Scottish independence and the question of Nationalism

(C) Fayenatic london

By Jake Coltman

Speaking at the Edinburgh book festival today, Gordon Brown attempted to make the recent success of Team GB to the “Better Together” campaign what the continued success of their national football team is to Spanish Unionists.  He argued that the pooling of resources across the nation allowed a combined British team to be much more successful than the sum of the parts would have been, and that this dynamic carries over to other areas of policy, singling out foreign affairs, health and even social welfare. Warmed by the last embers of the “feel good factor” of the Olympics it is easy to mistake this for an incisive argument in favour of the Union; however, it fails to stand up under closer analysis.

Firstly, and this is a long standing problem I have with the “Better together” campaign, it very much begs the question of Nationalism. Mr. Brown may well consider that the pride of seeing Great Britain win more gold medals is an argument in favour of the Union, but this is entirely because he favours the Union.  The best way to see this is by analogy; we could undoubtedly have more success at the Olympics if we fielded a European Union team, or even if we merged with United States team, but should we do this?  Obviously not, the reason doing well makes us feel proud and happy is because we associate with the team, we consider it to represent “us”.  Now if you’re a Scottish Nationalist then it’s a fair bet that you don’t feel pride towards the Union, and you definitely won’t see it as “us”.  As with almost all non-fiscal arguments for the Union it carries exactly no appeal to those who don’t already support the Union.

However, Mr. Brown begs the question in a subtler way, namely in what independence would mean.  He (and he is hardly alone in this) seeks to portray independence as a complete separation, indeed he suggests that England and Scotland would be as separate as Bulgaria and Luxembourg.  Now this is obviously one solution, but it hardly seems the most likely one.  Even in Ireland, where independence was bought with a bloody civil war, there has been a long standing commitment, albeit exclusively by the Republic, to maintain a passport union, in addition to the economic union of the European Community.

Should the Union break up over the coming years then the realised implications would be deeply unclear.  Certainly initially one would expect there to be a trade and passport union, and most likely some form of currency union given the plight of the Euro and the risk that an independent currency would carry in the current economic climate, but it could be so much more.  If state provision of health care works best as an island-wide body to mitigate the risks of races to the bottom and welfare tourism, then there is no reason why two states should not merge their healthcare systems, especially when they are as close as Scotland and England.  Similarly, Gordon Brown mentions the army as a compelling economy of scale, well why shouldn’t two independent countries have one joint military force?  The euro area is presently going through the motions of trying to set up such a scheme across the entire continent and Benelux and the Nordic countries provide a wonderful template for close cooperation between close neighbours.  Indeed it even possible that athletes might be sent to Rio as members of a Great British team made up or two (or even three) nations!

The take away here is not that independence would have no concrete effect, it is simply that one should not expect independence to be everything that those on either side make out.  In today’s interconnected world, the border between Northern Ireland and Eire is incredibly fluid, and many of the benefits that we today possess could easily survive long after the blue of the Scottish has been taken from the Union flag.


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