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Labour’s treatment of Catholics has doomed the Union

The United Kingdom looks doomed, but much blame must be placed on Labour’s alienation of its natural constituency north of the border

By on Friday, 13 January 2012

Protestors in Edinburgh call for a referendum Clerkson/Demotix/Demotix/Press Association Images

Protestors in Edinburgh call for a referendum Clerkson/Demotix/Demotix/Press Association Images

I was born in 1963, and it seems likely that I will live to see the break-up of the United Kingdom. A few years ago I would not have been of this opinion, and back in the 1980’s it really did seem that Scottish separatism had had its day after a brief flowering in the previous decade. But now the tide of history seems to be running swiftly in the opposite direction.

Historically speaking, unions of nations have had a bad track record. Austria and Hungary were effectively one country from 1526; they became a dual monarchy in 1867 (more or less the equivalent of “devo max”), and separated completely in 1918. That is one of the success stories of national union when it comes to longevity. The forced marriage of Belgium and Holland lasted from 1814 to 1830, a mere 16 years. That of Norway and Sweden lasted somewhat longer, from 1814 to 1905. While on the subject we can also mention the states that have split in our own time, such as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, and those that are constantly threatening to split, such as Belgium, not to mention all those nations with insurgent movements in would be breakaway provinces in Asia and Africa. Places like Aceh and Cabinda rarely make the news in the United Kingdom.

One could point to two success stories. Canada has not split, and Quebec has probably missed its moment to go its own way. And Spain remains a unitary state for the moment, despite Catalonian particularism and Basque separatism. But in both countries national unity has been preserved, if only just, at a high price.

If Quebec and Catalonia are success stories, then it is not cheering news for us in the United Kingdom. Nor would either example dishearten Mr Salmond. All the SNP need to do, it seems, is keep on pressing for concessions, until the Union is effectively dead from a thousand cuts. Devo Max would not be a solution, it would just be a brief pause on the way towards total independence. Incidentally, devolution itself as presently constituted was supposed to kill separatism, by giving Scotland limited self-government which would take away its hunger for independence, but this has not happened. Power, once experienced in Edinburgh, increases the appetite for more power. And devolution has set up the nightmare scenario not just of a majority SNP government (which was never meant to happen) but of a government north of the border which can claim democratic legitimacy and dispute the rights of Westminster to govern. Thanks to Tony Blair, we now have the promise of a constitutional civil war on our hands.

All this makes me very sad, and a little bit angry. Why was the Labour Party so stupid in alienating so many of its natural constituency in Scotland with its anti-life policies? No wonder so many Catholics have switched to the SNP. Can you blame them? The SNP is a genuinely socialist party (well, at least compared to Labour) and it does not embody the sort of attitudes that are seemingly precisely calculated to put Catholics off. The late Cardinal Winning was a staunch Labour man in his youth, or so I am informed by friends; but towards the end of his life he was strongly sympathetic to the Nats. Lots of others have taken that path.

As for the Conservatives, the standard bearers of Unionism, and their failure north of the border, well, they have let us all down, haven’t they? If Labour has betrayed the working class, the Conservatives have betrayed not only the working class, but all the other classes as well.

I live in England, but I have Scottish blood flowing in my veins. I do not relish the break-up of the United Kingdom, which is my country. I imagine for all those Scots and English and Welsh living on the “wrong” side of the border, this will be even more traumatic. One thing at least can comfort us. Scottish separation will be bloodless and perhaps not too rancorous. Tony Blair’s legacy of devolution does at least give us a path towards constitutional divorce. Let’s hope it is a velvet divorce. At least it will not be the sort of conflict that marked the separation of Ireland from the Union. Maybe we should be grateful to Tony for that.

  • Morys Ireland

    It’s far from certain yet – the fact that the SNP want a third option (‘No to independence but yes to greater devolution’) in any referendum shows they know they would lose at straight in/out ballot.

    The message I seem to be getting from this is “isn’t it a shame Labour gave the Scottish people the right to govern their own affairs”. Can you imagine what it would be like at the moment if we didn’t have a devolved parliament in Scotland? A Tory govt cutting left, right and centre but having only one single MP in Scotland? I think the appetite for independence would be somewhat greater.

  • berenike

    That’s not Edinburgh. That’s that shopping centre somewhere near Queen’s Street Station in Weegieburgh.

  • Frank

    That’s Buchanan Street in Glasgow in the picture!

    As a Scottish Catholic let me tell you that I feel safer in the union than I would if the ‘greatest wee country in the world’ got full independence. The strength of the anti-Catholic feeling on display last year, which some have characterized as a backlash against the welcome given to the Pope, has given many Catholics north of the border food for thought regarding Scottish independence .

  • Apostolic

    Yes, but makes a change from UK Labour governments being dependent on Scottish votes, Scots voting on England-only affairs and Scots more than over-represented in the cabinet. 

  • Apostolic

    Unfortunately, the English appetite for independence/separation is greater still. If/when the divorce occurs, the Scots should take their share of financing/policing the children of the marriage – the Ulster Protestants, who will understandably feel orphaned, for the Ulster Plantations were initiated by the first Anglo-Scottish Crown and was particularly championed by James VI of Scotland/James I of England. Indeed it was his Scottish courtiers who popularised the term British – one of the first official uses of the term was to describe those Scottish and English settlers in Ulster collectively as “British”. Northern Ireland is far more a legacy of the Scots, who were enthusiastic partners in British imperialism when it suited, than the English. How ironic.

  • Oconnord

    To refer back to an earlier blog, surely Mel Gibson is partially at fault. What true blooded Scot could forget his cry of “Freedom”.

  • Shane

    In the event of Scottish independence, Northern Irish unionists certainly would not want to remain in union with a rump UK (Greater England). Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales has also said that Wales’ relationship to the rest of the UK would need a ‘radical reconsideration’ if Scotland seceeded. England would be left on its own.

    Most Ulster Protestants are descended from Scottish settlers brought over in the 16th century Plantation of Ulster. An ‘Ulster Scots’ identity has developed considerably among Protestants in the last decade and St Andrew’s Saltires (never the Cross of St. George) are frequently flown in loyalist housing estates.

    I suspect most people in England would be horrified at the idea of the break-up of the UK, and the secession of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In my opinion, England should be partitioned. It is not a nation, and has no distinct, coherent culture or shared sense of national identity. The Labour-voting north of England should be given to Scotland. Ireland and Scotland can jointly administer Northern Ireland within a confederal arrangement. Ireland should get Cornwall – which sees itself as a distinct Celtic nation and where a campaign for Home Rule and independence is increasingly active.

  • Dave29

    UK Labour governments have never been dependent on Scottish votes. Check the numbers yourself – in every single election that Labour has won a majority, they would still have done so without Scottish votes.

  • Apostolic

    Really? 1950 and 1964? The 1970s too, for that matter. Blair provided a rare landslide in England in 1997.

    The point about Northern Ireland still stands.

  • Oconnord

    But who gets stuck with Liverpool?

  • Shane

    Liverpudlians must be liberated from the Saxon yoke. In accordance with the city’s ethnic profile and ancestry, it should be placed under joint Welsh-Irish administration. Most of England rightfully belongs to Ireland and Wales anyway, and will be so again in the not too distant future. These German invaders have overstayed their welcome and ought to be made bugger off back home.

  • Scyptical Chymist
  • Anonymous

    “All this makes me very sad, and a little bit angry. Why was the Labour Party so stupid…?”

    ## Labour is a wrong answer to some real problems, but the faults of Labour are a bad reason for some in the Tory party to imagine that there are not real problems up here that fuel the hunger for getting rid of Westminster. Dave is not helping very much bu appearing to be the Banker’s Friend & the Soaker of the Poor. Despite the Gaelic surname, he is for all practical purposes an Englishman – maybe he should re(?)-read the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320:

    From James MacMillan’s article:

    “I felt ashamed. Deep down I know that all this is true, but the political and media class up here conspire to play it down all the time. “It’s only banter” is what you usually hear, and there is a kind of accepted orthodoxy here that the Scots are not racist in the ways that the English can be. All rubbish of course, but dangerous rubbish too. The SNP need this reservoir of anti-Englishness to power their secessionist agenda.”

    ## Dave adds to the reservoir – it may be excusable for him not to go to the Falklands, but his failure to come up here to Scotland with any frequency merely reinforces the impression that Toryism is for the English. If he wishes to destroy all possibility of a Tory revival in Scotland, he need only carry on as he now does. Matters are not eased by the Scottish tendencies to mawkishness & self-pity – these, and other features of the Scottish national character, are not exactly irrelevant to politics.

    Could England survive by itself – no Scotland, no Wales, perhaps no Cornwall, possibly no Northern Ireland ? Maybe it would join the US.

  • Anonymous

    The only good thing about that ridiculous confection of Disneyified un-history is that the scene supposedly showing the execution of Wallace provided the occasion for a Youtube parody of that part of the film:

  • Peter Bolton

    I would doubt whether support for the SNP is really the same as wanting independence.

  • Pierrechanel

    Spain isn’t an unitary state – it’s a federation.  Each province has its own regional parliament.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Independence for England!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dave29

    Yes. In 1950 Labour won 315 seats out of 625, giving them a small majority of 5. 35 of those came from Scotland’s 71 seats. Take away the Scottish seats and they’re left with 280 out of 554 – a majority of just 3, but still a majority. I won’t go through them all – as I said, you can check the numbers yourself. You will find I was correct, and every election Labour has won they would still have won without Scotland.

    I agree with you about Northern Ireland.

  • Guest

    Sorry but I think your history of the British Isles is more than a bit faulty!

  • Alan

    I don’t think there is much prospect of Scotland voting for independence – polls on the subject have never varied much from about 30% or so.  A more basic question is who should vote: as we are talking about the splitting of the UK into two separate countries, it seems to me that this should only be done if BOTH parts vote for it, separately.  This is effectively what happened with Czechoslovakia, except I don’t think they bothered with referendums, the main parties simply supported the split.
    On the question of Catholics switching from Labour to SNP because of “pro-life” issues, this seems bizarre.  For one thing, many (most?) Scottish Labour MPs are pro-life.  Labour and SNP both agree abortion is a non-party issue, so party labels have nothing to do with it.  If Scotland separated from the rest of the UK, this would weaken the pro-life voice at Westminster, so if anything pro-lifers should oppose separatism.

  • Oconnord

    I think again a separate nation in in order. Their motto could be ” We have the right to take the pi$$” and any car not on blocks is either a Lancer, Saxo or stately vehicle. 

    The scouse dictionary should also change the spelling of “curtains” to “kertains”

  • ConfusedofChi

    …from the EU!!!

  • mick

     f… you

  • Anonymous

    To counter the negative emotionality that passes for support for the Union; here are some principal issues for which Unionist never can produce good reasons to justify Scotland continuing to be submerged in a dysfunctional Broken Britain.

    Scottish return to self government presents a major opportunity for a complete reform of how the rest of the UK is governed. Problems to address include:

    The stupidity of trying to govern 55m people in one of the most advanced and complex societies on earth, from one antiquated and inadequate legislature.
    The undemocratic House of Lords,
    Dodgy practices and procedures affecting the honesty, quality and performance of the Commons.
    Excess, cumbersome, wasteful, ineffective bureaucracy. (14b on a cancelled IT system, 3b to not procure tanks, etc.)
    A chronic structural imbalance sucking power, control, expenditure and wealth to the SE. To the detriment of all the rest.
    A dated, cumbersome and unjust taxation system.
    An undemocratic and ineffective electoral system.
    A lack of counterbalance to over centralisation of control.
    Inadequate energy and effort applied to strengthening and diversifying the economy, with over-reliance of finance.
    Too little too late being done about sustainability.

  • Anonymous

    “The point about Northern Ireland still stands.”

    If Scotland gains complete independence from England and Wales via a referendum, it is difficult to see how the Westminster government can refuse to allow Northern Ireland to be united with the Republic of Ireland.
    Since the Six Counties were created in the 1920s by concentrating most of the Scottish colonialists in the hived-off head of Hibernia, Scotland will no longer have any political association with the province, and therefore no influence in its future.  Indeed, since the Ulster Unionists will have been abandoned by Scotland, and no longer be regarded as British citizens (because Britain will no longer exist), they will have no place to go except into the Republic as a reunited Ireland.

  • Lee Der Heerskinderen Lovelock

    In the constitution, it is still a unitary state and the central government has powers to strip regional ‘autonomy’.

  • ros clyde

    That anti Catholic feeling on display last year happened under this “political union” Frank, as has every other piece of anti catholic (or anti anything) sentiment over the last 305 years and there’s “absolutely nothing” to prevent it from continuing over the next 300 under London rule.

    P.S: Would this be Frank Dougan I’m replying to by any stretch of the imagination?

  • Sszorin

    “Czechoslovakia” [Czecho-Slovakia] split by the vote of the deputies in both national parliaments. I use plural because “Czechoslovakia” was, by constitution, a federation of two nations and having 3 parliaments, two of them national and another one federal. [There were 3 ministers for everything and it was observed, with a bit of humor, that the state of 15 million citizens had more ministers than the British empire, at its greatest size, ever had.] The two NATIONS lived together in one STATE, like two apples side by side in a fruit bowl. I am using an analogy to explain what was the political reality, or arrangement, of that state formation, and also because “the nation” political philosophy and theory is not developed in the Western Europe. The term “nation” is more than often confused with the term “state”, and “a nationality” with “a citizenship”, although “the Brits” are less confused about the matter then for example the French. Thank the Welsh and the Scots for that and blame the French revolution and the resulting political philosophy of “étatism” for the error. For the [mainly] freemasonic revolutionary “national convention” being the subject of the government residing in Paris designated one’s one and only “nationality”. That was it for the poor Bretons. The distinction between “nationality” within a state and the “citizenship” of the state was erased. The United Kingdom as “a state”, or a “country” or “a kingdom” contains within its boundaries three nations and a nationality. [“A nationality” is a part of a nation residing outside of the state which that nation formed. The Ulster Irish constitute  thus “a nationality” and not “a nation” because the Irish have their own nation-state called the Irish Republic. The members of the diverse nations and nationalities within the state entity that is called the United Kingdom have the same “citizenship”. What is happening with the Scotland is only a continuation of the process that has been going in Europe for the last about 200 years. Whatever happens, best of luck to the Scots and to the English and since both of these nations live and will live in the European Union, nothing much will change, there still will be free movement of people across “the borders”. Another thing, there is no need for the independence referendum in Scotland. Since the union came about by the act of the scottish parliament, the Scots therefore can end the union the same way. The law gives them the right. There is no need for the referendum.

  • Anthony

    How ironic that the Catholic Herald should spout a headline such as ‘No one has the right to occupy the Vatican’, seeming to indicate that political issues can not allowed to impinge on the church, as the same time that writers in a Catholic publication (one of them a priest) are engaging in partisan politics, expressing their opposition to Scotland asserting its right to independence.  So much for the universal Catholic church it seems ?

    I hope (and pray) that Scotland gains its independence and that Wales and Cornwall follow (sooner rather than later).  Perhaps then the archaic and dysfunctional English establishment can at last be reformed

  • Anthony

    What a strange and partisan article (and especially coming from a priest)  Have you considered giving up your vocation Fr Lucie-Smith ? And then standing as a Conservative (or possibly UKIP ?) candidate ?

  • Tomcarty

    Cheap point. It’s striking that the common cliches about Liverpool replicate classic English views of their Celtic neighbours, veering between an at times sentimental indulgence of a more oral culture’s eloquence and wit and outrage if they act politically in the widest sense,  with particular venom being reserved for manifestations of solidarity such as  the Hillsborough campaign (“mawkishness”). It’s a sort of jealousy.

  • Tomcarty

    There’s “mawkishness” again: the pejorative word used by many English people of things they feel uncomfortable with when expressed such as an emotional attachment to and solidarity with place and  people (see comment on anti-Liverpudlianism in earlier post). 

  • Jabezpound

    And a dynasty of appalling royals and the Monarchy they seek to sustain.

  • Jabezpound

    Oh do hurry it up please!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jabezpound

    Possibly but not to hear the rants of Paisley and his cohorts would be loverrllyy.

  • Jabezpound

    I like the bit about sending the German invaders back home, perhaps we could also include that oaf of oafs’ Boris Waffle Waffle.

  • Jabezpound

    Well that would be wonderful and may I say delayed justice!

  • Boaby

    As a Catholic who believes in the sancitity of human life I pray every day that the Union will be ended – democratically and peacefully.  This would effectively “break the back” of the UK military machine, force unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain, and lead to the remaining UK (hopefully) losing it’s seat on the UN Security Council where it consistently votes in favour of America’s aggressions.  We have an opportunity here to save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives by removing much of the UK’s warfighting ability, simply by voting.  Time to beat those swords into ploushares!