Rabbie Burns wasn’t a nationalist!

“Stop the world – Scotland wants to get on!” The now famous cry of Winnie Ewing when she won Hamilton for the SNP in a 1967 Westminster by-election. Yet greater scrutiny of the various proposals mooted in the independence debate shows that far from being catalysts to propel Scotland on to the world stage and wrench it from the shackles of its over bearing larger neighbour, all options proposed will leave Scotland marginalised, ignored and forgotten. The message from the Nationalists is now clear – “Stop the world – Scotland wants to get off!”

Scottish Independence was always assumed to mean just that – the breakup of the UK as we know it to allow Scotland to become an independent sovereign nation. Not now it would seem. Various terminologies have now emerged as to what it could mean. ‘Full fiscal autonomy’, ‘Devolution Max’ and ‘Independence lite’ are now providing hours upon hours of mind numbingly boring discussion for the Scottish chattering classes. In the meantime, outsiders rightly question why Scotland isn’t just getting on with it and resolving the issue once and for all.

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond - secretly content? Photograph: Getty: Telegraph

Part of the reason is that Alex Salmond doesn’t want to hold his referendum just yet- even though he has just won an out-right majority at Holyrood. This is of course in spite of the fact that he spent the last parliament protesting bitterly that the Unionist parties were preventing him from allowing the Scottish people to “have their say”. The other reason is the Scotland Bill, which will increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament, is still making its way through Westminster. The great white hope the British Government and the Labour Opposition see as being the final act which will, as was once famously claimed, “stop Scottish nationalism stone dead”. Dream on.

Since Winnie Ewing’s victory in 1967, the SNP’s fortunes have risen and fallen. It was in fact only in 1997 that its position as a major player in Scottish politics was confirmed. However, the continued drift towards nationalism and Scottish-ness (as opposed to British-ness) has been going on for decades.

The Liberals have always been believers. Since the days of Lloyd George they have advocated Scottish home rule. The Labour Party, long opposed to devolution as an anathema to centralised Socialist state planning, finally converted in the 1960s as a means of precipitating the perpetual Conservative decline.  All this meant that throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s the majority of politicians in Scotland banged the drum of Scottish nationalism, each claiming to be better than the next at defending Scotland against Westminster. The tension heightened of course during the eighties when that dreaded Englishwoman, Mrs Thatcher, was at the helm. The fight moved on from Scotland’s Oil, to Scotland’s manufacturing, Scotland’s jobs, Scotland’s houses, Scotland’s workers – whatever Mrs Thatcher touched, it was anti-Scottish.  All of which helped create a perception that Scotland was no longer British. That the English and the Scots had shifted in values, aspirations and on their general outlook in life. And to make matters worse the Conservatives have now capitulated, in a last minute road to Damascus style conversion, in supporting the Scotland Bill and its transfer of more powers to Holyrood. Alex Salmond may not need to win a referendum on independence if the Unionists continue to appease him through the granting of independence by stealth.

That said, there is another option. The Unionists could attempt to put forward an alternative to Alex Salmond’s anti-English, ‘Mel Gibson-esque’, bleeding heart Nationalism.

Modern Scotland began to emerge in 1560 at the time of the Scottish Reformation (which had nothing to do with Henry VII incidentally). But it was the Treaty of Union of 1707, and the peace and prosperity that came with it, which unified Scotland and allowed it to progress to become one of the world’s leading centres of thinking, enterprise and human advancement.


Edinburgh - Once termed "The Athens of the north". Photograph: TripAdvisor

With tribal wars behind it, Scotland excelled at leading the world in almost every endeavour. Edinburgh became known as The Athens of the North where the likes of David Hume, Adam Smith, Joseph Black and Francis Hutchison, led the world in new ways of thinking during the Scottish Enlightenment. On the west coast, Glasgow expanded to become the second city of the British Empire, capitalising on the new markets in America and throughout the empire, and was a major player in the Industrial Revolution. Sir Walter Scott pioneered in literature while James Watt created his Steam Engine, then Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and finally John Logie Baird unveiled his television to a waiting world.

All of this came from the stability and new international outlook Scotland achieved from becoming part of the United Kingdom. But of course, the new values and aspirations were not uniquely Scottish. Scotland just as much an England embraced the new idea of being British. A nation known for a stiff upper lip, a belief in a parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, and that most quintessentially British attribute, a sense of fair play.

A bit of fair play is what is now needed in the independence debate. Alex Salmond has got off scot free (forgive the pun) in talking up the supposedly “unique” identity of the Scots. What he is never challenged on is how it is uniquely different from the rest of Britain.

Scotland is not a narrow minded, insular nation. It is a nation of thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs. Sensible people don’t buy into the Nationalist rhetoric of a Scotland identified by nothing more than tartan and heather. Mr Salmond is fond of quoting Robert Burns; but he often misses out some important words – “that Man to Man, the world o’er; Shall brothers be for a’ that”.

Alex Salmond and his cohort’s narrow minded nationalism may make them unique and culturally different, but that isn’t the case for the vast majority of Scots. It’s time for some leaders to emerge to remind Scotland what being British is all about.


Posted on July 4, 2011, in Devolved Government, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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