Anybody who knows anything about the “United” Kingdom will be aware that it is anything but united. And that can be an emotional issue to many Britons. I once took part in a debate at Cambridge university on the question of whether the kingdom was united. It was meant to be a light-hearted debate but when I made a few basic points about the Scottish attitude to the English, I clearly stood on toes. There are many silences about certain topics in England and I had breached one such silence. So the debate became quite heated and unhappy. It’s an example of why the English often call Australians “brash”.
The fact of the matter is that the Scots despise the English and the English treat the Scots as a joke — with their primitive bagpipes and men in skirts. Which makes the Scots hate them even more of course. And the two races really are different. The UK really is a bad marriage. The Scots are very socialist and England is at heart conservative. So when Margaret Thatcher swept to power it was on the basis of a big swing to the Conservatives in England only. Scotland swung away from the Conservatives.
And that divergence has slowly come to a head in recent times. In 1998, Tony Blair set up a separate parliament for Scotland with certain powers passed to it from the central government. Similar provisions were made for Wales and Northern Ireland. But that only stoked the fires. It gave Scottish opinion a focus and a mouthpiece that they were not slow to use. And the pressure built up to the point where a referendum was called in late 2014 on total Scottish independence.
The referendum was narrowly lost. A majority of Scots voted to preserve the UK. How come? There were of course various reasons but the central one was money. The dastardly English made clear that an independent Scotland could no longer use the British Pound as its currency. That really hit at Scottish hearts. Legends of Scottish thrift are well matched by Scottish reality. Scots are very attached to their savings — which are of course denominated in British pounds. So Scots saw their savings melting away and that could not be.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, is however a determined little bizzem and she has used Brexit as an occasion to revisit independence. True to form, when the English voted to leave the EU, Scots voted to stay in it. And Nicola wants Scotland to gain its independence from the English so that it can preserve its dependence on the EU. That may seem bizarre but it makes sense in Scotland. What it shows again is the Scottish attitude to the English.
And therein lies a great opportunity for England. A great heartburn which the English Conservatives put up with through gritted teeth is the presence of Scottish MPs in the Westminster parliament. Their solid socialist presence is a block on the English getting the government they choose. Most democratic elections are fairly close and that is mostly so in the UK too. So a UK election normally returns a small majority of Conservative MPs from England which is then outvoted by the socialist Scottish bloc. Without the Scots at Westminster it is possible that England would have a Conservative government more or less forever. That sounds good to Conservative ears.
So why was the Conservative government at Westminster opposed to Scottish independence? Why did they campaign vigorously for Scotland to stay in the UK? Power: The one thing that politicians like even more than money. Scotland is a nice bit of real estate and the English like to come and go there. And they like to have the ultimate say in Scottish affairs. To lose Scotland would feel like a defeat.
But Brexit has raised the issue again and this time there is a reason to rethink. The “Remain” vote in the Brexit referendum was large and they are right now very unhappy chappies. They have come out with the most astonishing bigotry towards the “Leavers”. The vote did largely polarize between London and the North. The politically correct Londoners voted to “Remain” and the down-to-earth” Northerners voted to “Leave”. And there was an age divide too. Older people remembered when Britain did quite well as an independent country so saw nothing to fear in independence. But for younger people, the EU was all they knew so they voted to “Remain”.
Inhabitants of the Home Counties (around London) have always looked down on the Northerners. For them, civilization stops at Watford, a railway junction at the Northern edge of the Home counties. To their minds there are two Englands: North of Watford and South of Watford. And Northerners who move South had better lose their comical Northern accents or they will be treated as outsiders. They will be anyway but with a “better” accent they will be harder to detect.
So the hatred of the Northerners and the old that has emerged in the Home Counties after the Brexit result has just brought old antagonisms to the surface. But it is a real hatred and does need to be dealt with in some way. It has even brought out anti-democratic impulses in many. And I have a proposal for a way to deal with it.
The English should give Nicola her heart’s desire and Scotland its independence. Scotland could then promptly make itself unfree again and join the EU. So English people who really do see an advantage in EU membership could migrate North without too much disruption to their lives.
Not many would in fact do so because of the old geographic loyalties I have mentioned but it would at least take away the rational argument against Brexit. The emotional argument would then be left to stand on its own, which would weaken it greatly.
And Edinburgh is a pleasant place. It is to Scotland as the Home Counties are to England. It is the traditional home of Scottish intellectuals, who are a distinguished band. So Home Counties people should find it broadly congenial. Scottish weather is even worse than English weather but to an Englishman that gives him something to talk about.
And an English community would probably develop in Edinburgh to ease the transition. Scots exhibit great reserve towards the English, which is why the English call them “dour”. Scots are in fact quite the opposite of dour, of course. They are jolly, sentimental people who like a drink or three. But the English will never see that side of them.
But Australians can. Australians visiting Scotland also initially get the reserved treatment — because to Scottish ears we “sound like the TV”. Our accent sounds English to Scottish ears. And it is. An educated Australian accent is quite close to RP — closer than most regional English accents. But we just have to identify ourselves as Australians in Scotland for the mask to be torn away. We are seen as fellow sufferers from the English so we are greeted joyously as brothers. So you see why the English would need their own social and business world in Edinburgh.
How could it all be accomplished? It just needs a vote at Westminster and a treaty. England could offer the Scots continued use of the pound as their currency in return for various Scottish concessions and the deed would be done. England would become a very conservative nation and Scots would have to start blaming themselves for the problems they curtrently blame on the English.
And the “Remainers” would have some of their teeth pulled. Their wishes would be accommodated to some extent. A great British compromise will have been achieved.
And the EU would presumably welcome Scotland with a gladsome heart. They would see it as a vindication of their project and a poke in the eye for the pesky English.