For someone who still believes in the Union, these are weary times. The current unitary state is nothing more an ill-fated endeavour. The United Kingdom can only be saved if Unionists learn from past mistakes by campaigning for a new confederation.
As someone who principally supports the Union, I cannot understand nor sympathise with those within England who wish to expel the Scots from the United Kingdom. Even if current economic subsidies harm English interests, the Union is a natural feature of our identity from which we all mutually benefit. All in our Union share a common intertwining history as well as common interests and deep personal bonds.
As history recalls, no divorce between England and Scotland would be straightforward. The constitutional arrangement between England and Scotland began before 1707 to the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when James the first became a monarch of two kingdoms. To undo 400 years of common sovereign jurisdiction would be no simple endeavour. What position would both countries be in afterwards?
My thoughts are that neither England nor Scotland would be better off after such divorce.
It is true that England and Wales would still be members of the G8 and UNSC, but there would be a widespread notion of sorrow and regret felt by all. Scotland would be in a far worst position. From an economic angle, an independent Scotland would find itself in a balance of payment deficit and its position vulnerable outside a currency Union with the UK.
Once we have dethatched from the European Union, it is imperative that those passionate for the continued existence of the Union should continue to speak up for it. Those committed to preserving this nation should remind themselves of its achievements; it was, after all, this Union which led the world in the abolition of slavery and to the industrial revolution, promotion of liberty and the rule of law. It was Britain alone who devolved power within her Empire which spurred on the formation of new countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
However, sentimental grandstanding can only go so far, and cannot disregard the tensions that exist within this Kingdom. The political community that we reside in has increasingly faltered in the post-War era. In an increasingly globalised world, our Union must adapt to survive, especially once we part from the European Union. For committed unionists, what is of the utmost importance is the need to reflect upon the great follies of the Conservative Party.
Through partisan arrogance, the interests of this so-called ‘unionist’ party have been to prioritise electoral survival over long-term issues which have threatened to tear up this Country. It is true that New Labour’s devolution agenda was extremely misguided. As we saw with constitutional reform, primarily implemented to safeguard the Labour Party’s dominance, it deeply backfired and has only spurred on regionalism.
But for Conservatives to blame only Labour is profoundly hypocritical given Thatcher’s governance of Scotland through to deindustrialisation and the poll-tax experiment.
This moulded Scottish nationalism into a mainstream movement. In particular, Thatcher’s ‘Sermon on the Mound’ address deliberately side-lined the communitarian virtues of the Church of Scotland. Her fixation upon the need for market forces to reshape the public realm resulted in a condescending lecture which advocated for a particular, pro-English message of individual wellbeing above social reform.
The address was wrongly delivered during a time when the Thatcher government refused to act upon the emerging tensions between the Scots and the rest of the UK. By late 1980s, many Scots, who had welcomed the Thatcher back in 1979, became resentful of Tory patronisation and increasingly found their sub-national interests repudiated from the national picture.
The question now is whether such a rift between nationalists and unionists will continue under the eyes of a pro-English government? Just because the Tories recently won a landslide in the election does not mean they have the right to amalgamate their pro-English rhetoric into a pro-Union agenda. As the new composition at Westminster shows the SNP have a strong mandate of seats, even if the unionist parties outweighed the nationalists in terms of vote share.
Is there a solution to the breakup of the Union? I think there is. However, such a question needs urgent deliberation within weeks of our departure from the European Union. It is a question which needs to be approached cautiously if there is any chance of a credible solution. It is imperative, if reforms are to succeed, that reforms recognise that a new settlement must accommodate the vested interests of each nation. For those who take this matter of the Union seriously, any attempts of reform it cannot revert to the type of Tory grandstanding seen in the past.
What members of the Conservative Party have misconceived is an idyllic notion of a British identity. There has never been such an identity as the Union has endured by mutually accommodating differences.
When Scotland joined in 1707, the country was still able to preserve all forms of nationhood, just without a sovereign parliament. The idea of a British identity was toiled temporarily during the 18th century and really only succeeded in the conducting of foreign policy. In short, ‘Britishness’ was about forging a unified front within the empire.
But, in the years following the Second World War and the Suez Crisis, ‘Britishness’ fell evermore into a perpetual decline, with the country having subsumed its wider foreign interests for closer relations with the United States. Hence, Tory grandstanding of Britain’s place as a superpower is outdated. The British Empire is in the past and the past cannot be resurrected. For any unionist agenda to succeed, the hawking back to a bygone era needs swift abandonment.
Moreover, unionist reforms that manifest in a simple federal solution must also be circumvented. Federations only function when states are of similar size in regard to population, political leverage and economic output. London and the South East already dwarf the rest of England, let alone the UK. Any federal arrangement would thus have to result in the dividing of England into multiple regions, which current polling shows there is no mandate for, and there is certainly no guarantee that this would minimise the nationalist cause per se.
A Conservative agenda for federalism though, may revive ancestral divisions among the English regions. Altogether, such divisions could hasten the collapse of the Union if these divisions within England are revived and the momentum is behind Scottish nationalism.
Contrary to federalism, the more sensible route would be one that compromises and respects the uniqueness of each nation. In short, what is needed is a ‘British confederation’. This has been alluded to by Jim Gallagher from The Constitution Unit. Only a confederation can operate as a genuine ‘Union of nations’, and accommodate competing visions of English and Scottish nationalism. Whilst I am no expert in understanding the direct workings of a confederal arrangement, I would suggest that a British confederation would allow for home rule within a framework of pooling sovereignty and co-operation over transnational issues.
This pooling of sovereignty could lead to fair cooperative solutions over currency, foreign defence, the BBC as well as inter-regional transport. Given the current talks of relocating the House of Lords, unionists should call upon the establishment to set-up a confederal ‘Chamber of the Nations’, perhaps in Edinburgh or Cardiff.
A reformed upper house, comprising of representatives from each nation, could resolve inter-regional issues and sensibly legislate upon matters that concern all who reside within these Islands. Of course, these are all merely suggestions, but such ideas should be debated now if there is any chance of rescuing the Union.
If the Johnson administration wishes to maintain this precious relationship between the four Nations, serious consideration must be given to the above following Brexit day.
The current unitary arrangement is nothing more an ill-fated endeavour. The follies of successive Labour and Tory administrations having prioritised electoral survival, has ostracised the interests of many within the Union.
But, all of this doesn’t mean that the Union is destined for collapse. Instead, if a new movement can learn upon previous mistakes, the likelihood of a sensible arrangement can be pursued is much increased. Specifically, by not forcing upon pan-British identity, there is a great potential for this Country to be reinvented as a genuine ‘Union of nations’.
The confederal solution outlined above would give both nationalists and unionists the best of both worlds. Only a confederation would respect home-rule but equally advocate for the pooling of sovereign interests, where necessary, to reach co-operative solutions to a transnational issue which I believe is in the best interests of all concerned.
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