Sunday, 28 August 2011

Scotland and England

There's a piece in the Guardian today where various leading Scottish writers discuss the future of the union and what independence might mean for Scotland.

I suppose the first kind of thing that strikes me, as an Englishman, is how it's only when I read something like this that I really grasp how different Scotland is. It's obvious that these writers have a different sense of identity to the one that I have and that the people of Scotland and England do have different cultures. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's just something worth being reminded of.

The other thing that strikes me is how all of these writers view Scotland as a more left wing kind of country while viewing England as a more right wing kind of country. Now obviously this ignores the fact that there are plenty of right wingers in Scotland and it could well be down to the Guardian's own bias that all the writers selected are left wing. That said, it is obvious that, as a country, Scotland definitely votes more for more left wing, communitarian, soft socialist policies and that there is a clear contrast between Scottish politics and English politics. This is no doubt partly because the UK parliament sits in Westminster in England and because English MPs make up the vast majority of the members of parliament. It probably doesn't help that the UK media is also based in London so as to be near the centre of government and therefore tends to share the same sort of south east centric sort of viewpoint which leads to very little coverage of Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish affairs in our national newspapers - and this is something which I think is a terrible shame as it does our political system no good to be England-centric.

But at the same time, just as these writers talk about England not really understanding Scotland, they themselves clearly don't understand England. Iain Banks (a writer whose work I greatly enjoy) talks of England continuing to turn rightwards. We are? I know that the Conservatives are the largest party in England, but they still only got 40% of the vote - hardly proof that England is a right wing country when the vast majority of English people voted for left of centre parties.

There's also all this talk of England viewing Scotland as, and I quote, "a self-important, moany cow who was damned lucky to have him, while He tolerates her upkeep, nippy manners and lefty tendencies." Well I don't think that's the case at all. And I do find irritating the view by some of these writers that the English are always moaning about Scotland without justification.

But the fact is that Scotland receives more money per head than England does. And, part of this extra money comes from English taxpayers. The fact that Scotland has used this money to pay for things like free prescriptions and no tuition fees does, understandably, cause resentment in some cases. I think, in many ways, it would not be such an issue were it not for the ludicrous double standards where Scottish and EU students studying in Scotland are entitled to not pay tuition fees but where English and Welsh students have to pay full whack.

So when people say that Scotland has done well out of the union there may be some justification in it. But that also doesn't make up for the fact that the history between England and Scotland has primarily been one of the former attempting to control the latter.

But here we are. Two countries (as I'm only talking about England and Scotland here I'll ignore Wales) sharing the same island, the same border and centuries of intertwined history. Don't forget, Queen Elizabeth is herself descended from a Scottish king who in turn was descended from the Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Personally I think we are stronger together. And there certainly isn't any evidence that Scotland's support for the SNP will translate into support for full on independence. Indeed, it has been pointed out that Quebec in Canada spent a long time voting for a nationalist, left wing party, right up until they had got every concession and measure of autonomy short of full independence - at which point they stopped voting for that party to the extent that they were virtually completely wiped out.

I do think it is right that Scotland should have its own devolved government, and I think that we should go further and, in addition to giving Scotland more economic autonomy, should reach a state of affairs where the Scottish parliament is enshrined as part of our unwritten constitution instead of being a body which can, at any moment, be abolished by the Westminster parliament (as is the case at the moment). After all, Scotland and England do have different national cultures and people in every part of the UK should be free to run their own affairs as they decide themselves. And this is why I, and the Liberal Democrats, have spent the past century advocating a federal United Kingdom. In addition to devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we should also have devolution for England as well. How the latter might be achieved is a matter of some debate but it should definitely been brought into being.

I do think Scotland should have the chance to decide whether it should remain part of the UK or pursue its own, independent, destiny, but if they choose independence then I will be sad to see them go. Part of it is nostalgia and part of it is self-interest - after all, a tory government will be more likely without Scotland than with them. But mostly it is a belief that after all our common history, it makes sense for us to work together and benefit from the increased strength that that provides. But ultimately it is Scotland's choice.

In many ways, I prefer the way things are done in Scotland. I think that Scotland has probably got things more right than we do in England. If I didn't identify so strongly as English then I'd probably want to migrate to Scotland. Of course, part of this is the fact that an outsider only sees the good bits and not the bad bits such as sectarianism. But still, Scotland has a lot going for it and I am slightly envious of them.

But first and foremost I am English. What Scotland decides to do is up to them and, if they leave, perhaps it will be a new beginning for those of us in England as people may be finally forced to confront the problems with our political system that delivers a tory majority of seats at the expense of the 60% of us who vote otherwise. So I think things will be interesting no matter what happens, even though I personally doubt that Scotland ever will choose full independence. If nothing else, I think I can be certain that, after 2,000 years, the destinies of the people of England and Scotland will remain intertwined for centuries to come.

4 comments:

  1. The whole "moany cow" thing - why is Scotland a woman and England a man?

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  2. I have no idea, it's just the marriage analogy that that writer used.

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  3. I would say that Scotland is probably more left-wing than England - the last time the Conservatives polled higher than Labour in Scotland was 1959. In 52 years there support has gone to the Lib Dems and the SNP, centre/centre-left parties.

    Even the Tories in Scotland are far more centrist than the UK ones. Ask them about immigration and they're more likely to say its good rather than bad as Scotland definitely needs it.

    Scotland doesn't get England and England doesn't get Scotland. Even the Scots in Westminster don't get Scotland i think.
    I've thought of England the way you describe but i know its not true ask someone political, and then Scotland will get England but ask someone non-political and they take a more balanced view.
    I do think England is more right-wing - not because 60% voted for left-wing parties but because Labour have taken a right-wing turn first with Blair and I think they are still somewhat there where Tony left them. Personally, i don't think they have shifted left.
    I think Scottish left wing is different to English left-wing.

    I do think there is a view of Scotland being dictated to by England and Westminster but at the same time England is doing what it thinks is right but Scotland just simply don't believe.
    I'm not sure the Union has done anything for Scotland. It was said by the English and the pro-unionist Scots at the time, a union with England would bring economic benefits which didn't materialise for thirty years so I don't think it was the union that brought that economic prosperity. Yes, we get the barnett formula and get more money per head than England does but that money isn't achieving what it set out to do which was help Scotland's poor and that was started in the 70s so regardless where the Scottish Govt is spending that now. For 29 years, the barnett formula wasn't doing what it was put in place for.
    I think there is a sense in Scotland, that Westminster ignores Scotland, and is incapable of doing whats best for Scotland, England, Wales and NI. Now i don't think Westminster ignores Scotland, just that Westminster doesn't get Scotland and doesn't know how to improve Scotland which feeds the idea that Westminster are incapable and incompetent when it comes to Scotland.

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  4. One of the major problems Scots have with the English is the perception amongst many English people that Scots are beggars at their gate. Depending on how you calculate the allocation of revenues, Scotland does not receive much in subsidy from England and indeed was arguably a net conributor to the Treasury in 2007 to 8. Your comments about free prescriptions and tuition fees is simple ignorance. We are spending our own money and making our own choices. Craig Murray's comment here is worth reading: http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2011/08/stupid-attack-on-scottish-free-education/

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