Six of The Best
Having finished my supper the other evening, home-made bhuna murgh and coconut rice, as I recall; I was reading the biography of a noted Tory politician of the early 20th century, a denizen of Kedleston in Derbyshire, a former Foreign Secretary and Viceroy of India. He is often described by his admirers as the “the greatest Prime Minister we never had”. Not the easiest of reads, Gibson’s 1994 biography of Lord Curzon nonetheless is meticulously researched and pulls no punches. I had just covered the section documenting his harsh Victorian school years and had encountered his description of a former schoolmaster as a “professor of spanking” – when a Scottish voice (somewhere in West-Lothian ?) coming from the PC behind me grabbed my attention by saying “Six of the best for Westminster !”. I looked over to the computer, which was showing BBC News24 in a Google Chrome window and instantly recognised the jovial figure, speaking from a lectern. A well-known regional politician, he was delivering a talk at the London School of Economics on the subject of how his radical and progressive plans for re-structuring the UK were going to benefit all of us.
I had formed a favourable personal impression of this guy from the first time I saw him, many years ago, on the satirical TV show “Have I Got News For You”, which was reading out some of Prince Phillip’s more outrageous remarks. One of these concerned the time the Prince said to a Scottish driving instructor “how do you keep the locals off the booze long enough for them to pass the test ?” – the avuncular politico laughed the loudest and longest. A man with a sense of humour is impossible to truly dislike, so consequently I’ve always found it hard to dislike Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party. Personality is not politics however, and much as I may like it’s leader on a personal basis, the SNP is not a party that I could ever agree with on any significant issue. In large measure this is because I have an instinctive dislike of Nationalism in all its forms. In particular, it’s long standing ambition to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK and set it up as a fully independent state is one which I cannot, in all conscience, support. I favour the continuance of the Union that has sustained us all for the past 300 years, and will try to explain here why I think this.
Defence of the Realm
At one part of the speech, Alex Salmond had turned his attention to the thorny question of what currency the new state would have. His preferred policy, that of joining the eurozone and adopting the Euro, simply isn’t possible right now for reasons that anyone who reads the papers will be aware of. That only leaves two other options – either float a brand new currency for the new state and expect international investors to back it (a frankly bonkers option in the current economic climate) or stay in the “Sterling zone” – far from the simple option that it seems. In the end the SNP leader was reduced to an appeal to history “the Bank of England was founded by Scot” he said, and he was (almost) correct – it was first proposed by a Scot (William Paterson, a successful Scottish banker) and then set up by an Englishman (Charles Montagu, Earl of Essex) in 1694. However the same could be said of Great Britain; that too was first proposed by a Scot – James Stewart, King James VI of Scotland / I of England who, shortly after moving his court to London, named himself “King of Great Britain” and drafted the union flag by combining the flags of Scotland and England. The Union however was actually signed into law by an Englishwoman (Queen Anne) 104 years later, after first a civil war and then a bloodless revolution had twice deposed James’ dynasty. The bank had been founded, not for purposes of economic prosperity, but to fund the expensive realities of national defence. The soon-to-be formalised state of Great Britain had emerged almost bankrupt from wars with both the Dutch and the French and needed a way to fund expanded government spending, which in those days meant mainly the military budget. Prior to the establishment of the national bank the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to tour round the premises of the gold merchants of the City of London in person to arrange finance for the government. The bank’s first loan to the government was £1.2m – half of which was to rebuild the navy following its catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head by the French in 1690.
Defence is an area where the SNP’s policies for Scotland, and indeed for the whole of the UK, fare very poorly when exposed to the cold light of day. It perhaps is inevitable for a party that spent so many years in opposition that it has adopted a whole range of fringe policies in its bid to widen its appeal. In fact it would be perfectly true to say that the SNP manifesto resembles a perfect collection of just about every off-the-wall policy that the main parties have rejected – votes at sixteen, abolition of nuclear power, leaving NATO and … Scottish independence. It’s the third of those that concerns us here- just how is the new state going to be defended, and what impact would the non – NATO state of Scotland have on the defence and security of the rest of UK ?
Scottish independence, were it to happen, would not really have that great an impact on the UK economy. Scotland accounts for only 8% of the UK population (5.1m of 62.2m), even including oil revenues its estimated GDP of £131bn accounts for only 9% of the UK’s GDP of £1.42tn. Even after independence, the remaining UK would still be one of the 10 richest countries in the world, London would still be a major world financial sector, and the UK would still be one of Europe’s most populous states. The biggest impacts on the UK would be political and strategic, and they would in almost every case be bad. The first impact would be a dramatic reduction in the UK’s territory; although Scotland’s population and GDP are dwarfed by that of England, Wales and N Ireland the UK’s territory would be reduced by 30%. There would also be a dramatic, and negative, impact on UK’s image overseas. The ending of the 300 year union would leave UK looking politically weak and ethnically divided, our seat on the UN Security Council would most likely be withdrawn. Also Scotland’s accession to the EU would have to be negotiated and would be unlikely to be rubber – stamped. Many other European countries have separatist movements of their own, Spain for instance would be very careful not to say or do anything that would give succour to their own Basque region’s plans for autonomy.
The SNP has made it quite plain that it wants nothing to do with NATO, and therefore could not permit British armed forces, which are part of the nuclear armed NATO alliance, to be stationed on its territory. That means, for instance, that the Royal Navy nuclear bases on the Clyde, which employ thousands of people, would have to close and be relocated to the south coast of England and the same would apply to any RAF airbases. The few remaining Scottish regiments, a handful of frigates and few aircraft is all they would have. They may think that that is all they need, but I can assure the SNP that that looks very different when viewed from England – from that standpoint a gigantic hole in the UK’s defences will just have opened up and a new state will have appeared there with neither the means nor the inclination to contribute to our, and Europe’s, collective defence. The greatest benefits of independence would be not be felt in Scotland, but by our competitors and by our enemies. There might well be cheering crowds on the streets of Edinburgh on independence day – there would be none in London, I can assure you; although I have no doubt that Buenos Aries and Tehran will be among the first to welcome the new state to the family of nations.
Alex Salmond brushes away such concerns by saying that Scotland will be a friend and an ally. I don’t doubt his sincerity, but he ought to understand that it takes two to make a friendship or an alliance. What kind of ally would an independent Scotland really be ? This is, remember, the leader of a party that frequently refers to the English as “colonial occupiers” and who has just steered through a breakup of the Union in the middle of a recession on the grounds that the UK (or to be blunt England) has held Scotland back and who’s influence must be removed from Scottish affairs if the country is to prosper. Add to that a newly minted facet of Scottishness called “pacifism” and you can see that selling yourself to the UK as a reliable friend and ally in those circumstances is going to be an uphill task.
The “M” Word
How on earth did we all get ourselves into such a dreadful pickle, that we are contemplating such potentially damaging changes to the UK just on the say-so of a small band of nationalists ? The problem, as I indicated at the beginning, is Nationalism itself. Perhaps it’s because I come from a diverse family and was brought up in a multi-ethnic community in London that I have always found ethnic nationalism to be a pernicious, divisive and, frankly, outdated way to view oneself or one’s country. I grew up on a street that was approximately one third white, one third black and one third Indian, a veritable melting pot of cultures from all over the world, yet one that seemed to have no difficulty accepting each other and sharing the same country.
I appreciate that many Scots feel passionately that their culture is distinctly and fundamentally different to that of England and that that fact ought to be recognised. Some go much further than this and say the only way that Scottish culture can survive and flourish is to escape from the English yoke and declare independence. Only then can English influence be rolled back, English interference removed from Scottish affairs and Scottishness allowed to flourish. Without wishing to deny the specialness of Scotland and its people, to go around in the early 21st century claiming that your culture is so different to that of England that a completely separate state is required does not seem to me to be in any sense of the word “progressive”. Wanting to re-establish the pre 1707 border and divide our small island back into its ancient tribal areas seems to be the precise opposite of that, it seems to me to be reactionary and backward looking.
England, Scotland and Wales are three brothers whether we care to admit or not. We may think that vast differences separate us, but in our heart of hearts we know that they do not. Once one begins to define oneself in terms of one’s nationality and ethnicity its only a short while before you begin to judge other people in such terms, and from there does racism spring. But there is a solution to this problem that has been staring us in the face all along. It developed in the multi-ethnic cities of England where a variety of cultures and ethnicity required that a new definition of nationhood and ones relationship to it be created. In this view of the world being “British” no longer said anything about who or what you were, it was the place you lived and the passport that you held – that was all. A new compact was forged between the state and the people whereby all that the state asked was that you obey the laws, pay your taxes and be there for us all in the event of real crisis – beyond that you were free to live the way you choose and to be whatever you want to be. Consequently when I say that I am British it means only that I was born here and have a British passport – I like living in the UK and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, anything beyond that is, in my opinion, dangerous. Diversity is not preserved by separation, it is diluted by it.
What was the name of this philosophy for bringing all races together in the same country in friendship and respect ? It’s a word that any truly progressive party should know – Multiculturalism. Scottish culture doesn’t need the SNP and it doesn’t need independence – all it needs is Multiculturalism and an a single elected government for this small, crowded and beautiful country that we share.
Alex Salmond offered us six of the best for Westminster. I’m no great shakes at spanking I’m afraid (or so my wife tells me), so I’m going to draw inspiration from the country that Curzon once governed for the crown. Although a raving imperialist in every sense of the word, he earned some surprisingly kind words from independent India’s first leader, Nehru. In Nehru’s eye’s he had one saving grace, he loved and admired the beauty of Indian culture and that was enough for Nehru to forgive him. Hindus believe in their own holy trinity and in that spirit I offer in place of six strokes of the cane, three heartfelt pleas
Don’t DESTROY what we have built together by nationalistic division
PRESERVE what is good about our society by celebrating its diversity
Join hands as the three brothers that we are to CREATE a better place for us all to live
Copyright ©2012 Savereo John