Scotland’s membership of the British Union was founded on a lie, so we should not be too surprised that those currently defending the position remain strangers to the truth.
The British establishment version of the story still maintains that Scotland was bankrupt when England came calling in 1706 with plans for a British Union. It is correct that many Scots nobles had lost fortunes through backing for the Darien Scheme of 1698 to 1700, but the country of Scotland actually had a relatively prosperous economy - one contemporary writer noted economic growth of 2.5% in the year prior to the Acts of Union.
The Darien Scheme was an attempt by wealthy Scots to copy England’s imperialism by establishing a foreign colony. They chose the area of Darien on the Isthmus of Panama.
Had the Scots nobles not been blinded by their vision of the great wealth they expected to accrue from their colonialist ambitions, they might have stopped to ask why the all-conquering Spanish had left Darien alone. Essentially, the area was swampland.
A great deal of money and many Scottish lives were lost in the failed attempt to establish a colony in the Americas, but the financial losses belonged to individual investors in the Darien Scheme, not to the nation or exchequer of Scotland.
However, the failure of Darien did play a major part in the subsequent union between Scotland and England. From the perspective of ordinary Scots, the union with England was marked by treachery. Aristocratic members of the Scottish Parliament – there were no democratically-elected MSPs in 1707 – voted for Scotland to join a British Union, but as news of the decision spread across the country, ordinary Scots rioted in opposition.
The members of the Scottish Parliament who sold-out their country were motivated by self-interest. The fact Scotland would disappear as an independent nation mattered far less to them than the accumulation of personal wealth. Many of the Scots nobles who backed union with England were the same individuals who had lost fortunes trying to emulate the English colonialist model through the Darien Scheme
The most highly-paid of the Scots nobles willing to sell-out their country was the Duke of Queensbury, acknowledged as being largely responsible for the successful passage of the Act of Union through the Scottish Parliament: he received from the English the sum of £12,325, broadly equivalent today to £1,718,000. In all, England made payments to 30 Scottish Earls, Dukes and Lords to buy their support for union: the total figure paid was equivalent to around £3m today, which means Scotland’s independence was sold for little more than the £2.7m tax-free lump sum paid in 2008 to disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin on his resignation.
The people of Scotland did not want a union with England, but they were never asked their opinion. The union went ahead because the votes of sufficient numbers of Scots nobles were bought by the government of England. Scotland was not bankrupt nor did it need bailed-out by England. The money paid by the English in 1707 went straight into the private bank accounts of 30 individual Scots nobles.
Today, 307 years later, the Union of Scotland and England is still portrayed as being between two equals, but from the very beginning the reality indicated otherwise. The true outlook of the English ruling class was made clear shortly after the Union, when Britain’s First Lord of the Treasury, Robert Harley, asked the new British Parliament, “Have we not bought the Scots, and may we not claim the right to tax them?”
Within the British Union, Scotland has never been an equal partner with England. In 1707 the English parliament believed Union was simply the most convenient, and least bloody, means of removing a potential enemy on its northern border. In ‘buying’ Scotland, England concluded a deal it saw as a ‘win-win’ – not only was a historic enemy pacified, but Scots were now to be at the call of London in England’s foreign wars.
Lies and misrepresentation have been at the very core of the British Unionist case since its inception, and remain the principle tactic of its contemporary defenders, the representatives of London-based political parties united in opposition to Scotland re-taking its independence.
With less than four weeks until the people of Scotland vote in the Independence Referendum, the pro-British Union campaign is asking us to vote ‘No’ on the basis of outright lies. In leaflets currently being delivered to every household in Scotland, Labour’s Scottish Leader Johann Lamont is asked four questions, the answers to which are supposed to convince us to reject independence.
The first questions is: “What will the currency be in an independent Scotland?” On behalf of the Tory-funded ‘No’ campaign, Labour’s Ms Lamont replies, “No one knows but it won’t be the pound. It would have to be the Euro or a separate Scottish currency.”
In reality, the pound is a fully-tradeable international currency: any country can use the pound as its currency without permission from the UK Government or the Bank of England. If an independent Scotland chooses to continue using the pound, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it.
Question 2 to Johann Lamont in the ‘No’ leaflet is: “What will happen to pensions if Scotland votes ‘yes’?”. The Labour MSP replies, “At the moment the pensions of 1 million Scottish pensioners are guaranteed by the UK-wide welfare system – risk and reward shared across a population of 60 million and not just 5 million people.”
However, despite the ‘No’ campaign’s attempt to imply senior citizens might not get their state pensions in an independent Scotland, the UK Department for Work and Pensions stated in January 2013: “If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension, you will continue to receive it just as you do at present. Anyone who is in receipt or entitled to claim State Pension can still receive this when they live abroad. If this is a European country or a country where Britain has a reciprocal agreement they will continue to receive annual increases as if they stayed in Britain.”
Question 3: “If Scotland goes independent will be better off because of the oil revenue, as the price of oil will keep rising?” Johann Lamont’s response: “No. Oil prices are volatile, they go up and down and as supplies diminish it becomes more costly to extract.”
British Unionists have been lying about Scotland’s oil wealth since the resource was first discovered in the 1970s. The McCrone Report (1974) for the UK Government detailed how wealthy and successful an independent Scotland would be with control over North Sea oil fields. Successive Tory and Labour governments designated the report as ‘secret’ and hid it in Westminster’s vaults. It only came to light in 2005 after a Freedom of Information request from the SNP. In addition to expanding fields in the North Sea and west of Shetland, it is known recoverable oil deposits exist off the Ayrshire coast. Exploration of the west coast fields was blocked by the UK Government in the 1980s because the oil lay beneath routes used by nuclear submarines sailing to and from the Faslane Naval base on the Clyde.
The last question in the ‘No’ leaflet asks Johann Lamont: “Is Scotland better off as part of the UK?” The Labour Leader in Scotland replies: “Scotland receives over £1,200 more per person than other parts of the UK.”
The figure quoted by the British Unionist campaign is accurate, but what they fail to mention is that tax receipts show Scotland sends £1,700 more per person to the UK Treasury in taxes than people in other parts of the UK. That’s a £500 per person loss to Scots.
Remember, these issues are the ones the British Unionist campaign has chosen to highlight in the leaflet being delivered to every household in Scotland. They clearly believe these are their best arguments.
If the case for the British Union is so strong, why have its supporters been lying to us for 300 years?