  If this is the “emotional case” for Union, then maybe I can buy into that – Union Jacks and reminders of wars and empires, less so.

Fear is also an emotion.  UKIP/SNP nationalists have in recent times dismissed us pointing out their folly as being “project fear”.  The costs of Indy will be real and painful. Scotland spends more than it brings in and it’s only through sharing burdens across the U.K. that Scotland is able to keep public services running in the current form. To deliver them with less to spend post-Indy would mean cuts that would make George Osborne’s eye’s water. This would be constitutional change on the backs of the poor.  I can get emotional about that..

Anger is a powerful emotion.  I worry that we risk jumping for Indy to punish rUK for the dreadful Brexit vote.  I’m angry too but Indy isn’t the solution to Brexit.  Brexit makes the problems of Indy worse. Previously it was assumed (by the Yes side – the fate of Scotland’s EU status was a matter of debate by the No side) that Scotland and rUK would be both in the EU with no border to prevent the free movement of goods, services and people.  That’s now in doubt.  If it’s folly for the UK to cut itself off from its largest trading partner (the EU), surely it is worse for Scotland to cut itself off from a bigger trading partner (rUK)?

Indyref must be about values and not emotions.  Flags and lines on maps are not where my values lie.   They don’t and never will define my politics.  I voted No in #indyref last time for the same reason as I voted remain in the Brexit referendum. I believe in cooperation and integration. Our problems see no borders and neither should our solutions.  Brexit and Indy are, to me, two sides of the same ugly illiberal coin.

The only way I see myself voting for Indy would be if the Brexit economic mess is so bad that there remains no benefit in remaining in the UK.  The mess we have led ourselves into with Brexit is so serious that we could come to a place where the costs of Brexit dwarf the costs of Indy.  Theresa May, alas, is doing everything to make Brexit is painful as it can be.  This doesn’t bode well.

* Stephen lives in Edinburgh, works in the oil industry in Aberdeen and has been a party member since he was 17.

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  • Stephan: I was right there with you up until the last paragraph.
    Is the Union or our membership of the EU an emotional attachment to the values and cultures of the whole whilst enjoying being part of the diversity, or is it a mercenary convenience. If it is the latter as the Tories and the Remain Campaign portray it, then it will always fall apart at some stage. It is the former that is the only enduring relationship. Unfortunately the UK was persuaded to buy into the latter. I don’t envy the Scottish in this question. Good luck.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Mar '17 - 1:55pm

    During the EU referendum Leavers used to argue that the UK has the fifth largest economy in the world. At PMQ on 15/3/2017 Theresa May claimed that the UK has the sixth largest economy in the world. She was answering a question from an SNP MP. What has happened since the EU referendum is a fall in the value of the pound sterling on currency markets. The fifth largest economy is now India.

  • Ian Patterson 15th Mar '17 - 2:15pm

    Scottish independence will not by one milimetre change geography vis a vee Scotland to England. Even Sturgeon cannot chisel Scotland from England.

  • Stephen Harte 15th Mar '17 - 2:44pm

    @Ian has anyone suggested that geography will be changed? Such a suggestion would be very strange indeed.

  • David Evershed 15th Mar '17 - 3:14pm

    If there is another referendum on Scottish separation from the UK then not only should Scotland have to vote to leave the UK but the rest of the UK should have to vote that they agree Scotland should leave.

    After all the Union was mutually agreed in 1707 and if broken up it needs to be mutually agreed by all parties.

    It would be interesting if Scotland voted to stay in the UK but the rest of the UK voted for Scotland to leave.

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Mar '17 - 3:30pm

    David Evershed 15th Mar ’17 – 3:14pm
    “the rest of the UK should have to vote that they agree Scotland should leave”

    You cannot be serious.

  • @David Evershed

    ” the rest of the UK should have to vote that they agree Scotland should leave.”

    Absolutely not David. That would be like saying the rest of the EU should get a vote on whether we can leave the EU or not.

    This is an issue for Scotland and only Scotland to decide

  • Ian Patterson 15th Mar '17 - 5:21pm

    @Stephen Harte – an independent Scotland may wish too, but ultimately cannot ignore the fact that England and more distantly Wales are attached to it, so it cannot wander off into a Caledonian nationalist nirvana Valhalla.

  • nvelope2003 16th Mar '17 - 8:10pm

    Well the rest of the EU may not have a vote on whether we leave but they can decide the terms on which we leave or so we are told by our leaders, therefore Scotland will have to negotiate the terms of independence and some parts, such as the Borders, Orkney, Shetland and other places might not wish to leave the UK. If large geographical areas of Scotland vote NO to independence as all but 4 or 5 of the 32 local government areas did in 2014 are they to be forced to leave the UK. For the record just Dundee and the Glasgow area voted YES last time – just little areas in a sea of NO.

  • Matt,

    Scotland can decide to leave very true, but they can’t decide on what terms they leave. Many of their assumption will prove to be false and much more costly than they believe, hard times and disruption will follow; that happens with divorces. Now all they have to do is watch the great Brexit divorce and see what that costs and ask themselves is it worth going through that again. After all the UK can decide to leave the EU but as you will soon find they can’t decide on the terms, the bigger partner tends to set them.

  • @nvelope2003

    A British enforced partition of Scotland? That worked so well in Ireland didn’t it?

  • @frankie
    “Now all they have to do is watch the great Brexit divorce and see what that costs and ask themselves is it worth going through that again. ”

    The point is that Scotland doesn’t want a Brexit divorce. Why should it have to sit and watch it because England does?

  • nvelope2003 17th Mar '17 - 1:36pm

    Hireton: The difference between Ireland and Scotland is that most of the geographical area of Ireland wished to leave the UK and the small part that did not want to leave, except possibly parts of Dublin, had England to support it. Who would suport an independent Scotland which consisted of Dundee and the Glasgow area ? It would be unviable and therefore be obliged to remain in the UK under the present or similar arrangements or become an EU protectorate.

  • nvelope2003 17th Mar '17 - 2:22pm

    Hireton Part 2: I suspect there are 2 reasons for Nicola Sturgeon demanding a second referendum soon.
    I. There is the SNP conference to please and then the local elections in May which could be difficult because of the SNP’s failure to deal with important issues effectively. Whipping up attacks on “Westmonster” should help distract the voters from the real problems and bore the opposition into staying at home.
    2. If she waits too long for a referendum any problems arising from Brexit could frighten the less adventurous voters into voting NO or at least staying at home but if Brexit is a success then the SNP will be in real trouble.
    Ms Sturgeon is very like Mary Stuart – uninterested in the practicalities of ruling Scotland but obsessed with her status and beliefs, whether religion in Mary’s case or nationalism in Nicola’s. Just as foolish Mary was determined to bring down the wise and practical Queen Elizabeth I so Nicola wants to antagonise Theresa and maybe Elizabeth II.
    Independent Scotland was cursed with a succession of incompetent rulers and that is why wise Scots accepted the prosaic Hanoverians and English rulers. Nothing much has changed since 2007.

  • The SNP may be talking about greater uncertainty when anything but is needed but today Theresa May delivered a speech in Cardiff and said somewhere between very, very little and nothing at all for Wales while also forgetting that education is devolved so talking up grammar schools could have been saved for a speech in England. There are many in Westminster who simply see the Celtic nations as an inconvenience and many more who underestimate their importance, so while I cannot wish Scotland to leave the UK I can understand why they may want to.

  • nvelope2003 18th Mar '17 - 9:56am

    Whatever they say in public I suspect many Tories would be happy to see Scotland leave the UK as the loss of 58 opposition MPs at Westminster would help them win more General elections. I suppose if the Conservative revival in Scotland were to grow and they won a forthcoming election they could always apply to rejoin the Union, especially if the Scottish economy declined substantially. I believe it was a financial disaster (the Darien colony) which brought about the 1707 Union.

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