Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The End of the United Kingdom

The SNP are set to record significant success in the coming elections, new polls for the Telegraph suggest that a narrow majority of Scots want independence and the same poll suggests that the English have no real attachment to the Union either.

This result can be confirmed by taking an anecdotal sample of opinions on the Union, some from e-mail and some from ConservativeHome's comments:

"I am so happy - now for a richer more confident and prosperous England and no more subsidising workshy Scots bastards. Worse than that Socialist workshy Scots bastards whos contribution to the country since the 1950s has been to make the country worse. All the benefits of intelligent Scots moving south would be achieved without a union in fact more of them would move south and we would benefit even more because we could reduce income or corporation tax further. When Scotland goes I have a bottle of Champagne ready. They dont support us anyway - they support any team but England - glad to once again be in the majority of English people - see Telegraph poll - who say good riddance."

"My personal view is 'Stuff the Scots'. Their ungrateful conntry is full of the socialists that keep this scummy government in power.

So let then go and good riddance."

"God how out of touch you blues really are, time to face the facts and leave the past behind. The union is dying, it has done nothing for England in 300 years, we have been used and abused and NOW is the time for England and her people to stand up and be counted."

While others remain attached to the Union it is pretty clear the way the wind is blowing. Having been told for so long that they were oppressing the Celtic fringe and being increasingly aware of the subsidy sent North and West the English sentiment can be summed up as "good riddance". The Scottish parliament has not made a lasting contribution to undermining a desire for Scottish independence and may well have had the opposite effect in the medium term as Major originally warned.

It seems unlikely that Scottish independence will happen in the near term. The Labour party has too much to lose and can stall a separation by giving Scotland's devolved institutions new powers. However, with English opinion swung against the Union we cannot expect the commitment to prop it up which might have allowed for compromise before. Unless this changes Scotland will, sooner or later, become a state.

It will be a sad day. The best states are not the result of borders being well matched to ethnic or cultural divisions. That the Scots have their own identity does not mean they should necessarily have a separate state. Generally the bar, as in Israel, the Balkans and elsewhere, for not being able to live in existing states is genocide or ethnic cleansing. Successful states like Britain involve all manner of minorities and there seems no reason we cannot live together. There is no coherent case that the Scottish have really been abused within Britain for some centuries.

Equally, I am unimpressed by those English who, in order to reduce the extent their vote is diluted or reclaim some funds spent on the Celtic subsidy now would see their nation torn asunder. Such an argument would be a fine case for the South East and London leaving the Union as the North/South income differential is, I believe, far larger than that for Scotland/England. Surely such narrow, mercenary, concerns are not how a conservative would wish to choose their state?

If conservativism can be defined at all then it is the view that human reason is limited and that faced with tasks as complicated as building a state we would do better to rely on the accumulated knowledge of ages.

To quote Burke:
"We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages."

In the United Kingdom we have the state that played a serious part in defeating Napoleon, the Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and Stalin, built the world's largest empire, abolished slavery, set up the international economy through an early push for free trade, spread institutions and infrastructure around the world in the biggest overseas investment ever and provided a unique environment which incubated the first Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth. Now, it may be that we don't think this was dependent upon the United Kingdom so much as it was on England, luck, coal or some other quality. However, it seems far more plausible that the geographical security and cultural variety of the United Kingdom were a serious asset which there might be unintended consequences to losing.

Finally, there is something unutterably, aesthetically, sad about the death of an institution with the history of the United Kingdom. I fail to see how anyone of conservative instincts could not feel heartbroken that in our lives, on our watch, the United Kingdom, the old House of Lords, the Law Lords and Britain without a written constitution may all have died. There are statues of four of the noblemen who imposed the Magna Carta at the corners of the chamber of the House of Lords, still watching over the monarch. One of their descendants is still in the house. After the best part of a millenia these long traditions are being broken.


Serf said...

I favour making the UK a federal state, with defence, foreign affairs and constitutional issues settled at Westminster, whilst public services, tax levels and spending are in the hands of National parliaments.

Anonymous said...

Alongside the tremendous political and economic accomplishments of the British (helping to defeat Napoleon and so on), I would add also their numerous cultural and scientific achievements. From the law of gravity to modern liberalism to the theory of evolution. I think these sort of things too ought to have been noted.