Leading article

One week to save Britain

The Scottish independence referendum is the most important vote in recent British history

13 September 2014

9:00 AM

13 September 2014

9:00 AM

Next week, the most important vote in recent British history will be held. Indeed, it may well turn out to be one of the last ballots in British history. Seven months ago, this magazine devoted its front page to warning that the United Kingdom was at grave risk of dissolution. The unionist apparatus had decayed, argued Alex Massie, and Alex Salmond was the best late-stage campaigner in Europe. The SNP deployed the language of nationhood and destiny, while the ‘no’ campaign droned on about the Barnett Formula. The conditions for calamity were in place.

At last, the Prime Minister has realised the seriousness of the threat: a ‘yes’ vote would end his political career, but that would be the least of it. The United Kingdom, the greatest union of countries that the world has known, would be dissolved — and for the worst of reasons. There is a pitifully thin logical case for separation: devolution has so far done little for Scotland’s public services, so more powers are unlikely to bring more help. But this debate has come down to something else: the SNP has been able to articulate the emotional case for a separate country. Britain’s politicians don’t seem to be able to make the case for Britain.

The British public have no such inhibitions — if The Spectator’s postbag is anything to go by. Almost everyone who responded to our request for readers to write in with reasons for Scots to stay has made the argument that so many unionist politicians seem unable to comprehend: that the importance of Britain is about identity, belonging and nationhood. It’s about a shared history and shared prospects, of tolerance and being tolerated. When we talk about Britain, we talk about a set of values jointly created by the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.

One reader, the son of an immigrant, writes that his life in Britain in the 1970s was made better by knowing that Britain was a country of differences and compromise, rather than one which was seen as the homeland of a single tribe. Another, from west London, talks about how important it is to her that when she steps off the train at Aviemore she still feels at home. You can hear the Scottish nationalists scoffing: who would prevent her visiting a separate Scotland? No one, of course, but it would not feel like home. Something very precious will be lost — and that loss would diminish us all.

Politics is not only about narrow self-interest. There are a good number of Scots who would vote for independence (or the union) even if they were convinced they’d be worse off as a result. Such voters are insulted by attempted bribes. To George Osborne’s eternal shame, his Treasury officials even published a document telling Scots that voting ‘no’ would allow them to ‘share a meal of fish and chips with your family every day for around ten weeks, with a couple of portions of mushy peas thrown in.’ Is it any wonder that so many Scots think ‘to hell with the lot of you’?

This explains the upsurge for independence: we see exasperation with a political class that seems intent on demonstrating its incompetence. Scrambled offers of more devolution are being made so late as to be incredible. Making threats is not the same as changing minds. For years, Scottish Labour has been used to winning without really fighting, hoovering up ‘safe seats’ after telling scare stories about Tory government. This has led to a decay in the basic political apparatus which is (alas) on full display now. Most SNP activists, by contrast, have spent all their adult lives preparing for this one vote.

The Prime Minister should not need speech-writers to extol the merits of Britain. He can just consider our history: in 1707 England was a hive of religious intolerance while impoverished Scotland was beset with feudal warfare. Within decades Great Britain had become the first industrial nation and led the world in scientific discovery. You can’t read about Britain’s history without coming across those who, like Robert Owen, the Welsh mill owner and early socialist, achieved great things by going north of the border to Lanarkshire, as well as others who, like the engineer Thomas Telford of Dumfriesshire, came south to work.

None of our readers’ letters dispute that Scotland could be independent — indeed, one even posits that Kent could separate. But why engage in the politics of grudge, gripe and separation? Change the word ‘Scotland’ to ‘England’ in the SNP’s slogans and you have the unattractive creed of English nationalism. How people would wince at a movement which proclaimed ‘England’s Future in England’s hands’? It would be accused of xenophobia, and of wanting to retreat into a little world of its own.

There is still time to save the union, but it requires more passion than the ‘no’ camp has so far shown. Twice, David Cameron has saved his political career by making impressive speeches at crucial moments. He needs to do so again, and this time the stakes are far higher. If the Prime Minister and his allies are still trying to find the right words, they need look no further than these pages.

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  • Andrew Innes

    It’s nothing to do with flag waving, and the genocidal brutality of our shared history is nothing to be proud of.

    (We are the only nation ever to have successfully committed genocide – it was in Tasmania if you want to look it up)

    It’s about the fact that our paths are diverging. You want to move ever closer to America, we want to be more like Scandinavia. These aspirations could hardly be more different.

    We don’t want your government any more.

    • global city

      What happens if the Sots vote for a right wing party?

      The attractions of Scotland as ‘socialist utopia’ is surely one of limited interest?

      • Andrew Innes

        We will get whatever government we vote for.

        You’re right of course, a few generations down the line there might well be a swing to the far right, or green, or whatever. That’s entirely up to them.

        We’re not a bunch of starry eyed dreamers, we just recognise that a fairer and more just society is better for all:


        (okay, maybe not better for the 0.01%)

        • global city

          Scotland’s best hope is for it’s inherent entrepreneurialism to be reinvigorated, but it is this very quality that has been crushed by the stampede of small minded politicians rushing to the trough.

          SNP forever will eventually kill the country.

          Anyway, what about the EU spin you have all been given up there? It is not some comity of nations, as many English people are finally realising. It seems that the Scots are still in 1970s’ mode when it comes to the EU.

          • Andrew Innes

            When you have a group of broadly equal members, they can certainly be “Better Together” by sharing risks and resources. But when one member of the group is too dominant, it can lead to an abusive relationship where the lesser member(s) are ignored or exploited.

            Our partnership is so imbalanced that England and Britain are basically the same thing. In fact, in the only other language I speak (Japanese), it’s actually the same word “英国”. Germany may be the dominant partner in the EU, but they’re nowhere near 90% of it.

            Also, the argument works both ways. If we are “Better Together” then why do Westminster want to isolate the UK from everyone else?

          • global city

            To suggest that England is the dominant partner is absurd. it is in many ways more hard done by than Scotland under union system, especially as it currently stands.

            I say this as somebody from Liverpool, so am somewhat detached from the issue. if you could highlight how England benefits more than Scotland from the arrangement then, please, tell me?

            I think you are confusing Westminster with ingerlund!

        • magpie5

          You are political munchkins on the yellow brick road to Salmonds never never land ..its all just a fantasy , a group psychosis that has taken on characterists of a religious revival or quasi political cult …its coming to a sudden humiliating end

        • manofsuffolk

          With no disrespect intended, it always strikes me that those suggesting they want a fairer, more just society actually mean they want a bigger slice of the pie themselves. How many claiming this actually give more to the many poorer, less well off people within their society? How many get out and help at food kitchens, foodbanks, lend a spare bedroom to support the homeless, give a substantial slice of their income to others?

          In essence, all the phrase means is government-enforced taking from the rich to give to the poorer ones, with no thought about whether the rich will stay to pay or how the poor will use the money to stand on their own two feet.

          Question – 1) richest 10% earn £100 and bottom 10% earn £10 2( the numbers change to £200 and £20 respectively.

          Which is better, fairer, more just?

          Inequality has increased in 2) BUT the incomes of the bottom 10% have doubled and the overall tax will have dramtically increased, allowing greater spending on all the social welfare measures that parties of all persuasions agrre on.

          To get 2), by far the better option, doesn’t need Alex Salmond to tax the rich and keep the poor dependent on a tax system which increase ‘handouts’ to them.

    • magpie5

      I’m going to take personal satisfaction and not a little schadenfreude in seeing you folks not only beaten but humiliated …NO will not only win this but it will not be close ….I’m going to be picking up a large amount of money from the Bookies on Friday

      • Joseph Lambert

        It’s going to be a NO vote, been obvious for ages. But everyone likes a bit of excitement. Particularly the media. Read your Nate Silver. I’m going to pick up my stash from the bookies next week as well.

    • FootLong

      You Scots achieve independence and shock the EU Politburo by refusing membership in the European Union. In the years ahead Scotland decrees the tightening of its borders and the enforcement of strict new immigration policies – in an effort to keep Scotland Scottish – now that you have been victorious in your long struggle for independence. These preventive efforts are primarily a response to the growing threat from the south where England is is going through an imminent multicultural-meltdown.

    • Icebow

      Like Sweden, with a Leftie-fascist government facilitating rampaging muzz intent on making Malmo Judenrein?

      • “LIKE” Scandinavia, not a carbon copy. The Scots temper is Nordic in character. May as well go with it. As Andrew Innes says, it is about aspiration.

        I understand Nordic aspiration. It is not Atlantic aspiration. We don’t want to bomb people or conform our “friends” to our own image. The USA is happy for England to tag along, as long as they do as they are told. If you really want to understand the Scottish mentality, it is not anti English as such, it is anti-colonial.

        But then of course, anybody in their right mind would take exception to a lot of beige dralon Westminster clones and sharp suited pick-pockets coming up here to tell us how bad things will be without them.

        It won’t be that bad. Really, it won’t.

        • Icebow

          I know a number of Scots, and have some Scottish blood myself. I do not agree that the ‘temper’ in question is Nordic.
          I do suspect that your thinking may tainted by ‘Leftosis’, a tendency which, perhaps, Scots may well understandably share with Scandinavians on account of Celtic outlyingness.

          • Please define “Leftosis”. How is it manifested?

          • Icebow

            If you are of the Right, you’ll know it when you see it. If you’re of the Left, it will not be manifest to you, except as a sense of normality.

        • Cumberland

          Celtic, Scottish mentality. Where do you get this from, the Scottish people from the border to north of the industrial belt are no more Celtic than the residents of the northern English counties, indeed they were/are one people regardless of where the border was placed, and remember who placed the border there, Hadrian.

          • Apart from the fact that “Celtic” and “Nordic” are two entirely different concepts (Read my comment again, I never used the word “Celtic”) your grasp on history seems to be shaky, too.

  • Blindsideflanker

    “When we talk about Britain, we talk about a set of values jointly created by the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.”

    Missing a country there, you know the one that created Parishes, Counties and Parliamentary democracy, the one that created Common Law, the Magana Carta, the Bill of Rights etc. Do you lot in the British establishment need more of a clue?

    As an Englishman I have had my fill of the British state and its Establishment, we are either ignored or turned into some great bogeyman who needs to be contained and civilised.

    Pack your bags and get out of here the lot of you. It won’t be hardship for you for you are clearly only living in England under sufferance with the never ending need to civilise us crass , stupid ignorant, uncivilised, cultureless, English people.

    • Andrew Innes

      Yes, I noticed that too, but I assumed the author meant “together with” instead of “by”; the author representing the English. But I couldn’t see the author’s name anywhere, so maybe I’m wrong.

      • Blindsideflanker

        I don’t believe the author can claim that excuse for elsewhere he positions himself as a third party judge of English religious intolerance (though light years better than was going on in other European states, including Scotland) and suggesting that there is this ‘unattractive creed of English nationalism’.

  • global city

    I wonder why none of the ‘Better Together’ people have not sunk the SNP ‘case’ for ‘independence’ with this obvious fact?


    Is it because they do not wish to highlight that this is the fate of ALL OF US?

    • Cumberland

      Because to so many of the Yes camp it is about “The English”, and “The English” remain regardless of the EU.

      • global city


  • Bonkim

    Without a decisive No the situation will fester and cause uncertainty.

  • Teacher

    The SNP is a very tiny tail wagging a very large dog. If it gets its way those in Scotland who wished to remain with GB, along with the populations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are going to be extremely sore about having had no say in what will affect them so severely.

    • Cumberland

      Agree, things have changed.

  • Take a long hard look at Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. Ask yourself, “Are these the kind of people we want? Are these the kind of people who, increasingly demand a foot in our front door and a hand in our pockets?”

    Westminster has become a confederacy of lowest common denominator pragmatism; a sad reflection of belief in nothingism.

    Some expatriate English, like me, see a very different side to Scotland. There are considerable benefits of living here, not the least, a desire for fairness. Not the kind of fairness that trades on hatred or envy, but a genuine desire to treat people with respect.

    We had that Gordon Brown up here the other day. I think it is the same Gordon Brown whose borrowing on PFI makes Wonga look like a paragon of sainthood.
    One of the first things the SNP did when it got into power was to stop PFI – at least those that were not contracted.

    Of course, we are still paying the interest, largely on buildings that are so bad they will have to be pulled down long before they are paid for.

    I am not expecting Utopia, but neither am I expecting National Socialism. We have a perfectly operational parliament which ensures that no one party will dominate forever. It is perfectly possible that the next one will be Labour.

    There is much more that can be said, but the Scots are not alone in reacting negatively to out-of-touch snake oil salesmen who tell them we are all doomed.

  • Spectre

    FFS, Spectator – the flag is the wrong way up!!!! (Or is that a sign of distress???)

    • dalai guevara

      That isn’t the Union Jack, that is a badly done concoction and no one noticed. That is bad – I pity the fools.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        So $uck your Union Jack
        We want our country back
        We want to see (name of country) free once more,

        • But your Country is Japan; or haven’t you actually stopped trolling just yet?! What nationality would you like to call yourself to be now?!

  • rtj1211

    The argument which has never been adequately addressed is why the Union suits those outside the SE, for whom ruling over the rest is intrinsic to their bullying natures.

    London is an organised electronic spying centre, which tells all those it spies on how inferior they are, whilst stealing everything they have done to portray it as their own down the line. I’ve had my own sister being an intrinsic part of doing that to me and she calls herself a doctor. MI6 thug more like.

    If you want to argue for a Union, then the behaviour of all parts of the union must be one of respectful equals. Those in the SE think that hierarchical mafias is the ‘christian way of things’.

    Well, i have a message for London and the SE. You will have destroyed the Union if anyone destroys it. You will have destroyed it with your greater alliance to immigrants than to your own kind. You will have destroyed it with your thieving, your spying, your lying and your thuggery.

    Scotland of 7 million can’t beat an England of 50 million. It knows it can’t in a thug fest. So it will choose to ally itself to others capable of rounding on the English beast.

    Wales of 3 million can’t either. For now, maybe it will stay supine. If it ever rises, it will do so in alliance with those the size of England.

    Northern Ireland can’t either. But it can align with the Irish American vote if it chooses to face England down.

    If England wants a Union it has to forget the Empire and behave as a partner, not a plantation owner.

    There aren’t any slaves left in the UK, you know. And if you have to import new ones to maintain the illusion, forget the Union.

  • jamesbarn

    If Scotland vote yes the Lock Ness Monster will decamp to Lake Windermere

  • thomasaikenhead

    “Next week, the most important vote in recent British history will be held. ”


    It thought that the vote to allow gay ‘marriage’ was supposed to hold that title?

    Perhaps if Cameron and co. had put as much effort into saving the Union than they did in promoting ‘gay marriage’ then the No campaign would not be in such a desperate state?

    Let’s face it, when they are reduced to using Gordon Brown to introduce policy then they really are beyond help!

  • rtj1211

    The cry for English nationalism is being heard ever louder, to be honest. Why shouldn’t it be?

    You’ve got the Scots attacking the English at every turn, you’ve got the French ganging up with Europe to diss the English every week and the Americans will do anything to keep England weak whilst spouting bullshit about a ‘Special Relationship’ which hasn’t existed for 25 years.

    That’s not persecution complex talking. That’s reading the UK Press every day. Reading what bloggers write. And listening to what people say in pubs, in the street etc etc.

    The English nationalist says to the Scots: ‘you’ve been working down here for your benefit for decades, now you’re whingeing at us saying how awful we are. Well, sees youse Jummy, to use your own pidgin English, why don’t youse pack your suitcase, get yoursel doon to Euston or King’s Cross and bevvy your fat Jock arses back to where youse came frae??’

    They’ll tell al the Scottish football managers to take their organised crime back to Scotland with them. Along with the mafia in the media. We know what you’ve been up to and we know that you learned your trade from Glasgow Rangers and Celtic FC. We know what you get up to with FIFA and shame on you for having done so.

    They’ll tell all the Scottish media mafia to go and kiss Alex Salmond’s arse instead of telling the English what to think.

    They’ll offer any Scots currently resident in England a choice: an English passport or a ticket back to Jockland. But they can’t stay in England agitating for the SNP. Can’t. And that’s final.

    That’s what English Nationalists will start saying.

    And if the Scots complain about it, well they started it…….

  • Peter Stroud

    As I have written elsewhere: not only have the LibLabCon leaders panicked, and made concessions to the Scots without consulting their non Scots voters: they haven’t even consulted parliament. All have shown contempt for supporters, both parliamentary and in the body of voters. As to allowing Brown to get involved: I am disgusted.

  • Icebow

    Can’t help linking Putin’s behaviour and the SNP attitude to Trident.

  • David Ganz

    Your silence about the Scotish Enllghtenment (or your implicit assertion that it was the result of the Act of Union) is a sad testimony to the contempt for higher education which has always reigned south of the border. Let us be clear, Cameron wants the Scots to vote Yes, so that his awful Tory party has a permanent majority in England.

    • Teacher

      Neither Cameron, nor any other Conservative, wishes to see the break up of the union – despite the fact that it would hand them a near permanent majority in parliament. It is a mark of maturity to see the bigger picture and to act in a disinterested manner.

  • andylowings

    If things are bad with a spiteful racist like Salmon there, then just wait till he`s moved on and the next group wish to get into bed with Russia; the Chinese want that old navy base on ENgland`s doorstep, the religious groups get unsettled….and governmental tit-for-tat unpleasantries start being exchanged.
    All in the name of making life better ….