Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts on Scottish Nationalism

The big political question in Scotland at the moment is the question of Scottish nationalism, or alternately phrased, Scottish independence. There are several prominent schools on the issue, with the most vocal seeming to be those pushing for Scottish independence, which is to say, actually becoming a political entity entirely independent of the United Kingdom. Others advocate for home rule, which is more autonomy in Holyrood (Edinburgh) without secession from the United Kingdom. Still others favor the status quo of having some degree of governance from Holyrood, and administration from Westminster (London) for more strategic matters.

The zeal for independence seems to be associated with the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which currently enjoys a small majority in the Scottish Parliament, but that's a majority against six other parties who share the remainder of the seats. According to Wikipedia, the undisputed and infallible source of all knowledge, the 1995 film Braveheart may have contributed to Scottish nationalist sentiment, though the Proclaimers song at the top of this post dates back to 1988, so there are some among the Scots who have supported independence for much longer.

Of course, for anyone who's seen Braveheart, a question arises: if William Wallace and Robert the Bruce won Scottish independence in 1328, then how did Scotland come to be part of the United Kingdom? YouTube's CGPGrey does a good job of explaining a very complex series of historical events in this video.

As CGPGrey points out, the Scots have maintained cultural independence since the unification of Great Britain, and their nationalist sentiment endures to this day. (CGPGrey also does a fantastic job of explaining the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and a variety of other things, in this video.) At any rate, a referendum has been planned for 2014, at which point the Scots will be asked either one question, or two, these being variations of the following:

1) Should Scotland secede from the United Kingdom?
2) Should more powers be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood?

I should preface my own thoughts on the subject by saying that I hate when ignorant non-Americans opine about American politics. I've had to endure this quite a lot lately in the wake of the recent U.S. General Election, and let me tell you, as much as I love my friends from across the pond, the vast majority of them are ignorant as muck when it comes to American politics. As such, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I'm an outsider looking in, and I don't claim to have all of the information or all of the answers.

That disclaimer having been entered into the record, I have a hard time taking the concept of Scottish independence seriously. I'll outline some of my thoughts in a scheme that I learned from my AP US History teacher all the way back in 1997: ESP, or Economic, Political, and Social.

Economic: The basic economic concept driving Scottish independence is the idea that, according to some literature that was shoved in my hand the other day, Scotland pays 9.6% of the taxes in the United Kingdom, but only receives 9.3% of the benefit. I'm not sure how they came to the 9.3%, and I'm positive that there are both Nationalists and Unionists much more intelligent, and far more invested in the matter, than I; that having been said, it seems like the Scottish Nationalists are carefully picking and choosing their facts to get to that figure.

The big ace in the hole of the Scottish Nationalists seems to be oil, along the lines of the economies of Scandinavia. It seems obvious that basing one's goals of independence on oil in 2012 is a remarkably poor plan for the long term. I can't help but assume that the Scottish Nationalists are also downplaying the various economic benefits that Scotland currently gains from being part of the United Kingdom. (For example, as much as I love Scotland, I have a hard time envisioning a situation whereby I would have come here for school if it hadn't been part of the United Kingdom.) If I were a Scottish voter, I would question whether the numbers the SNP is pushing actually add up.

Political: First, let's look at local politics. As CGP Grey points out in the linked (not embedded) video, Scots join the Northern Irish and Welsh in having local parliaments, something the English don't enjoy. Furthermore, the Scottish Nationalist position seems to forget that Scots have recently and traditionally enjoyed plenty of representation in the British government: for example, the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish, and I believe that former Chief of the Defence Staff Jock Stirrup was as well. The point being that the notion that the Scots are somehow marginalized in British politics seems questionable. At the very worst, Scotland enjoys better representation within the United Kingdom proper than many American states enjoy in Congress.

I feel like the case for Scottish independence really falls apart on the international scene. Scotland currently enjoys the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union, NATO, the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, and a number of other international organizations. There was some recent malfeasance on the part of the SNP, who claimed that they'd been told that Scotland would be grandfathered into the EU, only for officials at the EU to refute those claims. This doesn't really lend the SNP much credibility with respect to their actual plans to govern Scotland, or for being honest and trustworthy among their constituents.

I've also heard rumors that Scotland would also expect for two British warships to be given to Scotland upon its theoretical secession, which seems unlikely. This brings me to defense policy: I don't think the SNP actually has one. I think that their expectation is that Scots will no longer have to fight in England's wars, and like Ireland and Sweden, they'll be able to enjoy the benefits of NATO without being members or putting any actual skin into the game. Again, Scotland currently enjoys a great deal of support and legitimacy as part of the United Kingdom that it would theoretically lose if it were to secede. As selective as the SNP seems to be with its economic and domestic political facts, its potential foreign policy seems even more poorly conceived.

Social: Scotland already has a distinct society and culture, as evidenced by the fact that we Americans are so fond of Scottish heritage events such as highland games and Scottish festivals. I can't imagine any social or cultural gain for Scotland from secession, and plenty of drawbacks from no longer being included within the United Kingdom.

Basically, as I've probably insinuated by now, I don't get the impression that the concept of Scottish independence has been particularly well thought out, or that it benefits from much intellectual rigor. It seems as if a bunch of Scots have been stirred up with a sort of arbitrary nationalist sentiment. I also have it on good authority from a very smart guy with a bird's eye view of the situation that, really, this is largely a ploy by the SNP to demand more authority from Westminster. Whether that's because they're ardent Scottish nationalists, cheap political opportunists, or some combination thereof, I don't know. At the risk of sounding flippant and/or arrogant, the whole thing seems remarkably silly to me. Then again, I'm not an expert on the situation, there are smarter people than I on both sides of the issue, and I have very little skin in the game (though moreso than a couple of months ago), so I'm reticent to be anywhere near as obnoxious as some of those aforementioned brethren have been with respect to American politics. (Seriously, most of them are totally clueless, and it's painful to hear them open their ignorant mouths and vomit forth their ignorance at me.)

It's a big, complicated issue, and it seems to come up more often than I'm really comfortable with, so I thought I'd bring those of you who aren't here in Scotland up to speed on it as best I can.


  1. 'secession from the United Kingdom.'

    Scottish independence would NOT be secession. It would be the restoration of Scotland's international sovereignty and the dissolution of the Treaty of Union in 1707 which initially created the United Kingdom.

    'then how did Scotland come to be part of the United Kingdom?'

    The straightforward answer to that is the Alien Act of 1705. Sometime ago I submitted a comment to the YouTube video by CGP Grey 'How Scotland Joined Great Britain' mentioning this. The following day the message 'The account associated with this video has been closed.' appeared on YouTube. The current video has been modified but there is still no mention of the Alien Act of 1705.

    'downplaying the various economic benefits that Scotland gains from being part of the United Kingdom.'

    Economic benefits like high unemployment as a result of the decline in manufacturing and heavy industries, the virtual decimation of the shipbuilding industry, the removal of 6000 square miles of Scottish waters in the North Sea to English waters - 'The Scottish Waters Adjacent Boundaries Order 1999' - thereby removing part of the economic activity of the fishing industry from the Scottish economy. In the Scottish sector of the North Sea all of the revenues from the oil industry go directly to the UK Treasury but all of the associated costs are allocated to the Scottish economy.

    'At the very worst, Scotland enjoys better representation within the United Kingdom proper than many American states enjoy in Congress.'

    'I don't get the impression that the concept of Scottish independence has been particularly well thought out, or that it benefits from much intellectual rigor.'

    'I also have it on good authority...that, really, this is largely a ploy by the SNP to demand more authority from Westminster.'

    These are examples of the practice of making assertions without supplying supporting evidence. Here are a few suggested sources -

    'Scotland: The Shaping of a Nation' by Gordon Donaldson, ISBN 0 7153 6904 0, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 74-15792,

    'Scottish Historical Documents' by Professor Gordon Donaldson, ISBN 1-897784-41-4,

    'The Scottish Insurrection of 1820' by Peter Berresford Ellis and Seumas Mac A'Ghobhainn, ISBN 0 85976 519 9,

    'Independent and Free: SCOTTISH POLITICS AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY 1918-1945' by Richard J Finlay, ISBN 0-85976-399-4.

    By the way the SNP has existed since 1934.

    'the whole thing seems remarkably silly to me.'

    Do some genuine research of your own and it won't seem so silly.

    On 17 November an article was published in 'The Herald' newspaper. Here's the link - The following is one of the comments to it -

    'Mr Clinton has forgotten what Thomas Paine said about American independence in "Common Sense".

    "Under our present denomination of British subjects, we can neither be received nor heard abroad. The custom of all courts is against us, and will be so, until, by an independence, we take rank with other nations."

    That was good enough for Mr Clinton's country, and it is good enough for mine too.'

    The following is a link to a letter from a US citizen to US newspapers which was published with permission by -

  2. Two of the big things that I've heard about the whole thing are that

    1) It's an all or nothing vote. If Scotland becomes independent, it does it entirely. If this is true, it seems like a spiteful way to offer independence to Scotland. Even if they began preparing now, working night and day, this seems like something that would need to happen in increments, not all at once. If it happens, I do hope Scotland is able to economically sustain itself.

    2) The voting age has been lowered to 16. I've been hearing speculation about the wisdom and motivation for this move from the media, the locals, etc. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusion on it.

    Overall, I have not heard much in the way of how government expects to run things if the vote passes. I mean detailed plans, which would obviously be necessary to succeed. It doesn't mean they aren't working on it, but maybe more publication of how they plan to move forward would help with the vote. I won't get to vote, but will be keeping my ears open for info on this going forward because I'm really curious how it will turn out.

  3. Also, about Thomas Paine's quote about American independence - that was a different time. The world has changed a lot since then. It's much more integrated thanks to new technology. Political and monetary policies have been created, amended, superceded. Nations' relationships to one another have evolved. It's a whole different playing field than it was when the American colonies existed. That doesn't mean that independence can't work for Scotland at all, it just means that it's not going to work the same way or probably follow the same path. It's a beautiful quote though. I just think it would be important to not get caught up in the emotion of it before thinking things thoroughly through.

  4. @Michael Follon: Please keep in mind that my post was not intended to be a detailed research paper - although your comment apparently was - but rather, a blog post whose intended audience consists of my friends and family who are interested in following my adventures in Scotland. While I respect your obvious knowledge on the issue, none of what you had to say has changed my impressions. I don't think the SNP has a plan (as evidenced by your own admission that the plan for Scotland's economy rests primarily on oil, a business that most countries are currently trying to diversify themselves out of). Your comments about the Alien Act of 1705 is quite interesting from a historical context, but it's 2012, not 1705, and it seems awfully short-sighted to base a push for independence upon perceived wrongs from more than three centuries ago. And yes, Scotland leaving the Union would be secession, regardless of how you care to creatively phrase it - it would apparently be more legal than the attempt by the Confederate States to secede from America, but the Confederate States' original inclusion in the American Union was every bit as voluntary as Scotland's inclusion in the Union of the United Kingdom. You're entitled to your opinion, and I appreciate your mostly cordial (though obviously passionate) input on the issue, but the fact remains that as a dispassionate outsider looking in, I have a hard time taking the whole thing seriously.

    @sweetthesound: I'm largely in agreement with your thoughts on the issue. A couple of notes. First, I get the impression that the majority of the spite is in Holyrood, not Westminster, and a number of my friends and colleagues - Scots, English, and otherwise - express the same feelings without my prompting. Second, it's interesting to note that I was listening to Around Orkney a couple of weeks ago, and the topic of the lowered voting age was mentioned; however, when they conducted an informal poll in an Orkney classroom, it was overwhelmingly in favor of Union, not secession. You're right, of course: it will be interesting to see how it all turns out, and the two of us obviously have a bit more skin in the game now since our degrees will be from Scottish institutions!

    1. @Tom@JTS: you write -

      'as evidenced by your own admission that the plan for Scotland's economy rests primarily on oil'

      I did no such thing. When oil was discovered in the North Sea the sovereign countries bordering the North Sea negotiated the division of the North Sea to identify who would be responsible for what. The UK government created a North Sea Economic Area in the area of the North Sea for which it was responsible. This Area was further divided into two sectors - the Northern North Sea and the Southern North Sea. There were two reasons for this - 1. to take account of the maritime boundary, between Scotland and England, which had been agreed with the United Nations in 1968, 2. to specify those parts of the North Sea where Scots Law and English Law apply.

      I favour independence for Scotland whether or not there is oil in the North Sea.

      'Your comments about the Alien Act of 1705 is quite interesting from a historical context, but it's 2012, not 1705'

      Yes it is 2012 and the Alien Act of 1705 is an actual fact. The passage of time, however, does not change that fact.

      'England retaliated in 1705 with the Alien Act, which declared that, until Scotland accepted the Hanoverian succession, all Scots would be treated as aliens in England and the import of cattle, sheep, coal and linen from Scotland into England would not be allowed; this measure stimulated the Scots into appointing commissioners to treat for union.'

      SOURCE: 'Scottish Historical Documents' by Professor Gordon Donaldson, p. 266.

      'Professor Lodge, an English historian and pro-Unionist, admits...that:

      "They [the English government] had commercial inducements to offer and the ruin of Scottish agriculture to threaten, and by a judicious combination of bribes and menaces, they succeeded in bringing about the negotiations of 1706."'

      SOURCE: 'The Scottish Insurrection of 1820' by Peter Berresford Ellis and Seumas Mac A'Ghobhainn, p.42, ISBN 0 85976 519 9.

      'And yes, Scotland leaving the Union would be secession'

      'In contrast, Lane says, Scotland cannot break away like Ireland as it was 'one of the basic building blocks of "the United Kingdom of Great Britain" (Lane 1991: 146). Without Scotland there is no 'Great Britain' and without Great Britain there is no 'United Kingdom'.'

      SOURCE: 'SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: A Practical Guide' by Jo Eric Murkens with Peter Jones and Michael Keating, p.109, ISBN 0-7486-1699-3.

      'the residual traditions of Scottish constitutional law and practice which never accorded untrammelled sovereignty to Westminster.'

      SOURCE: 'SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: A Practical Guide, p.296.

      'every bit as voluntary as Scotland's inclusion in the Union of the United Kingdom.'

      In the three months that the Articles of Union were being debated by the Scottish parliament there were riots throughout Scotland, and during that same period English troops were were moved to the Scotland/England border and Ulster. Now what was that about voluntary?

      You refer to 'perceived wrongs', do you consider the events which led to the American Declaration of Independence to be perceived wrongs? Do you favour the USA becoming an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?

  5. @Michael Follon: Thank you for your detailed response. I'm going to try to answer it with several direct observations

    1) I have seen nothing from you or anything else that explains in any detail how Scotland would be economically sustainable if independent from the United Kingdom. The best I can get from anyone, and you yourself at least alluded to it, is that Scotland will have access to fossil fuels, an industry that most countries are trying to diversify out of. I have seen no evidence that the SNP (or anyone else) actually has a plan for Scotland's economy if it were to be operated independently of the United Kingdom. If I were voting in a referendum on my nation's independence, the SNP would have failed to convince me that their economic plan was viable in the short or long term.

    2) I have seen nothing from you or anyone else that explains what Scotland would gain politically by seceding from the United Kingdom. In fact, I have seen plenty to indicate that Scotland would suffer from loss of membership in such organizations as NATO, the EU, and possibly even the UN, and that's just on the international level. If I were voting in a referendum on my nation's independence, the SNP would have failed to convince me that their plan would provide me with any local, national, or international political benefit whatsoever.

    3) I have seen nothing from you or anyone else that explains why Scotland would gain socially by seceding from the United Kingdom. If I were voting in a referendum on my nation's independence, the SNP would have failed to convince me that I would gain anything from deviating from the status quo.

    4) I will reiterate: it's 2012, not 1705, and not 1775. The Thirteen Colonies are not declaring their independence from Queen Elizabeth the Second under conditions whereby its interests are already represented in parliament as Scotland's are at present. Instead, the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from the tyrant King George the Third, who had maliciously and intentionally violated the rights of his own subjects. The Thirteen Colonies in 1775 are not Scotland in 2012 - and you can't even go back to 1775 for a legitimate grievance against the United Kingdom and/or the English, you have to go back even further to 1705. If I were voting in a referendum on my nation's independence, and the best the advocates for independence could come up with in 2012 was the Alien Act of 1705 and associated riots that took place more than three hundred years ago, I would probably never vote in their favor in any election for the rest of my life.

    Again, I respect your opinion and your obvious intimate knowledge of the subject matter, but I remain entirely unconvinced. Like the handful of other Scottish nationalists I've met, you have presented no coherent plan for the administration of an independent Scotland, and no coherent justification for why it should be independent in the first place. I'm studying strategy as an academic discipline, and one of the basic tenets of strategy is that one does not enter into national level operations without justification and prior planning, and that is not in evidence from the SNP or any of Scottish nationalists that I have encountered.

  6. I hate when ignorant non-Scots opine about Scottishp olitics. I've had to endure this quite a lot lately in the lead up to the independence referendum, and let me tell you, as much as I love my friends from South of the border, the vast majority of them are ignorant as muck when it comes to Scottish politics.

  7. @Bob Duncan: I acknowledged my disconnection from the issue up front, so your attitude is entirely misplaced. As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of this entire blog is to inform my friends and family back in the States of my adventures and experiences in Scotland, not to debate the intricacies of politics. The aim of this post was to inform my readers - again, mostly family and friends back in the States - of my impression of the big political issue in Scotland at the moment. You and Michael Follon have merely confirmed the following observations:

    1) Neither the SNP nor the average Scottish nationalist has a plan for how to administer Scotland in the event of Scottish independence.

    2) Neither the SNP nor the average Scottish nationalist has any real justification for why Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom in the first place.

    3) Neither the SNP nor the average Scottish nationalist is particularly diplomatic, nor are they inclined to inspiring optimism and political coalition-building in the pursuit of their ultimate goal.

    And let's not forget that much of my impression of the issue comes from the many Scots with whom I interact on a daily basis as a result of actually living in Scotland at the moment. Fortunately, the one and only Scottish nationalist I regularly interact with in person, despite embodying the three criteria I just outlined, is far less obnoxious and condescending than either of you have been. I can only imagine how vehement the two of you are toward potential referendum voters who disagree with you. With an attitude like yours, I can only imagine how poorly the referendum may go for you come 2014.

  8. @Tom@JTS:

    Very briefly, in your first reply to my comment, referred to 'the attempt by the Confederate States to secede from America'. An American lawyer, based in London, writes in his blog -

    'Thus, although it may not be specifically in the language of each State's acceptance of the Constitution, each State does indeed have the right to secede from the Union, which is the first legal hurdle to overcome in such a process.'

    Here is the link to that blog -

  9. @Michael Follon: I believe you'll find that few if any credible American attorneys would take such an argument seriously. As the writer points out in the passage that you yourself quoted, no such language actually exists in each State's acceptance of the Constitution, meaning that such an argument is based upon the concept that whatever isn't expressly forbidden in law is consequently legal. America happens to have fought the bloodiest war in our history over that question, and the secessionist side lost.

    Consequently, I'll caution you that if you're trying to convince American audiences of the legitimacy of Scottish secession, holding the Confederacy up as your example is unlikely to get you much traction. Besides, Scotland in 2012/'14 is not the Confederate States in 1860/'61, nor is it the Thirteen Colonies in 1775/'76, and repeatedly deferring to these non-congruous examples is merely an obfuscation of the points I've already noted.

  10. @Tom @JTS:

    I certainly would not hold the Confederacy as an example for Scottish independence. Let me share with you advice I was given by my gran nearly 40 years ago -

    "Just remember, especially in politics, that people who make statements as facts without knowing what they are talking about are just opening their mouth and letting their belly rumble."

  11. So are you accusing me of opening my mouth and letting my belly rumble?

  12. @Tom@JTS:

    When I read your last comment at first I wasn't going to bother replying to it. I subsequently decided to do so.

    I most certainly did not accuse you of anything. If you choose to interpret my last comment as an accusation then that is your problem.