The Acts of Union went to great lengths to guarantee the separateness of Scotland. In the words of Wikipedia, “[it] guaranteed that the Church of Scotland would ‘remain the established church in Scotland, that the Court of Session would remain in all time coming within Scotland,’ and that Scots law would ‘remain in the same force as before’.” Although a separate education system wasn’t explicitly mentioned, I presume it was an automatic consequence of keeping an independent church and a separate legal system.
In other words, the Acts of Union did a decent job at establishing a monetary and fiscal union while keeping the nations culturally distinct.
In this light, it’s natural to wonder whether the establishment of the BBC under a Royal Charter in 1927 was contrary to the spirit (if not the words) of the Acts of Union. Even its original motto, “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation”, seems bizarre for a union of four nations.
There’s not much we can do about it now (apart from voting Yes in 2014), but it seems obvious that the UK would have looked very different at the moment if there had never been British radio and TV channels, but only separate ones for each nation.
Bella Caledonia has today published an original article by Irvine Welsh (of Trainspotting fame).
It’s a very thoughtful piece by a writer who has spent a long time in England, and I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.
Here are a few bits that struck a chord with me:
[The British] state has stopped England from pursuing its main mission, namely to build a inclusive, post-imperial, multi-racial society, by forcing it to engage with the totally irrelevant (from an English perspective) distractions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. From the viewpoint of the Scots, it has foisted thirty-five years of a destructive neo-liberalism upon us, and prevented us from becoming the European social democracy we are politically inclined to be.
The idea of the political independence of England and Scotland leading to conflict, hatred and distrust is the mindset of opportunistic status-quo fearmongers and gloomy nationalist fantasists stuck in a Bannockburn-Culloden timewarp, and deeply insulting to the people of both countries. Swedes, Norwegians and Danes remain on amicable terms; they trade, co-operate and visit each other socially any time they like. They don’t need a pompous, blustering state called Scandinavia, informing them from Stockholm how wonderful they all are, but (kind of) only really meaning Sweden.
The Union Jack is the increasingly shrinking fig leaf that strives to cover the growth of an English nationalism and consciousness, which is visible in almost every aspect of life in these islands over the last thirty years. And that, in a post-imperial world, is how it should be, and probably how it has to be. The problem that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have to face, is that they have no place at this party, and neither should they: it just isn’t a great deal to do with them.
It’s a very powerful article, and even more so because Irvine Welsh knows England so well. As he concludes: “Better together? Yes, certainly, but better independent and free together.”
To what extent is Britain (or the British Isles) the same kind of construct as Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries)?
Both Britain and Scandinavia have a long and complex history, with periods of political unification and others with separate kingdoms and plenty of wars.
Scandinavia’s united period was a long time ago (1397–1523), while Britain only started falling apart when Ireland became independent again less than a century ago. On the other hand, the British Isles are to some extent more heterogenous than Scandinavia – the former is a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norman French, while the latter consists of the descendants of the Vikings with some Finns, Lapps and Germans thrown in.
In both cases in can be hard to pinpoint exactly what Britishness/Scandinavianness means. For instance, John Major’s description of Britishness – “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’” – is so clearly a description of England that does not apply to Scotland and Ireland. In the same way, it’s very hard to define Scandinavian culture in one sentence. And yet, Scandinavians do recognise the similarities intuitively, and Scandinavians abroad tend to hang out together, for instance at international conferences.
So there are definite similarities. And just as Scandinavia does exist in spite of having been separate countries for half a millennium, Britain will always exist whether Scotland becomes independent in 2014 or not. Actually, Scottish independence might actually lead to a reevaluation of the concept, so that it ceases to be about a political construct and starts being about what actually binds people on these islands together, whether they live in Ireland, Wales, Man, Scotland or England.
There’s an interesting article in The Herald describing how a charity is planning to build a thousand huts in Scotland.
It’s interesting, because despite Scotland’s similarity to the Scandinavian countries, the hut culture is entirely different (or rather, it’s non-existent): “In Norway more than half the population has access to a [hut]. [The proportion is] one in 12 Swedes, one in 18 Finns and one in 33 Danes. […] However, in Scotland 10 years ago a study showed there were just 700 holiday huts […] for a population of five million.”
Norway might be a difficult act to follow, but I can’t help thinking that building 1000 huts is a very small step if the deficit is about half a million!
It’s a good idea, though. The Scottish countryside is amazing, but most of the population is bottled up within the central belt. Wee huts around the lochs would be a welcome sight.
Update: It’s worth comparing the statistics about the person-to-hut ratio with the person-per-km² figures illustrated in my blog posting about wee gardens.
Charlemagne is quoting Johan Norberg for wondering whether the Swedish model is restricted to Sweden: “If countries don’t already have a tradition of an efficient, non-corrupt bureaucracy with an impressive work ethic a larger government only means more abuse of power and more waste of money. I often try to convince Americans, no, more government in the US would not get you a big version of Sweden, it would get you a big version of the US Postal Service.“
It’s an interesting point, and I think it’s at least partly true.
I do think Sweden in this context can be replaced by a much larger area, at the very least Scandinavia and parts of Germany, but living in Scotland, I can see that many things are just not working because of different attitudes.
For instance, buses are regularly late, but people just shrug their shoulders and use their car the next time. In Denmark, people would be very upset and it would eventually become a priority for the government to sort out.