With the Scottish Independence Referendum being thrust into the UK media spotlight over the past week or so, the question of what an independent Scotland would look like has been posed by many people, including some London-based news outlets who appeared totally confused over what constitutional change would actually mean.
The bottom line is that, for Scotland, independence would mean the restoration of normality. Prior to 1707 Scotland operated as an independent nation. Back then, though, the Scots Parliament was far from a democratic body, comprised as it was of unelected aristocracy. History tells us that ordinary Scots had no say in the running of their country, even to the extent of whether or not Scotland should join in union with England.
From the Scots side, the decision to unite the parliaments of Scotland and England was taken solely by those unelected and unrepresentative Lords and Earls. Contemporary documents record ordinary Scots rioted in the streets in opposition to the union. It is also a matter of record that members of the Scots Parliament received payment from the English in order to sell Scotland into a British Union. Robert Burns famously referred to them as “such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation”.
Today, unionists on both sides of the border tell us Scotland and the Scots have benefitted from membership of the British Union, and that we should not destroy 300 years of history. However, when we take a closer look at how Scots have benefitted from being British, it is not something of which we can be proud. For much of our membership of the British Union, Scots have played the part of foot-soldiers invading and conquering other lands in the name of the British Empire. Once in control of those foreign lands, Britain proceeded to exploit their natural assets, with Scots again playing significant roles as administrators and clerks.
More recently, Britain has looked to young Scots whenever wars needed to be fought: in almost every conflict of the 20th Century, the number of Scots killed in action far outstripped our percentage share of the British population. When we consider our role in the British military, the phrase ‘cannon-fodder’ comes most readily to mind.
That said, there remains a generation of Scots for whom fighting, shoulder-to-shoulder, with contemporaries from other parts of the British Isles and beyond, is rightly something of which they can be proud - defeating fascism in the second World War.
The 1707 Union of Parliaments was supposed to be a union of two equals, Scotland and England. However, the reality, from that day to this, has been very different. In just one sentence last week, a Sky News reporter managed to show both his historical ignorance and the actual English perception of the union between Scotland and England: he said, “In 1707 England annexed Scotland, which even the Romans had not been able to do.”
The British/English establishment has always looked on Scotland as an English possession, the Empire’s last colony. For the second half of the 20th Century even basic democracy was denied to Scots within the British Union. Scotland has not voted for a Conservative & Unionist Government since 1955, but for much of the time since then we have had Tory Governments imposed on us by the electorate of England. Throughout the 1980s, as England voted for Margaret Thatcher, Scotland soundly rejected her and the right-wing policies she advocated, but she was still able to destroy our manufacturing industries and the communities that relied on them. At the last UK Election, in 2010, the Tories were returned to office, with the help of the Liberal Democrats, and are again able to impose their right-wing ideology on Scotland, despite the fact there are now more giant pandas in Scotland than there are Tory MPs.
The 1999 restoration of a Scottish Parliament was supposed to address the democratic deficit that saw Scotland receive governments for which we had not voted, but we now have an SNP administration in Edinburgh – with an overall majority provided by the Scottish electorate – being told what to do by a Tory-Lib Dem Coalition that was hammered at the polls in Scotland.
So long as Scotland remains merely a devolved region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the London-based government elected by the people of England will claim supremacy over a Scottish Government and over Scotland. Even increasing Holyrood’s powers to ‘devo-max’ will not change that position.
Independence is the normal state of affairs in virtually every nation around the world – ask yourself, how many countries celebrate ‘Devolution Day’? With independence, the full powers necessary to govern ourselves at home and represent ourselves around the globe will be returned to Scotland, for the first time since 1707: and today the ordinary people of Scotland elect the Scottish Parliament. Only independence fully removes the democratic deficit that sees political parties we reject at the ballot box still being able to form a government and impose their will on us. Only independence guarantees the Tories will never again be in a position to wreak havoc on Scotland.
The government of an independent Scotland would have the power to remove nuclear weapons of mass destruction from Scottish soil and waters. At present, and under ‘devo-max’, the decision to house such weapons in Scotland remains with the London government, irrespective of the wishes of the Scottish people.
The government of an independent Scotland would decide if young Scots in our defence force should be sent into conflict zones. At present, and under ‘devo-max’, such decisions are taken by the London-based government for which we did not vote.
Presently, and under ‘devo-max’, the Westminster government sets the level of pension received by senior citizens in Scotland – it’s currently one of the lowest in Europe. London is also responsible for setting rates of benefits that see pensioners die needlessly in Scottish winters. In addition, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer sets the level of taxation applied to Scotland, which allows some of the wealthiest people in the country to contribute a pittance compared with the less well-off. Presently, and under ‘devo-max’, some of the most draconian anti-trade union laws in the world are applied to Scottish workers, by virtue of UK-wide legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher and retained by the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and of course the current Tory-Lib Dem Coalition.
Independence for Scotland means the end of political union between our country and England – a union that, in reality, has been very uneven, with Scotland playing a subservient role. The ending of England’s political control of Scotland does not mean other links between the two countries would also terminate. The social union between Scots and English would continue and would flourish, as would business and commercial links.
Don’t believe the British Unionist scare stories, and you’ll hear plenty of them as we head towards our Independence Referendum in autumn 2014. There will be no border posts at Gretna, you will not be prevented from visiting your relations in England, and you will still be able to watch Coronation Street. If you don’t believe me, ask our cousins across the water in the independent Republic of Ireland.
Independence simply means Scotland re-taking the status of a normal nation.