Britain is on the road to disintegration. In a referendum slated for 18 September, Scotland will decide whether or not to stay in an “abusive marriage” with Britain. If the Yes camp wins, then the over 300-year-old United Kingdom will be history.
London newspaper The Telegraph reports that support for Scottish independence has risen eight points in a month. The Yes camp is just six points behind the No camp, up from 14 points in mid-August and 22 points early last month, excluding undecided voters.
Scotland’s biggest grouse is that the UK’s Westminister model is not working for it. In the words of the Yes Scotland Declaration, “It is fundamentally better for us all if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.”
Like many troubled relationships, it was an unholy union from the start. First, the English used bribes to buy off Scotland’s elites to push through the anschluss in 1707. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “We’re bought and sold for English gold.” Making the transaction even more tainted was the fact that the gold was looted from India.
Scotland and England had been warring for centuries, with the English usually getting the upper hand, but the marshy country’s spirit remained intact. For instance, the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 stated: “For as long as one hundred of us shall remain alive we shall never submit to the rule of the English.”
But what soldiers fight for, politicians usually give away. In 1707, the English made them an offer they couldn’t resist. The Scottish chiefs were told the English had come upon a land of untold riches and if Scotland joined England, then together the two of them could divvy up the booty. The newly targeted country was, of course, India.
Without India there would be no UK today. The recruitment of Scots in the 1720s and ’30s into the East India Company and its armed forces began to show dividends from the ’50s, as the great wealth scooped up from India was invested in the social and economic fabric of Scotland.
“The wealth from India pouring into Scotland created a mighty padlock that ensured she would remain bound fast, and be part of the new ‘Great Britain’ well into the future,” writes George K McGilvary in East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century (2008).
What kind of amounts are we talking here? McGilvary says the funds reached £500,000 per annum around the 1750s and ’60s, and more than £750,000 per annum going into the 19th century. In a 60-year span between 1720 and ’80, Scots took home more than £68 million from India.
To give you an idea of what such amounts meant in those days, in the 18th century the annual pay of a full-time domestic servant was £2-3; the monthly pay of an East India Company seaman was £1 and 15 shillings. You get the picture: the two dirt poor countries had hit the mother lode.
“Such sums were a colossal stimulus to life in Scotland,” writes McGilvary. “The favours, the posts supplied and the money remitted and brought back by those who returned, helped mend society, created a social and economic infrastructure and jobs, robbing Scottish separatism and nationalism of its urgency…”
Scots became enthusiastic members of the East India Company and later the British Raj. India being an extremely demanding theatre of conflict — because of the stiff resistance put up by the people — Scottish soldiers were also used in large numbers in Indian wars. Without Scottish numbers, England on its own couldn’t have coped with the simultaneous wars against Napoleon’s France and India.
The money transformed Scotland in other ways that worked in England’s favour. The Scottish elites became Anglicised even as economic, political and social interdependence grew between the two countries. It was in this typical English way of destroying a country’s social fabric that Scotland — which had fended off Roman Emperor Hadrian —was well and truly tamed.
However, the new money only served to paper over the difference and prejudices between the two countries. In London, the union was never regarded as an equal relationship. In fact, the transformation of Scotland from a backward outpost to a highly industrialised region fuelled considerable resentment and envy in England.
The following ditty popular in London those days is an example of the bigotry the Scots faced — and continue to encounter today — in Britain:
England for beauty
Ireland for wit
Wales for deceit and
Scotland for shit
We’ve had enough
After more than three centuries of being in this North Atlantic Theft Organisation, which specialised in conquering rich, effete nations and then turning them into Third World countries, the Scots want out. With the loss of former colonies, the easy money has run out. The harsh terrain and abysmal weather of their country aside, Scots now have to deal with the cold reality of Britain’s shrinking economy and worse, the encroaching Thatcherite State that threatens to destroy Scotland’s cost-free university education, non-privatised healthcare and State housing.
Undeniably, both countries have drifted apart in the past few decades. David Berry of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) compared Scottish people to “slaves on a plantation” and said North Sea oil and gas revenue flowing to London was “akin to domestic abuse”.
The SNP is trying to convince Scots that the rest of the UK has become so foreign a place with such different values that there is little sense of being in the same union. “We should aspire to be different,” says party chief Alex Salmond. Or to borrow the famous words of Star Trek’s Scotty: Scotland “cannae take it nae more”.
There is no doubt if Scotland goes, Britain will be significantly weakened. The rump State will then need to worry about its permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Scotland might also dispute Britain’s place in the European Union (EU).
Apart from the loss of prestige, which is inevitable when such a key country leaves the UK, London could face disputes over such issues as Scotland’s share of the UK’s debt and gold reserves. If Britain objects, an independent Scotland could lay claim to overseas UK territories, such as the Falkland Islands, by claiming Scottish role in annexing them.
The North Sea hydrocarbon resources — or whatever is left of them — are another area where the Scots are being ripped off. While England has got most of the benefits over the past several decades, London now says Scotland will have to pay a share of the cost of decommissioning the offshore rigs.
A major dispute, one in which the US and France have also jumped into, is regarding the UK’s nuclear submarine base the SNP wants evicted by 2020. NATO military chiefs have said that the SNP’s call for a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in Scotland is unacceptable to them.
With Britain’s military a pale shadow of its former self, nuclear submarines are the last vestiges of the country’s power. It is, therefore, paranoid its nuclear submarines could be removed from an independent Scotland, potentially leaving the UK without a nuclear deterrent for decades.
Although Scotland wishes to remain within NATO, alliance leaders have said it will be “almost impossible” for an independent Scotland to join. While the declaration is intended to spook the Scots, self-preservation could be a motive too — some member States fear it could encourage separatists within their own borders. Currently, of all NATO member countries, 17 have separatist movements.
The Anglo-American mouthpiece, The Washington Post, fears the ripple effects of Scotland’s secession would not be limited to the UK. “Other separatist movements in Europe are watching the Scottish debate with undisguised interest,” it laments. “In Spain, more than a million Catalans have turned out in the streets calling for independence. In the Basque country, separatist violence has waned, but the desire for a separate state remains. In Belgium, whose unity hangs on a thread, Flemish nationalists have made it clear that if Scotland has a free pass to the EU and NATO, they would be next in line. There could be more breakaways to come.”
Similarly, the EU has said Scotland will have to reapply as a new member — a process that could take up to nine years. But while the Scots are being shooed away, the EU earlier this year was rolling out the welcome mat to Ukraine. Clearly, Scotland is being treated like a used rag.
Window of opportunity
There is more to Scotland than fine whisky and bagpipes. Scottishness is the polar opposite of the English coldness that built one of the most genocidal empires in history. If that Scottishness is not yet Anglicised, it is worth preserving.
Hopefully, modern Scots will display more sense on 18 September than their forefathers did in 1707 when they sold their country for a few shiploads of gold. If they pass up this opportunity for freedom, it will be another generation before the next referendum comes.
In the meantime, Scotland continues in its downward trajectory — economically and politically.