Jan 24

Conservatives must unite behind the Union

Cllr. Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of the Bow Group and a journalist and author. He has been involved in politics and international relations for a decade, having worked on foreign policy issues for the Conservative Party in both the UK and European Parliaments. He has also advised the US, Spanish and Chilean governments on security and foreign policy issues as well as opposition parties in Bahrain, Albania, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Referendum currently dominates the political lexicon in the United Kingdom, but as we look towards the continent and see the European debate fill our political spectrum, it is easily forgotten that our own nation and the strength of our Union is under more immediate threat.

The process toward Scottish devolution that began in 1997, with Wales and Northern Ireland closely following, heralded the emergence of the modern phenomenon of regional nationalism, now the greatest threat to the future of a United Kingdom.

It is no coincidence that at the zenith of economic crisis regional nationalism has grown yet further in strength, and calls for separatism and division have grown louder. For populist separatist politicians their ability to appear to present an alternative to the status quo, and their ability to play brinkmanship with the central state, weakened politically and economically by the crisis, has never been greater.

 Alex Salmond’s acumen and cunning in exploiting circumstance to afford political gain has marked him as one of Britain’s most skilled politicians.  His campaign for Scottish independence is therefore one that must be met by Unionists with a seriousness and gravity equal to the challenge and threat we face. It is a campaign we on the Unionist side have not yet addressed with the requisite force.

The Bow Group will celebrate Burns Night this year by showing our collective strong support for the Union, as Conservatives and as Britons alike. It will be the first event of its kind in Westminster, as we run up to the Scottish Referendum next year.

The Bow Group is run by just ten people, among them three were educated in Scotland and two have Scottish family.

A group which has long been the bedrock for British Conservatism, and the perfect culprit for the SNP to categorise as anti-Scottish “Westminster Imperialists”, is itself as inseparable from Scotland and the collective Union as any family, business or community across the nation.

Such is the strength and binding of the United Kingdom, the campaign for Scottish independence does not threaten to simply draw a geographical border between the United Kingdom and Scotland, but to divide all citizens of the Union from their rightful claim to a shared British heritage.

The loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom would be a mark of change to our nation far greater than the decision to leave the European Union, and in the harsh eyes of history would surely be viewed as a landmark on the road to the decline of a once peerless global power.

Wrong then are those who make the argument inside and out of the Conservative Party, that to extricate Scotland from the Union is a desirable outcome for Conservatives, as it would serve to ensure the future of the Party as the presumptive heirs to government of the remaining United Kingdom.

The objective of the Conservative Party has always been to govern Britain toward an ever greater, ever more powerful and prosperous future. A Britain without Scotland is a Britain in the final throws of terminal decline, and the acceptance of decline in return for government, would mark the terminal decline of the Conservative Party also.

The Bow Group will be holding its “Unionist Burns Night Reception” with a keynote address by The Rt Hon Lord Lamont of Lerwickon the 28th January at the Caledonian Club. Tickets are available here.

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  1. Independent England

    Perhaps Mr Harris-Quinney would tell us what benefits England derives from the Union and I don’t mean meaningless waffle such as ‘we are stronger together’. All I can see are negatives as far as England is concerned.

    1. OU Editors

      What benefit does London, and its prosperous hinterland in the south, derive from continued attachment to those great post-industrial swathes of the country between the Watford Gap and the border?

      1. Chris

        Fair point, except that:

        a) the GLA does not have legislative powers, and almost certainly will not be allowed any, so no equivalent to the West Lothian Question between London and the rest of England arises (the GLA is really just a glorified county council, as successor to the old GLC);

        b) Greater London gets its block allocation on the same needs-assessed basis as the rest of England (and in consequence does quite well out of it), thus avoiding a Barnett formula issue between it and the rest of England. (I accept that nonetheless London is in very significant fiscal surplus.)

        c) People in London by and large do not show the same chip-on-the-shoulder attitude towards people in the remainder of England in the same was that a few people in Wales and Scotland seem to. I wouldn’t want to overplay this though, as I am sure the majority in Wales and Scotland are perfectly decent people.

        The truth is that, like it or not, an uncomfortably large number of people in England feel they get a raw deal out of the union. A lot of it is a matter of misperception, but a smaller amount is justified. Any system of devolution which can allow people graduating at age 22 to start with £30,000 of debt around their necks in England, when Scottish graduates graduate with none, however reasonable this may be from the devolved finance point of view, is storing up immense trouble for the future once 20 or 30 years of resentment has been allowed to build up amongst the graduates who form the next generation’s opinion formers. If you study the results of the 2011 census on national identification, you should worry. I certainly do. More people in England identified as English than people in Wales identified as Welsh. This needs to be nipped in the bud.

        1. Old Albion

          Why does it need to be “nipped in the bud” Are the English not allowed to be English?

      2. Independent England

        England is not ‘in Union’ with itself. England is a nation. London is an English city. To compare it with Scotland is not comparing like with like. Scotland is not a city, it is a nation.

        1. OU Editors

          But that’s essentially a “because I say so” approach. Lots and lots of people similarly asserted that Northern Ireland was Irish, but that didn’t have any impact on their right to self-determination and going their own way.

          For all the complaints about Scotland being burdensome, such a position is really just existentialist nationalism for its own sake. Scotland is cast as a “burden” on “English” money when in point of fact most of the UK is dependent on explicitly “Southern” money.

          1. Independent England

            Why does everything have to come down to money? What about nationhood? England is an historic nation and I don’t want it destroyed. What next if we follow your argument? The City of London declaring independence from London because that’s where the money is made? There is no evidence whatsoever that English people want their country broken up. In fact there is evidence against. The NE referendum, polls which show the majority want an English Parliament and so on.
            Scotland is different. There is plenty of evidence to support the assertion that many Scottish people want to go it alone. I along with many English people say let them go!

          2. OU Editors

            The money argument is simply countering the financial arguments made against the Union with Scotland, like for like. If you wish to argue in terms of ‘nationhood’ then it all boils down to simple personal preference. Polling suggests a substantial majority of each Home Nation supports the continuation of the Union. Hurrah for that.

          3. Chris

            To be fair to the original poster, he may not have been making a comment only (or primarily) about money. I think the Barnett formula point is much overplayed, and can be dealt with by allowing the Barnett squeeze to continue to have effect: something however that recent governments have been reluctant to do. Barnett is mainly used as an implement by those with an axe to grind.

            There is I suspect a cultural issue or identity issue to be dealt with, which devolution (and the nationalist aspirations in Scotland and Wales it appears to have fostered) has thrown up. There are signs that Labour, with Milliband’s (presumably Maurice Glasman inspired) speech last spring, are attempting to test out an approach for dealing with England which is least likely to disrupt the union. I support them in that. Of course I do not necessarily expect the Bow Group to do so (I do not know if they have a view on it or not).

          4. Independent England

            Polling suggests a substantial majority of each Home Nation supports the continuation of the Union.

            Really? This one doesn’t:


            43% of English voters approve of Scottish independence while 32% don’t. Let England have an independence referendum and sort this matter out one way or the other.

            The English Parliament figures are even more interesting with 49% in favour.

  2. Old Albion

    And by your continued deceit as far as England is concerned. You, the Conservatives are driving English Nationalism. But you’re to stupid to see it.

    1. St Etienne

      If there’s one thing this non-English unionist is jealous of the English about, it’s the fact that in general they are less sensitive about their intra-British identity than their Celtic cousins.

      Evidently from above comments, you’ll always get internet cranks though.

      1. OU Editors

        I think we’re on the blogroll of the Campaign for an English Parliament.

        1. St Etienne

          The struggle to make themselves relevant?

          Wonder if they link to any cybernat witherings from elsewhere in the Kingdom – I’d pay a reasonable sum to see them bluster at eachother.

      2. Independent England

        Studies have shown that the majority of people born in England consider themselves English first. This includes English people who are born of ‘parents who were themselves not born in England. So it is the anti English who are the cranks! British is becoming more and more irrelevent to most English people. That’s why the majority of English people would vote YES to Scottish independence unlike the Scottish themselves!.

        1. Chris

          “That’s why the majority of English people would vote YES to Scottish independence unlike the Scottish themselves!”

          That is simply not correct. Most opinion polls show that the percentage of people in England who are in favour of Scottish independence is similar to the percentage of people in Scotland who are in favour. This has always been less than a majority.

          1. IndependentEngland


            This poll shows 43% of English voters in favour of Scottish indpependence with only 32% against. OK 43% is not a majority but its not far off particularly as the against percentage is only 32%. Lets hold a referendum in England to decide the matter of England’s independence.

  3. Old Albion

    So the fact that some of us care about the democratic defecit imposed on England since devolution in 1998, makes us cranks, does it? Extraordinary !

  4. Toque

    In 1999 the Bow Group published “An English Parliament: a proposal for fairness and transparency in a new constitutional settlement for Britain”.

  5. patrioticbriton

    I couldn’t agree more with the opinion that our country, Britain, should remain united. Together, as Britons, we have done so much good for humanity. Britain is so much greater than the sum of her parts.

    Britain, minus Scotland, would be so much of a poorer country. Britishness minus Scotland is so much diminished.

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