I begged once, back in 2014. I will not beg again.
Thus far I have refrained from commenting on Nicola Sturgeon’s tunnel-visioned decision to agitate for a re-run of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum following last year’s vote for Brexit.
Back then, I poured my heart into the pro-Union campaign because I strongly believe in our United Kingdom, and do not want to see what I believe to be one of the two greatest and most consequential countries on Earth torn apart unnecessarily to the diminution of all. My beliefs have not changed since then.
However, I do not intend to make another argument or write even one more article seeking to convince the Scottish people to realise the self-evident, inherent wisdom of remaining in our United Kingdom. As the 2014 campaign drew to a close, I quoted the peroration of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous first inaugural address, which sums up my feelings far better than I can put into my own words:
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Substitute “separation” for “civil war” and you have my distilled viewpoint on the matter of Scottish independence. But Scottish nationalism is a blind and unreasoning beast, appeals to logic and sentiment will get us nowhere, and we should recognise this fact. If one seriously believes that the Scottish people are being oppressed and having their democratic rights trampled by the Evil English, or that they somehow lack their due influence in our nation’s government despite enjoying political devolution and autonomy far greater than that enjoyed by the UK’s most populous home nation, then a sensible discussion cannot be had.
Neither am I willing to involve myself in another referendum campaign which will consist of those on the side of Scottish independence prancing around pretending that they are the sole custodians of compassion and progressivism (not that I claim the latter label for myself), and that the only thing preventing Scotland from becoming a modern-day socialist Utopia is the cold, dead hand of English conservatism. I will not buy into the pernicious myth that people’s hearts get a little bigger and their spirits more generous the moment they move north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Scottish nationalists: try building that compassionate welfare state with a 15% annual government budget deficit and the economy-suffocating tax rises which would be required to close it, and then talk to me about compassion.
Nor am I willing to debate on the skewed terms of the Scottish National Party, which is an authoritarian, centralising machine (one fire and police service for an entire country, really?!) which would happily turn Scotland into an undemocratic one-party state under the cult of personality of Nicola Sturgeon or Alex Salmond given the opportunity. I will not debate further concessions or autonomy for Scotland when the SNP government refuses to avail itself of the fiscal autonomy which has already been granted, and when similarly populous English regions (like, say, Yorkshire) are equal in population but have a fraction of the voice, and yet bear this injustice with more stoicism than that of every last Scottish nationalist combined. The SNP does not debate or negotiate in good faith, as should be evident by the mere fact that we are even discussing a re-run of the independence referendum after the matter was supposedly settled for a generation.
All of that being said, and despite the known disingenuousness and bloody-mindedness of the SNP, I was rather surprised by Nicola Sturgeon’s widely reported public statements and recent series of tweets, which amount to nothing more than another hysterical hissy fit about Brexit coupled with an Olympian denial of reality – Trumpian “alternative facts”, if you will:
Sturgeon wants to hold another referendum when “the terms of Brexit [are] clear and before it is too late to choose an alternative path”. But it is clear to everyone with a functioning brain that there will be no alternative path. No matter how much the UK government screws up the negotiation and process of Brexit, there is no alternative for Scotland to remain an EU member. It has been stated and restated by one EU leader after another that there is no mechanism either for a region to remain part of the European Union when its parent member state secedes, or for a seceding region to claim automatic, continuous or even expedited EU membership on the basis of the former parent country’s membership.
One can argue about whether this is right or wrong – the political motivations behind it are quite clear, with certain other EU member states none too keen to give succour to restive independence movements in their own regions – but one thing a government should and cannot do is base its policy and public pronouncements on a denial of basic reality which can best be described as howl-at-the-moon stupid. If Scotland wants to be an “independent country” and an EU member (to the limited extent that the two overlap) then it must apply to rejoin the EU as a new entity from the outside, whereby its application will almost certainly be vetoed by Spain. Those are facts.
So what does Sturgeon mean when she says that the Scottish people must be free to pull the eject lever on the United Kingdom “before it is too late to choose an alternative path”? She is basically lying to her own citizens, pretending that the ejector-seat she is selling them is connected to a functioning parachute when in fact it is weighed down by the iron anvil of reality. And what is that awkward reality? The fact that voting to secede from the United Kingdom necessarily and automatically means that Scotland would find itself out of the UK and the EU, certainly for a long time and almost certainly forever.
Of course, many Scottish nationalists and their finger-wagging apologists in the rest of the UK love to argue that it is somehow ironic for pro-Brexit Unionists to warn Scotland of the dangers of finding itself locked outside of a larger political entity. These people think that they have hit on a clever, winning argument when in fact all they have done is reveal the paucity of their own understanding of patriotism and national identity, let alone why people voted for Brexit.
There never was (and likely never will be) a culture and common feeling of “European-ness” that outweighs British identity, and so it never made sense for such a powerful and dominant level of supranational government – one with determinedly expansionist, federal aspirations, no less – to sit over us in Brussels. There is, however, a strong sense of Britishness and shared British history, no matter what contemporary pundits say about the decline of Britishness and the rise of English nationalism.
If you doubt it, answer this one question: what was the name of the decisive Second World War air battle fought between July and October 1940? (Hint: even a post-patriotic millennial can tell you that it wasn’t the Battle of England, just as Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were attacks on the United States of America and not on Hawaii and New York respectively). Our sense of identity is overwhelmingly forged as a unified British entity (albeit one with proud constituent home nations), no matter what narratives of fracture that the pro-EU media class try to feed us. And so there is all the difference in the world between wanting to preserve the United Kingdom, to which most of us have at least some sentimental attachment, and wanting to free the United Kingdom from antidemocratic supranational European government which didn’t exist half a century ago and which most people barely comprehend.
Brexit, at its core, sought to return the highest and most consequential level of government to a polis with a commensurate sense of shared identity. If Scottish nationalists try to suggest that it is somehow hypocritical for Brexiteers to support the United Kingdom and warn of the cultural costs of separation then they either think that you are stupid or else are being catastrophically stupid themselves. Both options are equally plausible.
So by all means let Scotland hold another referendum, at the appropriate time. If they choose to defy the current polls and vote for true isolation on the world stage as a tiny country in poor fiscal health, determined to antagonise its larger neighbour, then that is their right. But they must do so only when the temper tantrum of their attempted divorce from the United Kingdom does not further imperil what is already a fraught and difficult Brexit negotiation for the rest of us.
Since Scotland is coming out of the European Union anyway (as even Nicola Sturgeon realises in her more lucid moments), it makes absolutely no sense for Scotland to pull the eject lever and jettison from the United Kingdom before the Brexit negotiations and process are complete. Sturgeon pretends that the referendum must be held virtually overnight, before it is “too late to choose an alternative”, but she is deliberately deceiving the people she represents. There will be no alternative other than the binary of life inside Brexit Britain or life as an independent country, whether the vote is held tomorrow or in 2025. All that holding IndyRef2 before Brexit is complete will accomplish is prioritising the vainglorious fantasy of Scottish nationalists over the UK government’s solemn responsibility (shoddily discharged thus far, admittedly) to secure the best deal and optimal future relations for our entire United Kingdom.
So go ahead, Scotland. Have your second referendum – at the appropriate time, once the United Kingdom you so despise has successfully finished negotiating its way through our present great national trial. I will not say a single further word to convince you to stay – the decision is yours, and if Project Fear worked back in 2014 then I can only hope that Project ‘Mystic Chords of Memory’ will ultimately do the job next time around.
So do what you will. But in 2014 you voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, and as a full and equal part of the UK you don’t now get to sabotage the Brexit process in pursuit of the SNP’s unachievable fantasy of leaping smoothly from our Union to that of Brussels.
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