Scotland's Future: Independence from Mr Salmond
The danger with the independence referendum is that few seem to have any idea of the scale of what’s envisaged. It’s not about what used to be called Home Rule. Nor is it a mere Devolution Upgrade. It’s about making England a foreign country. It’s about making Scotland independent in the same sense as Australia is independent: part of the Commonwealth, with occasional visits by HM the Queen as titular Head of State.
The very mention of Australia should be enough to remind us that the momentum towards constitutional change is not going to stop with cocking a snoop at the Westminster Parliament. England’s cricketers are currently touring Australia, and as the first Test in Brisbane made abundantly clear, Australia has no time for Poms. Nor is the animosity confined to Pom cricketers. The biggest Pom of all is Her Majesty, and most Australians would dearly love to be rid of her, the only obstacle being that they can’t agree what to put in her place.
When the colonies of North America united in their War of Independence in 1776 they showed no such hesitation, and would gladly have done to George III what the French did to their King thirteen years later: cut off his head. Distance, as it happened, prevented that, and they had to content themselves with simply telling him that he no longer either owned or controlled the United States, and that they would make no further contribution to keeping him in the style to which he was accustomed.
An independent Scotland will be in a position to say exactly the same, and some will no sooner have said ‘Yes’ to dear Nicola’s White Paper than a new Republican Party will arise to fill the ‘troublers of Scotland’ role vacated by the now redundant Nationalists.
It would be foolish to underestimate them. Anyone who has ever attended the annual Culloden Anniversary Service knows that Scotland’s Jacobites are far from extinct; and anyone who’s lived in Glasgow knows that these Jacobite ranks have been swelled by the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants only too happy to declare, ‘She’s not our Queen!’ Nor should we discount the many conviction-republicans who are lying in wait, ready to pounce on the monarchy at the first opportunity.
We had no say when the death of Elizabeth I united the two crowns of Scotland and England on the very complicated head of Jamie the Sixth in 1603. But an independent Scotland will have a choice, and we should not be too cocksure about the direction it will take.
I don’t say this because I’m a passionate advocate of monarchy. I say it because I’m a passionate opponent of referendums. None came along for centuries (the first was in 1973); then they came along in a rush, like London buses; and now I see them rising before us in an endless succession, creating the illusion of a participatory democracy, providing the chattering-classes with no end of fun (and money), and diverting the whole political energy of the nation from the challenges of urban poverty to the platforms of self-indulgent irrelevance.
The independence debate will deliver for the Scottish people exactly what the great ecumenical ‘dialogues’ of last century delivered for her churches: nothing, at the cost of endless hours of wasted time and misspent money.
My mood is not helped by the fact that on this very day the Scottish Government is publishing, at the tax-payer’s expense, what it calls a White Paper, but is in effect a party-political manifesto. The morality of this is dubious enough, but what is even worse is that it demonstrates all too clearly that even Mr Salmond does not appear to grasp what independence means. In particular, he does not grasp that it means independence from Salmond. He presumes to tell us what an independent Scotland will look like, and he does soon the assumption that in another four hundred years he will still be the First Minister. On this, unless I am greatly mistaken, he is guilty of a serious miscalculation. It will soon be none of his business; and for all he knows an independent Scotland may vote to keep Trident, elect a Tory Government, abolish child care, appoint a Calvinist First Minister and arraign the Queen for war-crimes. All his White Paper can do is tell us the platform on which the SNP will fight the first election after independence; and, apart from abolishing Trident, he and Nicola promise nothing that could not be delivered within the Union.
Still, it is his inability to let go that is disturbing.
Supposing Scotland does vote for the partition of the United Kingdom, the one thing certain is that it will spell the end for the religious settlement which was a key element in the articles of Union. In terms of this settlement, Britain was to be a Christian country with a Head of State solemnly sworn to preserve the rights and liberties of the Church. That included the undertaking that Sunday would be special, that the laws on marriage would reflect Christian norms, and that society’s treatment of the sick, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the destitute would be inspired by biblical values.
This settlement was never implemented, and in recent years its dismantling has proceeded apace, led by the Union Parliament. Mr. Salmond saw Christianity lived before his very eyes, and what he saw gave him no reason to despise it. But he has made unmistakeably clear that on this issue an independent Scotland would be no different. It will be a secular state, without even that English fig-leaf, the Queen’s headship of the church; and for secular we should read ‘atheist’. Far from being neutral on the question of God it will ban from the public square everything that prays: and that includes not only contemptible Wee Frees, but Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews.
What a day I’ve lived to see! Government cringes before gays, dismisses the church, and creates a framework of governance within which a Christian could scarcely breathe. None of that will change with independence, any more than will the price of butter.
Why then this almighty fuss?
This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press on Friday 29 November 2013