Against the Union

Left Unionists are fond of saying that working people in Scotland have more in common with working people in England than they do with Scotland’s landowners and millionaires. Indeed they do. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the Union keeps both of them in their place.

Tommy Sheppard clearly gets it. How gratifying it is to at last see an SNP politician explicitly acknowledging that the Union is the problem and at least hinting that Scotland’s cause is not gaining independence but escaping a political union which serves none of the people of these islands well, but serves Scotland particularly ill. A political union formed in a different age entirely for the purposes of a ruling elite whose successors continue to be the sole beneficiaries.

The effect is rather spoiled when he says things like,

Will this next election be about independence? You betcha!

Maybe he hasn’t quite completely got it. Or maybe it’s just that old habits of thinking die hard. Let’s be glad of whatever we get. Even if Tommy is no more than half way to the realisation that we need to be campaigning against the Union rather than for independence, he’ll still be some distance ahead of the SNP leadership.

We must campaign against the Union because the Union denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is ours by absolute right. It really is as simple as that. It is from this denial of a fundamental democratic right that all of Scotland’s constitutional issues derive; along with most of our political, social and economic issues. Independence doesn’t resolve those issues. But even if you don’t accept that the Union is a major cause of Scotland’s problems, it is impossible to sensibly deny that it prevents us from addressing them as deemed appropriate by the people who actually live in Scotland.

It’s not even as if the Union is required. As I wrote during the 2014 referendum campaign,

Alex Salmond addressed this issue back in July 2013 when he spoke of the six unions that “govern our lives today in Scotland”. The political union of the UK; union with Europe through the EU; the currency union, the Union of the Crowns; a defence union based on Nato and a social union among the people of the UK.

The First Minister talked of these six unions in terms of their importance to Scotland, making the point that only the first of these – political union with the UK – works against Scotland’s interests. The others serve us reasonably well and are generally valued by the people of Scotland.

The political union between Scotland and England is not necessary to the maintenance of all those other unions. All that is needed is the consent of the people. So long as we consent to a currency union, we can have a currency union. It is the political union which forces on us a currency union which is not freely negotiated.

We can have a defence union. But, if democracy prevails, it must be a choice made on the basis of what the people of both Scotland and England consider best serves our mutual interests; not what serves the narrow interests of those who have inherited the status and power of the cliques the Union was designed to benefit.

Nowhere is the deleterious, anti-democratic impact of the Union more evident than in the matter of the “union with Europe through the EU”. Do I really have to elaborate? We are all painfully familiar with the fact that Scotland is being wrenched out of that union against the will of the Scottish people. The point I want to make here is that it would be perfectly possible for Scotland and England to share that union with Europe in the absence of a political union between our two nations. It is the grotesque asymmetry of the Union that destroys the possibility of a symmetrical arrangement whereby each nation makes its own choices.

The Union is the massive bluebottle in the ointment of harmonious coexistence and cooperation. It is the Union that prevents us developing a form of association between Scotland and England – and among all parts of these islands – which is fit for 21st century democracy rather than the conditions that existed over three centuries ago.

Kindly bear with me as I quote again, and at length, from that article published in November 2013 under the counter-intuitive title ‘Vote Yes to save the Union‘.

…if we get past the self-serving politicians of the British parties whose sole priority is the preservation of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which benefit them and their clients; if we address those who have been lured by the simplistic slogans of the anti-independence campaign and induce them to really think about what it is that they value about the Union, it is highly probable that they will come up with much the same answers that Alex Salmond did. They would surely place the highest value on the social union. And, while they might vary in the way they prioritise the others, there would still be general agreement with pro-independence campaigners on the list as a whole.

We all, nationalist and unionist alike, tend to value the same things about the Union, differing only in the emphasis that we put on each. Where we part company is principally, if not solely, on the matter of the political union of the UK. I would urge unionists to think long and hard about whether we do not have a common interest in that regard also.

I fervently hope Tommy Sheppard’s article signals a shift in emphasis away from campaigning for independence and towards campaigning against the Union. Because that is where we find common ground across the independence movement, and very possibly beyond.

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3 thoughts on “Against the Union

  1. I have given a great deal of time and thought to the Union – that is, the Union that we have today, as opposed to the Union that we should have had – and they have led me to a dichotomy of understanding of the Union and its effects on all of us on the British Isles that we all share. Had we had the Union we were supposed to have had, and which, against all my better judgement as a republican, I believe I could have supported and possibly wanted to save (I am no blood-and-soil nationalist) that Union. This one, though, I abhor as the machinations of one part, and one part only, of the UK as it is today. It is rather like a marriage that has gone sour almost from day one: if only we had managed to work together and done this, that or the other, we could have been very happy in a pragmatic and realistic way.

    The problem is that, with all unions, from the small ones of two (the original Union) to the large ones of many (the EU), there must be close co-operation and a profound willingness to make it work for the good of all involved. At no stage can it be the preserve of one party to the contract only; it cannot be one only who lays down all the rules and laws for the other(s); and it certainly cannot be a contract where one derives a much greater benefit than the other(s). That is not a political and social union, but an imperial power laying down its orders to the colonized. This is the point we have reached now in relation to the Union. It cannot go on like this because something will give eventually, and it may not be pretty when it does. That is always the situation I, personally, would wish to avoid, having English family on both sides of the border and Scottish family on both sides of the border, and I am sure I am not alone in that.

    We must find a way to be strong enough to break the ties that bind and then, hopefully, to re-establish them once independence has been achieved, but, like all break-downs and break-ups, it will have its pain – in physical terms, in emotional terms and in social terms, for a time, at least. Should that stop us from asserting our perfectly legitimate right to make our own decisions? Of course not. What child, when breaking the family bonds that bind does not bring a tear or two in its wake as we wave goodbye in hopes that all will be well. What we should never do is try to prevent their leaving or we will sour the relationship, perhaps permanently.

    When I read the response to the Crawford and Boyle insulting and foundation-less report on Scotland’s supposed position within the Union, by the late Professor David Walker, one of our most eminent professors of public law, I grasped immediately that we were of one mind, even though I had approached the subject from the political end rather than the legal end, but our conclusions were identical. Now, I would never seek to rank myself alongside the late eminent professor, honestly, but, if the same conclusions may be arrived at from separate ends, so to speak – and the late Professor was hardly a nationalist – I think it is safe to say that the Union was hi-jacked by the English MPs and the English ruling elite from day one. As now, the contortions they performed were spectacular, and Crawford and Boyle started from the premise that Scotland had been subsumed instead of exploring whether that is what the Union was intended to do, or even if that was the case.

    As I have said already, I am no royalist, or apologist for the Union, but I do not believe, as Professor David Walker did not believe, that Queen Anne intended it to be anything other than a partnership. She would have been well aware that the Scottish Crown, albeit still in existence, had become subservient to the English Crown, when it actually was, in reality, the other way round, and that there was a good chance that the Union might end up that way, too, but, when you read the Articles, they set out Scotland’s independence and continuing independence within the Union. It was an English hi-jack. Nothing more or less. Now, we must end the hostage situation – and very soon – before we are trapped in a whole new ‘Union’ from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves – except, perhaps, in ways that no one wants.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Today in The National, John Drummond sets out a good argument for the risks of not leaving the union. Unfortunately, it is not on the website at the moment, although Drummond’s articles are collated here: in case it pops up later.

    So from the perspective of an Indy voter, I can see the need to dissolve the union. I can also see that we are de jure independent already, but de facto in a union which is hindering our ability to exercise our independence.

    But for selling this on the doorstep, I am not so sure. A positive message requires selling a destination, hence we promote independence. Leaving the union is a negative message in that we are saying that the place where we are now is one we want to depart from.

    Part of the horror of brexit is that it was sold purely on the prospect of departing, without a clue as to the destination, other than being somewhere different to the departure point. I rather think that our opponents will have a ready made analogy in brexit if we start to sell on leaving the union rather than on becoming independent.

    The pitch for me is that Scotland is an increasingly confident country with resources and its own outlook on how to resolve its problems without taking the one size fits all solutions from Westminster. I think that is easier to explain to the non aligned as Independence rather than dissolving the union, particularly when you factor in the 6 unions Salmond cites and the consequent need to explain which union you mean. I think that the social union is quite potent as an issue and the danger is that a simple message of dissolving the union could all to easily be taken as an attack on the social union, when presumably that is not meant at all.


    1. What is wrong with a negative message? It worked for the No campaign in the 2014 referendum. And it is not an either/or choice. The negative aspect of the campaign complements the positive side. Our problem in the 2014 referendum was that the Yes campaign was incomplete because we were effectively prohibited from any kind of negative messaging.

      I have likened insistence on purely positive campaigning to telling your army prior to a crucial battle that they’re not allowed to use artillery in case the noise upsets the neighbours.


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