Sunday, 21 April 2013

The anti-social union

So Scotland, which way shall we go?  Straight ahead carrying on much as we are now, or off one way to independence or another to constitutional change but within the UK?  Its been argued that this is the political choice, but whatever happens a social union exists amongst the people of these islands and that will not change.  I wanted to write my thoughts on the idea of social union and how I believe Independence is in fact a process of separation that would change everything - including our ideas of social union.

Scottish nationalists will often argue that they are not separatists, rather they believe in Scotland having political independence with social ties remaining intact within a British social union.  I have heard this while comparing being Scandinavian with being from the British Isles.

This is a clever conceit and one that deserves serious consideration.  It is all the more clever because it is impossible to prove or disprove.  In that sense I need to go with my gut here.  However, I think it is important to test and challenge this argument because it is an all too easy one to make and ultimately, I believe, a false proposition.

The reason I think it is a false proposition is this.  If Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom there is no Britain anymore and everything changes.  Yes we have a shared language, yes we have shared geography and yes we have a largely shared culture.  But it would be rather like a divorced couple.  The old family has gone, the old household is no more.  They no longer share the same life.  Sure there are ties, shared memories, shared children, shared friends even, but they are no longer married and they live separate lives.  If Scotland becomes independent, Britain will have ceased to be and very quickly no one in the south will be that interested anymore - it is no longer their business and we are no longer theirs. 

To suggest that life after independence is just the same except for eliminating the possibility of a Tory government is disingenuous and wrong.

Michael Ignatieff, the commentator and ex Canadian politician, drawing on Quebec and the Canadian experience, has pointed out that everything will change whatever the result.  Alex Salmond says we will have the Queen, the Pound and the BBC; Unionists say nothing will change because the nationalists will lose. Ignatieff thinks both are wrong.  A lot will change and will change quickly.  Pointing to the Quebec experience, Ignatieff says that the rest of Canada no longer have much to say to each other and that is without the step of full independence.

No, we should be in no doubt, if we become independent there will not be a continuing sort of quasi country existing in the form of a social union without the political union.  Britain will have ceased to be.

In fact the idea of a social union (with political autonomy) describes what we have with devolution and what we can have all the more with some form of developed devolution - not with independence.  Call it what you will - Devo Max/Plus, Home Rule or Federalism - developing devolution is the far more likely outcome of the Independence Referendum.  So, I believe we should be concentrating more discussion on that, what form it takes, how it fits within a wider UK settlement and how we get there. 

Given there is far more that binds us than separates us - culturally, linguistically and geographically; and given our separate identity within a United Kingdom of regions and nations, a significantly devolved Scotland within a United Kingdom remains, as it has always done, by far the most natural settlement.  That is how you preserve a social union.  Independence is the anti-social union.   


  1. Wow no Britain anymore. So like when Scotland is independent the island of Great Britain will cease to exist? Maybe I could get a job at Gretna Ferryport!

  2. Well if you re-read paragraph 4 you will see I refer to our shared geography, which of course means the island of Great Britain shared by mainland Scotland, England and Wales. I refer to this again in my final para and I refer to being part of the Britsh Isles in para 2.

    That we share geography is of course a given. I am arguing rather that the concept of being Britain and British will go with the break up of the UK. If it helps you understand see Britain as a synonym for the UK (as it has often been used) and being British is what we usually call citizens of the UK.

    Yes we will always have the islands we share, in particular the island of Great Britain. But I'm saying that sense of being British just because we share the British Isles will cease to be on Independence. And that that sense of being British does not exits in the same way that the sens of being Scandanavian exists.

    As someone said to me, 'the social union is just a buzz word invented by Alex Salmond'.

  3. If the concept of Britishness is so heavily dependent on arbitrary units of government that it cannot survive without the United Kingdom, then it's not a concept worth protecting.

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