Scotland the Free, but part of a Union?

part-of-the-union-flag.jpgScottish politics is currently generating heat without throwing much light on the issues of Scottish identity within the United Kingdom, and the European Union

Oh, You can’t get me, I’m part of the Union. So ran the catchy refrain. As the music won’t go away, maybe I can start the exorcism process by blogging about the topic which started off the head music.

I’m referring to press accounts of the struggles in Scotland over the Nation’s status as part of the United Kingdom, and by inference of the European Union.

War cries and slogans play their part in battle. They are used to rally the troops. At the same time they postpone discussion and reflection, secondary enemies of those calling for direct action. [Example ‘what do we want? Stop the war. When do we want it, now’. ]

Take two items of news this week

According to the Scotsman, Christine Graham, a member of the Scottish Parliament

[H]as lodged a motion in Parliament calling for Berwick-upon-Tweed to return to “Scottish nationhood”. An unofficial vote is taking place in the town asking if locals want to switch from England to being part of Scotland. The Northumberland town, just a mile from the Border, changed hands between the two countries at least 13 times between 1296 and 1482…Christine Grahame has now lodged a motion at Holyrood urging people in Berwick to “return to the fold”.

The second item refers to a fulfillment of an election pledge by the Scottish Nationalists. Fees to pass across the bridges in and out of Scotland have been abolished.

Over twenty years ago, the young representative of Dunfermline East described the tolls in the Westminster Parliament as “excessive and unreasonable.” The tolls remained. The MP went on to become Prime Minister, committed to the protection of the United Kingdom, and the implications of the act of Union between England and Scotland.

The complex consequences of simple actions

Politically, the removal of bridge fees may appear a relatively simple act. Switching the national status of Berwick rather more complex. But even the simpler decision comes with concealed complexities. Accoding to the BBC

It has taken almost five years for Scotland to become toll free since plans were first put in place to abolish the charge on the Skye bridge …It has not been a cheap decision. Traffic crossing the Forth brought in £225m during 2007 and that money must be found by the Scottish Government …It cost £19.7m to build the Forth bridge, which included a £14.6m loan from central government. By the time loan repayments started in 1984, £7m of interest had been accumulated.

So who should pay what to balance the books? There’s no simple resolution here, as economics, politics, and national rights become thoroughly mixed together.

The Battle for Berwick

Then there’s the battle for Berwick. Scotsman readers appear to be mainly indifferent. The complications emerge when we consider the various levels of authority impacting on the town and region. To introduce legislation will require resolution of a tangled knot of local, regional, and national rights and responsibilities.

The Tangled Knot

As one bright student put it

It is the desire to dodge a situation in which Scotland gains its independence from the UK only to lose it to a European super-state which has led the [SNP: Scottish Nationalist Party] to oppose the strengthening of the European Parliament, the embodiment of EU supranationalism. Put simply, the European Parliament needs a European demos [a level of administrative control] if it is to become a site of democratic decision-making. But the SNP sees a Scottish demos as necessary for its existence. These two forces are irreconcilable.

Leadership Challenges

Scotland seems to be creating an ethos if not a demos around consideration for individual rights and needs. The dilemma for its political leaders is how to convert popular causes into realistic actions. The current delicate balance of power in the Scottish Parliament makes this particularly difficult.

3 Responses to Scotland the Free, but part of a Union?

  1. Paul McDonald says:

    I think it’s only a matter of time before Scotland gains its independance from the United Kingdom. In Alex Salmond, Scotland has a leader that for the first time in 300 years is putting Scotlands interests first. A little selfish perhaps, given that Scotland is part of a bigger Union and enjoys some benefits from it’s position. Nonetheless, Scotland has been lacking in real leadership for a long time, which is tragic when you consider the leading role that Scottish figures have played in political, industrial, financial and technical fields.

    Scotland is a perfect example of what happens to a country lacking in leadership: it’s the only country ever to have discovered oil and become relatively poorer; it has the highest rates of obesity and heart disease in Europe; poor life expectancy; high crime rates; a large wellfare dependant population; a self-deprecating mentality; and many of the social problems associated with a nation of generally poor well-being. This is despite having natural resources the envy of the world, an historical public education system, a skilled population, one of Europe’s largest financial centres and large scientific, retail, service and tourist industries.

    With the emergence of the European super-state, smaller nations like Ireland and the Scandanavian countries have been able to benefit from their dual status as small nations within a larger union. With poor leadership Scotland has suffered in its union with England and Wales and Northern Ireland and continues to miss out on its potential benefits within the European Union.

    In Alex Salmond however, and a very competant SNP government, Scottish people are begining to gain confidence that they can achieve a much higher standard of well-being. The Berwick issue is only now arising because of resentment that is growing elsewere in the UK towards a new, confident and well led Scotland.

    The combination of positive and competant leadership in Scotland with the perception (correctly or not) of poor leadership in the UK will only expedite Scotland’s independance from the United Kingdom.

  2. Tudor says:

    Thank you Paul and well-argued. I’ve been a little harsh on Mr Salmond in my posts.

    I don’t share your confidence about a quick move towards independence by Scotland from the Union.

    The current balance of power in Scotland seems too precarious to suggest anything but a lot of struggles ahead even to produce a clear sense of purpose shared by enough Scots for it to prevail.

    But at least we will have the evidence over the next few years to see if events support your case.

    Best wishes

  3. Not sure if that was a direct hit on my foot?!

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