This piece first appeared in The Scottish Review
The union was only about 200 years old when I was born, so I have lived through nearly a third of its existence. I can speak with experience of its rule. If there is anyone who thinks Scotland was well served by the union let them read the history of the 20th century. That will change their mind.
Mind you, we might not have been much better on our own. Try to think of any 20th-century Scottish politician and you will be pushed to name more than one. It took devolution to produce the best front bench in Europe. Even in the mid-century, when we first suggested a mild form of devolution, they told us we weren’t fit to govern ourselves. We looked around us and agreed. We weren’t.
But later in the century when we began to get a little self confidence the unfitness line didn’t fit. So they told us Scotland was too poor and too small for self government. That was a lie. We now know that with our oil we would be the sixth richest country in the world. Not that that matters. It’s not the wealth of a country that matters: it’s how the wealth is divided. In this we do better than the English. We have kept the welfare state; the only good thing to come from the union in the whole of last century. If we don’t vote ‘Yes’ we will lose that. Labour has promised to take it away.
Yet independence or union is not a matter of what we will give and what we will get. It is less substantive and more important than that. The greatest asset of any people is not oil or pushing money around or whatever makes up a country’s gross national product. The greatest asset is the people themselves. So long as our people adhere to our long habit of gazing across the border to see what we will get then we have no right to expect anything except a deep-fried Mars Bar because that’s what they think we eat. A people who depend on another people to rule them is not fit to rule itself. It is like a person not quite all there, who must be in curatory, both financially and physically. So long as we remain in tutelage we are not fully responsible for what we do.
How futile it was to say ‘Not in my name, Mr Blair!’. What was done was done in our name because we did not rise in revolt to stop it. Trident has existed since before my grandchildren were babies because we have only protested. We haven’t rebelled as we should have done. Do not ask for whom the rockets are for. They are there for us.
Against that background they give us a referendum. But what happens if we vote No? One generation will vote and then it will be No forever. People do not change their lifetime habits in one vote. We change our government every four years and it took us nearly 20 elections to get rid of the Conservative Party, but not of the Conservatives. All we have done is deprive them of a voice in the body politic and the same is likely to happen to Labour. I am far from sure that this is for the greater good. I dislike a one-party state.
Why then do we have one vote for the future of the union? Are they afraid that if we vote No we might change our mind, as we often change our mind about the government we want?
There is no value in one vote. It cannot bind the future. Even a Yes vote does not preclude a re-union, although no country that escaped from Westminster ever wanted to return.
I conclude with two quotations:
‘I believe in freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent.’ (Edmund Burke) Since John Smith’s time that is what has been happening in Scotland.
Here is the other:
‘No man has the right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country…thus far shalt thou go and no further.’ (Charles Stewart Parnell)
Neither has a referendum any such right. When we want independence it will be so inevitable that we will take it. The No in the referendum is hokum.