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The Scots' war on everything British


Scottish flagWhen I was a schoolboy in 1967, I campaigned for Winnie Ewing, the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate in the Hamilton by-election. She won, ushering in a new era in Scottish politics where the independence question was never far away. The next day at school, my French teacher, Miss Mosen, asked me what would happen now. 'Oh,' I said breezily, 'independence is just round the corner.'

Forty-four years on, following the SNP's landslide victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections last Thursday, my youthful words have the best chance yet of becoming true.

The SNP won 69 seats in the Scottish legislature, giving the government of First Minister Alex Salmond not only a second term but an absolute majority over Labour with 37 seats and the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens trailing much farther behind. It managed that result in an electoral system set up by the UK government to prevent the, for them, nightmare scenario that has just occurred.

The Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, only won his own seat by just over 100 votes while many of his shadow cabinet members were swept away in a wave of support for the SNP that spread over the Labour heartlands, including the seat of the late Donald Dewar, the revered Labour architect of devolution.

For the first time in history, the SNP holds the majority of seats in Glasgow, formerly Labour's prime fiefdom. Yet in England and Wales, Labour did much better. What happened in Scotland?

Apart from the negative campaign run by Labour which, as usual, treated the Scottish people as vote fodder, plus a leader who wasn't, the SNP had done a good job of administering Scotland as a minority government, using a mix of social justice and common sense business acumen.

Alex Salmond, the SNP's highly articulate leader, a former economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland, cut local business taxes but opposed private sector involvement in public services. He froze the council tax, and got rid of prescription fees and provided free bus travel within Scotland for over-60s. He opposed nuclear power and outlined a shiny new future for Scotland as a leader in renewable energy.

The Scottish economy continues to have higher growth rates than the UK's which is on the slide.

Salmond, looking like a statesman rather than a town councillor, gave a vision to the people whose anti-Conservatism is in their DNA and who view David Cameron south of the border with the same distrust as Gordon Brown was viewed by the southern English.

The SNP government has rid Scots of the Scottish cringe — the fear that they are too stupid to rule themselves, hammered into them by a Machiavellian British state desperate to keep a Union together for economic rather than sentimental reasons. 

Australians, given their outrage over the monarchy's ban of The Chaser's royal wedding commentary, probably know something of how this feels. The British state and the monarchical nest of privilege and elitism are past their use-by date — for both of us.

By showing that Scots not thirled to a Westminster party can rule and rule well, the SNP government has given the Scots confidence to think of a visionary alternative for the future.

Will this automatically lead to the breakup of the UK? There is not much left to break up. Most domestic Scottish legislation is dealt with by the Parliament in Edinburgh. Brussels is more important than Westminster for defence, foreign and social policy. Scotland would be a more enthusiastic member of the European Union (EU) than the UK or England as, in Europe, small countries are the norm and Scots are less imperially minded.

Even the word 'British' is used less and less, especially by young people in both Scotland and England who really don't relate to the term. So what's the problem?

The SNP has pledged to hold a referendum on Scottish independence during the current mandate. The UK PM, David Cameron, has been forced to admit that the SNP government has the mandate to do so even though he will fight it. According to polls, around one third of Scots regularly support independence — though it has been 50 per cent in the past.

In the meantime, the UK Government will have to hand over more and more power to the Scottish Government as it at least has the legitimate backing of the Scottish people. When the referendum comes, there won't be that much less to devolve and the dream of a young schoolboy over 40 years ago will have come true.



Duncan MaclarenDuncan MacLaren, a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, is a former parliamentary researcher and national press officer with the SNP. 

Topic tags: Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party, independence, Alex Salmond, Iain Gray, David Cameron, Britain



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Existing comments

I don't know about Scotlands' feelings but I do not agree with Australians being outraged about the Chasers ban. A few maybe and very few at that.

bill spillane | 13 May 2011  

Do not assume that you speak for all Australians and their purported 'outrage' over The Chaser not being permitted to lampoon the royal wedding. Many of us were quite delighted to see this action in favour of decorum and respect and against the unnecessary, derogatory and juvenile so-called humour of such puerile minds as The Chaser.

In favour of decorum | 13 May 2011  

All the opinion polls have been conducted before independence was perceived as a real possibility. I think now that it is being discussed so much, and the fact a vote is now guaranteed, people will come round to the idea. The referendum will be very close. Possibly 51% to 49$. Unless Salmond goes down the multi option route - which basically means full fiscal autonomy will happen. Interesting times lie ahead. Scotland (and the UK) will never been the same again come the end of this 5 year term.

Jonny Hunter | 13 May 2011  

The Scots could teach us a lot about how to run a parliament. In 2008 I spent an afternoon watching proceedings in the modernistic new Parliament House in Edinburgh. The MPs sit in a semi-circle facing a glass wall that has a view of distant mountains. Ministers sit next to shadow ministers and call each other by first names. I listended to the health minister speaking at length on the details of expenditure in her department. Ten minutes after she stated, her shadow put up a hand. The minister stopped, "Yes, Mary, have you a question?" Both the question and answer were civil and relevent--No point scoring, just constructive discusion.

Alan Stewart | 13 May 2011  

I agree with you Duncan, the overprotective palace minders spoilt what might have been a real tilt at the royalty paraded before us as the elite. I was angry when the commentators on the wedding still kept using the term 'commoner' when describing Ms Middleton, outrageuos eliteism!. I like the Scottish joke about the pompous Englishman who was playing golf at St Andrew's and who stopped to take a drink from the burn and the Scot groundsman saying: "Diina be drinkin the water from the burn, it's full of cow shit and pease". The Englishman called back to him. "I say, could you repeat that again in English, I'm British you see." Ah yes sir, I was saying that you should use both hands when you drink from the burn, you won't spill as much that way". Go the Scots.

Paul Rummery | 13 May 2011  

A great dream, that must be kept alive until it comes true.The Act of Settlement which "united" Scotland and England is just as much an unequal treaty as the outrageous "treaty" between England and the then feeble Chinese government, which excised part of China and made it the English colony of Hong Kong.

Peter Downie | 13 May 2011  

I am in complete agreement with "IN FAVOUR OF DECORUM" comments

john boyd-boland | 13 May 2011  

Thanks Duncan from an Australian republican. There are many parallels between aspects of Australian republicanism and Scottish nationalism. Food for thought.

john warhurst | 13 May 2011  

Hmmmm. I think the push for Scottish independence will come - but not so much from the Scots but from the people of England. Ah, yes, the people of England - 50 million of us with no national parliament, no first minister and no political voice - the only country in Europe and the Commonwealth without a national legislature - nor indeed do we have a national anthem...

And so tensions are beginning to surface. A lack of a national English voice means we have the least public money per head spent on us out of all 4 home nations. No such freebies like free uni' education and free prescriptions for us - no, we are just the much abused cash cow who pays for every other country in the UK to have them. And when the union does finally crash and burn, I for one will thank God at its demise. I couldn't give a toss for a union which so abuses the biggest constituent part of it. The sooner it dies the better - and the sooner the Scots, Welsh and Irish go their own separate ways the better also. Then, maybe we'll elect politicians only inerested in us rather than continuing to shovel money to the devolved parliaments in a vain attempt to keep the respective nationalists in their places.....


Alfred the OK | 13 May 2011  

As an Englishman I'm very happy about the SNP winning big and look forward wholeheartedly to their independence in the EU and the end of the so called "United Kingdom".

However must question that "Scots are less imperially minded".

Scots had their own imperial experiment before the "Union" the Darien scheme and certainly had ambition if not success. After the Union Scots seem to have had few problems participating in the British Empire. Modern Scots appear to e split on whether Scots were disproportionately involved in Imperial actions or had little to do with it.

I'm no expert but even a quick glance into Imperial endeavours returns a steady number of Scottish adventurers - heroes of the day. In the Opium War for instance and IIRC from a recent report the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya.

Wyrdtimes | 14 May 2011  

Hong Kong was a British, not English, colony. It might surprise some to read this, but the Brit establishment has always had disproportionately large numbers of Scots. The 'English' in the establishment have mostly been British descendants of the Norman invaders.

As for the references to Kate Middleton as a 'commoner' during the wedding, the word I'd use is 'snobbery' rather than elitism. To be the 'elite' at something is simply to be the best at it.

It isn't just the south of England that distrusts Gordon Brown (excuse my language). He's distrusted in most of England. He hates England, and the feeling's pretty mutual.

Geoff | 14 May 2011  

Dear me! Quite a lot of anti-English bile here! I'm surprised. After England, Australia is the next country I feel at home in, and I have many friends there who have no problem with my Englishness.

For those that like real history, the 1707 Act of Union took place after Scotland had bankrupted itself with a colonial experiment. Many "commoners" in England and Scotland did not want the union, but the political elites of the two countries went ahead anyway. After this, Scots were disproportionately active in the running and expansion of the British Empire. The BBC screened a programme called "Scotland's Empire" a few years ago. However, many Scots have climbed into their pulpits, declared themselves "victims" of the English and the English, as ever, are demonised and held to account for all the "sins" of Britain over the centuries.

Maria | 14 May 2011  

For all of you in favour of decorum - you have your right to decorum, but that's your choice. The fact that you dislike The Chaser doesn't justify banning them or anyone for that matter. It's always the vocal minority of conservative naysayers who seem to respond and object.

I would fairly safely say most Aussies, even those not fond of The Chaser, have no problem allowing others the democratic freedom to watch "the unnecessary, derogatory and juvenile" antics of The Chaser.

AURELIUS | 14 May 2011  

"Australians, given their outrage over the monarchy's ban of The Chaser's royal wedding commentary, probably know something of how this feels. The British state and the monarchical nest of privilege and elitism are past their use-by date — for both of us"

The only thing that outrages me is that you have the temerity to think you speak for us all! You are entitled to YOUR opinion, but to claim that the whole Australian Nation agrees with you shows arrogance as well as ignorance.

Why am I not surprised that you think the Chaser's juveniles are actually funny? - you to be out of step with us Aussies on that too.

Michele | 14 May 2011  

Those who express ongoing bitterness towards England, and blame England for everything wrong around the world, annoy me big time. And I am a left-winger. We should never forget that, despite their faults and stuffups at times, were it not for England, the English, we would not be living in the best country in the world, with best system of government. They are the facts.

LouW | 15 May 2011  

Except that Salmond and the SNP are talking about keeping the British monarch as their head of state even after independence - a personal union of two crowns, just like 1600 to 1707. Presumably the mailboxes would be altered by removing the second "i" from "ERII" and Mr McCormick's 1953 conviction http://tinyurl.com/7pyxy8w retrospectively annulled. Granted, it'd seem odd for the Scots' head of state to now be residing in another country, but Australia shows one can get used to that, and the Scots Parliament would get a veto over changes to the succession to the throne under the 1931 Statute of Westminster.

Rod Blaine | 03 April 2012  

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