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.




  1. Shoodybong Says:

    Great thought provoking piece on my birthday as weel! Thank you.

    I do agree that should the country want independence it will indeed take it but today in my life, maybe half yours IH, I see no benefit from independence now unless it is to lick our wounds at being disgracefully unassertive about Scotland’s fair share of this union. We have allowed politicians to represent us as second class citizens when in my view nothing says we cannot make all this island a beneficiary of our beliefs and ideals.

    Few managed to carry that off and in your view of the third of the Union you have lived under, I say that it cannot be seen in just that light - you must take the long view, the view without the recent advantages that oil revenue could give us or the EU for that matter.

    I see no harm in a Union where we work to lead and be equal - but we do not, we sulk in our victim status and demand freedom. A freedom that we want on easy terms, terms that bind us to the Union and make us more like a colony than a partner.

    At the moment, I am living in the North West of England….at the moment of course. I cannot say if I will get back to Scotland to work anytime soon but in the meantime I am left stranded from this debate in that as a Scot of 10s of generations, I cannot vote in my country’s destiny whilst an Englishman perhaps, who has come to live in Scotland can.

    I find that social democratic deficit risible and really, it highlight the lunacy in this that is as your Charles Stewart Parnell quote suggests no man has the right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation…the people I work with in the North West of England are fine people…as good as any dozen Scots you may pick from the pavements of Edinburgh. They are as disenfranchised by the sub-nation that is London as we Scots, Welsh, Irish are. They were subject to the same injustice brought about by the establishment taking us to war, taking advantage of our labour (given willingly mostly) and our natural resources.

    Why does the notion of Scotland have to end at the Sark or the Tweed?

  2. allymax bruce Says:

    Ian, you said, “Yet independence or union is not a matter of what we will give and what we will get. … The greatest asset is the people themselves.”

    I’ve come back to the one great writer who, more than anyone, can epitomise the nature of Scots’; wha’s like us.

    You were on my mind tonight, Ian, don’t know why, but there you were!

  3. J.D. Douglass Says:

    Sir, you are a rascal. I just saw the 2008 movie last night, the one telling the story of how you and your braw band of marauders stole the Stone of Scone. As the last of the credits rolled by, I saw that you snuck in and played an “English businessman.”

    One discovery led to another, and I learned that you went on to become a lawyer, and that you currently write a blog, very impressive seeing as how you were born in 1925. The theme I see is your role as trouble-maker, and I agree that for the health and progress of a nation, it has to have trouble-makers.

    One of my favorite trouble-makers was David Malcolm, a former University of St Andrews biologist, golf historian and R&A member, who stirred up trouble with a gleam in his eye. (Sadly, he passed away this year.) I met him when I studied Scottish History at St Andrews 2006-2007, after first meeting Dr David Hamilton, a surgeon and golf historian.

    I suppose I think of Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, as Scotland’s greatest and most infamous trouble-maker, if outsiders are considered. Other outsiders that were nettlers of Scotland that come to mind are: Capt Waggett (the English commander of the Home Guard) in “Whisky Galore” — the book was also very good; Angela Barrows (the American management consultant) in “Battle of the Sexes”; and Mr Happer (the American oil tycoon) in “Local Hero”. This is a very narrow list, compiled only from films about Scotland.

    A more interesting and serious list would be of Scotland’s own trouble-makers, and maybe we could talk about them next time.

    all the best,
    J.D. Douglass

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