England, Scotland and the ‘Borderlands’

ukayThe announcement of the Scottish independence referendum – a decision equal in its short-sightedness and of comparable ignorance to the original moves towards devolution initiated by Tony Blair – has produced reactions ranging from narcissistic grandstanding, to pedantic infighting to the bizarre spectacle of a cross-party coalition of the unpopular which shares its name with a Scottish NHS intiative. What else, it is fair to say, can be expected from a union which has had its day?

Very little discernable coverage has been given to the effect upon, the opinions of or even the future for England and her people. What will happen to us if the Scots attempt to go it alone? What will happen to us if the Scots elect to stay in the ‘United’ Kingdom? What will the institutions which have been strengthened or defined by our union – the Armed Forces, the Monarchy and others – look like after 2014? Would the English finally be given proper political representation, or would Westminster linger on in its present bloated form?

The efforts of our blessed political elite to secure the union are predictably laughable. David Cameron, it is said, has encouraged his Cabinet to ‘spread the word‘ of the benefits of the Union to the English. In other words, he’s imploring the same group who could not convince an electorate to see the merits of a Tory majority to inspire a nation to exert itself to win a plebiscite – a victory which may be against its own interests – which it cannot vote upon.

It is fortuitous that certain groups and members of the media have had the sense to analyse the reality of the situations which British subjects will face after the vote in fourteen months’ time. It is unsurprising that, given the state not only of Cameron’s UnConservative Party but the supposedly conservative media which has little idea of anything which is in desperate need of conserving, the left-wing have taken the initiative on the matter.

James Maxwell of the New Statesman points out that

‘British political leaders do not seem overly concerned with the absence of positive arguments in favour of the current constitutional set-up’.

It’s probable to suggest that, led by a Prime Minister who is ignorant of the origins of a key aspect of the English constitution, the ‘leaders’ of Britain are entirely unaware of what the positive arguments might be. Maxwell continues by stating that

‘Unionism’s intellectual credibility depends on a clear explanation of how Scotland’s social and economic life will benefit from London government over the next 10 or 15 years.’

Arguably, English Britons would benefit from just such an explanation; what will Westminster do for us?

This is most evident in the areas of England geographically furthest from Westminster. The North East of England’s proximity to Scotland – and apparent isolation from a South-centric political elite – has left it reconsidering how to orientate its future. Severn Carrell of the Guardian’s fascinating piece on the matter explores the very real possibility of a Scottish-aligned north of England. Carrell notes that the politicians of the north are being encouraged to see Scotland’s future scenarios – either as a separate entity or one with much greater regional autonomy – as being ‘an opportunity’, as at present,

‘North eastern leaders feel increasingly isolated and unloved: as Scotland wins greater powers and autonomy, the economy of London and the south east continues to accelerate far ahead of Tyneside and Wearside.’

This ‘opportunity’, as outlined in a 45-page report from the Association of North East Councils titled ‘Borderlands‘, would bring ‘greater benefits of economic, social and cultural partnerships’ with Scotland. Carrell notes that the report states the northern councils have reason to be worried, citing ‘concerns developing in the north of England that the UK government will ‘bend over backwards’ to reward Scotland’ and that this has led to ‘asymmetry in institutional capacities between Scotland and sub-national areas in England’. The same old story; England’s people and their horizons are sublimated by the desire of politicians to cling to the union.

The report itself has something of a defeatist tone. Its authors seem to be in thrall to Scotland’s clout, as at one point, it posits that a solution to the problems of the north would be to ‘get in quick’:

‘… timing seems to be crucial. In the period leading up to the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Government may well be receptive to new ideas and approaches. On a more practical level, the next year and a half will clearly be a period of uncertainty in Scotland, not least for the business sector. This might present opportunities for the North East and Cumbria to make their own offer to Scotland on how collaboration could contribute to Scotland tackling its own economic challenges…’

The great irony of the matter is that in seeking to take advantage of the possibility of Scottish independence, English councils are encouraging greater Anglo-Scottish co-operation. Wouldn’t a federal Britain, free from the shackles of enforced centralised government and the narrow single market of the EU, be a much better proposition for internal and external free trade?

The present system is building resentment. It is perhaps not insignificant that within days of the report’s publication, English people took matters into their own hands – quite literally.

The Journal reported that towns on the border of Scotland and England were the targets of a poster campaign consisting of ‘Home Rule’ for England stickers. While Byrnsweord cannot under any circumstances support the vandalism, and deplores the waste of public money it will cause, it is apparent that the locals have made their assertion quite clear.

The odd and irrelevant ‘EDL’ caption on the article’s photo aside, there were some interesting points made in the article; most notably, the reaction of local politicians.

Local councillor Dougie Watkin, who according to the article is the ‘Northumberland County Councillor for Norham and Islandshires’ stated that

“At the height of the tourist season, it is absolutely disgraceful. It reflects terribly badly on an area which depends on tourism, much of which is coming from across the border. It is not the impression that this part of the world wishes to give to tourists.”

Councillor Watkin is absolutely right; all vandalism is disgraceful. However, Byrnsweord does not understand how expressions of a desire for fair political representation of all English people are ‘disgraceful’. Furthermore, from the Book of Daniel, the story of Belshazzar’s feast reminds us all to be mindful of the writing on the wall.

What we see, then, is that it is impossible to consider the possibility of Scottish independence or devolution without seeing either a need or a desire for a similar decentralisation of power – power which is currently being used incorrectly – on the English side of the border and across the British Isles.

The political elite in Britain needs to focus its energy very quickly. It must, as a matter of course, elect to defend the union in its present form and somehow justify the inherent inequality in this arrangement, or it must seek to devolve power in a meaningful way in the best interests of all persons in Scotland, in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

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About Byrnsweord

I am an Englishman. Constantly striving for the truth and to conserve what is good about England. You can find my on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/byrnsweord/ my blog over at byrnsweord.wordpress.com/ and my Twitter account at twitter.com/byrnsweord Byrnsweord is min nama.
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