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The centre-right is waking-up to the potential political benefits of independence - for England

By James Maxwell

The Conservative Party’s unflinching fidelity to Britain’s multi-national state is as irrational as it is politically counter-productive.

The principal disadvantage imposed by the Union on the Tories is Scotland, which has for the last five decades proved an immovable rock of social democratic opposition to successive centre-right governments in London.

If the current Coalition government lasts the full length of this Westminster parliament and then wins another term in 2015, Scots will have been ruled in the post-war period for longer by Tory regimes without majority support in this country than by Labour administrations carrying firm democratic mandates from the Scottish electorate.

This is a frankly stunning prospect.  Apart from exposing the fragility of the Westminster system’s claim to democratic legitimacy in Scotland, it also gives some measure of the depth and scale of Scots aversion to the Tories - an aversion that remains undimmed.

The relationship between Scotland and the Conservatives has barely improved since its 1997 electoral nadir when the party lost every one of its Scottish seats.  Today they hold just one Westminster constituency in Scotland and are represented at Holyrood by a paltry sixteen MSPs.  Recent polls have suggested their vote is going to shrink at the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Despite his party’s increasingly peripheral status north of the border, David Cameron has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to maintaining the United Kingdom’s unitary political structure.  In a recent trip to Bute House he said, “An imperfect union is better than a perfect divorce.  I want to keep the UK together.  We're a family [and] I don't want this family to fall out.”

However, a growing number of Cameron’s supporters in the press and in his party are beginning to realise just how dysfunctional and restrictive this ‘family’ can be.

Writing in the Times after the SNP’s 2008 by-election win in Glasgow East, Simon Jenkins articulated the likely political benefits to the Tory Party of an independent Scotland: “An autonomous Scotland, a country as big as Denmark, should liberate the English parliament to enjoy a politics freed of the alien encumbrance of Scottish seats.  It should liberate English politics from the distortion of 50 Scottish socialists, most of them indelibly linked to old-fashioned concepts of public spending”.

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips also sees the dissolution of the UK as an opportunity for England to unshackle itself from the tyranny of archaic Scottish welfarism: “[After separation] the Scots would lose their massive subsidy from the English taxpayer. And Scotland is unlikely to become a Celtic tiger economy given its top-heavy public sector culture.  As Scotland’s taxes would inevitably rise, English taxes would fall, leaving many English individuals and businesses significantly better off.”

Phillips is here outlining one of the favourite themes of contemporary right-wing English populism, namely that the industrious, wealth-producing residents of the south heavily subsidise their slovenly, unproductive Celtic cousins in the north.

Putting to one side the fact that this is demonstrably untrue (and that it perpetuates a rather vicious ethnic stereotype), it is easy to see why such a perceived imbalance might stoke resentment in England, especially during a period of extended economic downturn.

It makes sense, then, that as part of their campaign to reduce the UK’s record public deficit, the Conservatives should seek to wipe the unnecessary financial burden of Scotland’s supposedly bloated welfare state off the British Treasury’s books forever.

As Phillips and Jenkins argue, without the dead hand of Scottish socialism laying heavy on the irrepressible spirit of English commerce the free-market would flourish, lavishing on the good people of Albion unprecedented wealth and prosperity.  Surely no right thinking apostle of the market could possibly be opposed to that?

The break-up of Britain offers the Tories another massive potential benefit: a weakened and marginalised Labour Party.

Labour relies on Scotland to provide it with forty or so MPs at every General Election.  Although it wouldn’t have robbed Blair of his majorities, the absence of those staunchly loyal Scottish Labour parliamentarians from Westminster would have made winning key votes considerably more difficult for the last government.  It would also have turned Brown’s 2010 election defeat from a manageable loss into a catastrophe.

Further, as anticipated by Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian formulation, since devolution Scottish Labour MPs have on occasion voted to force through controversial reforms at Westminster - most notably on foundation hospitals and university funding - that only apply to England and would not have passed in an independent English parliament.

This constitutional disjunction is not lost on top-ranking Conservatives, who are increasingly coming to the conclusion that separation may be the fastest way to rid England of a moribund Scottish Labour mafia which wields disproportionate influence in the halls of Whitehall and Westminster.

As Peter Oborne explains, “Senior Tory strategists are aware that they and the SNP share a common enemy - Gordon Brown and his Scottish Labour Party.  They realise that Scottish independence will not merely bring with it the end of Britain, but go a long way to destroying Labour, which has relied on Scotland as its power base for so many years, as the party of government.”

And in the most satisfying consummation of all for English nationalists declared and undeclared, Scotland's secession would leave England free to form a coherent national identity without having to pay constant heed to the cultural sensitivities of the Scots (and the Welsh, of course, if they too chose to go it alone).

The vacuous abstraction that is ‘Britishness’ would at last be allowed to peter out into the ether, leaving the English unencumbered by the responsibility of maintaining such an antiquated historical concept.  This would, in turn, create fertile ground for the growth of a new kind of ‘one nation conservatism’, which is England's best hope for its own progressive politics.

Yet, beyond the realm of rhetoric and conjecture, the Tory Party as a whole remains obstinately faithful to the Union.  This is in part because it is convinced the UK is still a first rate global power.  These Churchillian delusions largely rely on Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, which would be enormously costly to re-locate if a free Scottish state demanded it be removed from the Clyde.

Raw financial interest also holds sway over political expediency.  With oil prices set to rise, the 30 billion barrels of crude waiting to be extracted from the North Sea are simply too valuable for the Treasury to just abandon.

Who wouldn‘t bet, though, that as those reserves begin to run dry so too will the Conservatives desire to halt Scotland’s gradual tilt toward full self-governance?

Comments  

 
# rgweir 2011-01-25 21:21
A well crafted article by james maxwell.
I wonder if we will see the scottish conservitie breaking away and forming a scottish party?
 
 
# Alx1 2011-01-25 21:57
Forth right analysis James.
I think that the Tories have come to the point that they realise they feel that they have no mandate to govern Scotland.
I think if they do badly in this years Holyrood elections in May, the Tories will have to come around to the idea of much more autonomy for Scotland.

Even in today's Herald there are signs that they are thinking things out about Scotland at this moment.

Leading Tory says;

"Give Holyrood corporation tax powers"

heraldscotland.com/.../...
 
 
# Robert Louis 2011-01-25 22:04
Since the election of David Cameron, I have struggled to understand why the Tories in London are so very blind to the political benefits for them of greater autonomy for Scotland.

With greater Scottish autonomy, in England, an outright majority for Labour would become difficult to ever achieve, and in Scotland I do not doubt for one second that a right of centre party dedicated to Scotland would have a key role to play.

Despite all of this being so obvious, it is only now that Tories in England are actually grasping the opportunities that are already there.

As for Scottish Tories, is it not time for them to collectively 'grow a pair', and finally break free from London control. They will make no progress in Scotland until they do.
 
 
# Robert Louis 2011-01-25 22:07
Quote : "The vacuous abstraction that is ‘Britishness’ would at last be allowed to peter out into the ether, leaving the English unencumbered by the responsibility of maintaining such an antiquated historical concept. This would, in turn, create fertile ground for the growth of a new kind of ‘one nation conservatism’, which is England's best hope for its own progressive politics".


I am absolutely astonished that more people in England, especially amongst the Tories are not demanding such changes now.

An excellent article, and analysis. Let's hope David Cameron reads it one day.
 
 
# Alx1 2011-01-25 22:37
RL,

I think if there's going to be any major change in Scotland's political make up it will come from the Tories.
IMHO I think they will make the changes to their political impasse that could see the start of Scotland emerging from the shackles that bind us to this union.
They will never deliver independence, but it may start us on the road.

As for Labour, they have only sold Scotland short for generations.
They've taken votes, given our territorial water to another country, collaborated in the raping of our resources and now they want to give some of our meagre powers back to Westminster.

Shame on Labour in Scotland.
 
 
# Dougthedug 2011-01-25 22:37
The Conservative party don't see Britain as a multinational state. It's Britain or England for them and they don't see the difference just like Labour.

The Conservatives have always had a democratic legitimacy in Scotland because when Scots vote for Labour they vote to be ruled from Westminster. Therefore when the Tories are the majority party in Westminster they have a firm democratic mandate to rule a Labour voting Scotland. The Tories have a legitimate right to rule in Scotland because the majority of Scots want to be ruled from Westminster by whoever gains a majority of MP's in Westminster, Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem.

The current Government seem as hell bent as Gordon Brown on promoting Britishness so the idea that Britishness gets in the way of Englishness is completely the wrong way round. For the establishment, Labour, Tory or the Lib-Dems Englishness gets in the way of Britishness.

The idea that the Tories will want to ditch Scotland is simply wrong because for the Tories it would be like ditching a labour voting oil-rich North-East of England and the idea is unthinkable. The Tories see Scotland as a province of Britain or more properly Greater England not as a separate country and despite the grumbling of a small minority they do not want to lose the northern province of their country.

Waiting for the Tories to call for Scottish independence is like waiting for the Titanic to berth in New York.
 
 
# exel 2011-01-26 16:07
Quoting Dougthedug:
The Conservatives have always had a democratic legitimacy in Scotland because when Scots vote for Labour they vote to be ruled from Westminster. Therefore when the Tories are the majority party in Westminster they have a firm democratic mandate to rule a Labour voting Scotland. The Tories have a legitimate right to rule in Scotland because the majority of Scots want to be ruled from Westminster by whoever gains a majority of MP's in Westminster, Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem.


I agree with your analysis, but you forget that Labour get the same from the union. So what is required is to persuade the electorate that the Westminster system is broken and needs to be replaced.

To win “Independence” “freedom to govern Scotland for the Scots” “Follow our social democratic principles” we need the system of government to change, we need a Scottish Written Constitution.

Until the majority of Scots are convinced by new system of government, offered and accepted by the electorate, secession cannot be started.
 
 
# Arbroath1320 2011-01-25 23:41
I agree with your sentiments Doug. However, I think the day will come (and fairly soon) where the decision will be taken out of the Tories hands. There does seem to be a growing thought process going on south of the border that indicates a growing swell of resentment towards the Scots. After all we are druggies, drunkards,lazy layabouts, skivvers etc and they (the English) don't like it.
Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips also sees the dissolution of the UK as an opportunity for England to unshackle itself from the tyranny of archaic Scottish welfarism: “[After separation] the Scots would lose their massive subsidy from the English taxpayer. And Scotland is unlikely to become a Celtic tiger economy given its top-heavy public sector culture. As Scotland’s taxes would inevitably rise, English taxes would fall, leaving many English individuals and businesses significantly better off.”

Perhaps we (of the Independence mind) could use this type of English press to our advantage. Sooner or later the high ranking Tories are going to get their eyes opened and they WILL see Scottish Independence as a way forward.

Perhaps the most obvious point for them to look at is the idea of NO Scottish M.P.'s then they (the Tories) will have a 40 seat advantage at every election. Now what political party is going to turn their nose up at that? Add to this the removal of the West Lothian Question and they are BOUND to see the advantages. Are they not?

I can. :)
 
 
# muckledug 2011-01-26 00:53
A very well written piece. Fluid and articulate without being florid or contrived. Stylistically consistent and grammatically sound as well (and that's important - at least to me).
Oh, and I thought your analysis was first class too. Britishness is indeed a 'vacuous abstraction' - even Churchillian imperialists know that.
I look forward to reading more articles of this quality on our superb new site.
I feel a donation coming on.
 
 
# Barontorc 2011-01-26 00:54
Wake up guys! Do you thinks for a minute that the Tories would ditch a cash cow such as Scotland.

The ghastly humour of it all is that the arch Tory propagandists are starting to believe their own rubbish and by some macabre default us Scots will be abandoned by them as too much of a drain!

What a load of bollocks - but by God - I hope they've done the dirty on themselves and have convinced their little Englanders to cut us adrift!

That would be so ironic.
 
 
# John Souter 2011-01-26 13:42
Spot on Barontorc.

The Westminster establishment do regard Scotland as its cash cow. And one it keeps on the minimum amount of hay bulked out with huge quantities of straw.

The result of the Westminster elections has been to change the players from Labour wide boys to Tory spivs.
 
 
# LadWiThePhilabeg 2011-01-26 01:39
Despite his party’s increasingly peripheral status north of the border, David Cameron has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to maintaining the United Kingdom’s unitary political structure. In a recent trip to Bute House he said, “An imperfect union is better than a perfect divorce. I want to keep the UK together. We're a family [and] I don't want this family to fall out.”

Aye, the only way I can see it as a [dysfunctional] family is: England as the bad parents, Scotland as the deprived child genius locked-up in the bedroom all day, Wales even more so than Scotland but in a Josef Fritzl (Austria) kind of way, and N.I. as the rebellious (and sometimes violent) teenager.

Surely Scotland is well old enough to get the f**k out of the nest!?
 
 
# Fungus 2011-01-26 08:08
We are only part a family in the way that wee girl in America who was kidnapped and found years later with the children of her abductor was part of a family.
Coerced into a union that we did not want and forced to endure 300 years of rape of our resources and abuse of our people is a strange analogy for a family.
We don't want a divorce, we were never united, what we want is for this this abusive and one sided relationship to cease.
 
 
# tom 2011-01-26 08:16
My only problem with such a scenario would be the shame heaped on Scottish heads by the blind Scottish Unionists: independence through being dumped by nanny. Still...independence by any route, I suppose...
 
 
# UpSpake 2011-01-26 09:10
Former Prime Minister of the UK summed up his definition of being 'British' when he appeared on Desert Island Discs. Being British is Warm Beer (yeuck) and Cricket on an English Village Green. There, you've got it. British is being English. Britishness recognises nothing about the Union and marginalises the other 'countries' of the Union, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
For pundits in England to lay the label of subsidy junkies on Scotland proves just how successful the long term propaganda has been that wee Scotland couldn't make it on it's own. Shame !.
The English believe this myth and a vast swathe of Scots do also. It's and up-hill struggle to change attitudes not helped by the conivence of the MSM and the BBC. Last time I looked Scotland had a budget surplus of 1.3Billion to the UK treasury and a net contribution to the EU of 532,illion. What could Scotland do with that 1.832 billion - lots you might argue. We don't have the funds, we gave them away for the asking. Now we've to cut 1.3 billion on top of that. Scandelous. Who'se voicing this concern. Well not the SNP in a real way although they well know the facts. Why you may well ask ?. I don't really know the answer. Does it liik like they have taken their eye off the ball - sure does. Why ?. They have everything to play for. Where's their fire and determination ?. I don't see it. Everything is going their way and they seem oblivious to the advantage they have over the unionists - What's holding them back ?. I honestly don't know. It remains for others such as the SDA to plug away in the background providing the publis with the information the SNP seem reluctant to provide the Scottish people. The sands are beginning to run out !.
 
 
# Willie Hogg 2011-01-26 10:06
UpSpake
Until SDA put up candidates how can centre right and nationalist voters like myself vote for them? If they were to put up candidates I believe they would destroy the Tories and Liberal Democrats in Scotland. They would have to put forward a rational right-wing agenda for the existing Scottish Parliament though!
 
 
# 1314 2011-01-26 10:27
The Tories down south would dump us tomorrow but for two things, already mentioned above.

Money and Power.

Whatever the Mail, Express etc say about subsidies flowing northwards, the politicians know better. Dumping isn't going to happen anytime soon. And after all, do we really want to become independent by default ?

A more pertinent question perhaps, would be - The Union: what's in it for Scottish Labour ?
 
 
# Rev. Stuart Campbell 2011-01-26 11:30
Quoting 1314:
The Tories down south would dump us tomorrow but for two things, already mentioned above.

Money and Power.

Whatever the Mail, Express etc say about subsidies flowing northwards, the politicians know better.

A more pertinent question perhaps, would be - The Union: what's in it for Scottish Labour ?


Er, the same thing, of course - money for the Exchequer. And in Labour's case a guaranteed 40-odd seats every election, because "Scottish Labour" is a non-existent entity. There is only one Labour party, and that's the Westminster one.
 
 
# 1314 2011-01-26 19:21
Rev. Stuart Campbell

Your point is indeed obvious, which is why I was careful to write Scottish Labour. Whether or not a Scottish Labour party exists doesn't change the fact that we have Scottish members/MPs/MSPs of the Labour party and in terms of dominance in government it would make sense for them to be advocates of Scottish independence : why aren't they?

I provided some suggestions in a post made some time ago but it would be interesting to see what others come up with.
 
 
# Exile 2011-01-27 19:55
Dream on James

They'll just use all the 'welfarism' and 'subsidy junky' rhetoric to justify the Scotland Bill, slash Scotland's money further and carry on with the Union. For them, the ideal scenario would be for them to keep hold of Scotland, but force the Scots to emigrate by economic strangulation. I wish this were not the case, but I expect it will be.

The best line in an execrable film (Braveheart) was the remark by Edward langshanks that 'the only thing wrong with Scotland is that it's full of Scots'. This sums up the view of the English ruling class.
 
 
# Vakov2000 2011-01-27 20:44
Is this the same Scottish Tories that London has now scrapped any form of autonomy and insisted all funds must now be sent to London and all control must be passed to London?
 
 
# Arbroath1320 2011-01-28 01:33
Quote:
The best line in an execrable film (Braveheart) was the remark by Edward langshanks that 'the only thing wrong with Scotland is that it's full of Scots'. This sums up the view of the English ruling class.


Far rather Scotland be full of Scots than be full of............

No I have changed my mind I will NOT go down the Iain Gray route and insult our neighbours. :)
 
 
# UpSpake 2011-01-28 13:19
Willie Hogg. The SDA need members first and last. With a sizable membership base they can take their policies and ideas forward. It is not an inconsiderable cost to stand for parliament and it has to be funded. Without corporate or private donations it's down to the membership to provide the funding through their dues. The SDA do the best they can with the resources available to them. More resources = candidates!.
www.scottishdemocraticalliance.org
1314. There is no party called Scottish Labour registered with the Electoral Commission. Scottish Labour should really be called London Labour (North British Branch).
 

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