Part of the Union, #1

I’m a union man, as the song put it many, many years ago in another context entirely. But the line kept playing in my head, all through 2011, as politics in my homeland drifted from anger about the failures of Scottish Labour to what seemed by the end of the year like weary fatalism about the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom. Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian closed 2011 with the warning that the SNP, and Alex Salmond, were so powerful in the Scottish parliament that the union could fall apart by default.  I don’t want that to happen, and in 2012 will use this blog space to present some arguments why it shouldn’t. To use another musical reference, I think of it as 50 ways to save the union – or 50 reasons not to break it up. Let’s see if we can get to that number.

The pro-union case isn’t being made, and I am as guilty of everyone else in assuming that someone else would do it – that is, spell out in plain and simple language why the union of nations we the Scots have been part of since 1707 has been good for us, not bad (and good for a lot of other people too), and why it can continue to be so in the twenty first century. Of course others do make the case, and more will join the debate in 2012 I’m sure, but there has been a curious complacency, or fatalism around in Scotland since the SNP won its historic landslide majority in the parliament, as if  no-one really knows what to do or how to defend the union. Some hitherto pro-union voices seem to have given up the fight already, before its even begun. Like I said, I’m just as guilty as anyone else of neglect of this key issue of our time, and I want to do something about that in this column.

One or two ground rules – this is not about the SNP or Alex Salmond. Their success in the recent Scottish government election is a reflection both of their campaigning enthusiasm and leadership qualities, and of Labour’s collapse into irrelevance. I wish them well in governing Scotland, and would be happy for them to continue doing it forever in the absence of a credible opposition, if only they wouldn’t insist on flying the tribal flag of nationalism over everything they do, and claiming to speak for all Scots as they do it.

So this column won’t be about the negatives of Scottish nationalism and its current political expression, so much as the positives of Scotland’s maintaining its place within the union. There’s no shortage of those, but they do need to be spelled out, and people reminded of them. We’ve taken them for granted for so long we don’t even know what they are anymore.

If, after all and everything, and a proper debate has been had, and the Scottish electorate votes for separation, or independence if you prefer, that’s democracy and I’ll accept it. But let’s at least make a decent case for why the place of Scotland within a union of nations on these islands should be preserved for future generations.