Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Scotland & England: its been a wonderful three hundred year marriage but perhaps its time for divorce?!

Today is the 300 year anniversary of the Act of Union in 1707. It is the Act that created Great Britain and her United Kingdom. On Thursday the Scottish people go to the polls to vote for their representatives for the devolved Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. The near synchronicity of these dates is nicely significant. This is an election where the Scottish National Party (the SNP) look like they may steal Labour's thunder and actually form a devolved government in Scotland.

The SNP stand for Scotland's Independence from the UK. Since the seventies they have been a growing force in Scottish politics. During the days of Thatcherite Britain when the poll tax was introduced to Scotland first to test the system, Scotland was a bleak place full of a disheartened and disenfranchised populous. The almost total rejection of the Tory government by the Scottish electorate meant that there was a political schism between England and Scotland. When Labour were finally elected in 1997, Blair held true to his promise to let the people of Scotland decide if they wanted their own parliament, devolved not separated, from Westminster. And we most certainly did. The referendum was an over whelming resounding yes.

We got a parliament and our very own building built with plenty of political corruption, cronyism and cost. The parliament building was a financial fiasco but if you are ever in Edinburgh it is well worth walking to the bottom of the High Street to go on a tour, it is a gorgeous building that deserves the high praise and accolades that were bestowed on the late architect, Enric Miralles.

The parliament has been a hot button issue ever since its arrival. It adds another level of government to a country which already has local, national (Westminster), and European governments. It therefore also provides another level of cost to the Scottish people.

However to a country with our own education system, banking system (the Scottish pound is the same legal tender as the English but its still Scottish), and legal system, it seemed preposterous not to have our own government to identify us as a separate nation. Well, separate but with the kitchen apron strings still firmly attached.

Since its inception the parliament in Scotland has been run by a coalition of the New Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. And in my opinion it has not been overly successful. The cronyism, and small mindedness of the Scottish Labour party has been transferred into government. The question always seemed to be, would there or could there be any power in a parliament run by the same party as Westminster? Could there be a major disagreement and how would it be resolved?

It is my opinion that Tony and his cronies have run the UK parliament akin to the old power structure of the communist block. He is only prime minister but he acts presidential. It has filled me and my friends with despair that with every cabinet reshuffle the only difference is in name. Policies and decisions remain unchanged. It is also my opinion that the Scottish Labour party is run very much in the same mold.

So whats the alternative. Well the big one would be Independence. The SNP have always stood for the policy of a referendum on Scottish Independence within the European Union. When I was in my teenage years their policy was very much based on the utilisation of the oil in the North Sea in Scottish waters to enable the country to become financially solvent and prosper along the lines of Norway and Sweden. The arguments against this perception or claim were that establishing rights over waters in the North Sea would be difficult and removing such a cash flow to Westminster could do serious damage to England, which as our nearest trading partner, would be a foolish move.

I now find the argument of oil for Independence redundant. With global warming a reality, building a country on oil seems extremely foolish and irresponsible. I do however, see a bigger argument for Scotland going it alone by looking across the water to Ireland. Ireland is now one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Where immigrants used to leave the Emerald Isle in search of better things the Emerald Isle is now attracting immigrants for the self same reason. If the Irish could do it why not the Scots?

We're not good enough. We couldn't possibly. We need looking after. Scotland is a proud nation with a distinctive culture of its own. A big part of that culture is what is called in literature, the doppelganger: Scottish identity is always double; it is always Jekyll and Hyde. On one hand we pray with all our might that we thrash any English sports team into next week, we bemoan England for neglecting to remember that Britain also includes Scotland and we take great pains to point out that we are not like England. But on the other hand we are quite content to sit back and be led from Westminster, to be a part of Britain. There is the pride, the strength that whimpers at the prospect of actually really running our own affairs.

I don't know if it is because of the connection between the Scottish Labour Party and the national Labour Party, but it always feels to me like a whispering campaign - "you couldn't do it", "you're not capable". Blair would have had a real political fight on his hands at every election without the steady stream of Labour loyalists in Scotland dutifully going to the polls for him come election day. It really is not in New Labour's political interests to have an Independent Scotland.

My gut instinct is that Scotland will never grow up until we take care of our own country. I don't make this statement out of brimming nationalist fervour but rather out of a fed up exasperation at my kin and country being so pathetic. Am I overwhelmed by Alec Salmond? No. Do I especially like the SNP or trust them? No. [as a side note I have always hated the fact that they are called the Scottish National Party - there are too many parallels with the fascist nationalist pasts of other countries - I really don't know why they are not called the Scottish Independence Party] But I don't see why we feel incapable of balancing our own budget, of running our own affairs. Scottish independance from the UK would not be a complete leap in the dark we would still be in the European Union and have a seat at the main table of that same Union instead of peering over another's shoulder.

I don't know what will happen on May 3rd. I have no way of affecting the outcome as I cannot vote (as a British citizen I can vote in the British election as an expat but there is no such thing as a Scottish citizen so I am disenfranchised). I am pretty sure the Scots who read my blog will have already turned in their postal votes by this time - so I am perhaps just meaninglessly wittering here. I know that the issue of Iraq is front an center in a lot of minds. How can a party be trusted that tows the line behind their leader in spite of public outrage? What is the alternative? Two very dear friends of mine commented that their hope for an alternative to a Blair (or Brown) government is an Independent Scotland - and they are English! I hope that one day my country will grow up and see all the great things we are so proud of, all the Scots who achieved so much, are all signs that we should take the risk.

300 years ago today the Act of Union was signed by the Scottish Parliament. It was signed by the Scottish elite who had lost hope in Scotland's prospects after the country was practically bankrupted in the Darien affair. The Union was signed against the wishes of the Scottish people for economic reasons by Scottish Nobles eager to win favour with the King who was so much more an English King than Scottish. The Union was an alliance that enabled the building of an Empire, it was an economic force to be reckoned with. That Empire is now dead and gone. The new economic force to be reckoned with is Europe and I think it is in Scotland's best interests to have a front row seat in building that prosperity because the last 300 years have proven we make one hell of a team mate.

P. S.
For a most brilliant analysis which says everything better than I can and if you're curious about Scottish humour go HERE to watch a video which had me in stitches!!


A Paperback Writer said...

First of all, let me assert that this American Scotophile (yes, with Scottish roots, but half the planet has Scottish ancestry), knows her Scottish history well enough to understand this post well.
Then let me say: God Bless Scotland.
Kirsty, Scotland is recruiting avidly now. I actually qualified to remain there on the Fresh Talent visa, but I couldn't stay (sniff).
I agree with you that lack of self-confidence is a huge problem for the nation as a whole. I think the devolution should be gradual so the populace can gain confidence in themselves.
And I'm sorry to disagree with you about the Parliament buidling, but I'm going to back my numerous Edinburgh friends and say it's hideous. Everyone I know in the city likes it even less than they do the hoardes of tourists who arrive for the festivals in August. In fact, the citizens seem to have a real comraderie in complaining about both the price and the looks of the building; when politics divide, the shared loathing of the building will unite. ;)
Fingers crossed for Thursday. And I'll repeat: God bless Scotland.

Mo said...

Hi Kirsty I really enjoyed that article. Very thoughtprovoking. Being an expat really makes you think about your native country. I remember when I was in France I was much more conscious of my Scottishness. You also gain a bit of objectivity by standing back which we don't have here in Scotland. I've already voted via post and it wasn't for the Scottish Labour Party!

I think lack of confidence is a big Scottish thing - for individuals as well as for the nation as a whole. When I was a student it was always the English students that spoke up in tutorials. The Scots would mumble into their notes!

Gordon Brown is very unpopular in England just now where there is a real swell of anti-Scottish feeling. Husband sees it all the time on his motorbike forum (the south eastern English are always insulting the Scots). If he takes over the reins from Blair, it's highly likely the Tories will be elected in Westminster again and seek to reduce the powers of the Scottish parliament.

And yes, my answer to the English criticisms that Scotland is such a drain on the UK budget was always - then why don't you let us go it alone if we're such a drain. The answer is that they don't want to see the break up of the UK and England on its own would be a much smaller force.

OK I'll stop rambling!

ashley said...

My wife was living in Glasgow when Braveheart came out, and she said that when people left the theater, they were ready to paint their faces blue and declare independence right then and there.

My guess is that Scotland will become completely independent. Obviously, it's a bit more difficult for Ireland, and most Welsh I know seem happy with their bit of autonomy.

Hmmm...Scotland is being used for her access to oil by her neighbor, who doesn't want her to secede. Sounds quite familiar...

Cursed Tea said...

Prbckwrtr - Thanks for your thoughts.
We'll have to disagree on the building - I am well aware of the perceptions of it by the people in Edinburgh but I think they built it in the ideal place where it wouldn't detract from the rest of city and I think it fits in successfully with the landscape. It is the type of building which would be welcomed in Stockholm or the Hague - Scotland can be more than a little backward when it comes to the aesthetics of modernism.

I hear what you are saying about devolution coming slowly to help rebuild confidence but I disagree. The past years with devolution have been frustrating and if anything show us to be petty small minded in our governing - something which I definitely feel no confidence in. I think there is a need for a strong charismatic political leader for Scotland and presently, and sadly, there is none. The parliament has no teeth and Scotland is still very much shackled to the wants of England - as the lesser partner

which brings me on to...

Mo - I have often wondered if the English electorate would accept a Scottish prime minister and I have to agree Brown will likely ensure the Tories return to power - oh yippieee :( ... (can you hear sarcasm in typing??)

Sadly perhaps a Tory government again might make Scotland wake up to itself and realise that instead of "playing" at self government we should grow up and do it for real?

Ashley - there are a lot of similarities between Scotland and N'awlins - not just the liver abuse :) The "auld alliance" with France meant that back in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries (can't remember which) if you were a Scottish citizen then you were also a French citizen and vice versa - as I can't vote in France either perhaps I'm doubly disenfranchiased?? If the French won't buy N'awlins back maybe the Scots can under independence - hell the Darien affair failed maybe taking over New Orleans could make up for it? I'd just ensure that there was a lot of discussion with the Dutch on how to build dykes and levees before agreeing to becoming a wee part of Scotland!! :)

Thank you all for your comments and visting!
Best Wishes

A Paperback Writer said...

Kirsty, I will bow to your superior knowledge on the speed of devolution. I am, after all, still only an outsider.
I do agree that the building might look good in Stockholm.... although it actually reminds me more of the government buildings in Helsinki. (Sorry, I've never been to the Hague.)

Mo, your perspective was very enlightening for me. Thanks for writing it all up.

Gwen said...

Kirsty thanks for an excellent and very informative post. I have done the deed and have voted SNP. I now have my fingers and toes crossed that we can become a successful independent small nation. Some of my worries may of course come from typical Scottish pessimism!

Adrastos said...

Enjoyed the video other than being mooned by the guys in kilts...