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Can the UK survive until 2012?

Another by-election, another Labour humiliation- so far, so unsurprising.

That this time it was the SNP, rather than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats delivering the shock may seem of only passing significance. After all, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the SNP were riding high, winning the Hamilton by-election in 1967 before gaining 11 MPs in the October 1974 election. Yet in the end the Scotland Act of 1979 was defeated and the SNP fell back to only two seats in the subsequent 1979 general election.

However, my fears for the very future of my country are growing.

In 1979, the Conservatives held 22 seats. Now they hold only one. Instead of voters abandoning the party of government for the party of opposition, the Scottish voters are choosing the party of opposition to the Union.

Even in their wildest dreams, the Scottish Conservatives can not hope to gain more than a handful of Westminster seats, even if their English and Welsh counterparts make dramatic gains. A future Prime Minister Cameron would have to face the fact that his mandate from Scotland would be weak at best. In addition he would be facing, in Alex Salmond, a wily and determined enemy of the British United Kingdom. The visceral loathing of the Conservative Party in Scotland is deeply entrenched. The Thatcher government was seen as a colonial master imposing deeply hated policies on an unwilling nation, and not -as in middle England- the author of necessary reforms. Salmond- naturally- will play on this for all that he is worth.

The next two years are clearly going to be very difficult economically for the whole of the United Kingdom. The weak public sector finances require dramatic cuts and a far more proactive from the Central Bank, yet the electoral cycle is highly unfavourable for the radical- even emergency- action that is necessary. Whoever takes office after the next general election will be looking at an economy with serious macro-economic imbalances and a poor quality domestic labour force.

This is a very bad time for a constitutional crisis- for that is what we are likely to face. With oil at over $120/bbl the interests of Scotland, as an oil producer and the rest of the UK as an oil consumer have certainly diverged- as Salmond never tires of telling us. The fact is that that over the next few years the UK faces a perfect storm: a conjunction of financial weakness, economic imbalance and electoral mathematics that will lead to serious constitutional implications.

Yet the problem I have is that no-one is making the positive case for maintaining the 300 year Union. The absurd scare stories do not alter the fundamental fact: of course it is perfectly possible for Scotland to be a viable independent state. The question is whether that is desirable let alone necessary, both to the Scottish people and indeed for the wider interests of the whole of the UK.

In my view, it is not only undesirable, it is a potential disaster for the security of the peoples of the current Kingdom, leaving two smaller states far weaker than their collective strength. In the face of the challenges of Russia and China, the UK -despite the looming economic crisis- is a far more viable entity than the separate states. Economically our collective credit rating will fall, and the influence we have together will have gone. Scotland would have the economic influence of Denmark and England about that of Spain- as opposed to a collective footprint today that is nearly equal to Germany and which can certainly contend with India and China.

All this assumes, of course, that any split would be reasonably amicable. But suppose it was not? One does not have to predict Yugoslav levels of violence to see outcomes that could be very disruptive. There may be considerable resentment in the rest of the UK. Scots may face problems in England or Wales, English people already complain of insults and discrimination in Scotland. Instead of the velvet divorce like that of the Czechs and Slovaks which the Nationalists forsee, there could be a bickering and poisonous divorce- as most divorces are- with legal and financial disputes that last for years after separation. I could easily see the entrance of any newly minted proudly Scottish Olympic team to the London Arena being marked not by cheers but with a hail of abuse and catcalls. Alex Salmond presumes much on English, Welsh and Northern Irish goodwill.

Yet the election that must take place before May 2010 is now a point of maximum danger. Any result where the SNP match at Westminster their previous result at Holyrood while the Conservatives gain a landslide in the rest of the UK has the potential for a constitutional crisis that could see the end of the United Kingdom.

The 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom could be the last, but if David Cameron does not wish to be the last Prime Minister of the UK, he must answer the legitimate aspirations of the different parts of the Kingdom, without turning Westminster into an English Parliament- for that way lies the certain break up of our country.

I can only hope that we can see sense in time:

"Let the love of our land's sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed"

Dick Gaughan


Anonymous said…

There is danger but only if all on the Union side play things badly. You still understrimate the Union. It is surely stronger than Quebec-Canada which has bounced back. The Tories will I think recover to 5-8 seats in Scotland and will do even better in Wales I promise you. Much in Scotland hinges on the Lib Dems profiting from Labour's woes as the SNP and Tories will and if an opponent to Salmond emerges. You have 2 local worthies but why oh why you have not dragooned Kennedy I cannot understand. There is nothing at Westminster for him now, he can still play a role in History by cementing the Union and going toe to toe with Salmond. Who will make him see that he is the UK's Jean Charest.

Wyrdtimes said…
"Can the UK survive until 2012?"

It can survive a lot longer than that but why prolong the suffering? The union is a terminal case.

Why not embrace the inevitable? You're English aren't you?

Home rule for England.
Cicero said…
No I am not English.
Anonymous said…
"if David Cameron does not wish to be the last Prime Minister of the UK, he must answer the legitimate aspirations of the different parts of the Kingdom, without turning Westminster into an English Parliament- for that way lies the certain break up of our country".

How are the 'legitimate aspirations' of England to be met under your preferred scenario? The only way the kind of UK-meltdown scenario you describe can be headed off for certain is by being proactive in working out a solution that properly remedies the present asymmetrical and unfair devolution settlement - such as a federal union with national parliaments with equal powers to each other. Otherwise, Scotland may well choose to go their own way, and many in England, far from resenting this, will rejoice.
Wyrdtimes said…
You live in England - that makes you English doesn't it? Your choice to live in England (and presumably your legal right to be here) makes you English doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
"If David Cameron does not wish to be the last Prime Minister of the UK, he must answer the legitimate aspirations of the different parts of the Kingdom, without turning Westminster into an English Parliament- for that way lies the certain break up of our country".

As Britologywatch has pointed out your scenario doesn't even reflect the political aspirations of the English - and as you keep reiterating that you are not English I suppose that is not surprising.

But you cannot ignore the democratic discrimination which 85% of the UK is living under, by an appeal to a union that treats its major shareholder as second class citizens.

We do not have a strong 'English First' political party yet, but slowly it will happen, and then you will see that most of us don't want to remain in a union where the health and welfare of the largest nation is held to ransom for the continuation of the union.

If you truly want this union to continue for the betterment of all then convince us, the english, as to why our old people must sell up to meet care costs; why our children are forced into debt because of policies passed with the aid of non-english MPs; why our citizens are dying for want of drugs freely available in other part of this unequal union.

And explain why it is only just and fair to the English that all these policies are forced on us by a PM and Chancellor not elected by any English consituency and unable to be voted out by anyone in England?
Anonymous said…
Presumably, Cicero, your affiliation to an association called 'Scottish Blogs' indicates your nationality? Then, why didn't you say so? Is that because you prefer to call yourself British rather than Scottish?

Maybe you just didn't want to be forced to have to avow just a single national identity - Scottish OR British - in which case, this is a position to be respected. But presumably, you feel Scottish in one way and British in another. I'm English in terms of my primary identification with a nation and place where I've lived most of my life; but British in terms of my formal citizenship and possession of Welsh and Irish ancestry alongside the English. Dual or multiple national identities are nothing to be ashamed of; but there must be one that you regard as your primary identity, albeit precisely in a personal, indeed private, sense. I.e. when you refer to 'my country' in the context of a discussion of Scottish affairs. Why not just be up-front about it?
Anonymous said…
I hardly think it's a matter that needs worrying about: our Union is not in danger, and certainly need not be long term.

Yes, Salmond will try to make political capital out of the Tories being in power. However sensible decisions and good government will show the public that it is nothing more than opportunism. In recent times, the Tories _have_ changed in Scotland and moved away from their 'nasty party' image. Twenty years from now, at the very most, I imagine the old wounds will have entirely healed.

Bugger Salmond, don't give in to his nonsense about referendums, and then see where he finds himself. High and dry, I should imagine.
Anonymous said…
Scotland an oil producer, the rest of the UK an oil consumer? Um, not all the oil is Scotland's. The UK Government, without consulting the English, assigned English oil to a "Scottish sector" in the late 1960s.

Of course, if independence beckons, this must be undone. The Continental Shelf Act was carried out at a time (the late 1960s) when it was assumed that the oil revenue would be shared within the UK, and that is not happening even now with the Barnett Formula. The maritime border must be corrected, which would give England back its share of the oil.

Of course, Scotland would still have a lot of the oil - which would be lovely. When it has paid off its UK debts and whilst the oil lasts, that is.

Then I suppose it'll be moans and groans about how the English forced the Scots into independence and left them sitting on the cold, hard ground.
Cicero said…
Anonymous- this is precisely the kind of dispute would happen and which I do not want to see. Incidently, the boundary would be drawn up under exisiting international maritime conventions, and whichever way the border is drawn would still leave Scotland a net exporter, the rump UK a net importer.
Anonymous said…
Maybe some people just dont get it.Scotland is a nation.We are different from England in case nobody noticed.We will decide if we want independance not the uk government.We have been shafted by London labour for 50 years.Why cant people accept that.
Cicero said…
Well, Anon, I would say that Scotland was shafted by a West of Scotland Socialist political mafia that hid behind an unfair electoral system. Of course scotland is nation, he question is does it need a separate state? The answer to that question is not as straightforward as it looks at ist glance.
Anonymous said…
Well, Shock Horror Cicero, I see you've finally woken up to the consequences of your Liberal and Labour friends attempts to guarantee yourselves permanent seats in Government. For what other reason was there so much enthusiasm for that Scottish Convention led by Donald and David and the latter day Scots equivalent of Cannon Colins? 'We need Devolution' was the cry. Doubtless some believed it. 'It'll scupper the Nationalists'. Bilge! Tam Dalziell's 'West Lothian Question' (so described by Enoch Powell) was so perceptive on so many levels. This was no cry for greater Democracy, but an attempt to achieve perpetual centre left dominance in two of the Countries that make up the Union. A Tory Government in Westminster would surely have a tough time, when faced with continued opposition from the Scots and Welsh - or so they thought.
Democracy? Hooey! Not with the Regional List System. I recall Helen Liddel saying that nobody voted for individuals any more - it was all Party - That's all right then.
This was gerrymandering on a scale that dwarfs anything Shiley Porter ever did.
Just like Brown's use of the tax system e.g. 10p to screw the Tories and to hell with the consequences for real people, you thought that you'd secure your places in power - and nobody would notice? Well they did.
Your obsession with Europe is another pointer. Having voted for it, I now bitterly regret doing so, for it wasn't for the benefit of the people - it was for the benefit of Politicians. More power to you, gradually - and nobody would notice until it was too late.
Well, it might be too late, but the people have noticed - especially the English!! From some of the comments here, and my 40 years in their country, I suspect that most haven't realised that they're in a Union. And you know what? A large number don't like it.
They see second rate politicians running large Government departments, telling them that if they 'paid a bit more tax', how they could have services like their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. And if they don't like it, the Scots will stick up two fingers and take their Oil with them - so there!
The truth is that the bulk of politicians from North of the Border are nth rate.
I liked Russell Johnstone, and like yourself, mourned his passing as an entertaining, thoughtful and gentlemanly politician, but the truth is that his constituents fell out with him and, in the end, he gravitated to Europe, where nobody noticed him. Let's think of a few others. Donald Dewar, the 'Father of the Scottish Parliament', again, I'm sure a nice man, but deeply second rate. The Sainted Robin Cook? Very clever, by his own lights, but not clever enought to see the arrogance of suggesting that he could help the Indian Government with Pakistan, or to see the fatal contradictions in the 'Ethical Foreign Policy'. And I've not got on to the Charlie Faulkeners, the Broons, Des and Gordon (PhD. on Jimmy Maxton!), John Reid and, of course, that other unsung Scot, Anthony Charles Linton Blair. No Liberals? Kennedy, Campbell, Beath and even Bruce? Pick a winner from that lot.
How arrogant you've been. You didn't think to ask the English what they thought. You still persist in the notion that the UK should be Federal. Nobody asked the English if that's what they want. Scotland and Wales are about the right size for a Federal unit, but England's too big. We had a boss once (giving away who I am), who had a catch-phrase - 'Surely they must....'. 'Surely thy must see that they're too big for the Federation' - that no-one has asked them if they want. Presott's Regional Assembly idea was given the rasberry that it deserved - although it didn't stop them being set up - and paid for. Better not ask them again, just like Europe. 'But surely thay must realise......!'

I'd love to vote Liberal, but can't support such dilettantes. Brainstorming's all very well when it's 'Freedom for Goldfish' or some middle way for Fox Hunting. You'll be a Tax lowering party next! - Oh, you are this week?

But this is different. You've set the fuse on the break up of something very dear to me (and you)and millions of others. I hope you realise what you've done

Anonymous said…
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