What is the point of Scottish nationalism?

Nigel Farage is right; anti-Englishness drives much of Scottish nationalism - and what's the point of that?

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Remind us, Mr. Salmond - how does independence work again?
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Vincent Cooper
On 20 May 2013 21:40

Nigel Farage is right; anti-Englishness drives much of Scottish nationalism.

In fact Anglophobia has always been at the heart of all British Isles Celtic nationalism, particularly the Irish and Scottish varieties. Unlike French nationalism, for example, which is based on a positive view of French culture, Scottish and Irish nationalisms are largely based on a negative view of the ‘outsider’, meaning the English.

There are obvious historical reasons for this negative Celtic fringe view of the English. English dominance, both economic and cultural, has been so powerful it has hugely influenced the whole world, from America to Hong Kong to Australia and everywhere in between. With such world-wide influence, what chance of cultural individuality had the poor Celtic fringe of Scotland, Wales and Ireland?

But a curious fact here is that the English have never deliberately asserted any cultural superiority or identity over the Scots. English culture spread naturally, without any deliberate imperial policy.

James I of Scotland, for example, was writing English verse at a time when French was still the language of the English court. Indeed, Scots English, the language of Lowland Scotland, became a literary form in the writings of the Scottish nationalist of his day, John Barbour (1325-95).

What virtually finished off the Celtic identity of the British Isles was not any determined English imperialism, but the magnetic pull of England’s hugely dominant and superior economic and cultural force. What remains of Celtic culture today is largely a kitsch creation of Hollywood.

Throughout the last five hundred years, English dominance – exemplified economically in the Industrial Revolution and culturally in the English language in works such as the King James Bible and Shakespeare – became such a supreme achievement that it actually created much of the modern world.

The English language is universal. English common law and parliamentary institutions are to be found throughout the civilised world. And Scotland has contributed hugely to this. British influence would be the poorer without the works of David Hume and Adam Smith. But these men, certainly Hume, saw themselves as British, not Scottish,

And what is there to complain about? Why the Anglophobia of the Celtic fringe? Such cultural influences have happened throughout history, and usually constituted a civilising advance. Where would we be today without the civilising influence of Rome? The same question could be asked about England. 

But there have always been those on the Celtic fringe who resented English cultural and economic dominance. It would be a surprise therefore if Scottish nationalism today did not contain a large element of disaffected Anglophobes, people who find it politically convenient to scapegoat and blame the English for every misfortune.

In fact, it’s hard to see that Scottish nationalism today has much to offer other than Anglophobia.

Throughout history, national independence has been based on either cultural identity or some form of economic advantage based on control of the national currency. But neither of these reasons applies to Alex Salmond’s proposed independence for Scotland.

The SNP is not demanding a revival of Scottish cultural nationalism; it is not demanding that Gaelic replace English as the first language, as happened in Ireland, something the Lallans Lowlander might well object to. So what’s the point of Scottish independence?

But it is on the currency issue that Mr. Salmond’s push for independence really falls down. What currency will an independent Scotland use?  

Before the euro crisis, Alex Salmond was hugely impressed by the apparent success of the Irish “Celtic Tiger”. Mr. Salmond was convinced and wanted a “Celtic Lion” for Scotland.

Joy was unconfined. In 2008, Mr. Salmond spoke of an “arc of prosperity” covering Ireland, Iceland and Norway, and suggested Scotland could join this prosperous group by becoming independent. Oh, and Mr. Salmond also cheered to the rafters the great success of a great Scottish institution, the Royal Bank of Scotland, now bailed out by the British taxpayer.

Mr. Salmond’s new Scotland would also be socialist. A curious feature of Celtic nationalism is its left wing ideology. Capitalist England, it seems, is the cause of all our problems. The new Celtic Utopia would be different.

The SNP now has a policy of free third level education for all, including asylum seekers from around the world. All you have to do to qualify is live in Scotland for three years, even if that living is on welfare. But if you’re English and want to go to university in Scotland, you’ll have to pay, even though England greatly subsidises Scotland’s “free” education.

But the euro financial crisis has dealt a deadly blow to Mr. Salmond’s forward march to his Celtic dream.

An independent Scotland, Mr. Salmond now says, would not join the euro, discreetly back-pedalling on an important strategy. After all, it was the euro and Ireland’s economic miracle that first inspired Mr. Salmond. But back-pedalling is necessary canny politics because Mr. Salmond knows that a majority of Scots want to keep sterling. But where’s the independence in that?

Mr. Salmond now proposes that an independent Scotland would keep sterling, but under Bank of England supervision. In other words, the English and Welsh taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for any bailouts in a financial crisis, as they were with RBS.

All of this is a long way from the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger. Economic reality has kicked in and Mr. Salmond’s romantic nationalism is now shown to be threadbare.

Scottish nationalists should accept that independence really does mean independence, and that means Scotland taking full responsibility for its affairs. But Mr. Salmond wants the best of both worlds: an independent Scotland with tax raising and borrowing powers but with the rest of the UK providing the financial security.

As the Chancellor George Osborne has pointed out, this would be a recipe for disaster. It is exactly the present arrangement within the eurozone, the very arrangement that bankrupted Ireland. The lesson of the eurozone is that you cannot have monetary union without fiscal and political integration.

The United Kingdom works. It is a monetary union with full integration of fiscal and political powers. And it has worked for centuries to the benefit of Scotland. So why break it for the defunct dreams of a nationalist?

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