Sep 24

Calum Crichton: Is there an answer to the English Question?

Calum Crichton is a unionist activist and blogger from the West of Scotland. This article first appeared on his own blog, which can be read here.

Ever since last week’s ‘no’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum the debate over devolution in the United Kingdom has once again come to the forefront of British politics. In his post-referendum speech, David Cameron explained that while he will honour the devolution commitment made to Scotland by the three main pro-union parties, it is now only right that the so-called English, or West Lothian question, is now settled.

The West Lothian question, of course, refers to the fact that Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs are able to vote on laws and English legislation that affect England only and have no affect on their own constituents, and at the same time MPs – from any component nation of the UK – cannot vote on the same matter in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland because the matter is a devolved responsibility.

In pledging to solve this anomaly Cameron has set a trap for his political opponents, because he stated that the English question “must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.” Yet this was not the commitment made to people in Scotland before the referendum, which was enhanced devolution not conditional on the settlement for England. Downing Street has therefore had to clarify that delivering change for Scotland does not depend on what happens in England. And it’s just as well, because solving the West Lothian question will not be easy and can certainly not be completed in the timetable set out for introducing a new Scotland Act.

So how should one solve the West Lothian question? Numerous solutions have been put forward by politicians, commentators, and commissions over the years, but none of them are perfect in design which is why nothing has actually been done about it yet. Indeed, some argue that because of England’s population share it dominants the union in any case, and so the best solution to the West Lothian question is to stop asking it. Indeed, people in England elect 533 of the 650 MPs in the UK parliament.

Whether the West Lothian question matters in practice then, is up for debate. However, in terms of perceived fairness of the devolution arrangements across the UK it clearly does matter to the English.

Besides doing nothing, there are generally four main solutions that have been put forward over the years, as follows:

  • An English parliament.
  • Regional assemblies.
  • A devolution discount.
  • English votes for English laws.
  • Let’s consider each of these in turn.

An English parliament, favoured by some Conservative MPs such as John Redwood, is at first glance an ideal solution to the asymmetric devolution model in the UK. An English parliament would work in the same way as the Scottish parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, becoming responsible for devolved matters such as health and education. The UK would then be a truly federal state, with Westminster becoming the federal government responsible for foreign policy, defence, macroeconomic issues, and perhaps some aspects of social security and taxation.

There are two main problems with such an idea though. The first is that it would introduce an additional layer of government, for which there is little appetite. The second and more fundamental issue, however, is that it risks destabilising the union. What should be the balance of power, for example, between the English First Minister and the Prime Minister? Indeed, because England contributes over 80% of the population, decisions taken in England in relation to fiscal policy are likely to have a significant impact on Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And yet MPs from these component nations would have no influence over such decisions.

As Professor of Government Vernon Bogdanor from King’s College London makes clear, there is no federation in history which has operated successfully when one of the units is so dominant. The nearest is Canada, where 35% of the population live in Ontario. Examples of federations which have failed due to an overly-dominating component are the West Indies (dominated by Jamaica), Prussia (dominated by Germany), the USSR (dominated by Russia), Czechoslovakia (dominated by the Czech Republic), and Yugoslavia (dominated by Serbia).

Instead of an English parliament then, why not create regional assemblies in each of the nine English regions in the UK identified by the Treasury? The obvious advantage is that it would result in a strengthening of local government. But is there demand for elected regional assemblies across England? In 2004, for instance, the North East overwhelmingly rejected an elected assembly in a referendum. An alternative to method to strengthening local government is the idea of an elected major. Again, however, there is no demand for this and recent referendums have rejected this proposal.

A major problem with regional assemblies or similar methods is establishing the right devolution settlement for each region. Do people really want different rates of income tax for Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, and the South East, for instance? And if not can sufficient policies be devolved that can be seen to make a real difference?

The UK’s devolution model has so far been characterised by a pooling of taxes and devolved spending power. While this gives rise to social solidarity, it does so at the expense of local accountability. While technicalities and the need for social union place limits on how much responsibility can be devolved, the right mix depends crucially on the circumstances of each devolved institution. In Scotland, for instance, it will be possible to move towards a situation where the Scottish parliament becomes more responsible for raising the money it spends. This is because Scotland has a strong economy and so there is a greater need for fiscal autonomy.

Wales and Northern Ireland, by contrast, have weaker economies and smaller tax bases, and so the need for social solidarity is far greater. But how should the right balance be struck across the regions in England? Offering widely different settlements to different regions may risk causing political tensions.

Maybe, then, a devolution discount is the answer? In other words, reduce the number of Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs elected to Westminster to reduce the likelihood of English MPs being outvoted on English-only issues. While this in theory makes sense, there are numerous practical reasons why it is not a realistic option.

Firstly it does not directly address the West Lothian anomaly, and secondly there is no obvious amount by which non-English MPs should be reduced. Thirdly, it is paramount that the component nations of the UK elect a population share of MPs to the UK parliament. This is because Westminster sets taxes in addition to determining legislation, and so reducing the number of non-English MPs will only succeed in breaking the link between taxation and representation in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

So surely English votes for English laws (EVEL) is the answer to the West Lothian question? After all, it makes sense in principle and would avoid many of the problem with alternative solutions. In practice, though, it is much more challenging.

As a technicality there is rarely such a thing as an ‘English law’, since territorial extent clauses in UK Acts of Parliament typically extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. Others extend to England and Wales, and some to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Defining an ‘English-only’ law could be a problematic business.

The political difficulties are even greater. Currently every MP from every constituency in the UK has the exact same voting rights. Excluding, say, Scottish MPs from voting on certain issues would create two classes of MPs, and would in effect create a parliament within a parliament. The political geography of the UK and the first-past-the-post electoral system might well mean that Labour win a majority in the House of Commons only because of its Scottish seats. Strip them away and you’d have a Conservative majority government.

So there would be a UK majority one day and an English majority the next. So Labour might determine policy on macroeconomic policy, for example, but not on education. Ministers would have to switch places frequently at parliament from the front bench when a UK matter was under discussion to the opposition benches when an ‘English-only’ matter was on the agenda. This would completely undermine the principle of collective responsibility and the nature of British democracy, which ensures that the government is responsible for all of the issues that come before Parliament and not just a selection of them.

Another problem is that it raises questions of wider political reform and representation. Could, for instance, a Scottish MP be given a front bench role as Education Secretary if such a matter is devolved? Would this be fair even though Scotland is still part of the UK’s educational framework and infrastructure? If they are excluded, what about the role of the Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer? Surely it would be wrong to have a situation where the Prime Minster or Chancellor can only represent an English constituency?

Another question is what effect EVEL has on the House of Lords. Currently all bills in the House of Commons are also processed through the House of Lords. Should non-English members be excluded from contributing to the debate in the second chamber? And if so at what stage? Why should the House of Lords vote on English-only matters but not on Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish ones?

Moreover, the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are not elected by first-past-the-post as for UK elections. In Scotland and Wales the additional member system is used, whereas in Northern Ireland members are elected by the single transferable vote. Why should English voters not enjoy some sort of proportional representation? PEVEL? Yet if this is done, what would be done about MPs who are elected through first-past-the-post but not under a proportional system, and vice-versa?

There are also representative issues. The UK’s fiscal model works by pooling tax revenues at a UK level and devolving spending decisions. So even under the enhanced devolution settlement to Scotland there will still be a gap between what the parliament spends and what it raises. Indirectly, then, even though some items of expenditure are devolved, Scottish MPs still have a role for influencing how money is raised at a UK level.

And from the English viewpoint there could be some uncertainty over MPs’ mandate. Were they elected for their commitments to welfare issues at a UK level, or on education and health policies at an English level?

Yet, despite some of these problems, there may be a solution to the injustice raised by the West Lothian question. It is still along the lines of EVEL, but a somewhat less problematic version of it, and is advocated by Professor Jim Gallagher who was Secretary of the Calman Commission. In his paper for the IPPR on the issue, Gallagher explained that there is no need to create different classes of MPs in Westminster in order to allow each component nation of the UK to set its own policy agenda on certain issues.

Under his proposals, the entire House of Commons should vote on the second and third reading of a bill just as they do now. But at the committee and report stage, where bills can be amended, contributions should be made from English-only MPs. Something similar was also recently advocated by the McKay Commission.

So what is to be done? The answer to that question is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum has reignited the debate on the British constitution. Only time will tell whether our politicians can respond with a fair and sustainable solution that will be successful in giving each component UK nation a strong voice, as well as decentralising power from Westminster.

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Sep 18

Wyndysascha: What the Union means to me

“Wyndysascha” ia a half-Scottish, half-English Catholic convert from London, with a degree in history who is currently pursuing a career as a barrister. He blogs here. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by the blog Union Jack Chat – you can read the original here.

I’ve always seen my heritage as one of a thoughtful, measured, civilized, yet firm approach to tolerance, fairness, liberty, and the rule of law. We don’t submit to tyrants; but we also don’t have blood-in-the-streets revolutions either (although we do occasionally riot and decapitate our king!). Nowadays, though, we seem not only to fail to live up to our own image of ourselves, but we don’t even know what that image is.

The reason why “Britain” is such a good thing is because, no matter what the cause of its inception, the history of conflict between the nations of the British Isles produced an authentically “British” idea of liberty. No matter how hypocritical we are in applying it, that is what the Union stands for, and why it should continue – above and beyond all other considerations, the Union represents how different nations can co-exist in one state and remain at liberty.

The nations of Britain don’t necessarily need their own states; they just have to love our liberty enough that they force the politicians of the Union to work towards it. Things like the European Union are bureaucratic exercises, and simply can’t evoke that feeling of loyalty. The United Kingdom, as with the United States, represents an idea, and an ideal, of how people should live and what we should be willing to fight to preserve. That we’ve got to where we are now is a failure to hold faith to liberty.

I say liberty, and not freedom, for a reason: “liberty”, understood as a British concept, is the God-given right to quiet enjoyment of one’s private and family life and the state protecting us as we need it to; “freedom” always seemed to me to be the running-around shouting, do-whatever-you-want thing. It implies a positive effort of will, not simply a tendency to mobbishness and licence.

The Union has an active moral responsibility to remind the nations of why the Union is a good thing and what it stands for. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Union was created in a shady politician’s deal that the people, at the time, were overwhelmingly opposed to. But that didn’t stop us coming to realize what the true character of the Union should be: a coming-together of equals established so that subjects could live their lives peaceably, free from undue interference.

That ethos came from centuries of intra-British wars, turmoil, and upheaval, and our common battles against monstrous tyrants that would make us slaves in our own country. The Union could be the fruit of all that, and prove that the world should draw closer together, find common ground, and agree on virtues to uphold instead of flying apart, with everyone trying to look out for themselves. We could just give-up and call it a few-centuries-old convenience and be done with it, but I think we’d all be the poorer for it.

The same historical connectivity applies to the British constitutional monarchy. It’s very difficult to defend monarchy as an institution in the modern world (although not the need for a single strong leader of government, such as the US President). But the monarchy, traditionally, has been the source of authority for the law. In The King’s Speech, King George VI says that he’s only the King if the people believe he speaks for them.

An overarching theme of British history is the reining-in of the Crown, so it didn’t evolve into a Continental-style despotism but one rooted in the “ancient laws” of the people. People had to see the monarchy as a product of our ancient liberties: not as in-your-face as, say, the explicit American declaration that the government is the servant of the people, but rather an organic relationship where We were loyal to the Crown, and the Crown upheld the things that made Us, Us.

Now, because they have lost their sense of common nationhood and are ignorant of their history, people don’t understand how the monarchy is a source of authority any more. That has a terrible impact on British ideas on Law, and so on the Union itself. Laws in this country derive their authority from the Crown, and because they are promulgated by the Crown-In-Parliament. If you don’t think the Crown possesses authority, as the authentic voice of the ancient laws and liberties of the people, why obey the law? We end up being a nation of laws obeyed purely through fear of compulsion, not one where laws are respected.

I believe that “History” as a cultural enterprise (not merely an academic one) is the set of honest stories about the past that we tell each other to reinforce our sense of self and community. Despite what some in the Eighteenth Century thought, life cannot be a purely rational exercise. That’s not how people function. We are under a positive moral duty to make sure that our stories are true and morally good: when we stop concentrating on honest history and stop telling these stories to our children, we eventually lose our cohesiveness.

It’s easy to stick people in front of a TV playing Braveheart and then tell them it’s the end of the story. But it’s not the end. A simple look at British history would show that the heart of the Union is about nations fired by their own sense of liberty and independence being able to come together and work in common cause. I’m not unaware of the irony that the virtues associated with unity and liberty arose out of intra-British conquest, oppression, and struggle but, having fought and hated and brutalized, by the Grace of God we now have a higher standard to hold ourselves to.

Scotland’s current generation might be more well-disposed to the Union if they saw how the original unification of Britain, though unpopular, became popular over time because of the mutually-beneficial nature of the arrangement. The Union forestalled Scottish bankruptcy after the Darien Scheme’s failure. It brought a greater measure of peace to the Isles by excluding continental interference in Scottish affairs. The Union allowed Scottish access to English (then British) markets. In short, the Union allowed Scotland to punch well above its weight on a world stage.

Not only this, but Scots have always been more than capable of holding the highest offices of state in a British Union; Scots are not the oppressed minority that Scottish Nationalists would like to portray themselves as, but rather are and always have been active participants in the Union at all levels. They peddled idea that “other people see Scots as brought low and wallowing in self-pity, and the Scots see themselves in a similar way” is the worst kind of rubbish: Scottish Nationalists get to present independence as a solution for a perception that barely exists outside nasty right-wing media and pub loud-mouths, or gloss over that it’s one implausible approach to dealing with something best dealt with within the Union anyway.

If self-respect and a sense of nationhood are so dreadfully lacking in the Scottish people, why not try to tackle this supposed problem within the Union, the institution that offers greater stability, greater opportunities, greater access to a world stage?!

Furthermore, the Union has never subsumed “Scottish” institutions beneath “British” ones. This flexibility is part of what makes the Union work. Constitutional protection has always been afforded to a separate Kirk, education system, and so on. Legislation, boards of control and state departments have been established in response to Scottish concerns over Scotland’s needs. Development of devolved institutions continues today.

If one believes that Scotland should become an independent, sovereign nation again then of course it is laudable that the process is peaceful, and through the political process. But that the process exists, has an historical presence, and is a viable route for future change – even if that change is independence itself – is a factual rejection of the idea that “Britain” somehow suppresses Scottish liberty.

The true issue at stake in the whole Independence debate is this: unless there’s some sort of complete, fundamental change in the governance, public morals, and general education of the people of the United Kingdom, then the Union is doomed to fail eventually. The pro-union Better Together campaign is fighting on the technical downsides of Independence. But people want more than that. I’d bet that any number of people voting For independence are sensible, sceptical people who don’t believe the Yes Campaign’s promises to give them everything they ever wanted without having to pay anything to get it – they’re voting for independence because they’ve been presented with a vision of the world that makes them feel like they’re part of a community again.

I believe firmly that any state can only derive its authority from the informed consent of the governed. This, obviously, doesn’t necessarily imply either democracy or a republic, still less any inherent value to referenda. However, I question what authority an independent Scottish state would have coming into existence via a brief moment of mawkish pseudo-patriotism. There are nations around the world who are brutally oppressed by governments and regimes, who have a legitimate argument to make that they’d be better off with their own governors and states.

No-one oppresses the Scots, nor are the Scots lacking any opportunities within the Union. Other independence movements elsewhere are similarly shallow. Who oppresses the Québécois, for instance? What opportunities for localised government and international standing do they lack? Like the Scots, they live in mature, rights-respecting states with civilized flexibility out of which they’ve done remarkably well and, when bumpy periods are passed, probably will do in future.

The manipulations of canny politicians lead people to forget their own interests and (not a popular opinion, perhaps) their just allegiances and duties. Governments you dislike aren’t a reason to fracture one’s country: they’re a reason to stick it out, campaign for your point of view, and take an active role in the process. I dislike many aspects of Conservative Party policy, their fairly cheap and nasty approach to the poor being foremost. I’d probably have similar feelings towards any future Labour or Liberal Democrat government. But pretending that the Scottish nation is so utterly, fundamentally divorced in its opinions from any policy these parties could implement is Fiction, pure and simple.

Scottish Nationalists draw the distinction between “Scottish politicians” and “Westminster politicians” to foster the “us-and-them” mentality necessary to break Scots from the Union but that’s politics, not some fundamental character of the Scottish nation. It’s rare to find someone who identifies wholly with their elected leaders – we laugh at our MPs’ supposed ineptitude regularly, Americans have their “clowns in Congress”, and so on – and all the “Westminster politicians” argument does is piggy-back on this sentiment.

Our sense of Britishness has decayed to the point where the Union may be about to split. The past sixty years of British history have been the systematic dismantling of emotional attachment to one’s own country. “patriotism” is, apparently, something for right-wing thugs; the left/centre-left sneer at anyone who thinks that there’s such a thing as “British liberty”. Say what you want about the nationalists, they’re not stupid: they understand “history” far better than the Better Together campaign appears to (the fact is that they’re cynically manipulating that history notwithstanding). Again: although the Union provides tangible, real-life benefits to its citizens, its raison d’être cannot simply be measured in pounds, shillings, and pence.

I’m not naive. I know that “patriotism” is something that is used by the wicked on the gullible. But it’s not a bad thing in and of itself, if it’s attached to a good and noble cause. Love can warp easily into a greater, more general evil because it’s an emotion, which is why love has to be married to reason and virtue to endure. Love of one’s country can warp easily into terrible things.

This is the line that Scottish Nationalists are skirting. They’re using Scots’ love of the Scottish nation to foster division rather than unity, or a unity that is narrow and parochial, and encouraging self-pitying reactive chauvinism rather than genuine national character. These things are being set against an authentic, British idea of liberty – something that emphasises common ground between different groups – in favour of a weak, ivory-towered concept of national freedom that isn’t so much written solidly in history but slides greasily off its pages.

We are forgetting our history, our unique sense of liberty, and our belief that our nations have a common centre that organically emanates authority but also derives its authority from us. It can only end in division, and “suspect government” that has all the trappings of “rights” and “democracy” but enforces a deadening cultural uniformity on us. Scottish Independence won’t see some glorious rebirth of the Scottish Nation: it will say to the world that one of the foremost partners in the great, historical projects of union and liberty has decided that it’s just not worth the bother any more.

We don’t have long to impart this on the Scottish people, and I’ll be praying that it’s a vision they can be persuaded to cleave to.

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Sep 18

Henry Hill: Letter to a Scottish voter

Earlier this month, the Spectator magazine asked readers to send in letters addressed to a Scottish voter, inviting unionists from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to explain why the Union mattered to them. The word limit was 250 words, which precluded any comprehensive argument, but allowed writers to focus on one aspect. Our editor sent in a letter, and it is reproduced below.

My Scottish voter,

You hold my homeland in your hands. Your ballot is your own, of course, and Scotland’s path is for her to choose. Yet it is my nation on the line next tomorow, so I hope you will forgive my writing to you.

The choice you face is cast very often as between the courageous option, and the timid. In my view, this is true. But what is not said often, or at least not often enough, is that the courageous choice is and has always been the Union.

How can the option of the status quo be the brave one? Because the Union empowers us, the peoples of these islands, to shape the world in a way division neither has nor ever will.

Together, we turned some misty islands and peripheral European kingdoms into the greatest world power in history. We took values comparatively rare in the lifespan of human civilisation – liberty, democracy, equality before the law – and made them the aspirational norms of the modern world.

Of course we made mistakes, some of them big ones. But that is the risk you run when you are capable of making decisions that really matter. Maybe an independent Scotland will never get blood on its hands – but only because it will have neither the means nor the will to dirty those hands at all. Independence is the conscious setting aside of the strength to make a difference.

Alex Salmond offers Scotland not renewal, but retirement. Decline him.

Yours faithfully,

Henry CH Hill

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Sep 17

Chris Jaffray: Lies and currency

Chriss Jaffray (Square)Chris Jaffray is an exiled Scot in England. He is a graduate of Leeds University looking to start a profile as a blogger.

Speaking on World at One today First Minister Alex Salmond said along with his usual positive vision of the future that the No side’s admission that Scotland could not be prevented from using the pound was a ‘seminal moment’. This he claims was behind the rise of the Yes side to 47 per cent in the polls. The No side should never have been able to claim Scotland could be prevented from using the pound, it is a fully tradable international currency.

Often the No side meant no currency union, but they should never have said Scotland cannot use the pound. The lie of the SNP is to minimise the difference. It may look the same, but the pound in your pocket will not be the same if sterling is used informally. The lies of currency still come from the SNP. I wonder if Salmond is willing to admit any of the following:

Informal use of sterling means monetary policy will be dictated by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England. Recent leaks by Mark Field, MP for the City, show that Osborne and Carney did a deal to keep interest rates low to boost Osborne’s chance of re-election and demonstrate that the Bank of England is not fully independence. Given Salmond’s main pitch is that he want to escape Tory Chancellors, is he happy to have his monetary policy and dictated by those he wishes to gain independence from? The whole Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands is a total misnomer.

It also means the state is far less able to get involved in the economy. It cannot stimulate an economy by Keynesian deficit spending or indeed by quantitative easing. This means trade cycles will be rougher, the state will be less involved. There are arguments for this as an embrace of all out creative destruction, but it renders you more right wing than Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman, both of whom believed the use of a central bank was necessary. The sharp contractions means the state can only be a small part of GDP (25-30 per cent typically) as contractions means it is higher it can grow to astronomical levels.

The pound sterling is not an asset of the United Kingdom. International law places no obligation whatsoever on rUK to share a currency with an independent Scotland. His ‘assets and liabilities’ line is just a lie about international law. The extent of this is that former states of the Soviet Union took their shar

If Scotland defaults on its share of the National Debt, it will be penalised by the Bond Markets. For all the SNP’s line of being ‘net contributors’ every study done this year has shown a fiscal gap. This means that an independent Scotland would only be able to borrow from the bond market at punitive rates, so would probably have to return to fiscal parity in year one. That means no escape whatsoever from austerity, as Salmond promised.

The European Union requires you to have a central bank. Olli Rehn, vice president of the European Parliament and former commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said as much this week. In the absence of a currency union, Scotland will not be allowed to re-enter. Has the First Minister had private legal assurances on this one of is this another fear story?

-Salmond’s ‘democratic mandate’ for a currency union is immensely flawed. Union requires consent. Studies from Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities show that 23% of people in rUK would favour sharing a currency union with Scotland. The democratic mandate of the rest of the United Kingdom is no currency union.

End of term report: must do better.

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Sep 16

Effie Deans: To vote yes would be worse than folly

Effie Deans is a Scottish unionist and enthusiast for Russian literature. She blogs at the Lily of St Leonards. The original post appeared here.

I didn’t intend to write another blog about independence but as John Maynard Keynes said “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The facts have changed. I passionately disagreed with independence a week ago.  But now it is absolutely clear that to vote Yes is an act of unpardonable folly. Here’s why.

There are two financial journalists I respect above all others. They are I believe two of the finest minds in Britain. Economics is not a science like physics. No one can predict everything, but that doesn’t mean they are witch doctors either. To suppose so is simply irrational. Two pieces by Ambrose Evans Pritchard give very grave warnings from international investors and economists who probably had never heard of Alex Salmond a month ago.

Credit Suisse and Nomura are obviously not controlled by the Westminster Government, nor are Asian Pension funds. To suppose they are is to succumb to a delusion and a paranoia that fed German nationalism in the years after the First World War. Andrew Lilico is someone who writes very deep commentary on economics. I frequently find myself struggling to understand some of his writing, but always know that the fault is my lack of intelligence rather than his lack of understanding. In this piece he shows that the SNP economic case is without foundation and demolishes each of their supposed arguments.

We have learned in the last week that every Scottish bank and many major companies would leave Scotland if there were a Yes vote. Imagine if any European country knew this was about to happen because of a vote in an election. Which of them would vote for it to happen? It would obviously damage Scotland economically and make us all much poorer. But more importantly if all of these companies, (who again unless you believe “Westminster” controls world economics are quite free to decide), believe that an independent Scotland is not a place they can do business, what does that tell you about what the SNP promises about independence.

Mark Carney the most respected central banker in the world has confirmed that Scotland could not be independent and have a currency union with the UK, moreover if we tried to use the pound unilaterally it would cost each of us up to £18000 pounds. Something the SNP haven’t even thought of in their calculations. Imagine what that would do to public spending plans in Scotland. Imagine how taxes would have to be raised or spending cut. Imagine how the poorest in Scotland would be hit.

Finally Deutsche Bank has just warned that a Yes vote would be a historic mistake having the potential to set off another great depression. These are Germans who are sober and perhaps a little dull. They don’t tend to exaggerate. We’ve spent the last 6 years trying desperately to recover from the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. To set off another is sheer folly.

The world economy is tightly interconnected. The Eurozone which is still struggling is one shock away from a renewed crisis. Have you seen how poor the people of Spain and Italy are? In Spain many people get no benefits at all. How do you think these people will react if Scotland makes their situation worse?

The EU was set up in response to nationalism destroying Europe twice in the first half of the 20th Century. I know Scottish nationalists think their nationalism is different, but most Europeans will fail to see the distinction if their lives are blighted with a threat they thought they had seen off. It is for this reason that Europe’s top lawyer gave a warning this week that Scotland would not be allowed into the EU.

Joseph Weiler has been called the greatest lawyer in the world and he absolutely destroys the legal and moral case for an independent Scotland joining the EU. There’s a reason for this. There is latent nationalism all over Europe. There are groups of nationalists quite small in number who would love to use the example of Scottish independence to resurrect their grievances about lost countries or boundaries that don’t include their people. If you doubt this read the following.

I have personally experienced what happens when Civic nationalism sets off latent emotions. I’ve known Ukrainian civic nationalists who just wanted to promote their culture, their language, who wanted to get on with their neighbours and create a prosperous western democracy in the EU. They told me all the same things that Scottish nationalists tell me. They also had the best intentions. But like so often their nationalism blew up in their faces.

I promise you if the sort of people who are warning now about the consequences of a Yes vote were doing the opposite and warning of the dangers of a No vote. I would vote Yes. It would be my moral duty to do so.

There are a lot of Scots who are either unable or unwilling to understand the economics that has been set out here. There are charlatans spreading lies who have no expertise about what they speak and not much education either. Nor are many Scots willing or able to understand Scotland in an international context. But it hardly needs to be said that if even a fraction of the damage that is threatened internationally happens because of a Yes vote, Scotland would hardly be welcomed with into the international community with open arms.

If you think all this is scaremongering, if you think the whole world is wrong and only you are right that “Westminster” is making them say all of this. I would seek treatment if I were you. The world isn’t scaremongering, it’s scared. So am I.

I know there are thinking, intelligent Yes voters. Good people who have supported the SNP all their lives. If you understand the issues, if you realise the danger that Scotland faces, you have a clear duty to speak out. I know that you desperately want independence. But this goes beyond politics. It is absolutely clear that right now independence cannot be achieved safely.

If you vote for independence knowing the damage it would do to Scotland, the poorest in Scotland most of all, you are clearly not a fool, for you have the intelligence to understand what you are doing. If you put your desire for independence above the suffering of others, both here and elsewhere, you are obviously a fanatic who cannot be reasoned with. If you think it would be worth it you have lost all sense of moral values. To understand what I have just written and vote Yes is not an act of folly it is the act of a knave.

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Sep 15

Matthew Hudson: How much does Sterling matter to Scotland?

Matthew Hudson hails from Buckinghamshire, England. His belief in the cause of unionism comes from the fact that his ancestry comes from all corners of Britain, and he feels more shaped by Britain as a whole than its separate component parts.Matthew Hudson

The pound sterling also known as the pound is the currency of the United Kingdom, a Union which includes Scotland. However Scotland is looking to leave this Union. Where this becomes more significant is that even though Scotland is hoping to leave the Union, it wants to keep the pound.

The only place in the world that uses the pound is the UK, and even though Scotland wants to leave it still thinks it should keep the the currency. This situation becomes worse when you consider the fact that if Scotland was to keep the pound and be independent then it would have to negotiate with the rest of the UK over the currency.

The issue with this is that Scotland would have just left the UK and even without Westminster’s logical case against currency union surely one could expect the UK to be at least partly bitter.

The situation doesn’t improve if the Conservatives were to lose power, as both the Lib Dems and Labour share the view that Scotland will not get the pound. Alex Salmond originally tried to sell the idea of independence by making the point that Scotland would keep the pound. However this has been made clear that it won’t happen, and Salmond himself has said he doesn’t support sterlingisation as a long term solution. The question is: how much does the pound matters to Scotland?

The pound is one of the more successful currencies in the modern market and is a currency you wouldn’t want to lose. It may have been devalued in 1949 and 1968 but it is still doing well.

Of course the pound isn’t the only currency that Scotland could potentially take. If Scotland becomes a member of the European Union then it could get itself the Euro. This has a drawback in itself owing to the nature of the Euro. The Euro is a currency spread over many different countries from the affluent Germany to the not so affluent Greece.

These very different economies are arguably disadvantaged by the fact that they have the same currency and different markets as it means some economies are accommodating others. Germany for example can’t afford the Euro to collapse so has to stop countries like Greece and Spain having economic slumps. It means Germany has a lot of power over Europe and other countries lack that power.

Not all countries are happy paying money in to Europe and sharing the Euro which is demonstrated by the 2014 European election results in France where the French National Front were elected. The Euro doesn’t seem to be the best currency so it is safe to assume that the people of Scotland won’t want it.

Assuming then that Scotland decides not to have the Euro or is not allowed to join the European Union and it fails to get the pound then there is a third option for Scotland. Scotland could if it so desired adopt its own currency. The drawback with taking on a new currency is that it would need to establish itself on the international market. All the different currencies have different trading measures which are set up on the strength and reliability of said currency but new currencies have to establish themselves. A new currency would carry uncertainties and would be a bold risk for a newly formed country with many other things to worry about.

To conclude, an independent Scotland could easily end up in a less than desirable situation when it comes to currency and as a result of currency issues also economic issues. To trade with other countries the countries need to trust the economical nature of Scotland. Britain has got itself many countries to trade with and agree loans with – countries that trust the pound – and Scotland could easily lose this if it becomes independent.

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Sep 14

G Wright: Why I’m Scottish and British both

G Wright is a native of Glasgow with mixed Catholic/Protestant parentage, he himself being Catholic. He works as an engineer and voluneteers for various charitable endeavors in Scotland. This is a collected transcript provided by Union Jack Chat of one of their interviews, which can be read in its original form here.

Union Jack ChatFor me, a Scotsman, to be British is to enjoy a unique and special identity.  Most people only have one culture and one history; but we British are lucky to have a share in several other cultures, as well as our own.  I love all things Scottish, but I’d still prefer a Dry Gin to a Whisky, a Shakespeare over a Burns and a St Thomas More over a John Knox.  And despite these things being English in origin they have become very much part of my culture – thanks to the UK.  This is part of the beauty of the UK, as to be British is to be enriched in this way.

Our very successful Union is like a family, in that the nations are close and affectionate of one another, but also distinct in identity and at times rivals.  There is nothing quite like the UK, and – should the worst happen on the 18th, God forbid – there never will be anything quite like it again. For it is more than just a bland union of nations like the EU. It goes way beyond that, via having unity of language and a shared and lively history too. The peoples of the UK nations are not simply mere ‘partners’, but kith and kin. To be British is to be part of a family.

Unlike some, I do not feel like my British Identity is an unwelcome “bolt on” to my Scottish Identity.  For me, it is a complimentary aspect, not a rival one, like two luxurious room in a large mansion. The rooms are not competitors, but each is wonderful and interesting on its own merits. You can flit from one to another, or place them alongside one another. It is fascinating to see how they compliment one another.

To be British is to belong to a nation which has done more than any other, over centuries, to shape the modern world.  I think this is shown by the enduring successor of the Empire, the British Commonwealth. That the vast majority of former imperial territories choose to remain part of this family of friends today is a testament to how the bonds of brotherhood and friendship have ultimately prevailed over conquest and domination. These friendships are the real legacy of the Empire.

The recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow were a lesson in how blessed we are to be British, to enjoy links and friendship with so many different people and nations from across the globe.  And the enrichment of Britain, through contact with these friends, was clearly visible – not least by the welcome presence of men from the Gurka Rifles at the security points!

It may not fashionable to boast of Empire in the modern era, but the size of the British Empire was impressive by any standards. I believe that, one day, historians will talk of the British the way they talk about the Romans today. And so to be British is to be international.

Some separatist extremists try to extrapolate neo-fascism from a simple pride in, or admiration of, British identity and the United Kingdom. But in spite of this, many people continue to be proud of their British identities. We are not especially vocal about it (that would be quite un-British indeed) but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have just as much to be proud of as Britons as we do as Scots. One cannot blame keen fans of British culture for admiring the more romantic aspects of an exceptionally rich tapestry of history, as others do with the Romans, etc. As a Scottish Briton myself, I cannot help but share their sympathies!

Sadly, many Scots today define themselves by what they decide to dislike – be it the English, or the Catholics – instead of appreciating the fullness of their heritage and important historical events. Many Scots think resenting these groups is what it means to be Scottish, it’s very sad. This kind of negative, or inverse identity is a phenomenon I have not encountered elsewhere.

I think in part this “negative identity” explains the verses in The Flower of Scotland which attempt to create a sensation of loss or grievance. Rather than pride in our own nation, our anthem is all about whom we dislike and how hard done by we feel. The end result of all this is an ignorant and divided society. Most people have no real sense of themselves and are simply unthinking clients of cheap, imported pop culture. And that which is thought of as being genuinely Scottish (kilts etc) is in the main a modern and contrived caricature of an identity.

The type of Scot who can seemingly see nothing but ill-will and exploitation in the United Kingdom strikes a chord of frustration with me. I hate the “cannon fodder” argument you often hear about Scots in the British Army. It’s just not true. On the contrary, Scots Regiments have always been an important and illustrious part of the British Army. The Royal Scots were the oldest British Army Unit, till they became sadly defunct. Now it is the Coldstream Guards. And where is Coldstream? That’s right, Scotland! I also strongly dislike the bogus notion that Scotland is an English colony, rather than a partner of the English. It’s just absurd.

I think people would get a shock in an independent Scotland. We would have no G8 seat, no permanent UN Security Council seat, no permanent UN veto, no major EU influence, no major global influence, no nuclear deterrent, no conventional military power, no fiscal control over our own currency, etc. As part of the UK, we currently have all of that. I don’t think our coffers would be able to support the large number of public sector jobs the country depends on.

Before recent cuts started one in four people were employed by the state in Scotland, compared to one in five UK wide – and this is before all the extra ones needed if we were independent. Let’s not forget the many Scots communities, often isolated, who depend heavily on local British bases and military installations to drive their economies. All that would be gone if we split from the UK.

Control of our currency is another major issue that ceding throws up. We have to either take the euro (assuming we even got into the EU – not guaranteed) and let the EU control our currency (that’s going really well for Greece right now), or we keep the pound and let the Bank of England control our currency. The Bank of England currently controls our currency, but does so while taking us and our economic circumstances into account, along with the rest of the UK.

Post independence, they would still be in full control, but the Scottish economy would not feature in their considerations whatsoever, as they no longer have any duty to us. This then has grave implications for anything our Government would try to do: fiscal plans, the economy etc. Why would sane person, who was not intoxicated or under duress, freely vote to give up fiscal control of their own currency? If people think seriously, they can only credibly vote no, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens almost “by accident”!

Ultimately, the name of the “no” campaign – Better Together – sums it all up.  Were it not for the UK and its centuries of history, none of the constituent parts could ever have expected to have such an eventful history, or range of experiences and opportunities. We know from the work place that working together achieves more, and so it is with the UK too. To be British is to have broad horizons.

This whole referendum comes down one major question: do Scots want to be part of a nation which helps to shape the world, or do they want to be part of a nation which is shaped by the world? No Scotsman worth his salt would choose the latter! Here’s to a prosperous and proud Scotland within a happy and strong UK!

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Sep 13

Pearl of Tyburn: Seeing the British Union in the American

Pearl of Tyburn’ is a regular contributor to Open Unionism and practising Catholic from the United States. She is the founder of Union Jack Chat.

As OU’s American correspondent, I have been asked to give an overview of my journey to South Carolina as the Representative of the State of Maryland for The Sons of the American Revolution Historical Orations Contest. Of course, I will make a point of highlighting aspects of the trip dealing with national unity, Anglo-American history, and the lessons of the past we should all learn from as cultural cousins who have always shared a very special and unique relationship.

The Nationals were being held in Greenville, South Carolina, this year, which is strategically located close by two Revolutionary War Battlefields, Cowpens and King’s Mountain. My father and I took a ten hour car trip there, and I must say the journey further impressed upon me how many different nuances there are in the fabric of American geography and demographics. It’s almost as if we have several different countries stuffed into one. The best word I can use to describe the visual and cultural feel of the Virginias and the Carolinas is Celtic.

In contrast to the pleasant yet comparatively plain farm country of Penn-Mar, the trek south was marked by epic rivers and mountain ranges that seemed to have come over straight from Scotland with the Scots-Irish settlers who made them home. Of course, the accents start changing as well, hand-me-downs from the Ulster settlers whose distinct lilt and dialect did much to shape the drawl of the American Deep South over centuries of transformation. The haunting folk ballads of the British Isles experienced the same metamorphosis among these mountain strongholds and, distinctly mixed with traditional African tunes, gave rise to the Appalachian, Bluegrass, Gospel, and Country genres.

This area of America also makes up the Bible Belt, another legacy of the stubborn Covenanters who defied King Charles at Greyfriars and the brazen Apprentice Boys who slammed the gates in King James’ face at Londonderry. Their insistence on low-church practices and antipathy to hierarchy of any form make them perfect revolutionaries and religious individualists. Picking up local stations on our car radio as we wended our way through the mountains of North Carolina, I could not help but chuckle as several Reverend Mac-somethings came on the air, preaching their weekly sermons in deliciously thick drawls with gospel music to accompany them.

The food took an interesting turn in the south as well. Small town diners were plentiful, with huge signs along the highway reading: “Bo Jangles Waffle House”, etc. When we crossed over into South Carolina, we were hailed by a gigantic monument of a peach on a pedestal. And things just got peachier from there on out. There were peach stores, peach farms, peach restaurants, peach BBQ pits, peach parks, etc. For all those under the false impression that George produces the most fuzzy delights, the record actually belong to South Carolina, as the locals earnestly informed us! At the reception in Greenville, I also had the opportunity of eating an innocent looking hamburger-like entity, that hitherto will always be referred to as “that evil sandwich”! Er…fried onion peach jam pulled pork anyone?

Greenville itself has a touristy feel to it, a different sort of city from what I’ve been used to in my journeys north to visit family in New Jersey and New York. There were lots of little shops and restaurants and strolling areas for meandering pedestrians. Under different circumstances, I might have liked the place as a vacation spot. But I’m afraid the pressure was on for me as my state’s representative in the upcoming contest. The rules designated that each contestant should give a six minute oration on a person, event, document, or ideal associated with the American Revolution and apply it to today. I chose to tell the story of British General Thomas Gage, his American wife, Margaret, and the forgotten connections and divided loyalties that make the revolution more akin to a civil war.

There was also the issue of trying to make the subject relevant to “today.” Of the method being presented in this contest, I tended to be quite uncomfortable. The Whig Interpretation of History makes the case that historians must be very cautious in the way they try to connect the past and present in a pre-packaged format, making all that has gone before only of value if it applies to the modern. But in trying to force a direct analogy with present-day issues, we often create a false sense of historicity and lose track of the more subtle lessons that good stories always leave with the reader or listener. Hence, I decided to use the ending of my speech to encourage my modern audience to remember those who had gone before and learn the lessons from the past and show compassion for both sides and pray for their souls. But I did not attempt to make a modern-day equivalent illustration.

My competitors represented a variety of states across the union including Virginia, Ohio, Louisiana, California, and Florida. South Carolina also had a representative. Overall, they were quite a talented bunch, with polished oratorical skills and descriptive writing styles. But I did notice that the presentations generally leaned more towards a political bend than a historical one, even though this was supposed to be a historical orations contest. Also, a few impassioned rants against King George and British tyranny seemed to be an accepted method of appealing to the judges, all descendents of revolutionaries! One particular contestant made a shockingly broad statement about our forebears: “The Americans believed in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the British did not.”

My brain began to vibrate with the name “John Locke! John Locke!” Yes, himm and a slew of other Brits who sought out and defined the meaning of liberty that the American Revolutionaries used as stepping stones in their own expansion of the word. And had he forgotten Pitt, Fox, Burke and the others who were against taxation without representation? Furthermore, even for those who believed that Parliament had the right to tax the colonies directly, can it truly be said that they embraced “death, tyranny, and pursuit of unhappiness”?

No, surely. Many of them were well-meaning, hard-working individuals who simply saw the situation in another light. Touching back to my point about making broad comparisons between the past and the present, it was common in the 18th Century for colonies to be largely unrepresented in the mother countries. Trying to force our own opinions on the way things should be into the past simply creates a false picture.

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Sep 12

Chris Jaffray: Missing Million vs Quiet No Voters

Chris Jaffray is an exiled Scot in England. He is a graduate of Leeds University looking to start a profile as a blogger.

The Scottish Referemdum has been left unpredictable following a surge in support for Yes. Yougov, a polling institution typical unfavourable to them, has given upward momentum and victory seems within touching distance. Most polling institutions have found some ten per cent of the electorate difficult to poll and this leaves the result uncertain as ten per cent would easily swing it at this stage. There are two competing theories about what will happen.

The first of these is the missing million theory. It contends that voters, who may be referred to as an underclass who have been politically apathetic for most if not all of their lives, will emerge from the cauldrons and all vote yes – this will give Yes a comfortably victory. Advocates of this theory working class support for ‘Home Rule’ was higher than its middle class counterpart in both referendums.

Since Scottish Nationalists twinned their cause to that of social justice and socialism it has adopted the Hegelian notion of history as inevitably progressing. To them it is only a matter of time before Scotland breaks away, as it is such an obvious move. That is why they were never deterred by poor showing in polls. This outlook is epitomised by their slogan: ‘You yes yet?’, as though it is only a matter of time.

In the event debate surrounding the referendum has not been the seminal dialectical event it might have been. Alex Salmond’s gradualist approach to independence has been to stress how much will remain the same rather than how much will be different. He has wanted it to be a general election, he would have loved it to be the Scottish National Party versus the Conservative Party, but in the event has had to settle for it being the SNP vs Labour. Turnout will be higher as it is virtually an election from which there is no going back, but it is not seen as the once in a lifetime opportunity it might have been because he has stressed continuity rather than change.

It has been about individuals when it perhaps should not have been. Had Salmond offered to stand down after independence it may have been something of a tabula rasa, but in the second debate when he asked the public for their support for a ‘democratic mandate to pursue a currency union’ (something a No vote guarantees) he ended any credibility to the line that a Yes vote is not a vote for Salmond. The dislike of personality which contributes to apathy is still here.

The second theory, which I buy, is the ‘quiet No voter’. The predecessor for this argument comes out of the 1992 General Election. The polls consistently showed a Labour victory to be imminent. 2007 and 2011 are seen as examples of the difficulty of polling Scotland but this election is the true precedent. Tory annihilation was predicted in Scotland, but in the event it gave the Tories 12 seats which contributed to their small majority. The reason for the polling inaccuracy was that voters lied about their voting intention.

Their reasons for lying about having voted Tory are easy to discern: Labour voters are more vocal and aggressive in their disagreement with you. Would anyone disagree with the notion that the same is true but more so of Yes voters? For this reason I believe the quiet No voter will win the day, with the no vote being greater than 55 per cent. Events around referendum day may yet find more quiet no voters in the polling booths.

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Sep 11

Matthew Hudson: The West Lothian Question must be answered

Matthew Hudson hails from Buckinghamshire, England. His belief in the cause of unionism comes from the fact that his ancestry comes from all corners of Britain, and he feels more shaped by Britain as a whole than its separate component parts

Matthew Hudson

One key product of the devolution granted to the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was the creation of the West Lothian Question. The West Lothian Question is the title given to the fact that how, for example,  Scottish MPs can vote on all types of law for England but English MPs can only vote on certain issues, like defence and immigration but not education and training, housing, health or social services, for Scotland.

The significance of this West Lothian Question is the fact that through it, Scotland arguably gets a better deal at the moment as part of the UK than England. England has the least power over its laws and regulations, without influence from the rest of Britain, than all the other parts of the UK, yet England has not pushed for independence or even more power. Scotland has more power over its destiny than England owing to the fact it has a devolved Parliament.

SNP have been trying to gain support to break free of Britain so that they have more control over the laws of the land of Scotland, however, Scotland already has many powers especially in the social sector leading to the question, is there anything worthwhile for Scotland to gain by becoming independent? Scotland has power over:

  • agriculture, forestry and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • law and order (including the licensing of air weapons)
  • local government
  • sport and the arts
  • tourism and economic development
  • many aspects of transport

As this list shows the idea that Scotland is powerless and dominated by Westminster or the argument that Scotland lacks representation are unfair. Scotland isn’t the only country that has benefited from devolution: Wales and Northern Ireland also have. The difference is that Scotland has one of the best deals. Wales have used their devolved assembly to pass legislation that: makes university fees cheaper than they are in England; means that Welsh people get prescriptions for free; and that people in Wales have to pay for shopping bags. Wales is happy with the situation it is in and hasn’t been pushing for independence. Wales and Northern Ireland both benefit from the West Lothian Question and for them that is enough.

To conclude, Scotland arguably has one of the best deals of all the members of the Union and it is the only one that wants independence from the Union. This raise the question: why dpes Scotland needs independence. There has already been talk on giving Scotland even more power if it votes “No” in September putting it in an even better position than other parts of the Union. With all this on the table, does Scotland need independence? Is there really anything that Scotland can gain from it? With all that has been said; to me, the answer is no.

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