There is a fallacy, peddled mainly by modern day Scottish Nationalists that Scotland was merely one of the first Colonies of England – that somehow the Scots were unwilling victims of English colonial zeal.
The truth couldn’t be further away from that. The Scottish Parliament passed the act of Union willingly. It had been almost 100 years since Scottish Kings had first sat on the English throne – James I was James VI – King of Scots – when he succeeded Elizabeth I. The First Formal English Colony – we weren’t yet British in 1607 – was of course Jamestown, in Virginia in honour of the new, Scottish, King.
Indeed the Plantation of Ulster under James I/VI is the base reason Northern Ireland exists as a majority Protestant entity today; those who think it’s a term used for crops might reflect that it was the term used by the English and Scottish Kingdoms for the state sponsored immigration of both Scottish and English Protestants to Ireland.
No. Scotland wasn’t tricked, fooled, coerced or colonised by the English. Scotland entered into Union willingly, it participated in founding the British Empire enthusiastically, Scottish Regiments fought for the British State from South Africa to America, Germany to China, Egypt to Palestine. There were Scots who ran India, Scot’s who colonised Africa, Scots who helped found Australia and New Zealand.
There are more Scots around the world as a result of the empire they helped found than there are Scots in Scotland.
We founded the modern world together in partnership, from the economic Theories of Adam Smith to the great engineering projects of Brunel. We established democratic governments in our wake, opened the modern sea lanes, modernised and mechanised every corner of the planet, pushing the boundaries of discovery to the very end of the world.
After all When Scott died in a freezing tent having led an expedition to the South Pole, Henry Robertson Bowers, a Scot, walked and died alongside him, not as a foreigner, but as a fellow Briton.
Scots and English, Welsh and Irish under a British flag fought and died defending the world from barbarism and Nazism and they stood together in the face of terrorism and the treat of nuclear annihilation.
However as time has gone on, as our interests abroad fall away, as our commonwealth and Empire has opted for rule from home, not London and as our courage fades – as it has in addressing the threat of a resurgent Russia and fundamentalist jihadists, our agreement inked on paper 300 years ago has descended back into the petty rivalries stretching back nine hundred years focused on within, back to the border skirmishes, the nationalist hate. Scotland for the Scottish, England for the English.
We’ve forgotten the pains we had before and swapped our broad view of the world for the narrow view of self interest.
Ever changing social, economic and political factors have, for some time now, led to a sense that to be ‘British’ is to be out-dated, the term is a forged if soothing confluence that the English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and everything between are one people with regional differences created by the Acts of union in 1707 and 1801.
Think of the United Kingdom as an immense railway line stretching across the British Isles, forged together by Irish Labour, in English Factories built by Scottish Engineers and fired by Welsh Coal. The steel nails which hold it together have corroded in time, the different political bodies set up along its path squabble over who should pay to maintain it, it’s domestic fuel is drying up, it’s engines are no longer manufactured at home and many of its destinations are either closed or no longer traversed. Where it once linked London to Delhi, Johannesburg, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ottawa we now fly to Europe and Washington instead, failing to uphold our heritage even as we widen ties elsewhere.
Where the Monarchy was a focal point of governance and nation its proponents now point to its power as a brand to draw tourists. Devolution, a more prosperous working class, a richer ethnic heritage, ever greater democracy and the saga of Ireland, home rule and republic and the marginalisation of the Lords has changed the Political, economic and social makeup of the country beyond recognition for the better, but the institutions have failed to keep up
Patchwork constitutional changes here and there like so many railway engineering works has left a creaking, unfit political settlement which satisfies no-one. A Parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland, nothing for England, an unequal rough cut which has chipped away at the very definition of what it means to be British to be treated as friends and equals.
Scotland votes this week. Whilst I would lament the loss of our partnership whether it votes yes or no to independence is largely mute – the United Kingdom is neither united in name nor in purpose. It hasn’t actually been a United ‘Kingdom’ since Ireland declared independence in 1922 – before the act of Union 1801 the country was merely the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The decision to pretend the British Isles were still united was an egotistical procrastination then, much the same as the piecemeal changes to the way we have been governed over the last four decades have not dealt with the matters at hand either.
The fact that a founder member of what remains of this country could come within a whisker of breaking it up because of the impossibly utopian and conflicting promises of some Nationalist populists only extends the charade. The Union has been a boon for the Home Nations but no one believes that anymore, even as it is true.
Is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland better together? I would say so, and I would include the republic of Ireland in that as well – we share bonds of fellowship which are unique in this world, our turbulent history put aside and prosperity found once we stopped aiming the Muskets, Longbows, Claymores and during the troubles – bombs – at each other and worked toward a common goal. There is more that unites us than divides.
There was hope, once, that the British people, working together, could survive assailment from all the world in arms and prosper. Of Couse, Scotland could be its own nation, but a divided Scotland from the rest of Britain would result in a loss of charitable feeling and co-operation which would impoverish us all. Still a united country needs fundamental change if it is to mean something meaningful to the peoples of these isles.
If there is a no vote, if the country remains in union, we need to be able to look forward to the next 300 years with the same sense of adventure and motivation which drove us for the last 300 but it is clear that is lacking today.
What we do to reshape Britain is something we will all have to search our beings for, but it is clear that our broken political system – unrepresentative as it is – must face fundamental change. A written constitution? a Republic? Federalisation of the home nations? The west Lothian question and the Barnett formula? A voting system which properly represents the will of the people?
When the polls close on Friday, either way that debate must begin and it is long overdue.