Monday 27 November 2006
Bruce Anderson: The sullen self-pity of Anglophobic Scots
How can anybody be expected to appease grievances which are entirely unjustified?
This is not the first government that has legislated in haste and repented at leisure. But there is a difference between Mr Blair and his predecessors. Some of them passed laws that had not been adequately thought through. Tony Blair was the first PM to pass important laws that had not been thought through at all. Moreover, he chose a particularly unsuitable area in which to act first, think later: the constitution.
A constitution is so named because it helps a country to stand together. In 1707, our forebears abolished the Scottish Parliament, as it was creating disunion. The new arrangements not only strengthened the United Kingdom. They enabled Scotland, hitherto poor and backward, to equal and in some respects surpass the rest of Britain. As a successful experiment in legislative procedures, 1707 ranks second only to the American constitution.
Yet by the 1980s, it had become unpopular in Scotland; proof, if needed, that vox populi is not always vox Dei. The country that had made such a contribution to the Enlightenment turned its back on the light and fell under the sway of a sullen self-pity, tinged with Anglophobia.
In a nation that regards itself as hard-headed, this was a bizarre development. But there are two explanations, though neither is to the liking of the lefties who control public discourse in Scotland. They both arise from decline: the decline of anti-Catholicism and the decline of the British Empire.
The Scots enjoyed the Empire. They fought for it, worked for it and made money out of it. It was possible to regard the Empire as an Anglo-Scottish partnership. The English found it surprisingly easy to adapt to the loss of their colonies; England still counted. But the Scots felt cooped up in a small island next to a neighbour with around 10 times their population. It was easy for malcontents to claim that the British Empire had been replaced by the English empire, with Scotland as its principal colony.
As for Catholicism, anti-Papist feelings were widespread in Scotland until a couple of decades ago, as was a joyless Presbyterian version of Christianity. A dreich wet Sabbath in Dundee was one of the dreariest experiences known to man. In recent years, Scotland has been catching up with England's post-religious culture. This has not brought the two nations together. It merely means that Scots no longer see Britain as a bastion of Protestantism.
Bad popular history has inflamed matters. Many Scots regard history as a litany of their woes and England's misdeeds. I suspect that a majority of Scots think that Culloden was a battle between England and Scotland. The same people assume that they would have Covenanters and then Jacobites. They carry on as if William Wallace was a poll-tax rebel, cruelly put to death by Margaret Thatcher. Sic a parcel of fools in a nation.
Sport is also to blame. The English are often accused of believing that just because they invented a sport, they are still entitled to be world champions. But at least they win from time to time. It is far worse for Scotland. A nation of five million is unlikely to win many world cups. It sometimes seems as if the Scots are so inured to defeat that they no longer mind - just as long as the English also lose.
Though these are unattractive traits, New Labour decided to use politics to cure psychology. Devolution was meant to restore Scotland's pride and to protect the Labour votes in its heartlands. The system chosen was unfair, in that Scottish MPs in Westminster are still allowed to vote on English bills. But Mr Blair has never been interested in intellectual consistency. Labour, which needed the Scottish votes, had the Parliamentary votes to ram through the unfairness. The English did not appear to notice. That seemed to be that - until recently.
The Blairites are now alarmed, with reason. In the 1990s, the Scots were unhappy, the English indifferent. Ten years later, the Scots are still unhappy, and so are the English. Over the weekend, a succession of Labour ministers went to their party's conference in Oban to attack the Scottish National Party. Though this may have been intended to worry the SNP, it merely proves that the Nats are worrying Labour. According to the recent Scottish polls, the SNP is only just behind Labour, which is likely to lose a lot of seats in next year's elections for the Scottish Parliament.
Nor should the Government's anxieties be confined to Scotland. According to a weekend poll, a majority of English voters are now in favour of an independent Scotland. This is fascinating, but it ought not to come as a surprise. In the 1966 football World Cup, the English went into battle under the Union flag. This year, it was the Cross of St George. The decision to move St George's Cross from the church steeple to white van man's bonnet did not come from the political élite. A lot of the English populace have now decided that the present arrangements discriminate against them.
So Labour's belief that devolution would be a constitutional sleeping dog has now been refuted. It is impossible to know what to do about Scotland's resentments; how can anyone be expected to appease grievances which are entirely unjustified? The English are another matter. It is now inevitable that Scottish MPs will be prevented from voting on English matters at Westminster. That may seem to be an anomaly, but if the Union is to survive, it is a necessary anomaly.
The danger to the Union never came from the Scots, who would not vote to separate themselves from England's chequebook. It came from the English. Eventually, they were bound to conclude that there was no reason to subsidise people who disliked them. It is time to pay less attention to gurning Scots and rather more to the justified complaints of the English.
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