In 2014, the United Kingdom faced it is the most significant threat since 1707. The life-long question of Scottish independence was not yet answered, and the separatist appetite had only grown since the creation of the Scottish National Party in 1934. Unlike in Wales, Scotland’s movement has taken a sizeable control of devolved power in Holyrood and was far more successful in dragging law-making powers back to Edinburgh in referenda. That said the Scottish people rightfully rejected Alex Salmond’s Yes Scotland organisation, in favour of Better Together that was spearheaded by Prime Minister David Cameron and former Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling. In the wake of a growing economic argument against Scottish independence, and the SNP’s preference of transferring powers to Brussels the 55% who backed the United Kingdom in 2014, would ultimately claim victory again. However, to ensure this Scots must do two things. Firstly, they must back the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party on the 12th of December, and in the worst-case scenario that the Scots are forced to the polls again, they must back the United Kingdom.
The arguments against the separation of the Union are compelling and profound. The two I wish to address are economic and political justifications for remaining in the United Kingdom. However, there are undoubtedly other arguments, including an emotive argument based on a rich shared history.
The economic case for the Union is what swayed the result in 2014. Almost half a decade later and the economic case for the Union has grown. Separatists have used the oil argument since the 1970s. Initially, this is what propelled the SNP, led by William Woolfe to the forefront of British politics. However, the price of oil since the 2014 referendum has almost halved in value. In addition, Scotland’s departure from the UK risks their use of the sterling. If they left and were not granted the pound, then they would either create their own currency or adopt the calamitous Euro. If they remain hellbent on rejoining the EU, then they would undoubtedly have to adopt the Euro. If Westminster decided to allow Scotland to keep sterling, then independence would be worthless. English interest rates would bind Scotland, and this would undermine the argument for Scottish independence entirely.
Finally, Scottish nationalists frequently praise the value of the European markets in Scotland. However, this is hugely misleading, and this devalues the significant and sizeable amount of trade that Scotland does with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. According to the Scottish Government, a meagre 18% of trade in Scotland is carried out with the EU, whereas 60% is intra-British trade. If Scots see the EU as a broader market than the United Kingdom, then they are cutting off their nose to spite the face. In fact, Brexit could even benefit Scottish trade. Scotland’s trade with the rest of the world is also higher than the EU’s at 22%. By broadening British horizons, Scotland could benefit from free-market trade with the entire world rather than restricting themselves to a declining and protectionist economic bloc. The sense of England not caring about Scotland is a profound mischaracterisation of British politics. Under the Barnett formula, Scotland is the primary beneficiary of the United Kingdom. In 2016, it was estimated that Scotland received over £10,500 per head of spending, whereas England only received a scanty £8,800. With regard to expenditure and trade, Scottish nationalists willingly underestimate the power and scale of Anglo-Scottish relations, yet praise a comparably minuscule EU-Scottish alliance as excellent.
That said, voters, vote with their heart as much as their head. This gives room for the political factors that motivate people too. As I alluded to earlier, since the Union of 1707, Scotland has shared in some great and monumental moments of global history, that have shaped the world forever. For many people in Scotland, as well as the rest of the United Kingdom, this makes us proud. However, Scottish independence may sever the ties that we have built over three centuries. Firstly, who is to say there is no hard border in Scotland if the Scots vote ‘Yes’? Moreover, who is to say that the EU would allow Scotland, if they were admitted as a member of the bloc, to cooperate with the rest of the UK? Both of these could spell calamity for Anglo-Scottish relations.
Nonetheless, I find it difficult to comprehend why Scottish Nationalists wish to hand back law-making powers to Brussels. Brexit may not have proved to be Scotland’s first choice in 2016, but as the 1,000,000 who did back Leave, Scotland could benefit from taking back control of its money, laws and borders. It will be remaining in the UK post-Brexit that can ensure that Scotland controls her fisheries and that Scottish representatives in Westminster will have a greater say on legislation, taxation and how money is spent in Scotland.
Finally, who is to say that the EU will even accept Scotland into the EU. In 2014, Unionists used Barroso’s letter to argue that Scotland could not automatically join the EU. Article 49 remains unchanged and means that members would have to vote on Scotland’s membership. This automatically spells concern as Spain has its own separatist problem. Spanish diplomats and politicians will hope to keep Catalonia as a part of Spain and therefore will veto Scotland rejoining the EU. This means that Scotland could be left in complete limbo.
If you support the compelling argument against Scotland breaking up from the rest of the United Kingdom after 312-years of the political Union, then you must vote Conservative on the 12th of December. In elections gone by Scotland had the choice of three Unionist parties in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. However, in the wake of the Brexit paralysis, two of parties are now wavering with their Unionist traditions.
The Labour Party, who were the largest party in Scotland from 1959 to 2010, have slowly watched much of their support fall to the SNP. However, under their current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, their remaining Unionist support should be cautious. When asked if Corbyn was a Unionist he replied ‘no I am a socialist’. This is no surprise given his close relationship with Irish nationalists in Ulster. Because of the close historical, social and economic relationships between Ulster and Scotland this will cause much concern. Nevertheless, the final nail in the coffin for Unionists should revolve around the fact that Corbyn could comfortably be propped up by the SNP. The threat of Corbyn is terrifying, but the prospect of Sturgeon as kingmaker will cause pain in the hearts of many Unionists. Corbyn has already announced that Scotland would vote in two referendums in the first year of his potential premiership. One of Brexit and the other on the Scottish separatist question. Given that well-respected pollsters, like John Curtice, cannot see an outright Labour majority, their only choice will be to obtain the support of the SNP. This means that Labour will have no choice but to send Scotland back to the polls as Sturgeon’s offer is clear cut.
What be of the Liberal Democrats? During the Blair years, with the Tories in the wilderness, the Liberal Democrats were the second largest party north of Berwick, with a constant presence in the Highlands and outer islands. However, like Labour, the SNP have slowly eroded their vote share and in turn, Jo Swinson’s party now only hold four seats. Swinson, despite being a Scot herself, has not been as explicit as Corbyn in threatening the Union. In fact, her threat does not lie in Scotland and instead lies in Wales. In Wales, the Liberal Democrats have declared an electoral pact with Plaid Cymru, the sister party of the SNP. Despite, their lack of success Plaid, led by Adam Price, could potentially shake up the Union from Westminster of the Senedd. For many proud Unionists, any threat to the United Kingdom, whether that be in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
That leaves the Conservative and Unionist Party as the only party that can represent the 55% that voted to stay in the United Kingdom. The history of the Tories in Scotland has been a turbulent one. Their last Scottish majority was under Anthony Eden in 1955, but in the early 2000s, there was no Tory representation in Westminster for a Scottish seat. However, now, and in part because of the great successes of Ruth Davidson, the Tories are Scotland’s second-largest party. Polling also indicates that this will not change in December, with the Tories fluctuating between 1/4 and 1/3 of the vote. Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, there is not even an inkling that the Tories will put at risk the Union. During the ITV debate earlier this week, Boris Johnson said that ‘The Union is, of course, the most important thing. It’s a fantastic thing.’ Only Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party can declare themselves the defenders of the Union. Former Labour MPs north and south of the border are aware of this, as the former MP for Glasgow South, John Smith, joined Ian Austin and John Woodcock I’m pleading with former constituents to vote Conservative. In his letter, the ex-minister pleaded with Glaswegians that ‘in order to protect the country I love, I must vote Conservative.’
Whatever the Scottish people decide in December will ultimately determine their future. If the 55% back the only Unionist Party left in Scotland, then Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will have to accept that the people of Scotland do not want a second referendum and wish to stay a part of the most successful political Union in human history. While there is no doubt that the Unionist vote will fragment between the traditional pro-Union parties, there is only one that can ensure that Scotland remains a respected and cherished member of the United Kingdom, and that is the party led by Boris Johnson. The chaos and division that would result by backing any other party in Scotland will put both the campaigning and aftermath of the 2014 and 2016 referendum to shame; we may never heal these wounds.
By J Walters