Thursday, 5 April 2012

After Scotland's independence: then what?

A discussion with a Scottish Nationalist Party member over curried haggis in Glasgow last week plus this post on The Economist's website have prompted me to speculate with a bit of what-iffery...

A referendum for Scotland's independence is planned for the autumn of 2014. Right now, I was told that just over 40% of Scots favour total independence. Not the 51% needed, but bearing in mind the SNP's rise from 28% vote in the 2003 Scottish parliamentary elections via 33% in 2007 to 45% in 2011, a rising tide of support is clearly visible.

So let's just consider the following scenario; by whatever majority, the Scots vote for independence. Acts of Parliament are drawn up to separate the countries (think of the experiences of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union). Conflict of course, is highly unlikely. But consider. The SNP likes to think of Scotland as a Scandinavian country, a European country. Once the eurocrisis has subsided, membership of the eurozone would mark a currency distinction from, well, er... England. Membership of Schengen too - which would suggest border controls at Berwick-on-Tweed replacing those on many flights and sailings from continental Europe. Ireland - part of the UK 100 years ago - has the euro (for good or ill) but is not a Schengen Area country. Would Scotland retain the Queen as its monarch? Would it stay in the Commonwealth?

In such circumstances - what would happen to the name 'Britain' and the adjective 'British'?

Scotland entered into a union with England in 1707, in much the same way that Poland and Lithuania created a Commonwealth by the Union of Lublin in 1569. The result - a nation called Great Britain, has been in existence for over three centuries (whereas the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth survived 225 years).

As a Pole, I can sympathise with a smaller country's ambition to be free of its larger imperial neighbour. But I am also a British citizen by birth - though I've never considered myself English.

'British' is an inclusive term, whereas until quite recently - certainly until the late-1990s - 'England' was a name exclusively reserved for a football team. [See this useful breakdown of terminology within the British Isles.]

Geographically, 'Britain' refers to the island upon which England, Wales and Scotland co-exist as parts of the United Kingdom. After putative independence, 'Britain' (the name of the island) would be as relevant as Hispaniola (the island that contains the two sovereign states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Hispaniola? Pirates of the Caribbean?

So what's left of the United Kingdom should Scotland opt out? Well, the rump-of-the-UK bit would be England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Which would rule out any possibility of Britishness (who has more right to Hispaniolaness - a Haitian or Dominican?).

Would 'UK' therefore take on greater weight? My passport defines my nationality as 'British citizen'. Would it have to be replaced by one that says: 'United Kingdom citizen'? As AndrzejK points out (first comment below), Wales is a Principality, Northern Ireland a Province, so the UK without Scotland would not be a United Kingdom at all.

So - what would a UK-minus-Scotland be officially called? Not UK. Not Britain. Not England. Some entirely new nomenclature would have to be dreamed up. Ideas, anyone?

While at my parents, we watched an interesting BBC2 programme (A White and Christian People - part three of How God made the English) in which presenter Diarmaid MacCulloch posits the rather novel concept that you can be Hugenot, Jewish, Indian, Welsh or Scottish (or indeed Polish) and still somehow consider yourself English. The programme failed to convince.

If - when - Scotland becomes an independent country - I will appreciate what the nationalist Scots will be feeling, having experienced the joy of witnessing Poland regaining sovereignty and independence in 1989/1990.

On the other hand, my own relationship with the UK as a British Citizen of Polish parentage will require revisiting. Unless Wales splits off from England and the island of Ireland unites, a UK passport holder I shall be for quite a while to come.

It will be Great Britain, the country of my birth - not England - that I shall mourn for.


AndrzejK said...

If the Scots go their seperate way (good luck to them) then it would no longer be the United Kingdom since Wales was a Principality and never a Kingdom and Northern Ireland is not a Kingdom but a Province so there would no longer be a union of kingdoms. I actually think independance would be a good thing as it would allow the English to be a nation once again without having to listen to Scots bleating about how unfair it is that English taxpayers subsidise Scotland. And presumably English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students could no longer be discriminated against in Scots universities (at present Scots and EU students enjoy subsidies paid for by the rest of the UK - English, Welsh and Northern Irish students, not being according to the rules from anothe EU state can legally be forced to pay tuition fees. And of course we would no longer have Scottish MP's in the Mother of Parliaments (think of Gordon Brown and his revenge for Culloden).

Michael Dembinski said...

@ AndrzejK -

Excellent points. Of course, a UK without Scotland is no longer a United Kingdom!

So the UK without Scotland would be what? And this is my point...

BTW Andrzej - do you consider yourself British or English in terms of country-of-birth and background?

sportif said...

Wielka Brytania jest wielka tylko w umysłach swoich mieszkańców. Po separacji Szkocji resztę można nazwać Little Britain :)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Sportif:

I laughed out loud! Very funny (your comment - not the TV show...)

adthelad said...

Divide and conquer seems to be the first thought that comes to mind together with the eurostar spangled banner. But that's progress or you, some would say.

AndrzejK said...

To answer Michal's question I guess I will need to start thinking of being English rather than British (when in Poland of course - when in the UK I consider myself to be Polish just to be contrary).

I wonder if the Indians will change from "us British" to "us English".