The Definitive Unionist?

That would be me, apparently: “the definitive Unionist”. So says ex BBC journalist and Nationalist blogger Derek Bateman. He and I appear in the same (thankfully unreleased) film, a tedious documentary about how left-wing Scotland’s indyref campaigners are, entitled Scotland Yet. I could watch only about half an hour of it but I appear to be about the only Unionist in it. Rather to my surprise I was given the opening line. As Bateman has it, I get the film rolling with the words: “For me, Scottish independence means putting an international border across my country. My country is Britain”. (I haven’t been back to the dvd to check he’s right — once was enough — but it sounds like the sort of thing I’d say.)

Bateman describes this line as “the definitive statement of Unionism in this whole campaign”. To my mind it’s no more than a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. A No vote preserves Britain; a Yes vote divides us into two. A No vote maintains Scotland’s position in the United Kingdom; a Yes vote means that Scotland leaves the UK to become a separate state. Bateman likes the statement because, for him, “it cuts through the verbiage and the politicking and goes straight to the heart of the matter”. Well, thank you Derek.

I agree with him that this is the heart of the matter: what state do you want to live in? Yet you would not know this from the vast majority of the SNP’s and Yes Scotland’s campaign literature. So much of the campaign for independence has focused on issues other than independence that you really do sometimes wonder if Yes know what they are arguing for at all. On the campaign trail I’ve heard more about austerity, food banks, and the bedroom tax than I have about independence, as if an independent Scotland would not have to worry about balancing the budget, tackling welfare dependency, or making work pay. Many of the figures in the Scotland Yet film put arguments that have nothing to do with statehood and everything to do with how we would all live in a socialist utopia if only we lived in a place where only socialist utopians had the vote. As it is the case that not everyone voting in Britain is a socialist utopian, so it must follow that Britain is A Bad Place and we must leave it. What this has to do with Scottish independence is anyone’s guess, for we all know that not everyone voting in Scotland is a socialist utopian, either. From the far-left perspective of a Robin McAlpine, for example, an independent Scotland would quickly become A Very Bad Place Indeed.

Bateman says that I understand what he calls “the real meaning” of next month’s referendum question and describes it thus: “you vote Yes if you regard Scotland as your first choice nation and you vote No if you prefer the alternative — the UK”. Well, I wouldn’t put it like that (as I’ll explain in a moment) but I see the point he’s making. He then starts to veer away, however, into an altogether different argument. He says that the point of the referendum is to decide whether you want “decisions about your life made in Edinburgh or in London” and whether it is the “UK or Scotland” that represents you. This is quite wrong. The choice we face is not the UK or Scotland, London or Edinburgh. The choice we face is Scotland alone, or Scotland as part of the UK. The true question is whether we want to be ruled from Edinburgh alone or from Edinburgh and London together. The option of being governed only by the UK or only by London is not on the table. Devolution removed that option 15 years ago and all the Unionist parties are committed to deepening and enhancing devolution further, in the event of a No vote.

There are some good and welcome things in Derek Bateman’s post. He understands that those Scots who, like him, don’t feel allegiance to Britain do not hate it or wish it ill. They wish simply not to be part of it. This is perfectly fair enough and if there were a majority of such people in Scotland there would be nothing at all any Unionist could do or say to win next month’s vote (but there isn’t such a majority and there never has been). Likewise, I was pleased to note that Bateman recognises that Unionists like me are genuinely affectionate towards and committed to Scotland. Certainly I am. Many things divide me from Mr Bateman but love of Scotland is not one of them.

What is missing from Bateman’s analysis is that we do not in fact have to choose between the options which he presents. We can choose both. We can be both Scottish and British. We can have governments and Parliaments that represent us in both Edinburgh and London. But this is what he cannot see. For him you are either a Britnat or a Scotnat (these are his words). He chooses Scotland, he tells us. And, for him, it is clear that this necessarily means he cannot also choose Britain. For Bateman, this is a zero-sum game. You can choose Scotland. Or you can choose Britain. And you must choose between them: you cannot choose both. This is profoundly misguided.

Bateman tells his readers that “Tomkins is a Britnat”. I am no such thing. As I have explained before on these pages what I love about Britain is precisely that it is not a nation, but a Union of nations. I am a British Unionist, not a British Nationalist. I love my adopted city of Glasgow, too, but that does not make me a Glasgow Nationalist. In my worldview, unlike in Mr Bateman’s, you can love things other than nations.

The decision we will make next month will not resolve a tension between two competing nationalisms, Britnat’ism and Scotnat’ism. It will resolve a tension between two competing visions of Scotland’s future — a separatist one that wants Scotland to leave the UK and become a new state, and a Unionist one that wants Scotland to continue to thrive within the great Union of nations that is the United Kingdom. I say “separatist” rather than “Nationalist” in that sentence not to upset people but because it’s accurate. I am a Scottish Nationalist, in that I believe that Scotland is a nation. But I am also a Unionist, in that I believe that the best future for Scotland is one in which she maintains her uniquely privileged position within the UK. This future is best for Scottish trade, for Scottish jobs, for Scotland’s security and for Scotland’s prosperity: that is the core of the case for the Union now, as it has been for more than 300 years.

For Bateman, however, all of this is beside the point. The only thing that matters is nation and, for reasons never explained, Scottish nationhood can be realised and made manifest only in statehood. This is an impoverished and depleted view of the world — but it is a view of the world upon which all nationalism ultimately relies. What makes the British nations special is that they do not need statehood to live and breathe and flourish. Indeed, they understand that they can flourish all the more without it — by joining with one another in a Union state rather than by going it alone as separate nation-states. England is not a state either, and nor is Wales.

Bateman has unwittingly hit upon an elemental truth of the independence referendum campaign. For him and for what he calls “Scotnats”, country, nation and state must all be coterminous. But for Unionists this is a false equation. Our identity is not so fragile that it needs such concrete reinforcement. We can flourish in a Scottish nation, a British country and a United Kingdom state all at the same time, just as we can be proud Glaswegians and committed Europeans without having to choose between them.

Bateman exemplifies one of the Nationalists’ greatest deficiencies in the referendum campaign: so blinkered are they by the ferocity of their own nationalism that they cannot see that their opponents are not themselves nationalist in outlook. This is not “Scotnat v Britnat”, a battle of competing nationalisms. It is Nationalism v Unionism, a battle between those who say “a nation cannot fully exist until it is a state” and those who say “don’t be so daft”. The argument is not Scotland versus Britain — are you Scottish or British. The argument is Scotland separated from Britain or Scotland within a United Kingdom: Scotland alone or Scotland as part of a family of great British nations.


15 thoughts on “The Definitive Unionist?

  1. I’m so glad you responded to Bateman’s blog. So often we hear the Yes campaigners say it’s not about nationalism, or that they aren’t nationalists. Bateman’s article demonstrated clearly that it is about nationalism, and he, at least, is a nationalist.

  2. I think you make a slight (only slight) mistake in putting an emphasis on the Socialist Utopia line of thinking. There is of course a lot of that about. What I think is surprising amongst ScotNats is how much utopian thinking of different political stripes can live together, despite their obvious contradictions. We have the “Wealthy Nation” perspective, who feel that only through independence can we free ourselves from the anti-Thatcherite past and embrace free market utopia sitting alongside the far left Tommy Sheridan utopia. Blinded by the cause, these competing utopian visions do not seem to see the massive differences in their positions. It can’t be a low tax free market utopia and a high spending Scandinavian ideal. We need a calm perspective from an anti-utopian practical politician, who appeals to those of us who shun utopian visions and false promises. Over to you Mr Darling.

  3. Thank you. This expresses many of my own feelings. I saw a Twitter exchange the other day that mirrored one of your own thoughts succinctly. ‘TELL ME OF ANOTHER NATION,’ someone cried out, ‘THAT SACRIFICES ITS SOVEREIGNTY IN ANOTHER STATE.’ ‘England?’ asked someone else.

  4. We are definitely not a nation of socialist utopians:

    All numbers based on popular vote percentage and not seats.

    General Election – The Scottish Vote
    Labour – 41.6%
    Tory – 31.4%
    The rest – 27%
    Result – 58.4% didn’t vote Labour. Almost a third of Scotland voted Tory. We got a Tory government.
    UK as a whole – 42.3% didn’t vote Labour.

    Labour – 35.1%
    Tory – 28.4%
    The rest – 36.5%
    Result – 64.9% didn’t vote Labour. Well over a quarter vote Tory. We got a Tory gov.
    UK as a whole – 57.6% didn’t vote Labour.

    Labour – 42.4%
    Tory – 24.0%
    The rest – 33.6%
    Result – 57.6% didn’t vote Labour. Just under a quarter voted Tory. We got a Tory gov.
    UK as a whole – 57.8% didn’t vote Labour.

    Labour – 39.0%
    Tory – 25.6%
    The rest – 35.40%
    Result – 61.0% didn’t vote Labour. Just over a quarter voted Tory. We got Tory gov.
    UK as a whole – 58.1% didn’t vote Labour.

    Overall to date

    13 years of Tory.
    Looks like that’s what we voted for.
    Most of us never voted Labour.

    The Labour years
    Labour – 45.6% – we got a labour gov
    Tory – 17.5%
    The rest – 37.4% (this is the highest the rest has been for almost 20 years! So we are fragmenting?)
    Result – 54.4% did vote Labour
    UK as a whole – 56.8% didn’t vote Labour.

    Labour – 43.3% – we got a labour gov
    Tory – 15.6%
    The rest – 41.1% (oh dear…)
    Result – 56.7% didn’t vote Labour
    UK as a whole – 59.3% didn’t vote Labour.

    Labour – 39.5% – we got a labour gov
    Lib Dem – 22%
    Tory – 15.8%
    The rest – 22.7%
    Result – 60.5% didn’t vote Labour
    UK as a whole – 64.8% didn’t vote Labour

    In the Labour years we voted Labour just as much as we always have and for 13 years we got Labour.
    i.e. 76.4% of the governments in the last 17 years was Labour and not Tory.

    But most people didn’t vote Labour. We never have.

    Labour – 42%
    LibDem – 18.9%
    Tory – 16.7%
    The rest – 22.4%
    Result – 58% didn’t vote Labour. Well over a third of Scotland voted Tory Lib Dem. We got a Tory Lib Dem government.
    UK as a whole – 71% didn’t vote Labour. Only 13% difference in the popular vote as compared to the whole of the UK.

    Scotland voted 35.6% for LibDemTory, so over a third of the population being represented seems quite good to me.

    And with the undeniable fact of Holyrood representing all those that feel they are underrepresented in Westminster, we Scots are more represented in power than any other person within the borders of the United Kingdom.

  5. Even if, as a Nationalist, you disagreed with the above, you’d have to agree that it thoroughly airs an issue that ought to be central to the indy debate but has been quite astonishingly neglected in it.

  6. Really great article. Neatly sums up many of my feelings (as an Englishman very much in favour of the Union).

  7. A good point, clearly elaborated. Also one which needs to be heard more widely, because I think it will clarify the issue for many people who are undecided or improperly persuaded of the separatist position.

  8. “The true question is whether we want to be ruled from Edinburgh alone or from Edinburgh and London together.”

    And even then, in many real respects, we would still have key policy areas de facto set from London, we’d simply lack any representation in UK decision-making. It’s hard to envisage a currency union and the legislation required to maintain a joint-market without that being the case. For me it’s more a question of how our relationship with London/rUK is structured, not whether we should have a relationship or not in the first place.

  9. The socialist utopian thing happens all the time, it’s not unique to Scotland or iScotland. It’s the old “No true scotsman” fallacy.

    The Socialist utopia has failed wherever it has been tried, but this is never down to the fact that it won’t ever work because it’s basically contrary to human nature, it’s because we didn’t do it quite right, we didn’t have quite enough money, the evil Tories stopped it etc etc etc.

    The proponents of iScotland do seem to apparently genuinely believe they will have lots more money, bizarrely. I reckon iScotland will be slightly worse off.

  10. “My country is Britain” – I think they chose to highlight this section, and describe you as representative of all Unionists, because for them to support Britain, to identify with it in any way, is to commit a form of treachery against Scotland, to not be Scottish.

  11. I came on to this site perhaps expecting too much. I was drawn to the blog title and admire it’s honesty I come from a family with a continuous tradition of belief in Scottish self determination. You probably know all of the following , but it often bothers me that many younger people in Scotland don’t know their history well enough. History shouldn’t and can’t tell us what to do – but we shouldn’t be wilfully ignorant of it either – that is somewhat undignified I think. This was an old belief that existed in much of working class Scotland, rightly or wrongly, since the Act of Union and it was a belief that was held with the same firmness as the belief in the rightness of universal suffrage. In fact it was probably felt that the latter would lead to the former. I became someone with no set belief in either this or unionism after the referendum result I witnessed as a teenager in 1979. I realised then that the complex interaction between cultural identity and state, being in a continuous state of evolution, had moved and changed and that the majority of ordinary Scottish people were no longer committed to self determination as we were. My wise old english teacher at school John Donne, although Labour, was the most honest of labour supporters who told me that both sides could protest common sense, facts and material considerations until they were blue in the face, but that the driving force, in reality, is was and always be, one of emotion. As with so much of our discourse in every area of life, we have our gut feelings and we gather our facts accordingly. There is no right or wrong in this particular debate, but there is a right and wrong way of debating, and the truth matters. My uncle, like many of the Scottish left, tried to join the Spanish Civil war as a boy and then became a commando in WW2. Him and many others waited for labour to come good with Scottish self determination as per the old promises. Labour post WW2 had become emphatically unionist though they would not use this word. They rightly understood the contradictory nature of many Scots in this matter – they no longer felt the need for self determination but were not ready to say out loud to themselves that they were unionists – they and also feared association with conservatism, who’s defining mark in Scotland was their unionism. Many of the Scottish left who still believed in self determination eventually left mainstream labour and began a process of moving towards the SNP. The SNP became essentially a party of the left due to this. At the massive unemployment march in the early 80’s, the largest ever seen in Scotland, the unionist left pushed the SNP to the back of the march and many of their supporters were pelted by stones by socialist youngsters who by that time had truly taken in cynical Scottish Labour’s terrible lie that the SNP consisted of Tartan Tories, fascists, even Nazis. Labour politicians at every level in Scotland persisted in this type of name calling in the most cynical way – the people they were calling nazis and facists were their own former colleagues and fellow socialists. I made a vow at that march, watching young men from the SNP with blood running down their faces from being pelted with rocks, that even if things had moved on and Scotland as a political state was essentially defunct, that Scottish Labour would never have my vote. I am now a Green. The Scottish Greens are behind the Yes campaign. What will I vote? It would be strange to vote Yes for self determination for a people the majority of whom don’t feel the need. On the other hand – if I vote No, I’m aligning myself with a power group who have a strong history of lying, bullying and intimidation. The flip of a coin.

  12. Interesting comments. You might want to take a look at this from a business perspective, take a look at this site – called Working for Scotland, which highlights the business implications of Scottish independence. It is a pro-union site, but the information is balanced.

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