First published at Conservatives for Liberty
For the sake of everyone else in the United Kingdom, 2016 must not be another year of coercion and blackmail by selfish Scottish nationalists
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has presumed to tell the elected Prime Minister of the UK that our country is on “borrowed time”, and that if we do not mend our ways and immediately start enacting left-wing policies which were comprehensively rejected in the 2015 general election, we will lose the pleasure of Scotland’s company in the United Kingdom.
From the Telegraph:
Ms Sturgeon has prompted speculation about a quick second referendum by promising the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood election manifesto will contain details of potential “triggers” for another vote, such as the UK leaving the EU, and a timescale.
However, amid warnings it would be the nationalists’ last chance, she has made clear she will only call another vote when she is sure of victory.
[..] she warned David Cameron that Scots would weigh up independence “against the alternative” of Westminster rule and warned that he was “living on borrowed time” thanks to his refusal to listen to their views on Trident, austerity and greater devolution.
Nicola Sturgeon needs to learn her place. With all its new powers, the SNP has governed Scotland poorly; its policies on policing, education and tuition fees have failed. The economic success of Scotland – including high employment – is facilitated by the union.
Besides which, Sturgeon is the provincial governor of one corner of the UK, and by no means the wealthiest and most dynamic corner at that. Imagine if liberal Vermont started trying to throw its weight around in the United States, threatening to leave unless Washington hiked takes on the rich. Or imagine that socially conservative Utah vowed to secede in response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision legalising gay marriage across the union.
You can’t run a country that way. You just can’t. Passions may sometimes strain on both sides, but people cannot simply go reaching for the nuclear option of secession whenever things don’t go their way – that’s why London and the south east of England did not storm out of the United Kingdom during thirteen years of New Labour rule at Westminster.
But seeking to capitalise on left-wing opposition to the Conservative government, Sturgeon grumbled in her speech on the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum:
What does staying part of the Westminster system mean for Scotland?
Right now, what people see at Westminster is a Tory government failing to fully deliver on the vow it made on more powers for our parliament.
They see a Tory government continuing to impose austerity on working people and the disabled – way beyond anything required to reduce the deficit and in spite of Scotland electing 56 anti austerity MPs.
And they see a government arrogantly pressing ahead with plans to renew Trident – at a cost of £100 billion – before the House of Commons has even voted and while our public services suffer the pain of their cuts.
Well tough. That’s how countries work. Sometimes the party with positions you agree with is in power, and sometimes you are out in the wilderness while other people call the shots. Stoking up resentment against the Evil Tories to build support for a laughable second referendum on Scottish independence is cheap and cynical, and betrays a childlike petulance and lack of understanding of how nations work. Centre-left or centre-right: you can’t just go seceding when you don’t get your way. The nation state has to be more permanent than transient disappointment at the last election result.
But this is almost the entirety of the SNP’s appeal. Yes, there were always True Believer nationalists who supported Scottish independence come what may. But those people were few in number, and typically returned only six or so SNPs to Westminster. The 56 SNP MPs now in Parliament are primarily there because Scottish voters convinced themselves that it’s okay to vote for a party whose declared aim is to break up the country, just because they don’t happen to like the government of the day.
This can’t go on. One of the greatest countries on earth cannot be expected to limp on from year to year, continually being coerced and blackmailed by a self-entitled rump who want to tear us apart. The United Kingdom and her citizens cannot spend each year wondering whether this will be our Union’s last. And the democratically elected government of the UK can and must not be held to ransom by the wheedling, petulant, socialist demands of one corner of our country.
Alex Massie channels some of this frustration, which surely must be shared by many unionists, in his sympathetic but realistic assessment in The Spectator:
I understand many Unionists would just like it all to go away. But it isn’t going away and won’t do so either. The game is rigged and everyone knows the nationalists get to play by different rules. They need only win once and then they get to keep the ball forever.
No wonder, then, Scotland is, if anything, more divided now than it was on referendum day. Unionism continues to suffer from twin crises of confidence and complacency; the nationalists fervently believe the arc of history bends in their direction. As matters stand, at least for now, they may be right to think so.
Well, perhaps the time is coming where we need to consider bending the arc of history toward a speedier conclusion.
If the SNP continue to agitate for a second independence referendum and if they seek to go ahead and organise such a referendum while the ink is barely dry on the results of last year’s plebiscite, the rest of the United Kingdom – those who actually believe in our country and who appreciate Britain – must sadly do to Scotland what the brave 20-year-old victim of the Alton Tower rollercoaster accident, Victoria Balch, did as she faced continual setbacks to her recovery from life-changing injury.
Deciding to amputate a limb is an awful decision that no one takes lightly, a call which is only ever made if the threat to life or ongoing chronic pain from the injury is so great that it outweighs the realistic possibility of the limb healing and functioning properly as part of the body ever again. After amputation, in some ways the body is diminished. But sometimes, replacing a badly damaged limb with a good prosthetic – or in this case, cutting Scotland loose and coming up with a fair constitutional settlement for the remaining home nations of the UK – can actually mean greatly increased mobility and freedom.
It may sound unpleasant, but that’s how we may have to start thinking about the Scotland situation if the nationalist fever north of the border does not break soon. The British government needs to be able to plan and govern for the long term if it is to fulfil its most basic duty to the citizens of the United Kingdom. And it cannot do so when there is no certainty that the various constituent parts of the UK will still be there in five, ten or twenty years’ time. No government can act in the interests of the entire country when one region is holding a gun to the head of the others.
The sixth largest economy in the world and a cultural and military power like the UK cannot go on forever in limbo simply because a fraction of its citizens are engaging in a never-ending hissy fit that a political party many of them dislike temporarily holds power in Westminster. Either there is more that unites us as Britons than our attitude to the Tories and conservative principles, or there isn’t. The Scottish people must decide.
Either way, the present settlement is clearly not working. Vague and open-ended promises were made to the people of Scotland by UK politicians during the referendum campaign – without our consent, it should be noted – and these are now being fashioned by the SNP into new grievances against the UK and the government. Meanwhile, many English voters are becoming justifiably irate that the largest nation in the UK is the only one with no home rule of its own, while 2016 looks to be another lost year spent pandering to insatiable Scottish nationalists. Enough.
We need a constitutional convention for the UK, a wide-ranging democratic opportunity for people to push power down and away from Westminster and toward individuals, local councils, counties and the home nations in a fair and symmetrical manner. But more than this, the rest of the UK needs to seize the initiative back from the separatists.
I’m done waiting to find out whether self-righteous Scottish nationalists can be mollified and cajoled into remaining part of a Union for which they clearly have no love. And I flatly refuse to see my elected politicians devote another year to fawning over these insatiable people when there are so many other pressing things for us to focus on. No more.
I love Scotland and this United Kingdom; I’m a unionist and I’m a patriot. But I won’t waste yet another year waiting to find out if we are going to be dumped by the Scots when the matter was supposed to be decided for a generation last September. If the SNP fights the 2016 Holyrood elections on a manifesto pledging to hold another referendum, and if they win a convincing victory, then that’s notice enough for me. The people of Scotland will have made their choice.
And those of us in the remainder of the UK should have the self-respect to take the hint and act on it, telling Scotland to go their own way and saying – from the bottom of our hearts – “It’s not me, it’s you”.