On September 18 2014, the eyes of the UK, and indeed many in the wider world, were on Scotland, as it voted in its independence referendum. The decisive result – 55% No to independence against 45% Yes – brought huge sighs of relief to a panicked British establishment as well as to many of the Scots who voted no, such as old-age pensioners worried that their pension payments would stop on independence. It brought delight to those Scots, polls suggest around 10%, who feel British first, Scottish second, and feelings of devastation to very many of the 45% who voted Yes (this author among them – so that’s my cards placed on the table!), particularly those who had worked in the highly active, grassroots Yes campaign, much more visible “on the ground” than the Nos.
Are there any interesting philosophical lessons to be drawn from this? Was philosophy, political philosophy for example, at all relevant in the debate? One difficulty in addressing this topic for those outside Scotland is that a seriously distorted picture of the whole debate was presented, especially to those in the rUK (i.e. “rest of the UK” as the ugly acronym has it). Newspaper coverage was predictably biased but the presentation of London-based news media, particularly the BBC, has attracted considerable criticism, including academic critiques based on detailed analysis and strident criticism from former BBC political journalists such as Paul Mason. For example, campaign positions of the unionist No campaign were regularly presented as matters of fact by BBC presenters. Readers in rUK might care to ask themselves how uncomfortable they would feel if Tory claims that Labour manifesto pledges were economically unsustainable were repeatedly presented on BBC news as matters of fact (reverse this example if your political affiliations are anti-Labour). One result, then, of the referendum is that a large section of the public in Scotland now feel that the public broadcaster is an agent, albeit not a deliberate or conscious one, of state propaganda.
A second way in which the debate was held to be mis-represented is the idea that it was a clash between Scottish nationalists on the one side versus and anti-nationalists arguing for a more global inter-connected world on the other. One thing I think the BBC did, eventually, convey, is that a great many of the grass-roots activists in the Yes campaign vehemently denied that they were nationalists, (the campaign reached way beyond Scottish National Party members and supporters). But my own view is that this correction itself is very misleading. The argument is essentially one between Scottish nationalists and British nationalists, and it is philosophical naivety which has obscured this fact.
To explain: political philosophers have developed a distinction between civic nationalism and objective nationalism, the latter morally repugnant and the former, at least not obviously so. Philosophers who have written in this sort of area include David Miller and Yael Tamir. Very roughly, for civic nationalists, people belong to a nation simply because they believe they do. Ethnicity, “kinship” or race, religious affiliation, linguistic background and so on, the very factors which ground national identity according to the various sub-species of objective nationalist – these factors are irrelevant for civic nationalism, a position entirely in keeping with liberal democratic values.
Far from being different varieties of the same type, one argument in favour of civic nationalism is that it is the best prophylactic against objective nationalism. The ideal world of the objective nationalist is a world partitioned into homogenous states in which, inside any given one, everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, has the same religious and cultural outlook but glowers across the border at a very different, though equally homogenous state whose people look different, speak a different language, have a different, incompatible religion. Such a world will almost inevitably be a world of near perpetual war. By cutting across groupings of language, race, religion, (and throughout history migration and conquest have meant interminglings of these are pretty widespread) civic nationalism possesses enormous potential to defuse the lethal force of ethnic nationalism.
Of course simply having national boundaries which criss-cross over racial, religious and linguistic groupings is no guarantee of a peaceful liberal state, as many tragic examples across the world today, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East and many more, show. Heterogeneous states binding together people of different race, language or religion often seem impossible, the differences, hatreds and enmities between the various groups too great. It is not at all clear what, morally, ought to be done in such circumstances. But in Western Europe today we are much more fortunate. Different nations living side by side, peacefully but voluntarily cooperating and not differentiating themselves by much more than the accidents of history are not only possible but actual – the Scandinavian nations are a clear example.
So one rather instrumentalistic justification for civic nationalism (for those who support liberal, tolerant values) is that, where it is feasible to create a state based on such national identification, it furthers liberal values to do so. Are there any more intrinsic reasons in favour? One I’d proffer is the following.
Humans owe basic moral obligations to each other regardless of which group they belong to. But a world in which no one acknowledges any obligation or loyalty to any other (immediate family aside, perhaps) except minimal moral obligations would be a cold, atomistic place in which backs may be scratched – but only the backs of those who promise to scratch back. A society bound together by ties of civic nationalism is a genuine society, bonded by sentiments of solidarity, not a commercial enterprise linked solely by calculated self-interest. It seems impossible to create special bonds of solidarity unless one differentiates us, to whom the bonds are owed, from them, to whom they are not. This can often lead to hatred of them and abandonment of basic moral obligations towards them. Cultivating national identities of the civic type (where this is possible) seems by far the best way to avoid this but still generate genuine communities whilst respecting liberal values.
A second positive reason in favour is to appeal to a type of collective autonomy. Self-rule, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, these are fundamental goods both at the personal level and at the level of collective groups (I pass by here interesting metaphysical questions as to the ontological status of supra-personal entities.) Suppose I am a partner in a taxi-drivers’ collective, or in a firm of lawyers, with a democratically elected leadership and where all major decisions affecting the weal of the group, the pay, working conditions, practices and so forth are taken collectively. What attitude am I likely to take to the proposal that the collective be disbanded, and we all become employees of a company headquartered somewhere else, London perhaps? I will become an employee with no say, or very little say (only through union representation which might require striking and losing pay perhaps) in the future direction of the company, with my life now determined by the dictates of managers appointed from outside. Surely any normal human, with normal levels of self-esteem and concern for living some sort of autonomous life, would reject such a proposal, especially if the economic assessment was that there was likely to be no substantive economic difference, positive or negative, either way. For similar reasons, then, I would argue that the Scottish parliament ought not to be subordinate to an essentially English parliament in London but take on the same rights and responsibilities of the other national parliaments in Europe. (As regards economic matters, beyond short-term start up costs, no economic expert I read thought that an independent Scotland would be anything other than a rich European country, as it is currently, though they varied over whether they thought it would probably be a bit richer, or a bit poorer, than in the UK.)
On the other side, are there philosophical reasons against civic nationalism? One might challenge the coherence of the whole idea. What is it for a group of individuals to belong to the same nation, according to the civic nationalist? And for those outside not to? Is it that those inside think “we belong to the same nation”? Well what is it to think that? Might there not be some vicious circularity here, one which objective nationalism avoids? The linguistic sectarian, for example, specifies co-nationality in terms of a further, distinct and relatively coherent and determinate notion, being speakers of a given language. (Racists have more trouble, since “race” is not only much vaguer than “language” but arguably not a coherent notion at all.)
But I do not think there is too much of a problem here. The role played by, e.g. speaking English (obviously, as a Scot, I grant this is not a completely determinate or unproblematic notion!) is played by identification with a particular bounded territory which has emerged through the course of history, in the case of the current debate, by Scotland as a region of political geography. What makes the Scots a nation is differential attitudes towards people inside the territory compared to those outside. Attitudes such as preparedness to make financial sacrifices which are not morally obligatory for those inside but not outside; for example, readiness to pay tax to ensure the roads are as good, the leisure centres as plentiful, the standard of education roughly similarly throughout the land (and an expectation that others in the land will do likewise for you) but not for those beyond. Also an acceptance that those inside the territory should be subject to the same laws, and, in a democracy, have the same right as you to a say in electing the lawmakers, but not extending this acceptance to those beyond one’s own land.
Of course the fact that Scotland existed as a nation state and continues to exist as a political entity with which people identify is the result of brute historical contingency, the result of dynastic marriages and the often brutal machinations and wars of self-centred aristocrats. But the existence of each and every one of us is marked by a similar historical contingency, without depriving our existence of moral value.
So am I saying that the division in Scotland came down to a clash between “the 45”, the civic Scottish nationalists (good folk) and the 55% of British nationalists, the baddies: proponents of nasty, immoral, objective nationalism? Certainly not. To be sure some in the No camp do fall into the latter category, the neo-fascists and those who flirt with Ulster loyalist terrorism and who seem to have been responsible for most of the unsavoury incidents in a remarkably peaceful campaign. But clearly the mainstream unionist parties, Labour, Tory and the LibDems are also civic nationalists. (In the case of the LibDems perhaps not British or “Ukanian” nationalists, but rather Euronationalists, who dream of the creation of a new nation, the United States of Europe, out of the ashes of the old nations of Europe, one which can challenge the USA for economic and political domination of the world. More of a nightmare than a dream, in my view.)
That being so, and supposing we grant that a form of civic nationalism is a good thing to be encouraged where it can work, why does that tell in favour of Scottish nationalism and Yes to independence? Why not in favour of British (or Ukanian) nationalism and remaining within the UK? Should we not take the result of the referendum to show that, for the majority of Scots, national ties stretch from Shetland down to Cornwall, from Dover over and up to Derry? (But not into Donegal, or down to Dublin. It is curious how the Scottish Labour Party, in which people of Irish Catholic descent have played such an important role, has been so keen to stress solidarity between working class Glaswegians and Scousers, Mancunians, Brummies etc., but apparently sees no need for solidarity with the working class in Dublin or Cork!) Fifty-five per cent of Scots, after all, have shown they are prepared to pay taxes to pay for schools in Cornwall not Cork, and accept that voters in Surrey can determine which government they live under but not voters in Sligo.
Now this point certainly corrects the over-simple argument set out thus far, but matters are more complex than this revised picture suggests. For the overwhelming majority of Scots accept the right to self-determination of Scotland, in particular accept that if Scotland had voted Yes in the referendum then Scotland would have taken its place among the community of nations again. Indeed the UK as a whole has accepted that the Scots have a right to secede, as British nationalists tend to think of it (despite the official line that the UK is a multi-national voluntary union – “secession” would not be appropriate if unionists actually believed their own propaganda). This is a happy situation which is not often replicated elsewhere (cf. the current situation in Spain with regard to Catalonia).
This means that with respect to one absolutely crucial factor which determines the bounds of one’s sense of national identity – which people do you accept as having equal rights with you in determining the laws which govern you – the Scots, at least those who currently accept the union, have an attitude which is to say the least complex, if not outright contradictory. On the one hand, the answer to “who is one of us?” is: everyone in Ukania, from Lerwick to Land’s End, Dover to Derry. But at a more fundamental level the answer is: only the Scots. In particular it is the Scots and the Scots only who have what one might call the meta-right to decide who has the right to decide matters of the first level sort – taxation, war, macroeconomics etc., for Scotland. Westminster, in other words, has a merely conditional authority over Scotland; that seems to be the view of the vast majority of Scots, probably only the very small number, around 10% according to pollsters, who feel British first, Scottish second would disagree.
What are we to make of this? You might say that this shows we must abandon a simple bivalent picture of national identity in favour of a mosaic of overlapping types of identity (the death of national sovereignty is frequently reported nowadays and no doubt will continue to be for centuries to come); or perhaps we should conclude that the Scots feel they have a status somewhat in between that of a region and a nation traditionally construed, corresponding neither to the way that e.g. the people of Surrey feel about Surrey versus the UK nor to the way that English people feel about the EU. Germany gives us a possible comparative case: Bavaria. An independent state until more recently than Scotland, it now is settled, despite Bavarian jokes about the other Germans being “Preuße” – Prussians – into a role as a region, Land, of Germany, with only a small nationalist movement.
There is one big problem with this idea though: arithmetic. The English outnumber the Scots ten to 1, the proportions are roughly 84% of the UK versus 8.4%. And the decimal point in “8.4%” is not a wee midge which has been squished, but has a significant semantic role to play.
There is then, no comparison, with Bavaria. It is not so much that Bavaria is larger relative to Germany than Scotland is to the UK, at 15% of the population. Much more importantly, the largest German region Nordrhein-Westfalen is only slightly bigger than Bavaria at around at 20%. If Germany was 85% Prussia, 8% Bavaria plus a few more Länder – well it wouldn’t exist long. Nowhere, in fact, do you see a democratic, functioning, federal or multi-national state in which one component nation is 80% plus, but which contains others which are nonetheless of the size of many independent nations (at 5.3 million strong, Scotland is around the median size of nations in the world today). The largest state in the US, California, at 39 million, contains around 12% of the US population as a whole, the largest in Australia, New South Wales, is about 31% of Australia by population, the largest in Canada, Ontario about 36% of Canada.
That is why a federal UK is, as even Gordon Brown realises, incoherent. Ed Miliband as UK Prime Minister clashing with First Minister Cameron, leader of the “region” where the overwhelming bulk of the population and wealth resides, this is completely unworkable. Indeed Prime Minister David Cameron, responsible for defence and foreign affairs but utterly beholden to First Minister Boris Johnson who holds all the financial levers, that too is a recipe for political breakdown. Nor is the LibDem solution at all feasible, namely that the English commit national suicide and pretend that the “possible world” in which the Heptarchy never disappeared is actual and that the Acts of Union united not Scotland and England, but Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Mercia, Wessex, Sussex, Essex, Kent, East Anglia and Northumbria. Devolved federal parliaments will be set up in all these new “semi-nations” (and who knows, perhaps in Gondor too, with Aragorn as First Minister) responsible for at least those matters such as Health and Education currently devolved to the Scottish parliament. The English national teams in football, rugby, cricket and other sports will be disbanded and if permission is withheld by, for example, FIFA for separate Mercian, West Saxon etc. teams to be admitted to international competition, a single UK team in all sports will be fielded.
Of course none of this will happen, thankfully; and it is hard to see anyone taking it seriously who is able to distinguish between actual reality and fantasy novels (perhaps this explains why J K Rowling is attracted to British Nationalism). Nor does faulty arithmetic explain the contradictory attitude of the 55% of Scots who voted no. The traditional Scottish nationalist explanation is much more plausible. Scotland is a nation with a low sense of national self-esteem, at least among its older generations (and I include nationalist as well as unionists Scots such as myself in this). A little voice inside the head of most older Scots said, “we’re no good enough to take responsibility for our own affairs, we’re bound to muck things up” and whilst some of us auld yins overcame it at the ballot box, a majority did not.
This feeling, that the Scots are, as it were, a nation with serious learning difficulties who must hand over power of attorney to another nation – England (for that is what subordinating our parliament to a parliament 84% of whose electorate is English amounts to) – is not a recent one. Rather it has built up over hundreds of years of the Union, inculcated not by the oppressing English but by a Scottish ruling class many of whom who have had (and still have) disdain for ordinary Scots. One must remember, for example, that the Gaelic-speaking part of the country was much more extensive in area and population than it is now, well into the nineteenth century, and that the English-speaking Scottish elite often viewed this large section of the Scottish population as sub-human savages (Hume’s dismissal of the “bare-arsed Highlanders” is mild by comparison).
Even the milder forms of anti-Scottish sentiment which I and my generation were brought up with encouraged a view of Scots as second-rate English: the Scots can achieve great things, but only as second-in-command, as henchmen perhaps, to the English. I don’t mean that I was explicitly taught such things at school. But I was born in the 1950s, just as the Empire started to disintegrate and the “British Empire” (it is highly interesting that the English never seem to have called it, after 1707, the “English Empire”) is crucial here. It is impossible to understand what is happening in Scotland without reflecting on it. This 700 million strong “family of nations” encouraged Scots to delude themselves that they were not swamped by the English, who after all formed nothing like 84% of the population of the Empire. But there was a racist hierarchy at its heart: at the top the English. Next in command the Scots, Welsh and Protestant Irish. Then all the “barbarous or semibarbarous nations” (John Stuart Mill) of Asia and Africa (and right at the bottom, perhaps, the Catholic Irish.) It’s a great mistake to think that because the Empire is long gone that the attitudes it spawned have disappeared too. It would be crazy to think that with regard to race in the UK today.
Now I certainly would not want to compare the current movement for independence in Scotland, essentially 5 million people in a rich Western country having a bit of an identity crisis, with for example the obscenity of slavery which Scotland became embroiled in for 127 years after joining that Union, which has been so eulogised by mainstream politicians such as Gordon Brown. (If you read their speeches and works you would think that barely had the ink on the Treaty of Union dried than the new kingdom devoted its existence to liberating people the world over from slavery and colonialism and installing independent multi-party democracies with strong safeguards for LGBT and other minorities). Similarly the movement for equal rights for women, over half the human race, is much more important than whether the Scottish parliament has equal status among national parliaments or not. But the Women’s anti-Suffrage League, does, I think, illustrate how a large section, including some of the most intelligent members, of a subordinated grouping can voluntarily accept inferior status. Interestingly, the League, whose leaders including many incredibly capable women such as Gertrude Bell, accepted that women should vote in local “domestic” elections, but not in national elections where weighty matters of finance and war were at stake. All rather reminiscent of “devolutionary” Scots who think that the Scottish parliament too, should not concern itself with the grown-up matters- though of course these unionists think, as against Bell and co, that Scots as individuals should have equal rights with the rest of the UK.
For evidence that mainstream unionism is a rather nasty anti-Scottish nationalism, a nationalism still rooted in a seventeenth-century outlook in which large nations dominated or simply swallowed up smaller neighbours (which is what happened to Scotland, against the wishes of most of its people), I’d appeal to another branch of philosophy: logic. For what was really striking to me in the independence debate was the bizarre and extreme illogicality, often dire innumeracy, of the arguments proffered by mainstream unionists. (I’d except here those unionists who deny that Scotland is a nation, and see it as a region, quaintly Celtic like Cornwall, of a single Ukanian nation. But these form a very small minority of unionists; at least very few have put their head above the parapet.)
The examples of the abysmal level of unionist argumentation are legion. There is unionist accountancy: everyone with above average expenditure, thus the Scottish state, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, is in debt regardless of income (rumour has it McCartney, one of the “Let’s stay together” signatories, is re-releasing his Wings single “Give Ireland back to the Irish” as “Give Ireland back to the English”). There is unionist arithmetic: zero, the number of Scottish seats in the UN and Scottish commissioners in the EU commission, is a greater number than one (the number of seats each of Croatia, Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland has in the UN, and the number of European commissioners they each have). Indeed zero is greater than seven, the number of votes each of those countries has in the Council of the European Union. And so on. I try to detail at some length the nonsensicality of key unionist “arguments” in “Ten Absolutely Crap Arguments in Favour of the Union” at sites.google.com/site/weirysite/scottish-independence-referendum-1.
How can we explain how so many highly intelligent unionists press the eject button when the topic of Scotland crops up, and fire their brains out into a Union flag-draped vat, other than by a deep-seated sense of Scotland’s junior status with respect to England? That’s a rhetorical question. But what, you may say of the bombardment of arguments, primarily economic arguments which were unleashed by all sorts of highly respected economic experts and business leaders (including a leading German banker who declared it “incomprehensible” that a small European nation would want to run its own affairs [!]). Well I tried to answer that in “It’s the Economy Dunderheid” also at the above website. Briefly put, I argue that with respect to the long-run economic prospects of an independent Scotland, the economic experts agree nobody can know for sure what they are, but a large difference is very unlikely: either way, Scotland will be a rich Western European country. What nation, confident in itself, would hand over all major powers over the economy, defence, security, foreign affairs to another just because some economists think it might possibly be a little richer if it did so? As to the short-term start-up costs, which figured highly in the recent debate, there was no economic consensus on exactly how steep they would be. Clearly take-off would be turbulent, perhaps even worse than the gloomy prospects of a No vote: of cuts piled on top of the general UK austerity. But if those sorts of costs were an argument against independence, nobody would ever leave home.
So my case for Scottish independence is not one based on racist nonsense about some special Scottish essence. The Scots, English, Welsh and Irish, though perhaps not as homogeneous as the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes (who show no signs of wishing to reform the Kalmar Union), are each rather similar mongrel mixes of Norse, Celt (Irish and Brythonic, that is Welsh), North German, Flemish, Norman and, more recently, many more. Rather it is a moral case, based on the value, intrinsic and instrumental, of having state boundaries based on national identity of the “civic” type, where possible, plus the argument that the alternative – British nationalism – even in its most moderate forms, is a rather unpleasant, bullyboy seventeenth-century type of nationalism founded on a quasi-racist notion of the Scots as second-rate English.
What of basing independence not on some spurious racial Scottish essence but on the political distinctiveness of the Scots, left-wing socialist Scots versus right-wing neo-liberal English in the stereotype? Clearly the idea of an innate leftist tendency in the Scots is absurd and the pollsters suggest that differences between the Scots and English on economic and social attitudes are not huge. Still, there is a significant difference in the current constellation of political forces. The contest in Scotland is between two centre-left parties, Labour and the SNP, whereas in England the Tory party is arguably pulling Labour down in a race to the bottom in terms of taxation and welfare. Those of us on the left in Scotland worry about the direction England seems to be heading. It’s a highly unequal country, by international standards, with a capital city which is far more dominant than is the international norm. It is not completely implausible to imagine a dystopian future of a violent “neo-liberal” society, its economy skewed towards finance capital rather than the “real” economy for which the financial sector is supposed to be just the oil. One where the super-rich live in gated communities guarded by private security, where large ghettoes are filled with a desperate underclass. One in which a middle class works all the hours possible to pay for private education and private health insurance to keep themselves and their children out the ghettoes and out of a hopelessly overrun state health service which caters largely for those too poor to afford decent insurance or for conditions too expensive for private insurers to fix.
It’s not an inevitable future, of course, but we can see the factors pushing in that direction already at work. Get independence for Scotland and in one bound we are free? Obviously not: perhaps the forces pressing us towards more unequal, violent, nasty, finance-dominated Casino Capitalist societies are unstoppable. But I do not think we should be defeatist, and the chances of resisting them would be much higher in an independent Scotland, which moreover, could indeed provide a model for our neighbours by showing there is an alternative.
Has all that gone with the No vote? In the articles mentioned above, I envisaged as the consequence of No a rather unpleasant period to follow, of increasing bitterness within Scotland and between Scotland and England until a second referendum yields a conclusive Yes vote. Partly I based that on the likelihood of an economic backlash against Scotland, fed by the egregiously false myth of the Scots as subsidy junkies (based on unionist accountancy methods- income is irrelevant to whether there is a surplus or deficit). This is particularly likely if the calculations of the likes of the Institute of Fiscal Studies come true, namely that with lower immigration and falling oil revenues Scotland will indeed become a net beneficiary of fiscal transfers inside the UK, a radical transformation from the days when we sent 45% of our entire non-oil GDP down south.
Nor do I think independence is simply inevitable. But it does seem highly likely. The reason goes back to the observations about the collapse of the British Empire. There is a great tendency, especially in England, to think of Scotland as a bit like the North East (the terminology is revealing) or Merseyside, with a few tartan fringes: a grim Northern region rebelling against the metropolitan elites because of Thatcher, the collapse of heavy industry etc. It’s not an unreasonable picture. It would be bolstered if you talked to many of my students active in the Yes campaign, a number of them English students studying in Glasgow, all of whom were highly motivated and many primarily by idealistic rejection of the Casino Capitalism of Brown, Darling, Cameron and Osborne. But I think this picture fails to grasp the overall framework, completely different from the English regions, of a Scotland which, as the Empire vanished after the Second World War, found it harder to disguise the fact that, on an overwhelmingly English island, its position is that of an English province, not one of almost equal rulers of a vast Empire spanning a huge region of the globe. The collapse of the British Empire explains why the re-emergence of Scottish national identity occurred long before the oil was discovered, long before Thatcher and why it has led to the situation, unthinkable when I was young, of around a quarter of Scots (including myself) viewing themselves as not British at all, and only around a tenth viewing themselves as British first. Whatever the Left in England might hope, what is happening in Scotland is not simply a case of rejection of neo-liberalism, it has an essential nationalistic component.
This development, has, of course, generated a reaction from England, a reaction which will itself lead, in all probability, to the destruction of the union. The English have always assumed, rightly, that England did not disappear in 1707, and, as the English/UK government insisted, would have been the “continuing state” had independence come about. To say otherwise is as senseless as saying that Scotland ceased to exist when we acquired the Northern Isles from Norway in 1468 or that Canada disappeared from political history when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. Of course England changed its official legal name, first to Great Britain, then to the United Kingdom, in 1801. But it treated this legalistic change much as Shuggie McSporran would have done, had he needed to change his name to Nigel Ramsbottom to inherit money from an eccentric uncle: it largely ignored it. That’s why Nelson did not declare that the UK expects every man to do his duty. That’s why English soldiers fighting in the First World War thought that the country they were fighting for was England. Certainly, the Prime Minister who entered the UK into the war did (a war in which 26% of Scottish troops died, as opposed to a UK average of around 11%); at any rate, his family has “H H Asquith, Prime Minister of England 1908-1916” on his gravestone. That’s why every English person of my generation or older describes the start of WWII as England standing alone against Germany. That’s why the only English-born person who realises there is no more a Queen of England than a Queen of Sheba or a King of France is the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland herself. That’s why the central bank of the UK is called the Bank of England; (when it comes to money, the English ruling class doesn’t mess about!).
But now with the rise of pesky Scottish nationalism, the English are being drawn up every time they treat “England”, “Britain”, “GB”, “UK” as well-nigh synonymous and are being forced to ask, who are we? Were we in suspended animation for 307 years? Of course England didn’t go out of existence, but the combination of the renewal over the last sixty years of Scottish national identity in a state 84% of whom are English with the latter’s refusal, rightly and whatever LibDems might urge, to wither away quietly will, for the reasons given above regarding federalism, be near impossible to contain in the long run.
Perhaps an agonising and bitter divorce is not inevitable however. Within an hour of the Scottish poll result being announced, David Cameron very deliberately ripped up the timetable for constitutional change promised to Scots in the panic over the late narrowing of the polls. It seems he calculates that with only one Tory MP to lose in Scotland, a backlash in Scotland against the abandonment of the UK leaders “solemn vows” will lead to devastation for the driving force behind the No campaign, namely Labour and the loss of the bulk of its 41 Scottish MPs to the SNP (whose membership increased from 25,000 to 70,000 within a week of the referendum result). But an SNP majority among Scottish MPs (particularly if there is a hung parliament) may lead to the “Home Rule” (a horribly patronising phrase) promised the Scots: to full fiscal autonomy, entrenched, along with the same right of “secession” accorded Northern Ireland. The West Lothian question could be met by removing all Scotland’s MPs from the House of Commons and setting them up as “senators” in the House of Lords, in return for a just settlement (taking due notice of the gigantic mis-sold investment which is North Sea Oil) of economic assets and liabilities for the new Scottish mini-state. And that would mean, in my estimate, that by the end of the next Scottish parliament, Scotland would effectively be functioning economically as independently (and successfully) as the other small west European states, boosting the confidence of No voters in their own nation and leaving little to be done to achieve sovereignty (the EU aside) bar dividing up the embassies and armed forces and packing off the Trident submarines to their new home in England (Boris Island perhaps?).
If this does not happen, the alternative is rather grim, but still for philosophers there may be some compensations. We might hope to see, in philosophy of logic examination papers south of the Border, fresh questions along the lines of
“The Queen of England is a white woman”? Is this false; neither true nor false; or are all current utterances simply meaningless? Discuss.