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Cardinal O’Brien is surely right about Scottish independence from England: but what about English independence from the Scots?

Just as between England and Ireland, our relationship after independence would be less distorted by mutual resentment

By on Monday, 16 January 2012

England flag and statue of Sir Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

England flag and statue of Sir Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

I don’t know if there is any link between the current controversy over Scottish independence and the views of Scottish Catholics. To put it another way; what proportion of Scottish Catholics support the SNP, and is it higher than the proportion of the Scottish population at large, just as it used to be said of Scottish Catholic support for the Labour Party? Did Scottish Catholics follow the late Cardinal Winning in his disenchantment with Labour?

And how typical of the Catholics he leads are the views of Cardinal O’Brien, who in an interview in this newspaper in October 2006, conducted by Professor John Haldane, declared that he would be “happy” if the Scots voted for independence, and predicted that independence is coming “before too long”. He drew parallels with the independence of the Catholic Church in Scotland: “It is difficult to argue that ecclesiastical independence is acceptable but political independence is not.” I have to say that Cardinal O’Brien’s views sound logical to me. Certainly, I would vote for Scottish independence in the forthcoming referendum if I were a Scot. What irritates me is that the Scots will get a referendum next year, but I won’t. The question the Scots will answer will be whether they should be independent of the English. The question I would like to answer is whether the English should be allowed independence from the Scots.

We need to ask the question: why is it that support for Scottish independence is so much higher in England than it is in Scotland? The polls are unanimous and their results are very striking; they are, indeed, staggering. The ICM survey for the Sunday Telegraph, published yesterday, shows that there is a narrow majority, 43 per cent, of Scots against independence, compared with 40 per cent in favour. Far fewer English, however are opposed. Forty-three per cent are in favour: but only 32 per cent are against. Why is that?

There are in fact very good reasons for it. I hope that my Scottish friends will be patient if I am frank. What the English are really shown to be in favour of in that ICM survey is not so much Scottish independence as their own liberation from the increasingly irksome burden of the relationship between England and Scotland. Do not mistake me. I (we) admire the Scots and Scottish culture. But frankly, on this side of the border we are getting seriously fed up with post-Braveheart Scots chippiness for one thing, and with the results, for another, of the coming home to roost, within our now seriously mutilated constitution, of the so-called West Lothian question – thus named by the late Enoch Powell, as a somewhat ironic dig at the former member for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, who was constantly raising it in debates on Scottish devolution in the Westminster Parliament. The West Lothian question, for those who don’t know, was not so much a question as a prediction, of a dire problem that would arise (and did) for the post-devolution governance of England: that though no Westminster MP, including Scots MPs, has any right to vote on questions within the purview of the Scottish assembly, Scottish MPs can and do vote on questions to do uniquely with England. This is more than irritating: it is just wrong. With Scottish independence, these frankly underemployed Scots Westminster politicians would simply disappear, to the regret, I suspect, of very few.

The question remains. Why shouldn’t I have a referendum asking whether I as an Englishman would be in favour of independence from Scotland? BBC Radio 4’s Question Time last Saturday, broadcast from Edinburgh, was particularly irritating. The panel, all Scots, were asked whether they felt British (answer, no: they all felt Scottish). Nobody ever asks the English if they feel British. Many Englishmen feel English a long time before they “feel” British: but they’re not allowed to. They go to Sainsbury’s and are told that they can buy British strawberries (from Herefordshire) or British lamb from Dorset. But if it’s Welsh lamb, it’s called Welsh, and if it’s Scottish beef it’s called Scottish.

Why is that? Not being allowed to describe things, and ourselves, as English is a nuisance we have to put up with because of the Scots. I once wrote an article for the Sunday Times during the editorship of the very Scottish Andrew Neil, in which I referred to “English culture”. It was changed by a sub-editor to “British culture”, which wasn’t at all what I had meant (there’s no such thing as “British culture”, any more than there’s any such thing as a “British accent”). When I asked why, I was told “sorry, under the current editor that’s the house style”. Infuriating.

These are not the only sources of the current English groundswell of opinion in favour of the Scots taking themselves off: but they will do to start with. None of this, of course, is to say that the Scots have no reason for their own irritations and resentments against us (and please, don’t anyone point this out indignantly as though I hadn’t accepted it myself). There is no question that we currently feel very badly about each other, and that the relationship between our two nations is currently in a very bad state. We English now have a much better and warmer relationship with the Irish Republic than with the Scots, despite the fact that historically the Irish suffered infinitely greater injustices at our hands – and for much longer – than the Scots ever did. I look forward to Scottish independence because, paradoxically, I think that English-Scottish relations would then be much closer, even warmer. There will be a hard-fought settlement. But once that has been achieved and accepted on both sides, our relationship could then be freed at last from its current state of mutual resentment. I think that needs to happen: and the sooner the better.

  • Anonymous

    Well said. The Welsh and Scottish don’t even all speak the same language!

    As for Northen English counties voting Labour, take a look at this map of the 2010 general election. There’s plenty of blue in the North of England and plenty of red in London!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/

  • Tomcarty

    The blue tends to be not in the cities but in the more suburban to rural areas with less population density, hence their size gives a misleading idea of the strength of the tory presence in the north.London is a law unto itself while in  the rest of the south Labour is very much in retreat.

  • Anonymous

    Your response is obviously heartfelt and very moving. I only wish more people could read what you had to say as it explains the core of the reason why Scotland is moving towards independence.

  • Michele


    There will be a hard-fought settlement. But once that has been achieved and accepted on both sides, our relationship could then be freed at last from its current state of mutual resentment. ”

    While I hope you are right, I suspect that our mutual history makes that unlikely. In 1707 there was a political solution to a cross-border problem that included a ‘hard fought settlement’ which was accepted by both sides … and see where that got us.Now I dare say that the Scots will say that they didn’t get a say in that – but then nor did we; they will then point out that they will decide this time (of course we won’t be able to have our say)- but of course the plain fact is that they may get a say in whether to disband the union; but the ‘hard fought  settlement” will be a battle between two sets of politicians – and we all know what that will mean.  Neither side will be perfectly happy, and both sides will complain that the ‘settlement’ will be the root cause of all the future ongoing problems between us both.

  • Michele

    You were neither ‘thoughtful’ or ‘constructive’ – you write a load of rubbish with deliberate intent to be offensive.  Your arguments are childish, your information is erroneous but your deeply held hatred is on view for everyone to see.

    You might feel self-righteous and smug, but I am not going to argue with you,(its futile to argue with idiots) – but I am going to feel sorry for you, so deeply engrossed on your sense of victimhood and blind to your own responsibility for the hatred and vicious round of slaughter that has enveloped the beautiful isles for centuries.  Shame on you!

  • Michele

    Likewise, I am sure.

  • Michele

    petulant? – have you read the contributions in the likes of the Scottish Herald, or the Scotsman – they go far beyond merely ‘petulant’ – believe me.  After being subject to that kind of abuse over the years, I can understand ‘petulant’.

    What I can’t understand is the attitude of those who being willing to dish it out, now get ‘petulant’ when it is finally returned. No;. probably it achieves nothing, but with the politics of difference and self-righteousness being played out by the SNP it is, if not very edifying – very understandable. I suspect you may have to get used to it –  after all we had to … and you are so much better than we English at … absolutely everything!!

    A slight note of jocularity there … though why I thought I had better explain that escapes me for the moment *sigh*

  • Michele

    No John it does not.  It is indeed a sad and emotional story, but not unique to Scotland, and it has been echoed a hundred times or more south of the border as well.  May as well claim the southern stories justify an increasing push for English Independence – after all you loathe Thatcher and I despise Blair and Brown.  

  • Anonymous

    Ireland is two nations is it not?

  • Anonymous

    Could someone define Irishness for me.

  • Anonymous

    Spot on Patrick. Unlike the dithering can we afford it, will we manage on our own, oh dear I’m scared so called celts, we English would be happy and confident enough to go it alone.

  • Anonymous

    So what’s your point Tom? Would you advocate that northern English  cities join Scotland while the rural areas remain in England?

  • Anonymous

    That’s the problem! There’s a good chance that Scotland will not vote to get rid of England. The frustraion of that is that many English people want shot of Scotland!

  • Anonymous

    “The ‘English’ language is the closest thing England has but even it is
    largely French derived, as a result of the Norman Conquest”

    The English language that Ireland speaks! At least we English use our own language. The majority of Irish people can’t even speak their own language other than a smattering of words!

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the seeking of independence
    isn’t unique to Scotland;
    it’s the normal state of affairs for nations. Perhaps I should have said that
    the man’s eloquent comment “gets” to the core of the argument for
    independence. 

    I don’t loath anyone, certainly not an elderly widow struggling with poor
    health.  But what I don’t mind is when people are woken up to the fact
    that the status quo isn’t God given and that change can occur… and it will.

    Scottish independence will happen because the people of Scotland will
    inevitably vote for it.

     

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps England, Scotland, and wales should all be divided up into their historic country level units with 3 separate general governments entitled Scotland, Wales, and England all of which sharing a common defense pack.

    The 3 separate general governments would then act a bit like brands competeing for the affections of each population as divided into their respective county level units.

    Then not only would the people be able to vote at the ballot, but also with their feet, and at last resort as a region.

    In this way you limit maintain democracy while limiting the potential for tyranny of the majority because at some level every unit of Brit as with every British individual can either vote with their feet as an individual or as a “county”.

    Thus expressing & protecting the unique economic & social interest of each individual and of each region(product of geography & history).

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like y’all are dealing with the same issue we are in America, the Urban/rural divide.

    Which is of course a divide between those wanting more control and those wanting more freedom.   In both cases a product of their respective environments. 

    The highly manufactured and densely populated urban environment often demands rules and structure in-order to function. (At least in the minds of most who live there)  Where as the more open and sparely populated more rural environment seems to demand a greater spirit of freedom.

    Simply put your less likely to bother other people in the country side with your activities then in the city.  Of course its also true that the confined spaces & infrastructure of the city conspire to make it a lost easier to manipulate & control a population more precisely.  The result of which being the desires of a politician(almost invariably for more power) are more easily expressed with control of a larger array of the largely environmental elements.

  • Anonymous

    We are also dealing with the English Question. Can you imagine Canadian politicans being able to vote on how the USA runs its education system? Thats what happens in England. Scottish MPs can vote on English education, health and lots of other things and we English are fed up with it! Unionist politicians keep promising action but nothing happens. When we English complain and say we want independence PM Cameron calls us ‘sour little Englanders’! He doesn’t call Scottish nationalists ‘sour little Scotlanders’!

  • Tomcarty

    Michele
    I’m not Scottish and I do get irony.
    All I was saying was that despite the intolerance, oversimplification and sheer bad history (not to mention bad manners) evident in this sort of  discussion, it would be possible to come to an amicable separation. Don’t you agree?

  • Tomcarty

    Michele
    The termination of the 1800-1921 union with Ireland came in much more fraught circumstances, including mutiny in the armed forces connived at by leading politicians, civil war and opposed factions refusing to accept compromises taking up arms, yet in the end it did lead to more sensible and harmonious relations with Ireland. Witness the amazing and moving events on the Queen’s recent state visit.

  • Tomcarty

    No, just commenting on the way the electoral system leads to one-party wastelands which is harmful for national unity (if that is what you want). Since you ask, I’d settle for a federal UK in which England would be divided into 5 to 7 states, or failing that a federal England tout court.It works OK in Germany (and we imposed it on them!).  What do you think?

  • Brian49r

    As a Christian, would it not be more helpful for you to concentrate your thoughts and comments on the human heart condition of mankind rather than adding stones to Hadrian’s wall? 

  • Stephen Gash

    I’m English not British. The deadliest enemies of the English are the British. The greatest source of mutual hostility between the peoples of these islands is the United Kingdom.

    Quite honestly I’m fed up with the self-styled Celts trying to get rid of my country and identity for “the sake of the Union”.

    The Scot, the late Robin Cook as a Labour cabinet minister said on BBC radio “England is not a nation it is just a collection of regions”.

    The Scot Charles Kennedy as Liberal Democrats leader said to Scottish Lib Dems (there are no English ones) “South of the border regionalism is moving at such a pace, it is bringing into question the very idea of England itself” – this was met with rapturous applause.

    The Welshman John Prescott wrote while a Labour cabinet minister “There is no such nationality as English”.

    Irish nationalists targetted the English more explosively. It did not go unnoticed that Scots and Welsh were not targetted in similar fashion, despite both Welsh and particularly Scots making up disproportionately high numbers of Black and Tans.

    If the Union were dissolved the hostility would end, more than likely. Anyway it’s worth giving it a try. At least I could be English, which is all I want to be. 

  • Stephen Gash

    Devolution has treated we English in a most un-Christian-like fashion. Cancer patients in Scotland have freely available on their health service, fifteen life-prolonging drugs denied to English patients. Only the English pay prescription charges. English elderly folk have to sell their homes to pay for social care whereas those in Scotland do not. Students from England have to pay full tuition fees when studying in Scotland, but those from the rest of the UK have subsidies to help. Those from the rest of the EU do not pay tuition fees.

    Devolution has brutally exposed just exactly what the rest of the UK thinks about the English. When devastating floods hit England a Scottish clergyman said “It couldn’t happen to a nicer people”.

    It seems to me the only people expected to turn the other cheek in these islands are the English.

  • Stephen Gash

    The reality was the Irish were still able to gain British passports and to live, work and vote in the UK. This was not reciprocated by Ireland.

    Thatcher ended that, knowing that EU rules meant free movement of people anyway, so nothing much changed.

  • Stephen Gash

    As long as the borders are drawn up according to international law there should be little argument about the oil. However, seeing as self-serving British MPs in England, many who are Scots like mine, have overseen a virtual apartheid system enacted against the English (I mean the English not just England) through devolution, why should we trust any of them to fight England’s corner come independence?

  • Stephen Gash

    I was a Social Democrat, it was the first party I joined. I voted against the merger with the Scots-led Liberal Party, but it went ahead and a good movement was trashed. I live in Carlisle in Cumbria, the most impoverished part of the UK bar none. Its poverty was disguised by putting it in with a richer part of England, that included Manchester, to impose an unwanted region on us. The real north south divide is the Anglo-Scottish border. Just a dozen miles from me Scots have benefits denied to the whole of England. If England were independent, much of the money currently flowing into Scotland would stop at the border and the north of England would benefit immediately.

  • Tomcarty

    And it’s likely the chip on the shoulder attitude of some Scots will disappear once the country is independent. As a result, relations with England and with the English people will improve.

  • Ronk

     When the USSR dissolved, Russia (comprising just 50% of the former USSR’s population) seamlessly continued as the permanent UN Security Council member with full veto power, with no whisper of protest from anybody.

    It would surely be no different with England which comprises 90% of the UK’s population.

  • Alastair

    Dear Home Rule: 

    As a Scot who supports independence I have every sympathy for the English who a) want the same and b) are fed up with Scottish politicians on the make trying to run English affairs. They have no mandate to do so. These are the same people who regard public service in their own country as the “consolation prize”. Whereas those in Scotland who favour independence put their brightest and best forward for office in the Scottish parliament, Scottish unionists politicians (mostly Labour, but also some Lib Dems – the Conservatives are more or less extinct as a political force in Scotland) regard it as a fallback position if they can’t get their snouts in the trough at Westminster. They will also line up with Cameron (someone widely loathed in Scotland) to tell us we’re “Better Together” while they preside over some of the worse socio-economic problems in Europe. 

    However I must take issue with your claim about the Shetland Islands. This is a division manufactured by successive Westminster governments. While the Shetland Islands are every bit as part of Scotland as Princes Street in Edinburgh, successive governments in Westminster have raised this entirely fictitious friction as a divisive tactic. Only last month the Lib Dem minister Alistair Carmichael threatened to hold a separate “Opt-in Referendum” for the Shetland Islands should the result for Scotland overall be a Yes vote. This is a highly provocative move and shows just how cynical Westminster governments can be. Why do you think this might be? Because Shetland has a highly profitable oil terminal. A huge amount of the North Sea oil comes ashore at Shetland. Now, how about that for a co-incidence? It all comes down to money. BTW if I am not mistaken this is a Scottish minister – I am not trying to blame “The English” here. What I am saying is that the Union is beyond the pale for both countries, but that there is no depth of cynicism to which unionist politicians will not stoop to try and maintain their powerbase. 

  • Alastair

    Joel, I think you are in for a rude awakening if you think Scotland is the poorer partner in this so-called Union. Sure Scotland gets fleeced stupid, and more fool the Scottish electorate for voting for it, but that is about to change. Don’t forget though, we have the vast majority of the North Sea oil reserves in the Scottish sector, Scotland is a net contributor to the London treasury. Be careful what you wish for…………….

  • Alastair

    Federalism was decisively rejected by the English in a referendum in 2004, so it is a non-starter. .The Liberals have been trying to introduce it for 100 years. It is just not going to happen. Furthermore, any system of English regional parliaments would mean reducing the Scotland to the equivalent of an English “region”. And finally we would still end up with Westminster in overall control of too many issues such as defence and foreign policy and everything that entails, including having Trident just 25 miles from our biggest city. Scottish independence is the only answer for Scotland.  

  • Home Rule for England

     In the even that Scotland (hopefully) votes YES to independence it will be interesting to see the reaction in the Shetlands. Maybe you are right. I am not an expert on the matter but a referendum in the Shetlands would settle the matter. Hopefully Alex Salmond would allow them one!