Kezia Dugdale declares that “Our union must be saved.” In doing so, she – quite unwittingly, I’m sure – prompts a number of questions. Whose union? What union? Why must it be saved?
When I heard that unthinking pronouncement from Dugdale, I was immediately put in mind of something I wrote in early November 2013 under the title, Vote Yes to save the Union. Much of what I said then seems just as relevant now.
“What is missing from the anti-independence campaign’s argument is a more profound consideration of what it is about the union that is valued. Valued, not by the British political parties and the vested interests that they represent, but by the people of the UK.
Alex Salmond addressed this issue back in July 2013 when he spoke of the six unions that “govern our lives today in Scotland”. The political union of the UK; union with Europe through the EU; the currency union, the Union of the Crowns; a defence union based on Nato and a social union among the people of the UK.
The First Minister talked of these six unions in terms of their importance to Scotland, making the point that only the first of these – political union with the UK – works against Scotland’s interests. The others serve us reasonably well and are generally valued by the people of Scotland.
The currency union is just a fact of life for all of us. As convenient an arrangement as might be contrived. And the social union is something we are so comfortable with that we rarely even think of it. When we do reflect on it, however, it is likely that we rank it first among all the unions. The rest are mere practical or political arrangements, whereas the social union is about people.
My point here is that, if we get past the self-serving politicians of the British parties whose sole priority is the preservation of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which benefit them and their clients; if we address those who have been lured by the simplistic slogans of the anti-independence campaign and induce them to really think about what it is that they value about the union, it is highly probable that they will come up with much the same answers that Alex Salmond did. They would surely place the highest value on the social union. And, while they might vary in the way they prioritise the others, there would still be general agreement with pro-independence campaigners on the list as a whole.
We all, nationalist and unionist alike, tend to value the same things about the union, differing only in the emphasis that we put on each. Where we part company is principally, if not solely, on the matter of the political union of the UK. I would urge unionists to think long and hard about whether we do not have a common interest in that regard also.
Whereas the circumstances of the world in which we live require a concept of independence that involves a redefining of relationships, the No campaign can think only in terms of a complete severing of those relationships. It presents a totally false choice between all of the six unions, or none of them. Even to the point of threatening to wilfully destroy things that work well, such as the currency union.
Those unionists who value the same aspects of the union as nationalists do must ask themselves whether they are prepared to sacrifice the good bits in order to preserve a political union which serves nobody other than the elites of the British state. They must accept that a No vote does not mean a return to some comfortable status quo ante. Scotland has changed in ways that make that impossible.
A No vote on 18 September 2014 will have consequences. The outcome itself and the all too easily envisaged response of the British state to that outcome will alter an already unsatisfactory political union in ways that must inevitably have a deleterious effect on the social union that we all value so much.
To those intending to vote No I say, if you value the best of the old union, then think of how it will be put in jeopardy by failure to take this opportunity to forge anew the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Think how much better together we will be if we create a new union. A reformed association which preserves all that is desirable and effective about what has been developed over the years but places this in the context of a political relationship fit for our times and the future. A relationship that is strong, not in the facile sense subscribed to by British nationalists, but in the sense of being robust and durable. A relationship that respects the differences between nations while cherishing the social and cultural ties among people. A true partnership of equals.”Views: 1759
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