Scots are in for a shock when the English run out of patience
This wave of hysteria sweeping Scotland appears to be unstoppable. It is not going to end well if the SNP gets its way
By Iain Martin
12:29AM BST 03 May 2015
One of the most remarkable features of the SNP’s never-ending fixation on breaking up the United Kingdom is how patient and reasonable the English have remained in the face of repeated provocation.
During last year’s referendum, when almost half of Scotland was howling about the supposed iniquities of sharing a government with peaceable England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the polls showed that voters south of the border still wanted Scotland to stay. This wasn’t an order, merely a friendly invocation of shared endeavour and common feeling.
Yet throughout that period, as a Unionist Scot living in England, I encountered considerable sadness and bafflement on the part of friends who could not understand why anyone would want to break up a successful arrangement. Who likes to be told that a long-standing partner wants to leave?
Quietly, more than a few others said they wished that Scotland would go immediately if only to make the Scots shut up. Since the No campaign won the battle in September, and then lost the war, one has heard this said much more frequently. Especially when it became clear that the referendum was not the end, or even the end of the beginning. It looks, to misquote Winston Churchill, as though the referendum was the beginning of the end for the Union.
This wave of hysteria sweeping Scotland appears to be unstoppable. A party that scored under 20 per cent in the 2010 Westminster general election, the SNP, is now polling above 50 per cent. The once-dominant Scottish Labour party, whose leaders used to strut about proclaiming that Conservatism had to be wiped out because they deemed it inherently un-Scottish, now find themselves getting the same treatment from the SNP. They are confronted by sinister nationalist demonstrators calling Labour “Red Tories”, quislings and scum.
For the tragedy is that beyond the hype, last year’s referendum has ruined Scotland, with friends and family pitted against each other. Indeed, noisy Nats now demand a vote for the SNP as proof of patriotism and seem incapable of realising that their antics genuinely scare many of their quieter and less demonstrative countrymen.
Referendum madness – making sufferers immune to economic facts or reason – has even infected some of those who voted No last year. Such is the scale of the approaching tsunami that unless Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour-supporting Scots vote tactically this week in significant numbers, to stop the SNP and save a batch of seats, the Nationalists will take every seat in Scotland.
Understandably, much attention has been focused on what the SNP plans to do with its new power, and the nationalists seem to be loving the attention. Bizarrely, the party’s position is that it wants to install in power in London the same party it is seeking to wipeout in Scotland. As The Telegraph reported yesterday, the SNP has drawn up its negotiating plan to prop up a minority government in England, increasing benefits and hiking taxes.
The rise of the Nats has got some on the Left in England excited, presumably because the hope is that it will put some Socialist steel (as though that is needed) into an Ed Miliband government. The front cover of last week’s New Statesman magazine featured an illustration of a Saltire-waving Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond aboard the Flying Scotsman steam train, poised to run over Ed Miliband and David Cameron, who were both tied to the track.
The headline on that piece proclaimed that “The Scots are coming!” But weary English voters could be forgiven for responding that the Scots are not coming. They are already here. Scots have played a role in UK affairs out of proportion to their country’s size for several centuries.
That being the case, how much more Scottishness can England take? For more than a year, the referendum dominated political discourse. In the years preceding that festival of navel-gazing and Scottish self-regard, every piece of devolution to the Edinburgh parliament was banked and then branded insufficient five minutes later. Meanwhile, Fred Goodwin and the Royal Bank of Scotland played a starring role in blowing up the British economy, and the English had to listen to Gordon Brown’s lectures for 13 years about the alleged superiority of his “values”.
Now, it seems, a majority of Scots want to dictate terms to England – and even if Mr Miliband refuses to do a formal deal, that will only mean a deal every day as the SNP decides vote by vote whether to strike. If the Tories win, a large group of Nationalists will be in the Commons taking every opportunity to foster resentment.How will the English respond to being run over in this manner by the Sturgeon-Salmond express?
One of the curiosities of the Scottish nationalist pysche is that the separatists should so frequently misread English opinion in all its complexity.
Newly elected MPs from all parties will travel to Westminster having spent weeks talking to their constituents against a backdrop of SNP demands. If the Scots say they want full fiscal autonomy – an SNP policy that would leave a multi-billion pound black hole in public services north of the border – then why not let the Scots have it?
To navigate this treacherous terrain will take real leadership from whoever is in No 10. A constitutional convention will be required to resolve the situation, perhaps introducing federalism to deliver justice for England and Wales. Without level-headed statesmanship and practical solutions, the risk is that the division and ill-feeling that predominates in Scotland will spread rapidly to England.
Here, one might invoke GK Chesterton’s famous poem, The Secret People, in which he describes the quiet determination that has, historically, made the English slow to anger though fearsome when eventually riled.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
For we are the people of England, that never has spoken yet.
Of course, there is an ambiguity. Sometimes the English merely grumble and grouse before returning to their pint or glass of wine. As Chesterton put it: “It may be beer is best.”
I very much doubt, however, that the vast majority of Tory voters, Ukippers and sensible Labour supporters will be sanguine about government by Scottish Nationalist diktat.