Modern Scotland is a product of the Union, writes MALCOLM CUNNING


I have to admit that I have very little interest in obscure economic arguments as to whether Scotland, and the Scots, would be better or worse off as an independent nation. For me the unity of the various nations which make up these isles is the natural, inevitable and consistently beneficial consequence of a shared geography and common history.

Scotland has been part of a personal or parliamentary union with England and Wales for significantly longer than it was ever a coherent independent state occupying the borders we recognise today. Indeed, there are very good grounds to argue that Scotland only became unified internally in the period after the 1707 Act of Union. The Union made Scotland.

This is in no way to deny the long and colourful history of Scotland or the significant stages in nation building in the centuries after the ancient peoples of Dalriada and Pictland came together in the ninth century in the guise of Alba. It was another 200 years before the Kings of Alba extended their influence south of the Forth-Clyde Valley and the nation of Scotland began to emerge. In the meantime much of the northern and western fringes had been lost to Viking incursion. The border with England was only finalised in 1237 with the Treaty of York and the Western Isles were finally ceded to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Another brace of centuries were to pass before Orkney and Shetland passed to Scottish sovereignty in 1468. It has to be emphasised that sovereignty did not necessarily imply real political control or effective integration.

When James VI scuttled south in 1603 to claim the throne of England, Scotland was less than 150 years old. It was a nation still riven by internal fractures which were not finally resolved until after Culloden in 1746. In the four hundred years since the Union of the Crowns, Scotland has blossomed as a nation and, thanks particularly to Walter Scott (an ardent Unionist and high Tory) has developed a sense of common experience and shared identity which sees bridegrooms from Lerwick to Langholm don the kilt. The philabeg, need I remind you, was for the average 17th Century lowlander not “the Garb of Old Gaul” but the mean covering for Erse speaking savages. It is only since the Union that we have all become whisky drinking, haggis-eating, tartan-clad clansmen.

The greatest flowering of Scottish intellectual endeavour, the Scottish Enlightenment, is similarly a by-product of the Union. While built on strong Scottish traditions of enquiry and doubt, the pre-eminence of Adam Smith, David Hume and James Hutton would not have been possible without the wider stage and broader influences brought by the Union.

Over the past several weeks I have found it impossible to walk the streets of Greenock or Port Glasgow and not reflect on how vital and invigorating the Union has been. Without the trade in tobacco and sugar these communities would never have existed or enjoyed the enormous profits which once flowed into the pockets of the rich merchants whose houses still stand, however jaded, as testament to their endeavour. That many of the great trades and industries which flourished in Scotland at the height of Empire are now gone is not of itself any justification for tearing apart a constitutional arrangement which has brought so much benefit. The benefits of Union have never been purely economic and the wealth which it has brought can never be measured simply in coin of the realm.

As you may have guessed, I am no apologetic Unionist and I believe that there are huge dangers if we are timid in our defence of the Union against the selfish arguments of devoted separatists. To allow the debate to descend into either economic reductionism or endless constitutional tinkering solves not a single problem nor creates a single job. Any economic advantage in independence must, in the short term at the very least, be heavily dependent on Scotland claiming the bulk of oil receipts. My friends, neighbours and family in England would, as an inevitable corollary, be poorer as a result. As a socialist, the politics of “beggar thy neighbourholds no interest whatsoever.

The Union has, over the years, enriched all the people of Britain economically, socially, culturally and politically.  It is for the SNP to prove beyond doubt that these centuries of common experience have either been a sham or an interesting experiment which has now failed. And, in unashamed common cause with Tories, Liberals and all-comers (within reason) who likewise know the difference between history and myth, Labour can win any referendum, however worded and whenever called, by positively extolling the best thing to happen to Scotland in a millennium.

Malcolm Cunning is a former Labour councillor in Glasgow and currently works for Tom Harris MP. He thinks Twitter is the work of the De’il. Probably.


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91 thoughts on “1266 and all that

  1. An interesting take on the history of Scotland, but I tend to take this as no more than a demonstration that geographical nations are not something set in stone, and tend to think that similar exercises could be done for any modern nation, think France or Germany, therefore am not sure what it has to do with any debate about Scotlands future. I would also suggest it says more about the writer than anything else.
    What I am really interested in is the present and the future, a small quote from the article sums it up for me. “As a socialist, the politics of “beggar thy neighbour” holds no interest whatsoever.” Firstly I am delighted that such a thing as a socialist still exists but am not sure it was allowed to speak its name any more in the Labour movement. “beggar thy neighbour” now that is a slightly odd phrase to use in this debate, but If I understand you correctly your argument is that you would not wish to leave the union as it might leave people in England worse off, but seem to be happy for the opposite arrangement to be true, I struggle to see how you can reconcile such an arrangement.

  2. As a corollary to Malcolm’s remarks, three points. First, some political scientists have designated Scotland as a “nation but not a state”, recognising Scotland’s identity over the long period discusses and its continuing recognisable identity since the union of the parliaments. Scotland’s identity persists whatever institutional change has taken place; we are independent already and always have been. Institutional change in the past hasn’t taken it away from us and therefore is unlikely to change that in the future. Second, geography is an important factor that cannot change – England will always be interested in what happens on its northern flank; Scotland’s strategic position between the North sea countries and the Atlantic Third, institutionally, we ought to appreciate the privilege of the ability to interfere in England given by their 1707 insistance on an incorporating union. It may be to our advantage that they continue to insist on a unitary state, as shown by the inability to progress regional devolution in England.

  3. Sorry but this is sheer romantic nationalism, not serious politics.

    Modern Scotland has choices to make about our future, not our past.

    1. “Sorry but this is sheer romantic nationalism, not serious politics.”

      Uh-huh. And the SNP would never want anything to do with sheer romantic nationalism, would they?

      1. Nope. We are all about the future, not the past. The idea that the economic debate about whether an independent Scotland would be better or worse off than we are now is “obscure” (whereas arguments about when the border with England was finalised is presumably relevant!) is not one that would be made by an SNP activist.

        1. Indy, that’s the most self-deluding (to be polite) nonsense I have read in a long time.

          The whole argument for “independence” is based on belief about the past. Look at all the parcel of rogues stuff on this blog. Read other blogs. Read your own blog. Nationalists talk of nothing but the past. When I ask them to explain what the future would look like in an “independent” Scotland, they dry up…… nothing to say beyond platitudes about how “we” would be better-off in some ill-defined ways….

          1. Alex you kind of embody what I am talking about. It is just nonsense to say that nationalists go on about the past all the time. We don’t. You are thinking of the SNP in the 70s I think, with the big Bannockburn rallies and so on.

            But that was then and this is now. The SNP today is as different to the SNP of the 1970s as the Labour Party today is different to the Labour Party of the 1970s. Because Scotland is different and the rest of the world is different. It’s a more inderdependent world – which makes independence all the more important.

            You need to get out your bunker and start addressing the issues instead of the myths you have created to justify your loathing of the SNP.

          2. If Indy is right and the SNP have moved on from the 70’s, can he perhaps explain Joan McAlpine MSP stating on Newsnight that “one of the first acts of the British Government was to carry out a pogrom in the Scottish Highlands.” Paxman, to his credit, moved on to save her the embarrassment of explaining such a ridiculous comment.

            Her remark could be dismissed as risible were it not so insulting. It is however a perfect example of distorting history in order to bolster a faux victimhood which is at the heart of the SNP self image.

          3. Indy,
            Malcolm has raised a current example of the appeal to the past. Could you address that?

            I mentioned the “parcel of rogues” stuff: the case that somehow the act of union is not legitimate is central to Nationalist belief that somehow Scotland has been duped and cheated into the union with England. Could you address that?

            Nationalist leaders might want to airbrush all that stuff out of their own history, and how they use it to create a sense of grievance and recruit the impressionable to their anti-Englih crusade, but it’s there, it’s undeniable. Could you address that?

            And could you explain how you hope to convince people that the future will somehow be “better” without reference to the past?

          4. Hi folks

            I’m afraid IMHO this article IS unrefined narrow British nationalism which is completely based on a thoroughly romantic interpretation of the past. For example, I was particularly shocked at the apparent glorying in the benefits of empire and the sugar and tobacco trades without any acknowledgement of the shameful, dehumanising exploitation of imperialism and the horrors of slavery.

            With regards to sharing of oil revenue, this is a tricky one. Surely it is better to harness this potential to reduce relative poverty effectively in Scotland rather than have it used to fund Tory induced mass unemployment across the UK as occurred under Thatcher? I fully believe in sharing wealth. However, surely our brothers in sisters in, for example, the Horn of Africa would benefit more from increased aid from a prosperous autonomous Scotland? Socialism knows no boundaries. Sharing our wealth should not stop at the white cliffs of Dover, surely?

            With respect, I really think we must avoid being dragged into such narrow interpretations of identity in the debate on the constitution.


          5. Social Democrat, for a brief summation of my views on slavery, scroll further down this page. I would not for a moment argue that everything the British state, let alone the British Empire, has been responsible for is wholly good. Nor, for that matter, has it been wholly bad.

            What I do say, entirely free of a romantic thought or a rheumy eye, is that Britain as a Union has worked and worked rather well. Who knows what might have transpired in a Scotland which had rejected the Union of 1707 and developed as an independent state? I could speculate but that is all it would be, speculation. Similarly, any advantages of separation at this stage in our history are also entirely speculative. As yet, neither in this small discourse nor in the wider debate, have I encountered any cogent argument why the people of Scotland should swap a proven track record for the promise of oil flavoured jam tomorrow.

          6. Hi Malcolm!

            Britain as an encompassing and centralised Union may have worked well at some points in the past (although certainly not during the Thatcher era!) but the status quo constitutional settlement in which Scotland does not have the necessary powers to achieve our optimum economic potential (there is more to Scotland than oil) or to forge a direct role as an equal sovereign member of the international community does not strike me a necessarilly the best method of political solidarity in these islands in the 21st century. Remember, it is also speculative to assume that the future will be rosy with the status quo Union settlement. At least greater autonomy provides the ability to be flexible and pro-active.

            I agree there is no doubt we need to celebrate, cherish and enhance the ties we have across Britain and Ireland. In the modern interdependent world I feel we can do so in a formal manner whilst also enjoying the demonstrable dividends and opportunities associated with sovereignty.

            In light of this I really feel the Labour Party has to take a much more relaxed attitude towards Scottish Independence. Diversity is not a barrier to solidarity in our shrinking global community and we don’t need to be ruled from Westminster to show unity and common cause with our brothers and sisters across the rest of the UK.

  4. The union is no more immutable, set in stone, than was Scotland’s pre-1707 independence.

    The pressures (and bribery) that England was able to exert upon Scotland to attain the incorporating union would be subject to worldwide condemnation today.

    Move on Mr Cunning, tell me why Scotland would not be better off with twice the current number of MEPs and a seat at the European top table as the 28th state of the European Union?

    1. I always love it when nationalists revert to the “bought and sold for English gold” argument. Burns was a fine poet and Parcel o’ Rogues is a great song but it is hardly the pinnacle of modern historiography.

      There were many in Scotland who had argued the advantages of a political union with England from the 15th century onwards. Look at the writings of John Mair (Major) and George Buchanan if you are in any doubt.

      You may also wish to ponder why being bought and sold out for French gold, as Scotland was on occassions too numerous to mention, is celebrated as the Auld Alliance but accepting some English bawbees (it was called the Equivelant) was somehow an act of treason.

      1. Time moves on, and my comment about the origins of the 1707 union is less important than the future status of Scotland-feel free to address my comment on the betterment of Scotland by becoming the 28th state of the EU.

        1. What proof do you have that Scotland would be better off as the 28th member state of the EU?

          You talk of the pressures put upon Scotland to create the union in 1707 and how this would bring worldwide condemnation; how is that different to the pressures put on countries seeking membership to the EU or the situation in Greece now?

          Right now Scotland is part of the UK which has the joint third highest number of MEPs, do you wish for Scotland to have reduced influence with only 15/16 MEPs?

          1. I think the onus is upon you to explain why having 6 MEPs is better than having at least 12 (plus a seat at the top table).

            See my comment to John Ruddy, and try and explain to me how Scotland’s fishery interests are better off being represented by the UK?

          1. We ARE 1% of the EU NOW-you simply are not addressing the issue, which is that nations that are prepared to accept responsibility for their actions get more MEPs and a seat at the top table.

            Tell me how having greater representation at a higher level is bad for Scotland-under Labour the SNP Goverment could not even attend the Fisheries Council.

            The UK Labour government blocked Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead MSP from speaking at a Fisheries Council – despite there being no other minister from the UK present. The UK was instead represented in the important talks on eliminating discards by an unelected civil servant.

            Scotland, by the way, accounts for 70% of the UK’s fishing industry.

          2. Our argument is that it is better for Scotland to be independently represented in the EU than not to be

      2. Firstly, the idea that a medieval or early modern state was riven by conflict or in some senses disunited was, I would argue, the norm rather then the exception across Europe.

        With reference to the Treaty of Union; do you think it is appropriate for political elites to defy the people in order to gain financially?

        The Union was a pre-democratic act that was widely and vociferously protested in cities and towns across Scotland, there is no getting around it, whatever you think about the consequences, good or bad. For reference, check any recent (within the past three decades) academic text on Scottish history. See, for example, T.M. Devine, ‘The Scottish Nation 1700-2000’

        Additionally, it has been proven conclusively that due to the independence of Scottish Universities (extending into the 19th century), and the fact that a broad European exchange of idea that existed long before the Union provided the broader influences, that the Scottish Enlightenment did not depend upon the Union for its existence. It was certainly not an engagement with colonial conquest that allowed for the flowering of such influential ideas. Indeed it was also dependent upon the generalist tradition in Scottish universities and the Scottish tradition in philosophy, which were ultimately put in jeopardy by Anglicising university reforms in the late 19th century. For more on this, see the works of Colin Kidd, who is no friend to nationalism.

        I absolutely concede your point regarding commercial influence on Scottish towns and cities, but given that this was a consequence of imperialism, I would suggest that this is rather undignified ground for a Labour activist to be standing somewhat boastfully on.

        As a historian, I find your arguments very familiar, it is just a shame that they tend to echo the old cliches of pre-war Whig history. There remain many fine essentially Unionist historians, but I doubt they would have been found regurgitating these arguments anytime recently.

        1. For a more comprehensive and nuanced study of the Act of Union and the debates leading up to it I prefer Christopher Whatley’s “The Scots and the Union” published in 2006.

  5. The inter-twining of Scotland and England goes back a long way. The King of the Scots and the King of Strathclyde went to Chester to swear allegiance to King Edgar in 975. The Treaty of Eamont Bridge in 927 also pledged Scotland to Athelstan, “King of all Britain”.

    Throughout most of recorded history, the fates of the people of Britain have been intertwined and connected. Seperation would be a backward step, not a forward one. That doesnt mean the relationship between Scotland and England should be frozen, based on the Treaty of Union without amendment, but we must look to improving it for all the people of the United Kingdom.

    1. The intertwining of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark also goes back a long way. Yet they are all independent countries.

  6. So there we have it. A comprehensive statement of SNP constitutional policy:

    EU – GOOD
    UK – BAD

    12 MEPs – GOOD
    59 MPs – BAD

    Don’t expect an explanation.

    1. John -the UK is part of the EU-does Labour think that is bad?

      There are only 6 MEPs from Scotland-not 59. You know the point I am making about the Fisheries Council but you have chosen not to address it-I wonder why?

      What advantage does Scotland gain from going through an intermediary, being the Westminster Government? I cannot see it.

    2. No explanation is possible because – with respect – your argument doesn’t make sense.

      The UK and the EU are not interchangable.

      And I think if it were ever suggested that the EU should assume a comparable level of sovereignty as Westminster that would be the end of the EU – as it would mean that the member states were no longer independent.

      1. If Scotland left the UK, it would also be leaving the EU and would need to request to rejoin – a request which may or may not be agreed to. But EU law takes precedence over its member states law.

        1. EU law takes precedence over the member states in areas where the EU has exclusive competence. Those areas are quite limited.

          Let us imagine, for the sake of argument, that a new constitution for the EU was drawn up in which the EU proposed to extend its exclusive competence (i.e these matters would become reserved to the EU) in areas such as the constitution of member states, defence, foreign policy, economic monetary & fiscal policy, broadcasting, trade & industry, the welfare system, benefits, the civil service, electricity, oil & gas, immigration, telecommunications, postal services, marine & air transport, employment, equal opportunities etc.

          That would in no way be acceptable to any of the member states as it would mean the loss of their independence.

          And that is the key difference between the EU and the UK. In the EU member states agree to pool sovereignty in certain agreed areas – but they do not give up their independence.

  7. JPJ2

    What is it with this ‘seat at the top table’ nonsense. We do have a seat at the top. You’re trying to make it seem as though Scotland has no voice in the EU when that is clearly false; we have a say as part of the third largest group of MEPs.

    You say Scotland makes up 70% if the UK fisheries industry so tell me:

    Why would Scotland have a better chance of getting fisheries policy which suits us adopted in Brussels when the rest of the UK could easily out-vote us?
    We would have 2.5 times the interst in this policy area compared to the rest of the UK, however the rest of the UK would have 4 times the voting power.

    How does that leave us in a stronger position?

    1. You are looking at this the wrong way if I may say so. In most cases the interests of an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK would be similar. The UK would therefore benefit from having an additional ally in the Council of Ministers. But where our national interests did not coincide, Scotland would be free to pursue our national interests. If we take the case of fishing there is of course no guarantee that Scotland would prevail, in the context of the CFP. However all the direction of travel is towards returning fishing to national control.

      1. If the interests of the rest of the Uk and Scotland would be similar (ie they would both be voting the same way) – why do you need to seperate to get your say?

        1. Because of the times when the UK’s interests and Scotland’s interests were not the same.

          So we get the best of both worlds you see.

          1. Except as a smaller state your views would get overridden. Qualified majority voting, you see.

          2. Hi John

            “Except as a smaller state your views would get overridden”

            Not if Scotland is able to conglomerate with other member states with shared opinions.

          3. You mean in some kind of union – perhaps backing their views in return for them backing yours. Maybe you could make it more formal – especially if it was a country with which Scotland had long social ties with – perhaps even countries with which it shared a language?

          4. Hi John!

            I believe Scotland should stand shoulder to shoulder in unity with every nation, not just those with which we share a common language.

            You make an interesting and cogent point on making these ties more formal. There are many people who believe in a federal or confederal Europe. Could this act as a blueprint for wider global co-operation?

    2. You don’t understand the fishing issue at all.

      Even I would not expect the UK to be against the Scottish attitude to fishing-it is simply that they have more pressing priorities from a UK perspective-that is why Heath did such a duff deal on the fishing industry in the first place.

      It is blindingly simply. If rump-uk and Scotland are separate entities then there are 2 votes in favour of a policy instead of one. If Scotland has different priorities from the UK, being part of the UK would not help Scotland.

      As a separate entity, Scotland can seek other allies on various maters among the other 26 states-It cannot do that now!

      1. I’m using it as an example of Scotland having a greater interest in an issue than rUK. It can be applied to any other industry where we have a greater interest.

        Why should we go up against rUK where the rUK will lobby for their own interests, and be outnumbered by them in a huge way, when we can work as partners now. Right now we can make our case for agreeing/disagreeing with a policy which would affect us in a different way to the rUK through the UK. This gives us the backing of 76 MEPs, potentially, not 15.
        We would simply marginalise ourselves by leaving the UK.

        1. But we can work as partners with the UK, where our interests coincide, as an independent country – and as an independent country we would have an extra vote at the Council of Ministers. That is where it really counts – having 6 out of 76 MEPs gives us nothing as MEPs sit and vote in party groupings, not national groupings.

  8. Why does this short panegyric to the British Empire, which includes praise of the forced trade in sugar and tobacco, consisting of outright slavery at one end of the shipping lines and tacit slavery at the other, all for the benfit of rich merchants and “their endeavour”, include the haunting words “As a socialist…”?

    ‘Beggar thy neighbour’ is bad, right enough, but the Empire and it’s attendant slavery was great?

    “…these communities would never have…enjoyed the enormous profits which once flowed into the pockets of the rich merchants whose houses still stand, however jaded, as testament to their endeavour.”

    Those communities never did enjoy the enormous profits of such trade, and still don’t. The rich merchants did then, and still do. Cutting cane under the lash in Haiti or the West Indies, or unloading sugar and tobacco at Clydeside docks, would not have been ‘aspirational’ positions, even when the alternative was starvation and the workhouse. Trickle-down economics don’t work.

    The imperial system hasn’t changed as much as some would like to pretend, but by God socialists have!

  9. Malcolm chides certain posters for displaying what he terms ” the bought an sold for Enlish Gold argument” yet blows his own arguement by pursuing the hackneyed and highly dubious unionist line that “Scotland only began to flourish under the Union” and by extension the tired old “too, small ,too poor, too weak ” routine that unionists of all parties use as their central plank of argument .

    Only in Scoltand will you find such unqiestioning and vehment support for a dwindling union .In England it it barely merits recognition let alone discussion ansd usually ends up with England replacing UK/Britain epithets and shows what a one sided, Anglocentric affair it has been for then start .

    The union’s time has come and gone and its time to grow up, start taking responsbility for our own successes and indeed mistakes and move on .

    1. There probably is an argument that Scotland only began to flourish under the Union. But that was surely because it gave Scotland access to markets and trading opportunities that would not have been possible without the Union. So it was probably a good pragmatic decision at that time.

      But the world is a very different place now. We have to decide whether it is in our best interests to interact with the modern world and to manage our economy as part of the UK or as an independent actor. And we need to look at that in a pragmatic way not in a romantic way.

      This is one of the paradoxes of the independence debate. I know that many Labour activists like to imagine the SNP as foolish people who have watched Braveheart too many times and got carried away with themselves. But that is just wishful thinking on their part and reveals their unwillingness to actually engage with the arguments about what independence in the 21st century actually means – and why they are against it.

    2. Dod, have you actually read my piece? I have never and would never postulate that Scotland was too small or too weak to be an independent state. There is nothing whatsoever preventing Scotland being independent save the good sense of the Scottish people.

      1. Malcolm,
        You questioned independence, therefore by definition you were saying Scotland is too small and too weak to be independent. I think thats their equivalent to Clause IV or something. Unless you agree with them you are “doing Scotland down”.

    3. BBC survey tonight gives the lie. 48% in England against independence for Scotland. 36% in favour…much the same is in Scotland, a small minority in favour, a majority (more or less) against…

      20% think in England would be better off if Scotland was independent.

  10. Malcolm, going by May the 5th landslide election result and ensuing positive opinion polls on Scotland’s constitutional arrangements perhaps the Scottish people are indeed now showing good sense ?.

  11. can anyone tell me why the people of England are so glad to be pumping all their spare cash to us subsidy junkies in Scotland. Something just doesn’t make sense in that, If i was English I would be absolutley raging about that. Well wouldn’t you.

  12. Alex, before anyone else says it, can I strongly suggest that Engalnd is not “pumping all their spare cash” into Scotland and describing your fellow citizens as “subsidy junkies” hardly advances the debate.

  13. “The Union made Scotland”, I have read some nonsense in my time, but this takes the biscuit

  14. Another Labourite that does not “get” reality. It is the economy stupid. The economy is number one on every list of of voters concern I have seen.

    The historic nonsense is just that. Should Finland rejoin its corrupt Mafia state neighbour Russia because of its shared history and geography? Are the statues of Tsar Alexander in Helsinki evidence of “unashamed unionism”? This article is quite the most disgraceful stupidity I have ever seen. Comforting no doubt to a section of Labour but if this road is followed the union with England is already lost.

  15. “If Indy is right and the SNP have moved on from the 70′s, can he perhaps explain Joan McAlpine MSP stating on Newsnight that “one of the first acts of the British Government was to carry out a pogrom in the Scottish Highlands.”

    This is typical. Joan McAlpine made those comments in response to the suggestion by Michael Portillo that historically “Britishness” equates with ‘anti-fanaticism’ – a record of standing up against tyranny and fascism.

    Joan was only allowed to get a couple of words out before Paxman cut her off – I am sure that she would have developed her theme, had she been allowed to, to point out that the benevolent British Empire was not actually that benevolent and was an instrument of tyranny as much as an opponent of tyranny.

    For example, as you wandered about Port Glasgow and Greenock waxing lyrical about the tobacco and sugar trade that brought such riches to Scotland did it really never occur to you to even think about the slaves who worked in the plantations? Or does that inconvenient fact not fit in to your golden vision?

    And since you are so interested in history I am surprised that you have never read about the Highland Clearances, which was a systematic and planned programme of forced displacement.

    But the underlying point is that Joan did not choose to present the case for independence from a historical viewpoint. She was responding to a romantic historical argument made by Michael Portillo in favour of some vague and incohate notion of “Britishness”. Much like your own argument in fact.

    1. “the Highland Clearances, which was a systematic and planned programme of forced displacement.”

      Indeed they were. But not carried out by Englishmen, or at the behest of the English. They were carried out by people who were, by modern definition, Scottish. They may not have seen themselves that way, but it wasnt anything done by the British Government, or the British state.

      1. I am sorry but the British Government was responsible.

        There was no Scottish Government left.

        1. In what way were the British Government responsible for landlords evicting tenants? because the law allowed it? that would be the scottish law which was allowed to continue unchanged under the act of union which allowed it?

          1. Are you suggesting that there was no political direction given as regards the Highland Clearances? I have never heard that argument made. I am sure that even Malcolm would acknowledge that the political directions given by the British Government after Culloden were quite clear.

          2. I am sorry Indy but I am not sure that I would acknowledge a British Government political direction of the Highland Clearances. Only if you conflate the suppression of the rebel clans in the immediate aftermath of the ’45 and the Clearances – which only reached their height a century later – might that be argued. The clearances, hovever, were a separate phenomenon and the Government did, in a rather weak and ineffective way, actually express concern at the level of depopulation and make some attempts to attract “manufactory” to the Highland areas.

          3. Indy,
            Perhaps you could give examples of this political direction in the highland clearances?

  16. The problem, Indy, is that I have read reasonably extensively on the history of the Highland Clearances. The extremes of the debate are perhaps John Prebble, though even he did not go as far as Joan McAlpine, and Michael Fry. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between but even your contention that they were “a systematic and planned programme of forced displacement” is either a gross overstatement or a meaningless simplification.

    On the other hand, it is almost impossible to overstate the barbarity, cruelty and inhumanity of slavery or Britain’s role in exploiting slave labour on an industrial scale. However, Britain did not invent slavery and was one of the first nations to outlaw both the keeping of slaves and the trade in slave labour.

    In the West Indies, a disproportionate number of the slave owners and supervisors were Scots; the greatest Abolitionist, Wilberforce, was English. Should we rush to some simplistic conclusion? No.

    1. How does your mind work? Do you imagine that because you say a disproportionate number of slave owners and supervisors were Scots I am going to start defending them? Of course not. You raised the issue of the sugar and tobacco trade. Let’s acknowledge that it was based on slavery. That is part of the picture and part of the history of Britain.

      Let’s add to the picture. Let’s look at the United States where a disproportionate number of settlers were Scots and Irish – have you ever read “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee”? It is quite striking, and it shows us where many of the disposessed ended up and what they were responsible for.

      So now we have a somewhat more balanced view of British history – of the benefits which the Union enabled Scots to share in.

      And my question would be so what? What exact relevance does that have to the current debate?

      1. And after Britain got rid of slavery, we re-introduced it by the backdoor with indentured labour – usually Indians – and operated a bonded labour system until around the end of World War One.

  17. Alex McIntyre asks “can anyone tell me why the people of England are so glad to be pumping all their spare cash to us subsidy junkies in Scotland ?”

    Well, well, looks like labour in Scotland are still peddling the same old tired and thorougly discredited “too small,too weak, too stupid” argument again and again ..just can’t help knocking Scotland down at everty turn can they ?.

    Despite Malcolm’s welcome protestations Labour in Scotland’s entrenched self loathing and visionless future post May the 5th is sadly still evident .

  18. Indy,
    Malcolm has raised a current example of the appeal to the past. Could you address that?

    I have already addressed that. The point was made in response to the suggestion that the defining quality of “Britshness” was anti-fanaticism and opposition to tyranny. That is one aspect of British history – but British history also has its fair share of fanatacism and tyranny as with the example I gave. The sugar and tobacco trades referred to by Malcolm were dependent on slavery. Many hundreds of thousands of Africans were transported on board British ships to work on British-owned plantations making profits for British merchants.

    “I mentioned the “parcel of rogues” stuff: the case that somehow the act of union is not legitimate is central to Nationalist belief that somehow Scotland has been duped and cheated into the union with England. Could you address that?

    Of course the Act of Union was not “legitimate” by any modern standards, it was completely undemocratic and opposed by the majority of the Scottish people. But it was 1707, neither Scotland nor England were democracies and those in power did not care about what ordinary people thought or felt. That was the way things were then, there is nothing whatsoever we can do about it and I don’t know a single SNP member who would waste their time worrying about the legitimacy of what happened in 1707. We are more interested in what is happening now.

    Nationalist leaders might want to airbrush all that stuff out of their own history, and how they use it to create a sense of grievance and recruit the impressionable to their anti-Englih crusade, but it’s there, it’s undeniable. Could you address that?

    I will try to address is when I have stopped laughing. Are you mates with Iain Davidson by any chance? I think you and he are the only people in Scotland who believe that the SNP are on an anti-English Crusade. One day I hope that the penny will drop with you and you will realise that Scottish independence has nothing to do with how you feel about England but is to do with how you feel about Scotland.

    And could you explain how you hope to convince people that the future will somehow be “better” without reference to the past?

    We hope to persuade people that Scotland can be more successful and prosperous as an independent nation because independence would give us the powers to manage our economy and compete with other countries more effectively as well as ensuring that we can protect public services that people care about like the NHS. It is not a difficult argument to understand. Most countries are independent because they find that to be the most efficient form of government.

    1. “I don’t know a single SNP member who would waste their time worrying about the legitimacy of what happened in 1707.”

      Then why do so many of these internet based discussions with nationalists come back to the act of union?

      1. They come back to the Union John. They come back to the argument that an Act passed in 1707 – when the world and Scotland’s place in it was completely different – should not be binding on us now. Instead we should negotiate a new constitutional arrangement which allows Scotland to continue to work in partnership with the UK where that is to our mutual advantage but which restores Scotland’s independence and our ability to pursue a different direction to the UK where that is in our national interest.

        1. In other words, they come back to the act of union – and effectively to renegotiate it. I dont have a problem with it, but it IS about looking to the past and saying what went wrong. If I had a fiver for every discussion I’ve seen where the nationalist argument ends up using either “sold for english gold” or “riots on the streets”.

          Perhaps we should have a Burns’ Law, to match Godwin’s Law. The first person in a discussion to mention the act of union of 1707 looses the argument.

  19. @Indy “We hope to persuade people that Scotland can be more successful and prosperous as an independent nation because independence would give us the powers to manage our economy and compete with other countries more effectively as well as ensuring that we can protect public services that people care about like the NHS. ”

    So it’s all about the economy? Funny that…..

    “It is not a difficult argument to understand.”

    You might not think it’s a difficult argument to understand, but it is if you fail to make it. Can you make it…?

    1. It is not all about the economy but the economy is obviously important. And the argument makes itself frankly. After all even you will surely acknowledge that devolution has made a big improvement to the way Scotland is governed. Independence is just the next step.

      1. @Indy “We hope to persuade people that Scotland can be more successful and prosperous as an independent nation because independence would give us the powers to manage our economy and compete with other countries more effectively as well as ensuring that we can protect public services that people care about like the NHS. ”

        @Indy “It is not all about the economy but the economy is obviously important.”

        So you duck the economy question…quite right from your POV, it’s a bigger loser for Nationalists..

        What else do you hope to persuade the people of, then, and can you make the argument for that….?

      2. If you felt that Independence was so good why didn’t the SNP have that as their main policy platform during the Holyrood elections? didn’t hear it mentioned much.

        1. That’s a daft point. How times did Labour mention the Union during the campaign? Not much as I recall.

          1. In politics you always argue what you stand for…what do you stand for if not for independence? So why the silence, were you scared to frighten the voters?

      3. Interesting that you should say the devolution has been a great improvement.. the SNP opposed it, of course.

        Sorry to talk about the past 🙂

      4. Indy, you simply cannot get off with suggesting that “the argument makes itself” or that independence is “just the next step”.

        You are proposing the break up of perhaps the most successful political union in recorded history and offering what? A blind leap into an uncertain future of wholly unmeasurable benefit.

        The onus is on you to prove that the Union has failed Scotland and describe a more certain future after seperation other than bold assetions that it will be self evidently better.

        1. No the onus is not on me to prove that the Union has failed Scotland. The onus is in on the SNP to persuade people that it is time to move on from the current constitutional arrangements which are no longer appropriate for the 21st century.

          You are quite correct to say that the future is uncertain and the benefits of independence are not mesaurable in any precise way. But exactly the same is true if we remain in the Union. We do not know what the future holds for Scotland as part of the UK nor do we know what benefits Scotland will gain from continuing to remain in the Union.

          What we do know – and I am sure that everyone on Labour Hame will agree with this – is that it is a damn good thing that the Scottish Parliament and not Westminster controls devolved issues like health, education and law and order. Otherwise our NHS would be facing the prospect of being systematically dismantled, our comoprehensive education system would be destroyed and we would be seeing hundreds of police officers being made redundant and taken off the streets.

          But becasue these matters are devolved – because we have the ability to go our own way and the freedom to take our own decisions – that will not happen here.

          Which begs the question why, if you think it is right for Scotland to have separate and distinct policy making powers in devolved areas, do you think it would be so wrong for Scotland to be able to control reserved areas too?

          Why is it right that we can take our own decisions on health but not on pensions? What makes it sensible for us to decide our own priorities when it comes to policing but not when it comes to defence? That’s a question no-one has ever been able to answer.

          1. I find your interpretation of events quite interesting. I recall when the Scottish Constitutional Convention was around the SNP did not want involved as people understood the necessity for Scotland to have it’s own version of home rule which has now been achieved under Labour. I also remember the days of Common Cause and attending meetings in Edinburgh to further the case for Scottish devolution not Independence this was a cross party organisation in the 90’s. It reflected the feelings of Scots throughout the country apart from the desire of the SNP to break away. I have absolutely no doubt that many Scots still feel that way today. Independence has been tucked away in the background by the SNP because it is not only a vote loser but manifestly unpopular for many people. Arguing about reserved matters and then talking about a failed union is only in the minds of the people who ideologically were always opposed to it in the first.

  20. John wrote “Except as a smaller state your views would get overridden. Qualified majority voting, you see.”

    But the moment Scotland’s views are not represented independently AT ALL. We are represented as part of the UK and, naturally, the UK’s interests take priority. There is nothing wrong with that incidentally. As a unitary state the UK Government should represent the interests of the whole UK rather than the interests of one constituent part of it. But the outcome of that is that Scotland, as a country, has no voice in the EU.

  21. Raymond Boyle said “In politics you always argue what you stand for…what do you stand for if not for independence? So why the silence, were you scared to frighten the voters?”

    More daftness. Find me a single voter who does not know that the SNP stands for independence for goodness sake.

      1. It was mentioned. Again. find me a single voter who was unaware that a re-elected SNP Government was committed to holding a referendum on independence. Just one single voter will do.

        1. Quite a few in Inverclyde who were alarmed at the prospect of supporting the SNP again after May when they realised what was going on afterwards.

  22. Raymond I fiond your comments quite interesting as well. You say that Scotland has its own version of home rule which has now been achieved under Labour. That implies that this is it. The devolved settlement is set in stone. But that is not the case – what was Calman about?

    There have been discussions on this very forum about changing the devolution settlement to the extent of full financial independence for Scotland with Scotland paying a fee to Westminster for shared services like defence and the DVLA. Don’t you realise how very close that is to independence? That would be like Scotland being 90 per cent independent. It suggests that there are certainly some Labour members out there who agree with the SNP that Scotland should run its own economy and be responsible for things like benefits and pensions. So you can’t argue that what Labour has delivered is final. It’s not.

    1. You seem to be missing the main point in regard to what devolution actually means. You want seperation, the majority don’t and have had a long time to understand the benefits that belonging to a larger political body means both in terms of international presence as well as influence.

      On the 29th of June this year the Spanish Constitutional Court declared that the overriding imperative was the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation” and removed any right of the Catalan autonomous parliament to carry out any referendums in the future as these are basically unconstitutional. A similar situation took place in Canada in 1998 and finally settled the arguments, but most importantly stabilised the economy and allowed the people to get on with their lives after years of constitutional uncertainty.

      It will be interesting to see what happens here.

      1. But the majority of Scots DO want Scotland to be separate to the rest of the UK when it comes to things like the health service, policing and so on.

        YOU want Scotland to be separate when it comes to those things – or your party does anyway.

        And it is interesting that you frame the benefits of being part of the UK in terms of being part of a big country which has international presence as well as influence rather than in terms of the benefits of having Westminster manage our economy, our pensions, our welfare system.

        Do you really think that Britain’s international influence is all that important to voters? Don’t you think that they care about the bread and butter issues like the economy, health, education etc rather more than they care about the UK having a seat on the UN Security Council ?

        See I think most voters look at politics largely in terms of how it affects themselves, their families, their community. They don’t particularly care about political history nor do they particularly care about Britain having a big voice in the world – if anything they would probably prefer that the British Government pulled back from international adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan because most people regard them as largely futile.

  23. It seems that you have a rather different take on things than most people. This has obviously more to do with the narrow focus that comes with being a nationalist. It is a pity because you make some good points that get lost in the rhetoric.I think that we will agree to disagree and await the outcome of future political decisions.

    1. I’m sure the arguments between nationalists and unionists will continue going round and round in circles until the issue is finally resolved – for at least a generation – by a referendum. The more I read what unionists have to say, the less I am convinced that they will win the argument and the more I’m convinced that Scotland will be independent.

      It’s very noticable that the points that Labour and other unionists are making today are the very same ones that people like Donald Findlay, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth were making in the 1990s before Scotland decided to vote for its own parliament. In the next few years, like back then I’m hoping that it’s those who are optimistic and have confidence in Scotland who will win, not those who try to put fear and doubt into our minds, those who question our abilities to govern ourselves properly, or those who even seek to deny our very existence as a nation.

      1. I agree the arguments will always be there and always have been. The point that is made about questioning Scotland’s ability to govern itself is not what is being said, that is your interpretation of anyone who opposes the nationalist argument for independence. Scots have always contributed to the UK government in terms of representation and have had a major role to play in government.They are more than capable of running any country and have done so before and will again in the future as part of a United Kingdom.

  24. First of all to say a very good post Malcolm. Strangely, I hadn’t considered the benefits that the Union had brought to areas such as Inverclyde. I’ve only been thinking about the Union in more recent times and I suppose I should be thinking of it from its beginning in 1707. I’d say your post reflects what I hope the argument from the pro-union side will be based on – positive, factual argument. The SNP seem to think they have a monopoly on positive thinking and when anyone dares question their views then “you’re just being negative about Scotland”. Of course, as with anything, I can’t say that the Union has been positive 100% of the time. However, I do firmly believe that there are many more positives than negatives.

    This debate with clear advantages to the Union is what we are needing to counter the view that you can only defend the Union by being negative about independence.

  25. Dod says:
    July 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Alex McIntyre asks “can anyone tell me why the people of England are so glad to be pumping all their spare cash to us subsidy junkies in Scotland ?”

    Well, well, looks like labour in Scotland are still peddling the same old tired and thorougly discredited “too small,too weak, too stupid” argument again and again ..just can’t help knocking Scotland down at everty turn can they ?.

    Despite Malcolm’s welcome protestations Labour in Scotland’s entrenched self loathing and visionless future post May the 5th is sadly still evident .

    A healthy dose of sarcasm Dod come on how stupid would i be to believe any of what i have written

  26. Looking at these blogs, Labour seems to be no longer about Labour but about the Union, why has this taken first place in our agenda? What is it we fear so much about the support for independence. If we look at a graph of support for Scottish independence, over recent decades, then it looks like its coming anyway, and its just a matter of time.
    I think this is a very Niaeve bit of writing, to try and persuade people to support the union through a basic history lesson, which ever way you present it, the fact remains that there is one common factor among the Scots, and that dates back to the Picts.
    So lets see more about Labour and what they will do for the people of Scotland and not about protecting Scottish westminster jobs.

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