Before the United Kingdom is split up into a series of tribal regions based on Somalia’s highly successful socio-political model, I think it first necessary to say that I for one quite like being British. I therefore feel insulted by Alex Salmond’s recent outbursts undermining centuries of peaceful union.
Salmond’s comments in the late 1990’s, describing Westminster as bloated and outdated (he was thinner then) and the British Parliament in terms more befitting of the Kremlin than an institution that has guaranteed her subjects democratic rule for more than three hundred years, are also incredibly hypocritical. The Scottish National Party, a party so ready to embrace the EU and the adoption of the single currency, is quite happy to undermine its own socialist principles in the name of an essentially tribalistic instinct to divide and conquer with its own countrymen a few hundred miles south on the very same island.
In the most recent calls for Scottish Devolution, the debate has been underpinned by dreary economic facts and petty accusations of racism. Like a fallen aristocratic family arguing over daddy’s will, Edinburgh portrays cousin Westminster as the evil stepsister denying the Scottish their right to a share of the inheritance, or conversely England paints Edinburgh as the illegitimate offspring of a sordid affair pillaging the family treasure. All too often the values of unity, equality and pacifism that the Union imbues are overlooked.
Travelling on the Edinburgh Metro recently, I bore witness to just such an example of those values, when I espied an Edwardian sign announcing that Edinburgh was in “North Britain”. Amongst the modern day street junk, the elegant porcelain sign was like a relic from a fallen civilisation. I felt embarrassed, that an empire – irrespective of people’s opinions on British colonialism – could unite such a varied people, to the point where they would forgo their own traditional names in order to embrace a common sense of identity.
Perhaps, like many a great civilisation, we are a victim of our own success. A loss of interest in the Union is symptomatic of modern society. A common sense of purpose and worth appears oppressive and anachronistic in an age where the individualistic drive to express oneself is seen as paramount within our shared system of values and ideals.
And so before the SNP announces a “Cultural Revolution”, when the venom of English literature will be thrown into communal burning pits from Dumfries to the Shetlands, supporters of Scottish independence would do well to remember Macbeth. Driven by paranoia and popularity at the polls, Mr Salmond ignores the economic stagnation and high unemployment Scotland faces and instead wraps himself in a tartan veil of nationalism. If Mr Cameron were to do the same (with a tweed veil, not tartan), it would have many Scottish nationalists marching to Hadrian’s Wall with bows and arrows.
Which brings us to the great enigma: the United States of America. How can a country, infinitely more varied both geographically and socially than Britain, unite itself under a common libertarian ideology almost identical to Britain’s with barely the slightest hint of dissent from its provinces? America, being the birthplace of consumerism, dispels the idea that rugged individualism is the root of resurgent Scottish nationalism. The issue is a particularly British one, and one with which the oh-so-crass Americans have no problem: over-politeness. Traditionally cautious, and ever wary of causing offence, British politics would rather sidestep an issue as volatile as Scotland ceding from the Union, than engage in a debate with ugly words like “racism” and “colonialism”.
Perhaps, as many will argue, we should celebrate a people’s right to succession, as is the case in Sudan or Egypt. But to compare Britain with wartorn countries divided by irreparable ethnic or religious tensions is frankly ridiculous. The three hundred year Union has enjoyed both economic and social success on an island whose people are inextricably linked culturally and genetically. Scientifically, the native populations of the British Isles are almost genetically identical, with mixed ancestries from the Viking, Celtic, Norman and Roman gene pools prevalent throughout the Kingdom.
To plead victimhood at the hands of a particular faction, as parties often do, is therefore unjustified. The very principles of the British parliament, as well as the fact the British peoples are so culturally intertwined, have ensured that the persecution of the Welsh, Scottish or Irish minority has never taken place. It is this unique celebration of our differences, married to a recognition of our common ground, that has galvanised the Kingdom for three centuries.
In a technological age where one can feel so socially isolated, we should celebrate being Scottish or English or Cornish, but at the same time acknowledge our shared Britishness. As Cecil Rhodes’s famous simile declares, being born English is like “winning first prize in the lottery of life”. Had he said British, he would have been just as right.