Sunday 12 February 2012

On Motivations for Secession

El Presidente, in his piece on "My Scotland" for the Sunday Herald a few weeks ago, claimed that the fact that there are now 190 members of the UN, compared to 51 when he was born, was some kind of justification for Scottish separatism. Of course, this is, as is to be expected from him, quite disingenuous. Some well-established nations, like Italy, Spain, Portugal or Japan didn't join the UN until after 1954. Most of the other nations were the result of the dismantling and fragmentation of various global empires, including of course, the British Empire that Scotland played a major part in building. And of course there were also the nations who regained in the 1990s, the identities they lost in the great failed 20th century experiment in communism. But, counter to this perceived trend, some of the former Soviet republics (particularly Belarus and Russia) have been making moves in recent years towards re-unification.

However, if we actually consider the notable separatist movements of recent years across the world, we see it usually involves some ethnic or religious motivation - think of the Basques, Catalonia, Quebec, Flemish nationalists in Belgium, the Balkans and indeed the former Soviet republics. Even the break-up of Czechoslovakia can be traced back to the fact that the Czechs and Slovaks didn't really have a great deal in common when they found themselves joined together after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918.

But of course, there is no great ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural divide marked by the Scotland-England border. In the worlds of William McIlvanney, Scotland is, just as the UK as a whole, a "mongrel nation", whether you consider either the indigenous descendants of Britons, Celts, Angles, Saxons etc, or our entire multi-ethnic, multi-national population. The theological differences between the Churches of England and Scotland are of little consequence to the Scottish separatist movement. Despite the existence of BBC Alba, Scotland is almost entirely an English-speaking land. And what possible cultural differences do we have with England that could justify tearing up a 300-year-old union? Eating haggis and ceilidh dancing?

So, what's left, without ethnic, religious or cultural divisions as a justification? The only remaining possible rational motivation is merely political. Despite the SNP's ham-fisted attempt to drum up some romantic Hail Caledonia! nationalism, this is really what it boils down to. The Scottish nationalist movement is the SNP, notwithstanding the lunatic fringe of Trotskyists and hardcore republicans. But the independence referendum will be about the future of a 300-year-old constitution, not the transient ebb and flow of party politics. Unlike a general election, there will be no opportunity in another five years' time to express your disappointment in what you just voted for.

And let's not forget that the most powerful country in Europe is the result, not of a secession, but of a unification of two countries with quite different political systems, 22 years ago.

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