The Disunited Kingdom

May 10, 2010

- 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. The opinions expressed are his own -

BRITAIN SCOTLANDThe recent election has revealed more clearly than before the profound divide between Scottish and English opinion. The Conservatives have 297 seats in England but only one in Scotland (plus eight in Wales). As Joyce McMillan said in The Scotsman, “Our pattern of voting increasingly marks us out as a nation apart”.

Both of the two major Scottish papers had headlines like: “The Disunited Kingdom”. Much of the English press, or at least their Scottish editions, drew the same conclusion. “The Daily Mail” said that Britain is now “a nation of two tribes”. Magnus Linklater in “The Times” said that, “England and Scotland may share a boundary, but this weekend there is little common ground between them”.

If the Conservatives form the next British Government they have no moral right to legislate for Scotland where they have only one parliamentary seat.

One might well ask how could there be such a wide divergence between two countries which have been in a Union under the same government for 300 years? Before the Union of 1707 Scotland and England had profoundly different histories. For centuries they had very little contact except across a battlefield.

Scotland was very much part of the rest of Europe, allied to France and in close contact with many other countries in trade and cultural exchange. It evolved a distinctive and rich cultural and intellectual tradition. Even after 1707 Scotland retained control over its own education system, the law, the church and local government which had much more influence on national character and opinion than the distant Parliament in London.

In the 19th century the British Empire reconciled many Scots to the Union because of its consequences for the Scottish economy and the opportunities which it gave for administrative employment in its territories. Most of the steam ships and the locomotives for the whole empire were built in Scotland.

This is now the distant past. The countries of the Empire are now independent. Scotland has so far moved only partially to independence with the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, but with very limited powers, in 1997. Most of the other submerged nations in Europe have now achieved independence. Is it not time for Scotland to do the same and become a friendly neighbour to England instead of a parliamentary problem?

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