Monday, July 28, 2008

Britain potentially more tiresome than Belgium

Scotland will never be free until the last minister of the Kirk is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post - Tom Nairn

If you have even a passing acquaintance with UK politics, you'll have noticed that things are going pretty swimmingly for the Scottish National Party at the moment. For all the howls of anguish from the party's opponents, I don't think this is going to lead inevitably to Scottish independence. Nor do I say this just say this because Simon Jenkins says that it will, though that fact alone should give even the most tartan-bedecked, Braveheart-gawking, shortbreid-speak gabbling nationalist cause for alarm.

It's more that there are so many potential problems ahead that, regardless of the rights or wrongs of Scottish independence, what worries me is that we're now looking at decades of Quebec-style tedium: narrowly defeated plebiscites on independence, followed by acts of nationalistic pettiness which stoke up the mutual ill-feeling to the extent that another vote needs to be held which is narrowly etc etc.

Not only is the natural human propensity for vindictive and mean-spirited behaviour, especially when nationalist sentiment (the best way, bar religion, of channeling all that is mean and base in humanity) is involved, coming to the fore; consider how much worse the combined efforts of lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians will make things.

All this is grounds to fear that the UK is now facing is a messy and protracted divorce battle which, worst of all, might see us staying together "for the sake of the kids", leaving everyone miserable, resentful and dissatisfied.

It's pretty clear what those who want the divorce are going to do: whine, complain and make life intolerable for the other party. Whether it's English nationalists complaining that the Scots are getting too much of "their" money and that there are too many Jocks in the Cabinet, or their Scottish counterparts demanding more of "their" money and whinging at great length that someone on TV said English when they should have said British; we already know how this is going to be played out.

Thing is, there's no reason why pro-Union types shouldn't make things equally difficult and tedious for the separatists. There will inevitably be wrangles about the national reserves and debt, but the SNP also appears to be operating on the assumption that Scotland is going to get nearly all the UK's oil (90% is the usual figure given) and automatic EU membership.

However, it's certainly possible the rump UK would fight hard to get more of the oil fields (this is an indication of the potential for dispute). As for the EU membership: Spain wouldn't recognise Kosovo's independence lest it give the Basques and Catalans ideas; I can't see why Madrid would want to set a 'break up an EU state, win automatic membership of the EU yourself' precedent, nor that the rest of the UK would automatically do all it could to help the Scots out on this one.

I can only see one way to avoid this and that is to offer the Scots the following deal.

In this divorce Scotland gets custody of Northern Ireland.

The advantages are clear for the Northern Irish - nationalists get out of the UK, and unionists remain united with their Scottish brethren* – it would be a better historical fit than continued union with England and Wales after all.

As for the Scots, apart from the assurance of knowing that in this scenario the new Kingdom of England and Wales would happily expedite the process of independence, they get something to keep Rangers and Celtic fans occupied and the certainty of knowing that if they're willing to take on all this responsibility then they really are serious about standing on their own two feet as a mature democracy; if they baulk at taking on this cauldron of nationalistic sentiment, then they'll realise in their heart of hearts that independence isn't really for them.

There's even a precedent for this sort of state - one that predates Scotland itself – so let's see if there's an appetite for the restoration of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.

If we could just resolve the equally tricky question of who gets to keep Gordon Brown, I reckon everyone could be satisfied.

*The Republic of Ireland gets to stop pretending that it likes or wants to take on its Northern counterparts (remember the Civil War was fought over the oath of allegiance, not partition) and doesn't have to worry about what three quarters of a million resentful unionists would do in a united Ireland. [Footnote updated so I look slightly less innumerate].



Anonymous dearieme said...

"a quarter of a million resentful unionists": is that your estimate of the number who'll survive the ethnic cleansing?

6:30 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Ha, ah you have me bang to rights. I meant to write 'three quarters of a million' (though that's probably an underestimate too).

Duly amended.

6:40 pm  

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