The Final Days of the UK

We subscribe to only two newspapers here at the monastery, and only to the Economist for other current affairs. The Week is an effective way to catch up on what the media have been saying about the affairs of the day. In the process they include a number of letters from the various papers. This week was this remarkable letter to The Independent.

The Scots will vote yes. And the rest of us will owe them a debt of gratitude. Their vote will send symbolically, in the only effective way our current democratic system permits, these messages to all our politicians:

We want not a change of government, but a change of politics. You lack the competence to run the country, and the vision to lead it. You lied to us and deceived us into an illegal war. You cheated and stole from us. A privileged, privately educated 7 per cent permanently holds up to 73 per cent of positions of power. Our representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure. The privileged power elite are not held accountable or punished for their venality, incompetence or mistakes.

We are justly proud of our NHS and the inspirational ideals that underpin it. We want those principles preserved, not undermined by subversive privatisation.

Good luck, Scotland. We respect your courage and admire your confidence.

It is remarkable for at least two things. First, it shows how clueless many people are about the referendum and the campaign for Scottish independence. To claim that a vote for independence will send a message to politicians about the nature of politics or the privitization of the NHS is wishful thinking at best. It is primarily about nationalism and the desire of some Scots to be free of the rest of Britain. It could be portrayed as romantic, though the incidents of intimidation of those speaking for the “No” campaign rather gives the lie to that image. Nationalism, unlike patriotism, is rarely if ever attractive. The twentieth century is nothing if not a memorial to the destructive power of nationalism.

Secondly, even if a “Yes” vote could be read as a cri de coeur about the state of British democratic politics, it is breathtakingly excessive. To the mind come images of sledgehammers cracking, no – crushing, peanuts or babies being thrown out with the bathwater. Because our leaders apparently “lack the competence to run the country”, the solution for this man is to dismantle the nation itself. We can only thank the good Lord that this correspondent is not one of the seven percent which holds 73 percent of power.

If the polls are accurate, Thursday may see the demise of the United Kingdom as it has existed for the last 300 years (well, with Scotland that is. Ireland was not included until 1801). The dismantling of one of the greatest nation-states in history (for better or for worse, or for both) will have been determined by a poll open to only 7% percent of its population. In this, at least, we could agree with the epistolator cited above, that “(o)ur representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure”. The decision will be based on a simple majority of those Scots who actually vote. The fate of an immensely important nation is in the hands of a tiny minority. In Australia for any constitutional change to be made a double majority is needed: a majority of voters in a majority of the six states. If the change affects one state in particular then a triple majority is needed: a majority of votes in the relevant state itself is also necessary. It is inherently, but not impossibly, conservative of course: of 44 constitutional referendums in Australia since Federation, only 8 have been passed. It makes for impressive stability and security.

The pro- independence campaign seeks a more prosperous Scotland, blaming Westminster for its woes. But The Economist (September 13-19 2014) puts its claims into question.

Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies.

We might translate “sotto voce” here as “on the sly”. Westminster’s politicians, our epistolator opined, are not fit to govern, yet the government of a newly-independent Scotland would copy many of their policies. Who then, we might ask, is actually incompetent?

The nationalists make much of Britain getting all her North Sea oil revenue, yet they want to keep the British Pound. The nationalists seek effectively sovereign power over the British Pound and British oil, and sod the rest of us. If even if they had such a right, their economic arguments are equally unconvincing. Again from The Economist:

The nationalists’ economics are also flawed. Scotland would not, in fact, be richer alone. The taxes that would flow from the North Sea would roughly compensate for the extra cost of its lavish state, which would no longer be funded by Westminster (last year spending was some £1,300 per person higher in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain). But oil revenues are erratic. They would have earned Scotland £11.5 billion in 2008-09 but only £5.5 billion in 2012-13. If an independent state were to smooth these fluctuations by setting up an oil fund, it would have less cash to spend now. In any case, the oil is gradually running out. In order to maintain state spending after it is gone, taxes would have to rise. And the crunch might come much sooner. Foreign investors and big businesses that mostly serve English customers could well move south.

The nationalists have either failed to think long-term; or they have done so, not liked what they saw, and pretended they did not see it. Oil revenue is wholly dependent on the market price. And there is not that much oil left. The BBC quotes figures that suggest there is only 30-40 years of production remaining, and the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates a fall in oil revenue by 2017-18 of 38%. Moreover, since 1999 production has consistently declined. So who will pick up the tab for an independent Scotland? Not England and Wales and Northern Ireland. No, the Scottish taxpayer and moneylenders.

(Courtesy BBC)
(Courtesy BBC)

It is highly unlikely that Scotland will get to keep the Pound. To get the Euro it will have to apply, and indeed it will have to apply to join the EU itself. Both are very much in question. And to enter the EU a unanimous vote of member countries is required. Even if the remainder of the UK were not to vote against it, Spain probably would. Scottish independence would give heart to Catalan separatists, to the horror of the Spanish government. So Scotland could end being very, very much alone, sinking under debt, and with only themselves to blame; or rather, the slender majority who would have voted for such a state of affairs.

Some heady idealists on Facebook dream aloud (and perhaps mainly tongue in cheek) of the opportunity for an independent Scotland to restore a Catholic monarchy. Not likely! Scotland is a majority Protestant country and sectarianism there lives on. Moreover, Mr Salmond will want all the power and glory for himself.

And here is the rub. The only guaranteed winners of a “Yes” vote would be politicians and civil servants. A new civil service will have to be created to replicate what has hitherto been done by the UK civil service, and it will have to paid for by taxes and volatile oil revenues. And of course Scottish politicians would become leaders with international stature. How proud they will be. Their salaries will go up to reflect this new status, naturally. Then embassies and high commissions (one presumes Scotland will remain in the Commonwealth) will have to be built, and diplomats appointed. More money. From somewhere. Now wonder Scot pollies are so keen!

Truly, it is hard to see how the ordinary Scot will win, other than to have that wonderful frisson that comes from putting two fingers up to England. That frisson will not last long. The English will probably return the gesture, with a more devastating long-term effect on Scotland. While Scottish nationalists, in their triumph at having destroyed the UK, will be singing Scotland the Brave for a few nights, the remaining UK will sing Scotland the Knave for a lot longer.

It is Scotland’s choice, and hers alone. Laddies and lassies, you had better get it right.

17 thoughts on “The Final Days of the UK

    1. Salve! Kind of you to call it wisdom. But anyone who has read a little modern history would surely end at the same conclusion.

      And there so something disturbing about the SNP. I cannot quite put my finger on it but they make me uneasy.

      Pax!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Throughout the long campaign which this yank has only read about and watched from afar on this side of the pond, the same yank who’s great-grandparents hailed from the land of heather, mist and moor–there is but one word and one word only which continues to come to mind as visions of a brave and bound William Wallace lay waiting his demise by drawn and quartering. . .”FREEDOM”
    yes, romantic indeed.
    May there be prayerful hearts and minds which head to the polls as the planet’s map is set to change once again. . .

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    1. Romantic, Julie, in the worst sense, because divorced totally from reality. To say that the Scots are not free is an absurdity that propaganda films like Braveheart cannot hide. The Scots have the same freedoms as the English today. Yes, in the 18th century this was not so. But the UK has moved forward, and is a beacon of democracy and, more importantly, the rule of law.

      Why fight yesterday’s battles when the war is already over?

      Pax!

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      1. so true Father–as I was merely being tongue and cheek or cheeky it may seem 🙂
        I agree with you 100% as I liken Scotland’s quest with say, Texas. Texas has often cried secession as has Colorado, when it (in this case those within the state) did not agree with the power’s that be. As did our Southern states a long long time ago, and you see where that got us didn’t you—I can’t say that I agree with the power’s that be which happen to rule my country these days as I’m often heard to lament that I’m running away to a better place. . .but where that better place is—is yet to be found as the grass is always greener on the other side for us all–or so it seems—again, a call for prayerful consideration for our Scottish brothers and sisters
        Blessings Father and a pardon for my cheekiness 🙂

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  2. Indeed Father. I said this the other day. Also, I think there would be no United Kingdom, let alone a free and independent Europe, had Scottish men and women not fought in the service of the Crown in every war since 1707 (plus of course in alliance since the reign of James VI/I) but especially the Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars. Scotland does not realize that it makes substantial contributions but that it cannot go it alone as far as defense is concerned.

    Plus faithful Catholics will have a harder time of it, I think, in an independent Scotland.

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    1. Very true Matthew. Some of Scotland’s proudest moments have been in the UK. And what British soldier is not stirred to his core by the pipes and drums? All to be thrown away?

      Sectarianism is the lapdog of nationalism, and with the latter on the rise, the former is sure to follow, as you suggest.

      If the Scots go alone, they will find the buzz of “freedom” is short-lived and comes at a huge price. There will be no turning back.

      Pax.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good to ‘see’ you again Father! Your voice has been much missed. And thank you for a superb summary of the economic reality.
    Yes, what is it that’s so disturbing about Salmond and the SNP – perhaps it is the smug self-righteousness that so readily becomes a stubborn and shouty assertiveness. It reminds one a little of…but perhaps historical comparisons are best left till later 🙂
    All the Scots I have known and worked with round the world have been bright, urbane, sensible and numerate. But sadly, they have not been allowed to vote.
    Salmond seems to be Browning’s Pied Piper personified:
    “Into the street the Piper stept,
    Smiling first a little smile,
    As if he knew what magic slept
    In his quiet pipe the while…”
    – and with the temper to match!
    “And folks who put me in a passion
    May find me pipe after another fashion…”
    – His promises are similar:
    “For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
    Joining the town and just at hand,
    Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
    And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
    And everything was strange and new;
    The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
    And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
    And honey-bees had lost their stings,
    And horses were born with eagles’ wings…”

    Ah well, we’ll soon know the result. But certainly this campaign has lastingly changed the face of Britain, and not for the better.

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  4. Not that these ideas of secession have ever had any real merit or governmental backing but are more or less the clamoring of various groups of people within each state. Texans always chatter about becoming their own entity as “everything is bigger in Texas”—the clamoring in Colorado was a couple of months back as I read something about ranchers and gun rights. . .and it was more the northern end of the state wishing to secede from the rest of the state—reminds me of Italy wanting to be a northern Italy separate from a southern Italy—no one is ever seemingly happy as some special interest group or another is always going to want to “break away”. . .we all want our cake and want to eat it too, or so it seems. . .
    And as far as keeping a poker face—it’s hard when writing, say in an email or here in a blog, as the tone and inflection coupled by the nuances of expression are absent—leaving the reader merely to pick though words, so I’m sorry my humor was lost in the “translation”—
    You should know our national news ran a short snippet last night regarding the vote in Scotland by playing that scene from Braveheart as he rallies his troops with the cries of Freedom—so it appears that the romance of the battle seems to be outweighing the practicality of the results. They even showcased a picture of Sean Connery weighing in for the affirmative—which you know sends the message that if the original James Bond thinks it a good idea, then so be it—leaving everyone voting on emotion verses reality of repercussion—
    Yet as I ponder why the Scottish people are seemingly so ardent in their desire for “independence” if you will (not that they aren’t already independent as is duly noted as they are living in a democratic society) I can’t help but think that there is that sense of “romance” lurking in their past—that they see themselves somewhat like the Irish—independent and separate as a people fearing that there was a loss of “national” identity long ago and that it’s been a battle that they have long raged in their hearts. I don’t know. I can’t say what the allure for this quest is exactly but an ancient sort of long lost and deeply buried fight which was never truly resolved.
    I suppose we shall see later today when the results are in—in the end, no matter yea or nay, I don’t see that there is a clear winner but sadly more of a global loss in the family of united democracy.
    Blessings father—-Julie

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    1. Texas has at least the virtue of being a viable independent state, and has been in the past I seem to remember. But for Texas to hearken back to past glories in the face of current realities would be a big mistake. That is no doubt why any secession movement has little traction.

      Likewise the desire of many Scots to escape into a romantic and selective vision of their past (they ravaged the English more than once!) will doom them to a grave and lasting disappointment, and will seriously affect the 58.3 million British they abandon. That 5.3 million Scots get to break up the UK in the teeth of the other 58 million residents of the UK exposes a disastrous flaw in the British constitution: the whole of the UK should approve any secession by a member country.

      Anyway, in a little over 12 hours we will know the result. I am dreading it.

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      1. if it is a yay—it will indeed be a mess for quite some time as the sorting out will no doubt be messy and most likely more so than what most Scots would ever have imagined—but I suppose I, as an American, appear to be one who does not “have a dog in this fight” so I should butt out, keeping my 2cents to myself. I am reminded of an incident two years ago when I was on a trip visiting in Austria. It was a month before the presidential vote here in the US, Obama’s re-election. I admit I am not a fan of him as president, his administration nor of his leadership—yet sadly I am obviously in the minority on that little issue. I remember sitting in a train station with my aunt in Salzburg. A young Austrian woman heard our accents and made a bee line over to us in order to discuss “politics,” wanting to know who we were going to vote for and added that Americans should all be voting for Obama. I was polite and kept the conversation light, but I really didn’t and don’t appreciate someone, anyone, telling me how I should vote, especially if it’s from someone not even of the voting populace (a non American). . . so that makes me think that my Scottish and British kith and kin probably would equally appreciate me “minding my own business” as this is a “family” issue and I am not of the family.
        My prayers will and are indeed with my UK family as my roots are so linked to the UK and Ireland—
        Hang in there Father—there is little of this world that seems to make any sense these days. . .
        hugs—Julie

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      1. I fear it will be the uniting of hearts which will indeed take some time. The healing of deep and divisive wounds will take time and understanding on both sides of the issue. As this issue will no doubt come back to the table of conversation.
        Sometimes I think we (people in general) often feel as if the importance of the individual is lost in mass of the whole—Scotland, the Scots, obviously are feeling perhaps overlooked, under valued, less than in the wider scope of role and importance.
        Or maybe it’s just as simple as wanting to be able to say the “nation of Scotland” vs the UK. . .I don’t know.
        I’ve tried to really look at this issue. I am reminded of my feeling years back during the height of the violence taking place in Northern Ireland. I couldn’t understand how Irish could and would turn so coldly and violently on Irish. And of course when I look back at my own country’s divisiveness, it pains me to this day—how American could turn on American. Some people are really keen to study that time, I prefer to not look back as I see it as a terrible black eye on democracy. But perhaps such things are part of the growing of a nation. I don’t know.
        I look out over the horizon of this planet and what I see I do not like. Those of us, nations, countries, who want to live freely under the blanket of democracy and freedom must become most vigilant–joining together, rather than seeking individualism, in order to maintain the freedoms we relish. . .the numbers are growing of those who would love to see the implosion of democracy and the national unity of democratic nations which would make their goal of our destruction that much easier.
        I just think there are bigger worries, bigger fish to fry in this world which border on dire, rather than the squabbles of independence within a democratic independent nation–

        forgive my rambling Father— I worry more about the persecution and marginalization of Christians around this world then I suppose the political bickering of free nations, I worry about the death march of a virus gone mad, and I worry about the destructive desires of a terroristic army bent of the annihilation of freedom, Judaism and Christianity
        like a say, bigger fish. . .
        grace and peace Father—Julie

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