Let the slogan be: independence for England

The English could benefit from Scottish devolution too, argues Alex Salmond
In a recent opinion poll for the Glasgow Herald, 78 per cent of those questioned saw themselves as Scottish first and British second. This week the Herald published the equivalent poll for England. Fifty one per cent saw themselves as British first.

I suspect that for many in England, the terms "British" and "English" are interchangeable, but in Scotland there is no such confusion. As a nation we have our own legal system, our own established church, our own banks, our own football team and our own administrative structures for health and education. The only appurtenance of statehood that we lack is our own parliament.

The eruption of the constitutional debate at Westminster in the early part of this year has simply brought home to England an issue that has been raging in Scotland for 28 years. Constitutional change was forced on to the Scottish political agenda in 1967 when Winnie Ewing won a celebrated by-election at Hamilton for the Scottish National Party. The SNP has kept the matter near to the boil since then.

Labour has had a commitment to some form of "home rule" for Scotland for over 100 years, but despite its presence in government on several occasions this century, it has failed to honour the pledge. In the 1970s the SNP had 11 MPs, but even that did not result in successful change - the now notorious 40 per cent rule devalued the positive outcome of a referendum and the "winter of discontent" swept a Tory government to power, headed by a prime minister who handbagged any talk of constitutional change and U-turned the Tories against it.

Yet the issue has not gone away. Forty-seven per cent of Scots now strongly or slightly favour an independent state. And the same poll that produced that result indicated that 25 per cent of English voters felt the same. It is surely time to examine one aspect of Scottish independence that has not been adequately considered - independence for England.

For independence for England would be the outcome of independence for Scotland. The dissolution of the United Kingdom would not leave England as the inheritor of the mantle of a somewhat lesser Britain. Two new states would be created, each of which would have the obligations of successors and each of which would occupy new seats in the European Union, at the United Nations and in other bodies throughout the world.

Economically, Scotland would be one of the richest nations in Europe. It would certainly have the largest energy reserves of any European state. But England would not be poor. It has considerable natural resources, a large and relatively highly educated population and increasingly strong export industries. It is also a world financial centre. England will be well able to stand on her own two feet.

In adopting that position England will also be able to look - for the first time in 300 years - at her own needs and her own wishes. The hangover of Empire has lasted for too long and the spiv, Europhobe culture of the modern Tory party is simply the latest and brashest expression of a type of imperial and imperious nationalism that is far less palatable than the moderate, inclusive left-of-centre variety espoused by the SNP. Without the need to posture before the world - and before Europe - England can consider anew the proper and most productive policies for a small but populous nation on the edge of Europe as we enter the 21st century.

Independence for England can be an invigorating blast of common sense, forcing upon the country a need to renew its national perspectives and develop its international alliances. One of these would undoubtedly be with Scotland, its closest neighbour and firm friend. The ties between the nations would be of family and shared experience, and the future relationship would be one marked by common interest and common concerns.

Perhaps England could do with such an ally. Scotland again could be the bridge to a better understanding of other European nations. Scotland as an independent cohabitee of these islands can render England infinitely better service than as a surly lodger.

Independence for England is a good slogan. It would be even better as a sensible policy within the British mainstream, for it can deliver a better England as well as a better Scotland.

The author is leader of the SNP and MP for Banff and Buchan.

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