16 June 2015

Nationalism without regrets

During the referendum campaign, I often described myself as a nationalist with regrets. Support for independence first came to me as a cherished family hand me down. But reappraising this inheritance with new, more adult eyes, I came to see and understand these ambitions differently. In some moods, my cynicism about Westminster and Whitehall is bottomless. I contemplate self-determination unflinchingly, without heartache and without bitterness. And think, unfairly, in the language of the old communist manifestos, that we have nothing to lose but our chains. Democracy, responsibility, a little hope. It seems like a fair exchange. 

But in other moments, the idea of breaking up Britain fills me with a sort of remorse. This long campaign has been conducted without violence -- but if ever it is successful, independence represents a violent break in our shared history. Tumult. Possibility. Refashioned tries. Redefined relationships. It will be a creative destruction -- but somehow a destruction nevertheless. In these moods, this long family and national project can seem, not like a noble emancipation, but an evil made necessary by disappointment and frustration, by lack of ambition and want of statecraft. For all of the Yes campaign's vaunted enthusiasm and positivity, it was also positive case informed by a counsel of pessimism and despair

This doubleness might help explain why so many of you believed this year's April Fool. With a little imagination, I find that the language of unionism comes fairly naturally to me. Despite the organised dismalism of the Better Together campaign, and the weeks and months of alienations and reversals, the old story still holds some of its magic.  It was probably psychologically revealing that my first impulse, listening to Alistair Darling's faltering defence of the Union in the dying days of the #indyref campaign, was to write an alternative script he might have read.  For all of my cold-hearted lawyering, I'm basically sentimental at heart. And I'm sometimes an emotionally disloyal separatist. 

There is a positive case for the union. It may you leave you unmoved. It may shrink in significance alongside the failures and injustices and missed opportunities of British government. But I now realise: part of me isn't entirely immune to this British poetry. That part of me felt - and feels - bereft, angry and frustrated to be disappointed again and again by the union the majority voted to preserve on the 18th of September. This is strange. People often think of Scottish nationalists as a cynical lot, always willing to believe the worst of UK institutions, always unwilling to give any British proposal the benefit of the doubt. I realise I am not one of these people. I suspect many other folk feel the same way; conflicted, ambivalent and disheartened. 

As a cynical and calculating Nat, I suppose I ought to chortle at Westminster's visionless missteps and squandered opportunities, confirmed in my pessimism, biding my time. But watching the Scotland Bill dribble through Westminster last night, the Tory majority flexing its muscles to knock back perfectly sound amendments, I found myself gripped by an irrational fury and overwhelming, acidic, sense of disappointment. The bottom has finally fallen out of the bucket. I felt flat as a pancake. 

This union could be saved and remade, but this bunch of clowns don't have the heads, hearts or guts to do it. In the intellectually slight, havering, verbally stumbling figure of Secretary of State Mundell -- the ambition and vision of this government is embodied. There is nothing there. As Kenny Farquharson tweeted last night, "Smith was the Whitehall response to the indyref. So what is the Whitehall response to Scottish general election result? There isn't one." Zero. Ziltch. Nada. Zip.

A better union is not possible, and Scottish unionists are fast becoming an abandoned tribe. And I find myself becoming, less and less, a nationalist with regrets. 

41 comments :

  1. As you have done so many times in the past, you speak for me here. Except I think I cast off any regrets I might have had in the dog days of the referendum. What has happened since has only confirmed that there is no saving what's left of a Britain I might believe in.

    I've strived to explain this to people whose instinct is to assume seperation for its own sake drives Scottish Nationalism. I've put it in terms I thought were eloquent and considered, that Britain left Scotland and not the other way around and suchlike. But, and I mean this with all sincerity, you've put it better than I ever could here. And so, I'm going to have to plagiarize this shamelessly in conversations from here on out, without anything like the rate of attribution my chosen discipline would insist upon.

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    1. Ha! I realise that for some folk -- this will read like a dead experience, unrelateable. But from the responses, for others, it chimes. Ours is a broad movement of variously sentiment secessionists! ;-)

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  2. And when we ripped the curtain aside, there was only a little man with a megaphone...

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    1. Was he standing on an Irn Bru crate...?

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  3. If someone wants to stuff an unfurled flagpole up Mundell's arse yet still wants to watch Eastenders, who am I to judge?

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  4. From Ulysses -

    '-- But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.

    -- Yes, says Bloom.

    -- What is it? says John Wyse.

    -- A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.'

    Not true, according to Franklin Roosevelt for one, who shocked a friend during WWII by declaring that Jews and Catholics lived in the US 'on sufferance'.

    And not true according to many 'True Scots' even in the 80s who had similar doubts as to whether the children of Irish Catholics could be really Scottish.

    Not true either for many contemporary nationalists in Scotland, who for all the gab about 'civic Scotland' get outraged when anyone queries the sad shibboleths of Scottish nationalism.

    None of this is new of course. I am quite sure that the crypto- (or quasi-) Jacobite Dr Johnson for one would have accepted the restored Stewarts 'with regrets' - regrets perhaps less muted than the regrets with which he accepted Hanover. So it goes.

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    1. I've always seem myself as a "stately, plump Buck Mulligan" figure...

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  5. I think I know what you mean. I sometimes get overwhelmed by a bout of Scandinavialism -- feeling sad that Denmark, Norway and Sweden didn't figure out a way to become and remain one country. And yet, I can see it probably wouldn't have worked -- it would most likely have become a Danish takeover of Sweden, or a Swedish takeover of Denmark, and in either case, Scandinavia would today have been more uniform and less interesting. Yes, in theory it could have become a great federal state with a union parliament in Gothenburg, but in reality it wouldn't have happened.

    I think that's how I see the UK -- in theory it should have been possible to create a wonderful federal state covering all of the British Isles, but in reality it would always get taken over by elites in London.

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  6. Ah, the feels. That wee bit about British poetry just reminded me there's no such thing as British poetry.

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  7. Erudite and eloquent, I like reading blogs like this.

    It seems to me, though, that you conflate Britain with Westminster, and you seem to think that the Union is between Scotland and Westminster. Maybe the British poetry you speak of is the poetry of the relationships between all of Scotland and all of England and our island's mix of funny, contrary, wonderful people.

    I also wonder, as I do with so many nationalists, why it is that your understandable contempt for mendacious narcissistic politicians seems to be solely reserved for Westminster? Holyrood holds a huge influence over our lives yet seems to be measured against a very different yardstick, if it is measured at all.

    Nicola Sturgeon said it best (forgive me paraphrasing here): you fix something by engaging with it, not turning away. It really is better to work together to get what you want.

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    1. "you fix something by engaging with it, not turning away. It really is better to work together to get what you want."

      Not always, and insisting otherwise is, to be blunt, rather immature and naive. There's the obvious analogy of a divorced couple who suddenly find they get on much better once they stop living in each others' pockets, but actually you only need look at the history of independence movements to see countries getting along much better as separate but equal entities, rather than one being subordinate to the other.

      The union has reached it's best-before date, that's being made abundantly clear just now, if it wasn't already. If everyone on these isles placed their focus on finding the best way forward for us all, rather than simply trying to find ways to artificially extend the shelf-life of the union, then we would undoubtedly reach the conclusion that continually keeping the union intact with sticking plasters was doing more harm than good.

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    2. Well, those were, if not the very words used by Our Glorious Leader, at least words of the same sentiment, during the GE debates, so you should be sure to pass on your derision to her.

      Perhaps insisting that your point of view is the one and only acceptable fact is actually the immature and naive debating strategy? Or maybe those words could be reserved for spending your whole time promoting division instead of trying to do something positive? Perhaps if everyone on these islands just got on with living their lives instead of constantly whinging about others, we might not live in such a deeply divided society?

      Or just maybe, a glance at actual real numbers, such as in GERS perhaps, might show that keeping the union in tact is actually keeping money flowing north thanks entirely to the union, which it turns out is actually keeping us going quite nicely after all.

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  8. But in the end, feeling British, or even being British, has never depended on being politically ruled from London. You really can have your British cake and eat it, if so inclined.

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  9. I also felt that the union had a positive case. It was casually abandoned in favor of a more narrower definition of what the union meant. Slowly but surely it came to measured in terms of benefits lost...to us. Scotland it seems would be lost without them. Scotland it seems never brought anything to the table at all.

    Britishness it seems was nothing more than a soothing balm to hide how truly awful it was to be Scottish. Now...its not even that. Its a frothing mouthed shouty lunatic constantly berating Scotland. Sneering at us, casting snide asides and laughing at us.

    How do you engage with something that keeps spitting in your face, then laughing because it thinks there is nothing you can do about it.

    I always felt that there would be a no vote. But nothing even close to the resounding win they needed to "settle it for a generation". The clowns at better together, and lets be honest they were clowns, probably thought that the end justified the means. But it is a simple truth that the means will always define the end. When George Osborne was allowed to slander Scotland as a nation that had existed on charity and had contributed nothing of value, the silence from the unionist camp was simply thunderous. That's when the bottom fell out for me. If you can't even defend your own nations standing within a union of nations, how can you ever expect me, a yes voter, to respect the union?

    This constant endless slandering of a nation by a parliament and a rabid dysfunctional press, simply ensures Scotland is never going to feel welcome in the UK ever again. When I see unionist commentators and twitter trolls laughing along, it simply fills me with a cold anger.

    Britain is not Westminster. But Westminster ultimately speaks for Britain. And the message it has for Scotland is one that ensures the union may very well be as unwelcome in Scotland as Scotland is in the UK.

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    1. I understand exactly how you feel. I experience it every day... from the other side. Frothy mouthed shouty lunatics constantly berate Britain, and the silence from all those "civic" nationalists is, as you say, thunderous. At various stages over the last number of years, be-it when Alex Salmond referred to us as a Nation of Drunks, or when Charles Kennedy was sent to his grave on a tidal wave of hatred, the silence from the nationalist masses was, again, thunderous.
      This constant endless slandering of a nation be a parliament and a rabid dysfunctional subsection of society simply ensures that England is made to feel as hated as possible....

      Can you see that this is anything but a one-way street?

      There are any number of messages that come out of Westminster. Picking and choosing only those that complement your ideology is a dangerous game to play.

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    2. Thanks for the reply. I am not sure if am being damned with faint praise or you are painting the union as a yawning chasm, with us on different sides of the ideological divide. It's hardly a convincing argument for union. I have no faith in the Union and increasingly none in the UK. You have no faith in Scotland being independent. I voted Yes for Scotland to be in charge of its own affairs. You voted no to be controlled by Westminster, regardless of who wins.
      It seems to me that the price for keeping Scotland in the Union, was for the parties of that Union to be dealt a severe defeat in 2015. Labour had the most to lose and needlessly alienated a large section if its vote. But lets not forget what Cameron did. He crossed a line by declaring it undemocratic that the SNP could help a Labour gov into power. Miliband blew out his parties brains by declaring that he'd rather Cameron won than win with the help of the SNP. We have the usual suspects talking about the end times and the Thames running red with English blood. But of course it would have been ok for Scots to keep voting labour instead right? Like we have always done since the late 60s.? The answer to that is No.

      The minute Cameron uttered that wretched lie. The minute Miliband joined in. The minute the UK media ran wild with crazy anti-Sots stories. All they achieved was to ensure that Scotland can now never vote for anything that will not be seen as an imposition on the UK. That also means you my Unionist friend. It is not a one way street, rather it is the inevitable outcome of a badly ran campaign that extols the virtues of dependency and runs scared of the notion of Scottish competence in its own affairs.

      Your admonishment at the end of your post is a double edged sword. It applies as much to you as it does to me, and frankly you are the one with the most to lose. You need a positive case for the Union now more than ever.

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  10. In response to ndcalvert27:

    We can vote out the Government at Holyrood, we cannot at Westminster.

    That's true not just in the sense that our 59 MPs are so vastly outnumbered at Westminster, but in the deeper sense that the voting system we have for Holyrood is fair, both because to form a majority Government you need a majority of the votes, and because if 6 or 7% of us vote for a minority party we'll get that party into Parliament. Holyrood allows us to change who governs us, if we try doing that at Westminster the first past the post system defeats us an those we eject get promoted to the Lords, and continue ruling us.

    For many of us it is democracy that drives our desire to be free of Westminster, and democracy has to happen in a geographically bounded area, let's call that area a nation. Democracy requires agreement on the boundaries of rights and responsibilities, let's call what is included within those boundaries a nation.

    So if we are democrats then we are inevitably nationalists, wherever we draw the boundaries of our democratic agreement

    As Widmann says above:
    In theory Britain could be this democratic state, but in reality we know that is not possible for as long as it is so uniquely designed and run by those who benefit from the elite status it gives them, so long as it is run by those who continually adapt and redesign it to withstand such democratisation (the unwritten constitution writ large),

    Britain's democratisation is not possible unless and until it is subject to a severely disruptive peaceful event that brings such unwritten elitism into question, and says it doesn't have to be this way. A severely disruptive peaceful event such as Scottish independence, and the reawakening of democracy required by redrawn and repoliticised boundaries asking of the new States (because both will be new States, States seeking renewal, States challenging the democratic legitimacy of each other): In each people will be faced with the stark question: What does democracy mean, what does it require, who is it for?

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    1. Your comparison of democratic systems is evocative, but compares apples and oranges. Westminster is, as you know, a UK wide institution. Your comparison should be between Scotland's votes at Westminster and (for example) Dumfries' votes in Holyrood. The people of Dumfries have no right to expect to be able to vote out the Holyrood government, as it's a Government for the whole of Scotland. Westminster, being a government for the whole of the UK, should never be in power simply at the behest of Scotland.

      As for the idea we could vote them out... I don't know anyone who has ever voted for the SNP at Holyrood, and yet here we live in an almost 1 party state. Explain how my vote at Holyrood has any more power than my vote at Westminster. I know the maths, but the reality is either you agree with the majority or you lose out. This runs for voters in Scotland with PR just as much as it runs for voters in the UK with FPTP.

      I'm afraid I don't buy into the whole idea that independence would inevitably bring a purer form of democracy to Scotland. Given the way the SNP have corrupted the existing civil service and committee processes at Holyrood that were supposed to be the systems of checks and balances needed for effective government, the idea that north of Hadrian's Wall we're all just inherently more enlightened and with more accountable politicians who are all held to account by a politically aware electorate is, in my humble opinion, narcissistic hogwash. Just another part of the Great Nationalist Conceit that ridding ourselves of those horrible "Others" will just allow our inherent betterness to flourish.

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    2. nd:
      ;Given the way the SNP have corrupted the existing civil service and committee processes at Holyrood that were supposed to be the systems of checks and balances needed for effective government, '

      Yes, the excellent Tricia Marwick - what a good surprise she turned out to be - has signposted the need for reform at Holyrood-

      http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/88284.aspx



      'In a lecture to the David Hume Institute, the Presiding Officer called for a fundamental look at how the committees operate and for committee conveners to be elected by their peers in order to derive their authority from Parliament.

      Citing limitations on working capacity across the committees, Mrs Marwick set out reform proposals that would see fewer, but larger, more powerful committees in operation, based around greater policy cohesion.

      The Presiding Officer also questioned whether committees lived up to their pre-devolution ideals.'

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    3. Edwin - any progress is more than welcome and I'm delighted that Mrs Marwick has proposed reform.

      The most interesting part of that link you posted, to me, is this paragraph: "The Presiding Officer also restated her support for the introduction of elected committee conveners as part of a cultural shift within Holyrood: “I see elected conveners at the heart of this sea-change in the way we approach committee business… What I am setting out is no different to what is operating within the UK Parliament, some would say with real success.” - See more at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/88284.aspx#sthash.87RiGyKZ.dpuf"

      It seems that in the view of our own presiding officer (an SNP MSP no less) we should be reforming our own legislature along the lines of that great hated malicious undemocratic institution that some of us are so eager to leave behind in large part because of its perceived lack of democratic process!!! This is one of those prime examples of why the arguments put forward by Scottish Nationalists leave me so completely confused.

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    4. Andrew wrote about Holyrood and tranparency back in 2011 -

      http://lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/holyrood-less-transparent-than.html

      'If Westminster feels that it is necessary and worthwhile to publish this information about MPs' staff, it seems clear to me that the burden lies on Holyrood and its Corporate Body, to explain why conditions obtaining in London require the disclosure of this information, while transparent Edinburgh ought to be exempted from the necessity.'

      Jim Sillars has also fulminated ;n the issue at least once

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  11. The principal reason I was in favour of a Yes in the Scottish referendum last year was because I saw no other way whatsoever of forcing long overdue reform on the whole of Britain. I think the validity of that reasoning is daily being proved. If the union is dead, and I suspect that it is, it has been killed not by nationalists (civic or otherwise) but by self-proclaimed Unionists.

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  12. Thought you might like this from LRB

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/mike-jay/the-wrong-head

    ‘Scarcely one year has gone by, and everything has taken on a new countenance.’ Early in the French Revolution, in 1790, Philippe Pinel observed the ‘salutary effects of the progress of liberty’ everywhere he looked. During the Ancien Régime he had seen Paris as an incubator for madness; now he recognised the epidemic of nervous illnesses that had plagued it as symptoms of a ‘social order ready to expire’. The national mind was flooded with vigour, ‘as though by some electric virtue, the system of nerves and muscles of a new life’. Everywhere in the newly energised city he heard people saying: ‘I feel better since the revolution.’

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    1. Darn tootin'.

      To paraphrase Henry IV, "Paris is well worth a mass (revolutionary movement of the people and some guys in pretty outfits)..."

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  13. Even I, a black-hearted Cybernat, have the occasional pang of regret that we'll one day stop being in this relationship with the rest of the UK, regardless of how dysfunctional it has become. It passes very quickly though, usually because of some dimwitted unionist politician, or just reminding myself of what we'll be gaining in its place.

    I'm quite willing to believe there is a positive case for the union, but I've yet to see anyone actually spell it out. I've read many articles over the years that have insisted that it exists, but actually saying what it is has always been left for someone else to do - which invariably never happens.

    The closest I've ever come to hearing a positive case was when a guy at my work - a Yes voter, but very much in the mould that you speak of here, Peatmeister - saying that it was perfectly rational for someone to balance out the potential benefits of independence against the upheaval of getting there, and come to the conclusion that the rewards were not enough to warrant the effort.

    But even that was not really a "positive" case - it was effectively a risk analysis. Even in this measured way, the argument for voting No was still based on the drawbacks of voting Yes, rather than the benefits of voting No.

    I would genuinely love to see a proper positive case for the union being put forward - even if only so I could rubbish it - but no one will present it to me. And I suspect that, even if it were made, the majority would in fact have been made irrelevant by the existence of the even larger union that any rational analysis suggested we would have remained a part of - the EU.

    Maybe one day, though...

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    1. In which case, perhaps the only positive case for the union, but one nevertheless which is demonstrably compelling is that it offers stability. I think the risk-analysis accurately describes my approach to the referendum and like your colleague I came down on the Yes side because I believe it to be in the long term interests of Scotland (with the sub-democratic nature of our current system being a big point too). However, despite spending nearly a year refuting loudly the scare stories about independence I came to realise that there were risks and some of them were substantial (although not to the scale project fear would have us believe) meaning that the upheaval of a Yes vote would undoubtedly have been detrimental to a decent proportion of people in the short to medium term at least. I genuinely wavered in the last few days.

      I also genuinely hoped that an SNP-Labour alliance might in some perverse way heal some of the wrongs of the Westminster system to the extent that we might not 'need' independence but rather a truly federal solution could be reached. Alas, forlorn this hope was...

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    2. Doug

      I don't mean this pejoratively, but might it be that you don't see a positive case for the union being spelled out, not because it isn't there but more because your desire for independence obscures the benefits of the union?

      I know when I speak to nationalists I find it hard/impossible to see their arguments. One of the more interesting things I read during indy ref was a piece from some psychologists who were having a field day. Their research suggested that the vast majority of people didn't actually reason their way to a position on something like Scottish independence, they simply picked arguments that supported an instinctive, often unconscious, point of view. I try and keep that in mind when choosing what bloggers/journos etc to read, but it doesn't help me agree with the logic of those whose conclusions I don't share!

      On the point about the risk analysis. Voting no based on the perceived drawbacks of voting yes could, I think, be considered a positive move. If voting yes is perceived as a bad idea, it's a positive choice to not do it! From the other side of the fence, I would argue that it seemed far too often that the reasons given for voting Yes were based on the perceived detriments of the UK as opposed to any concrete plans for an independent Scotland (I say this mainly because there were no concrete plans for an independent Scotland). Which, by the logic you've used above, would make a Yes vote a negative act, in the same way that a No vote was perceived to be negative during the indy ref.

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    3. I don't follow the argument in this reply.

      Or, rather, I do understand that ndcalvert has veered off into psychology and the problems - which are real enough - of getting people to listen to rational arguments as opposed to those that suit their instinctive preference. (Anyone who tries to put the scientific facts of the three 9/11 towers' free fall collapse to a resistant audience will learn a lot about cognitive dissonance!).

      But that was not Doug's question. Where are the factual benefits of Union? What is the reasoned case? (Not presumably and for e.g. that fully half of Scotland's foreshore remains controlled by the WM elite through the Crown Estates…).

      If you ask a Swiss for a reasoned argument in favour of the Helvetic Confederation, you will get it. Cantons run most everything that counts outside of foreign police and defence and collect the vast bulk of people's taxes, the Federal govt gets less than 20%. The UK need not go so far, but how is it that not a whisper, not a hint of ceding power to a federal dispensation ever passes Tory lips, and those others whose lips it does pass, prattle vaguely for a hundred years or so (LibDems, we're looking at you…) with precisely zero effect. To defend UK unionism you must eschew federalism and defend the ultimate unitary state in Europe, whose power-élite are brilliantly served by the absence of a protective (of the public, that is) written constitution, so that the PM of the day may make it up as he or she goes along, so long as supported by a working majority in Parliament.

      Can you make, as Doug asks, a reasoned case, dish up some factual advantages for Scotland for this unitary set up? Whom does it serve?

      p.s. not the ability to undertake expeditionary warfare when instructed to by the US. That does not count for most Scots, few of whom want to go and wave their willies at Argentina, etc.

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    4. @Lawrenceab

      Jeezo, the advantages are very straightforward and clear. Financial stability in the short to medium term. it's as simple as that. To deny this blatantly obvious fact is madness and helps no one.

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  14. Its NOT about breaking up Britain,its about UNITING Scotland,healing the false divide that was put in place to allow the insidious conquest by Westminster.Aye lets heal Scotland.

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  15. But LPW isn't it a rather shallow reading of history to say that the Union has failed, simply because of the 1980s, or Blairism, or the same political alienation which has led to less sensible people than yourself joining Islamic State?

    The Union was an Enlightenment project. Unionism was an Enlightened ideal. From David Hume, to Robert Louis Stevenson, to John Reith, Unionists saw the nation as something which was backward and provincial. They wanted to speak out to other nations - there was none of the narcissism of identity politics - and since England is the largest nation in the Union, Hume wrote a History of England, Stevenson set Jekyll and Hyde in London, and Reith manufactured BBC English.

    Unionism is still today an ideal, and if there is an alternative, then why is it Scottish nationalism? Why not the city state or a crusading trade union?

    I was joking about IS - please don't go this far!

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    1. Tychy, your question is begging to be turned back on itself.

      If the nation is "provincial", why was it any less provincial seek to submerge it in the identity of another nation? If the aim was to "speak out to other nations", why does that voice have to be directed through London?

      The notion of the union as an "enlightenment" ideal is a gross over-simplification. Thomas Muir of Huntershill was also a child of the enlightenment, as were his Irish allies such as Wolfe Tone

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    2. I don't see why Wolfe Tone and the Union being inspired in different ways by the Enlightenment is a contradiction. You seem to be responding to a "gross over-simplification" with an argument so simplistic that it is incoherent.

      It is the same with your notion that Scotland, with its own independent legal system, church, and enduring literary culture, was "submerged" into England.

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  16. "The Union was an Enlightenment project"

    I can't see how you arrive at that. The Enlightenment is widely regarded to have started at Glasgow University under the tutorship of Francis Hutcheson. He didn't write his first pieces until 1725. The Union had been in 1707.

    The Union was a shotgun wedding brought about by the political policy of William of Orange and then his sister-in-law Queen Anne. Their tools were economic sanctions, religious guarantees, military threat and wholescale corruption and bribery of the Scottish ruling elites. Their aim was to prevent the invasion of England by France. What any of that had to do with an Enlightenment that didn't get into full swing for a further 50 years I don't know.

    It's true that most of the Enlightenment philosophers later supported Union. But then most of them were Presbyterian (at least culturally), wealthy and Lowlanders, so they personally benefited from it. They and their circles had a lot to lose by a return to Catholic supremacy (Jacobitism was the only serious vehicle for escape from Union at the time they were working), the possible loss of access to external markets, or the re-outbreak of religious civil war.

    I've also heard this argument made in reverse ie that the Enlightenment was a child of the Union. That equally seems like nonsense to me. I think it happened because Scotland created the first mass literary culture in history, itself a product of the 1695 Act of the Scottish Parliament that provided for universal schooling. That was a pre-Union Presbyterian policy.

    Union was cemented by the promise of no further interference in the workings of the Kirk. That was what the Covenant had asked for in 1638, so Union with William and Anne's England ended the religious dimension of the Scottish civil war.

    But embedding Scotland's form of Presbyterianism meant Scots had some small "democratic" control over things that happened in their everyday lives, through the vehicles of their own kirk sessions and presbyteries. That led to a small, local, appreciation of choice and personal responsibility. I think in the end, this will also be the undoing of the Union.

    Just as teaching a child to read means he can read the Bible and become a good Unionist Presbyterian, it also means he can (Like Hume) read a Greek library and become and atheist in time. And giving the Scots a small taste of democracy and personal influence on the ideas that govern their lives means that many of us have eventually reached different conclusions about what our best form of government might be.

    Now there's an Enlightenment for you.

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    1. Okay, so the Union was an Enlightenment project during the Enlightenment. But people who argue against the Union as an Enlightenment ideal seem to be going out of their way to avoid seeing the obvious.

      During the Enlightenment, Scotland had an Enlightened class who were freed from the responsibilities of government. Hume, Smith, Robertson, Hutton, Watt etc were living in a culture of intellectual inquiry which probably wouldn't have existed if they were preoccupied with the practical problems of running a country day-to-day.

      To cut to the quick, however, I think that there is a sort of dishonesty in what you are arguing. You are uncomfortable with Enlightement because it involves people looking beyond themselves and their narrow cultural identities. Hence you celebrate the "small, local, appreciation of choice and personal responsiblity" - something which would have made most aspirational people in the 18th and 19th century, who wanted to get off the farm and out the village, vomit.

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  17. Just a more general comment about the main article. This well expressed what I have also been feeling, but struggling to articulate.

    I've been experiencing burning rage at the treatment of the new Scotland Act. I've also been wondering why I care, as it plays firmly into pro-independence hands.

    The answer is as you put it. Having voted to stay in the Union, on the promise of a better one, it was beholden on us all to try and make that work. To see the sneering pack of Unionists at Westminster just try and use what powers they have to eviscerate the Scotland Act and ignore the SNP landslide is just a lie and a betrayal too far.

    Every time they do this they make separation more likely and more likely to be unpleasant when it comes. It is all so unnecessary, and it just confirms the fact that Westminster is unreformable and must be abandoned.

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  18. @ndcalvert27

    If you are going to argue that, "Westminster, being a government for the whole of the UK, should never be in power simply at the behest of Scotland." Then it is as correct to argue that Westminster should never be in power simply at the behest of any of the Union countries.

    Taking your argument slightly further, in that currently (and many times in the past) one Union country DOES effectively allow Westminster the power to govern at its behest, leads to the conclusion that the current Union is not fit for purpose. A position which I am sure many on here would agree with...

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