There’s a peculiar trait found amongst British nationalists in Scotland. They are unable to cope with any news which might suggest that Scotland is perfectly capable of being a normal country, able to do any of the things that any other comparable nation might do as an independent state. It appears that the entire sense of self-worth of a British nationalist in Scotland is intimately bound up with the proposition that Scotland is a helpless basket case which is entirely dependent upon the good graces of the Westminster Parliament to tie its shoe laces for it. Of course, that’s not really a sense of self-worth at all, it’s a sense of self-worthlessness. But it’s British dammit, and that makes it better than any other inferiority complex.
We saw it again this week, when the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen answered a question from the Hungarian MEP István Ujhelyi who asked about Scotland’s chances of rejoining the European Union once it has broken free of “the prison of Great Britain”. Ursula von der Leyen replied that any European state which respects and promotes the values of the EU may apply for membership. Naturally this would also apply to an independent Scotland. Scotland has consistently shown itself to be the most pro-EU nation within the UK. An independent Scotland would be a democracy, and since we have been members of the EU as a part of the UK for decades, we are already in close alignment to the conditions necessary for EU membership.
It was a pretty anodyne response which simply restated the long existing criteria for an application for EU membership, but it managed to spark off fury amongst British nationalists in Scotland on social media. There was a great disturbance in the yoonstream.
One Brextremist called her remarks “a betrayal”, adding that the EU was playing the old war book trick of divide and conquer, and that Scotland was “the weakest link”. The Express had one of its screaming headlines with its trademark random capitalisation saying : Britons FURIOUS as EU opens door for Sturgeon’s independence bid – ‘Mind your own business’. One of the ProudBrits replied “With all the debt problems the EU is facing, does anyone think they will take on another failed economy?” Another insisted that Scotland was a laughing stock world wide. Yet another was adamant that the EU President wasn’t talking about Scotland at all, but rather was referring to the possibility of the UK rejoining the EU – clearly no one would want Scotland.
We’re so used to this reaction from British nationalists that it passes unremarked. It’s what we’ve come to expect from them. But when you think about it it’s a very peculiar state of affairs. Now this is not to get into a discussion about whether Scotland should or should not become a member of the EU, for those of you in the comments section who are poised over the submit button. The point here is that whenever there’s some sort of signal or indication from the wider world that Scotland could be a perfectly normal independent northern European state, the knee jerk reaction of British nationalists is not to accept that Scotland could be a normal independent country but then to present evidence that Scotland is advantaged and exceptional by being part of the UK, but rather to insist that Scotland would be unable to cope or to function as an independent nation because it’s a uniquely incapable jibbering wreck of a country.
This is of course not unrelated to the evident fact that Scotland is not made exceptional by being part of the UK. Public services across the UK are worse than in most comparable European nations. Our state pensions are a disgrace. Our social security system is a theatre of cruelty instead of being a safety net for the poor, the vulnerable, and the disabled. The UK is the worst performing state in Europe in its response to the coronavirus epidemic, with the highest death toll in Europe and a confused and incoherent British Government which lurches from one misstep to another. Much of what the Scottish Government must do during this crisis is to firefight the unforced errors of the British Government. The economic woes of the coronavirus crisis are being compounded by the reckless decision of the British Government to press ahead with Brexit, and in addition to the job losses and economic havoc which we are already facing, Scotland along with the rest of the UK risks further economic problems due to the no deal Brexit which the Tories are pursuing.
All this is a function of Westminster’s choices. The only exceptional thing about the British state is its own conceit of itself. So clearly any British nationalist who wants to argue that Scotland derives immense advantages from being part of the UK can only do so by insisting that Scotland would be a hopeless slabbering basket case as an independent nation. They can only do so by claiming that uniquely amongst the nations of northern Europe, Scotland would be incapable of funding the poor level of public services and state provision that we currently have. That’s the only way in which any “advantage” can be asserted.
The low level at which British nationalists insist that Scotland would function as an independent state would make Scotland unique in Europe. They never explain just what it is that makes Scotland so intrinsically poor and incapable. It becomes even harder to understand given Scotland’s embarrassing wealth of natural and human resources.
Instead all we get is pointing at the GERS figures, despite these being figures which only partially describe the financial situation of Scotland within the UK and which have no bearing on the financial position of an independent Scotland. After all, the entire point of independence is to do things differently.
The GERS figures for next year will include the share allocated to Scotland for the borrowing that the British Government has been forced to do in order to cope with the current crisis. It will be gleefully seized upon by British nationalists as yet more evidence that Scotland is “subsidised”, when in fact it is no such thing. An independent Scotland would be perfectly capable of making its own borrowing arrangements. We are not given free money by the UK, the money that the UK borrows – supposedly on Scotland’s behalf – is money that Scotland will have to pay back. The difference is that as an independent nation we’d have a lot more freedom of choice and movement in how the money is spent.
Yet it’s a fundamental maxim in science that anyone who makes an extraordinary claim must present extraordinarily strong evidence in order to back it up. The British nationalist claim that Scotland is intrinsically poor and incapable is an extraordinary claim which is never backed up with strong and incontrovertible evidence. It’s backed up solely with a set of politically contentious figures which have been constructed in such a way as to maximise Scotland’s expenditure and minimise Scotland’s revenues.
Better Together used to claim that as part of the UK, Scotland had the best of both worlds. In fact the reality is that as a part of the UK Scotland has the worst of both worlds. We have to suffer the austerity and defunding of public services of a UK which is hell bent on rewarding the rich, and we’re told that without even these few crumbs we’d be a helpless basket case worse off than nations which don’t have a fraction of the natural or human resources that Scotland possesses in abundance. It’s a nonsensical argument, yet it’s the foundation upon which the argument against independence rests.
No wonder that British nationalist react with such fury to even the most anodyne and self-evident statement that Scotland could be a normal independent country. They themselves know deep down that the British rule which they prize so much rests upon a myth that dissolves into nothingness the moment it’s examined. That’s why they’re desperate to deflect the argument onto imaginary Scottish shortcomings in an attempt to ensure that the basket case of Britishness is never examined at all.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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