To satisfy its aspirations, Scotland needs independence
- Paul Henderson Scott has written numerous books on Scottish history, literature and affairs, including ‘A 20th Century Life’ and its sequel, ‘The New Scotland’. He has been Rector of Dundee University, President of the Saltire Society and of Scottish PEN and a Vice-President of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The opinions expressed are his own -
My most recent book of essays had the title, ‘The Age of Liberation’, because many of them considered the transformation of the world by the recent dissolution of all the empires and most of the multi-national states into their component parts. So far Scotland has been left behind.
This is surprising since Scotland is one of the oldest nations of Europe with a strong cultural and intellectual identity. We have made a remarkable contribution to the world. The American historian, Arthur Herman, in his book, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment’, said: ”As the first modern nation and culture, the Scots have by and large made the world a better place.”
In 1707 England achieved, what it had failed to do in 300 years of military invasion, the suppression of Scottish independence. Even so, this left intact the Scottish church and the legal and educational systems which for centuries had more influence on intellectual and cultural attitudes than any parliament. This meant that Scotland continued to be a distinctive country, in spite of British involvement.
There have been moves towards the recovery of Scottish independence for about two centuries and they took a decisive step forwards with the restoration of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, although with many powers still “reserved” to Westminster. The Labour Government took this step in response to years of campaigning in Scotland and in the hope that it would satisfy Scottish aspirations.
One of their former ministers famously said at the time that it would kill the SNP’s demand for independence “stone dead”. It has, of course, had the opposite effect. The SNP emerged as the party with most votes in the 2007 Scottish election. Since then the SNP government, with Alex Salmond as First Minister, have established a clear lead in Scottish opinion by their abilities and their concern for Scottish interests.
Recent opinion polls have given a confusing impression of current Scottish attitudes. They suggest that a majority are in favour of the SNP’s proposal of a referendum on independence and for the Scottish Parliament to have control of all aspects of policy except foreign affairs and defence. This last point is unlikely to survive the detailed debate which will precede a referendum because it is precisely British control of these two functions which has inflicted serious damage on Scotland.
They have deprived Scotland of the proceeds of the oil in Scottish waters, imposed nuclear submarines on the Clyde, and a share in their huge cost, and involved us in the disaster of the Iraq war. The majority of Scots are opposed to all of these. Westminster control of foreign policy has also deprived us of our own membership of the European Union and of other international organisations.
Another recent event is a powerful additional reason for Scottish independence. The myths surrounding the Westminster Parliament have been exploded by the scandalous revelations of the abuse of the allowances by MPs. This has drawn attention to the absurdities and undemocratic structure of the whole system. A Prime Minister elected by a majority of seats, not of votes (or even, like Gordon Brown, not elected as such at all) becomes a virtual dictator as long as he keeps control of his own party.
There is an unelected second chamber and much medieval play acting like the state opening. The Scottish Parliament in the ten years since it was restored has avoided all the imperfections of Westminster and made itself much more accessible to the public.
There is therefore no case for the continued subjection of Scotland to the Westminster Parliament in which the Scottish members are out-numbered ten to one. Scottish independence will have the additional advantage of improving relations between Scotland and England by removing many of the current problems in our relationship on both sides. Most of the newly independent countries in Europe are smaller than Scotland. None have any desire to return to their previous subjection to external control.