But Will I Still Be Able to Listen to Rob da Bank?

Our guide to all things British (and dispensational), Crawford Gribben, has addressed the question of Scottish independence in ways that should console American conservatives. It will mean smaller government and a setback for liberalism. (What really matters to me, though, is whether the BBC will continue to produce the kind of television, movies, and radio that — all about me — I have come to enjoy).

In this sense, the campaigns for and against Scottish independence have become political theatres of the absurd. English Conservatives campaign against a constitutional realignment that would give them a generational advantage over Labour, while the Scottish National Party’s campaign for independence would satisfy their raison d’être but raise profound questions as to what other policies might hold them together as a viable political force. Independence would, in a sense, separate the national conjoined twins, allowing each of them to go in the opposing directions signaled in the last general election: a strong swing to the right in England, counterbalanced by a solid return of Labour MPs from Scotland. There is no reason of substance for English Conservatives to campaign against Scottish independence. Their arguments that Scotland is the “poor man” of the union and a net gainer from the UK Treasury could, for example, be turned into an argument that independence would lead to greater English wealth. There would certainly be a substantial jobs boost if the naval shipyards were to move south. Much of the “No” campaign is driven by exactly the kind of banal nationalism it finds so disagreeable among Scots: supporting the 1707 union simply because it is there.

But nostalgia is a poor—and unpopular—political philosophy. Despite the recent petitions presented by celebrities in favor of the union, opinion polls have at times pointed to the enthusiasm of English voters for Scottish independence. In fact, some polls taken earlier in the campaign indicated that English voters were more in favor of Scottish independence than were the majority of Scots, while the most recent polls indicate that English voters are swinging to support the Union even as Scots are increasingly aligning themselves against it. Nevertheless, if English Conservatives could find a way to ignore the advice of pop stars and the Pope, they would have no reason to argue on behalf of a political union that no longer works to their strategic advantage. Scottish independence could mark the end of the British left as a viable political force.

The polls are close, but the money is on “no.”


11 thoughts on “But Will I Still Be Able to Listen to Rob da Bank?

  1. DGH, I wouldn’t bet either way, but I would entertain a wager that the final outcome will be closer to 55-45 than 51-49 whichever side wins. Every polling organization out there has some “secret sauce” that they use to adjust the raw data for turnout. The one thing everyone agrees on is that this will be the highest turnout election in many decades. How you adjust for something that unprecedented is beyond me. The only straw I see in the wind that might be indicative of which way it comes down is that one discernible trend that seems to be validated by multiple polls is that undecided women seem to be breaking towards a “no” vote.


  2. Page Eight was almost a good movie. Nighy was wonderful and Weisz is very good, but the neatly leftist character development left me cold.


  3. When Quebec had its last referendum, in 1995, the ‘No’ vote won by less than one percent; basically 50.5% voted ‘No’, and 49.5% voted ‘Yes’.

    I’m hoping the result in Scotland is equally close, because both sides deserve no better, frankly. If we Canadians had to suffer and go through the aftermath of all that, they should, too.

    Of course, as with Canada, I still hope the ‘No’ side prevails. I just hope it’s as equally by a hair’s-breadth as we had. I don’t think schadenfreude is always wrong; surely it’s fine to dabble in, once in a while. 😉


  4. What a fantastic post!

    I hope it wouldn’t be too mean-spirited of me to ask if Crawford’s hope for the end of the British left involves a reciprocal, secret hope for civil laws against idolatry, images, blasphemy…

    DGH, you wear well the mantle of North American Presbyterian liaison to Ireland. Just saying.


  5. From Ross McDouthat:

    People have compared the U.K.-Scotland relationship, in the event of a split, to the United States and Canada, which of course is inexact and even absurd in all kinds of ways. But I will say this: whenever I’ve visited Ottawa and dipped a toe into the Canadian political experience, I’ve always come away impressed with the advantages of national politics on a different scale (however large and diverse in its own right) than the kind of experiment we have going in our increasingly imperial republic. True, those advantages don’t incline me to pick up and move to Vermont and throw in with the Green Mountain state’s separatists, and they don’t incline me, in the end, to desire the dissolution of Great Britain’s successful and rather extraordinary union either. But they do incline me to a greater sympathy for the cause of Scottish independence, a greater understanding for why ruling themselves from Edinburgh might seem preferable to being represented in Westminster, than a tabulation of financial considerations would allow. At the very least, I envy them the chance to cast so significant a vote, and I would find something to admire in either outcome.


  6. Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders what will happen to Northern Ireland:

    If Northern Ireland had a border poll, would respondents move as quickly toward Ireland as the Scots have toward independence? Certainly not, since the Republic of Ireland is a real state with real problems, as opposed to an independent Scotland that can remain, at least until polling day, a repository of unlimited aspirations.

    But that doesn’t change the material facts on the ground. Catholics (or Catholic-descended) Northern Irish are rapidly heading toward a majority of the population. Catholics outnumber Protestants in Belfast already, as well as in schools and universities. Meanwhile, Northern Irish Protestants are more likely to move to England and stay there as adults.

    Unionists may console themselves with a set of polls in 2011 that showed more Catholics expressing a wish to stay in the union rather than join the republic. But would they remain committed if Ireland’s economy rebounds and the U.K.’s deteriorates? What if the broader project of the United Kingdom decomposes in the face of Scottish nationalism? And why would pro-union Catholics vote to stay in the union, when unionism will be championed by parties that attract zero Catholic votes?

    Another question may be more disquieting to loyalists: Does England even want Belfast? The same polls showed that a smaller percentage of English people are committed to keeping Northern Ireland. For many years, it has received the most public money per capita in the union, while generating the least. And many English find Northern Irish politics exasperating, its style of unionism oafish.

    Even Thatcher seems to have contemplated cutting Northern Ireland off during the Hunger Strikes. Similar threats were made by Westminster in order to broker the 1998 Good Friday agreement. It’s hard to imagine David Cameron or his successor giving emotional speeches about the role of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, as Cameron and his associates have done for Scotland.


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