Friday, 20 January 2012

Dear David - How are you saving the Union?

I was chuntering about this to the ex-wife the other day, wondering how could Cameron who claims he is going to save the ‘Union’, could be so effortlessly doing the opposite.

It is not so much that he and his Bullingdon chums are putting both barrels into their feet on a regular basis, as letting loose a chain gun with depleted uranium tipped rounds. Westminster is apparently fighting the 1900 Irish Home Rule Bill all over again with the word ‘Ireland’ tippexed out and replaced with ‘Scotland’ in a child’s crayon and hand writing. An equivalent comparison would be the British Army dusting off their 1914 BEF strategy and planning for use in Afghanistan in 2012.

I should be cheering and whooping over this continuing incompetence by Westminster but with the starting gun having gone off for the referendum vote I remain concerned the real and important issues which need to be addressed in public debate will never see the light of day simply because of the Unionists grindingly negative campaign - as personified by Lamont’s Iain Gray like performance at First Minister’s Question Time.

Ironically, I sense it will take a pro-independence supporter to write a positive case for the Union - so here goes.

What about our shared history?

Here’s the first problem there is no ‘shared history’ I any sense at all until 1707. Prior to that it was a succession of ‘rough wooing‘, attempted takeovers by guile or force but in the main total indifference. England spent time and money building and loosing an empire in France before looking elsewhere for its colonial ambitions: mainly in attempts to thwart first Spain and then France with colonies in the ‘New World’ especially what is now Canada and the USA plus a number of Caribbean Islands. As the 17th Century moves along England starts putting the squeeze on the Dutch and the Portuguese in South Africa, the ’Spice Islands’ and India.

In Scotland the focus concentrated on trade with the Baltic and the Low Countries with Scotland having ‘Warehouses’ in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Stockholm through which a burgeoning trade in fish, hides, salt and coal grew through out the 17th Century while trade with England focused on beef and sheep on the hoof and the illegal tobacco trade with the English Colonies in Northern America which by-passed the West Indian Trading Company’s ‘English merchant’s only’ monopoly.

Post 1707 the shared history of English conflict versus Scottish trade in Europe left Scotland in disarray as by April 1707 France had cut off all trading between Scotland, the Low Countries and the Hanseatic League states as it was at ‘war’ with England. As a result within four years the Scottish economy had collapsed with no benefit of trade access to ‘English Colonies’ as both the East Indian and West Indian Trading Companies ensured their monopolies kept out Scottish traders. A situation  that only began to change in the 1780’s when war with France loomed large courtesy of English expansionist designs. In the interim the average Scot was in demand in the trading houses of England and the administration of the burgeoning ‘English Empire’ courtesy of their high levels of literacy and numeracy and so the Scottish brain drain began. So the shared history of the Union in the 18th century is one of England dominating the Union for its own benefit. In effect this is still the relationship to this day. It looked so promising as a potential positive for the Union when I started writing.

How about the economic benefits of Union - didn‘t it save Scotland from bankruptcy?

First of all the records show that through out the last decade of the 17th century and first decade of the 18th century the Scottish economy was growing, on average by 2.5% per annum. The Burghs were cash rich from trade especially the east coast from Aberdeen to Dunbar. The growing ‘professional’ middle class in the Burghs, as a result of this overseas trade with Europe, also were on the rise and held surplus cash. In 1707 the Scottish economy as a whole was in surplus - a fact recognised in the 1707 Treaty in its machinations over Scottish liability for the English national debt.

Darien failed for numerous reasons, not the least the overt opposition of the Spanish and the English West India Company coupled with poor research and understanding of the conditions to be faced by the settlers. For the Burghs and its middle class Darien was a commercial ‘blip’ which had little short or long term effect but brought the Bank of Scotland into being to manage the surplus cash floating around in the Scottish economy to better to take advantage of future opportunities. Contrast this construct with the Bank of England whose core purpose was all about managing English sovereign debt.  Scotland’s economy stagnated because of the Union and in some economist’s view has never recovered from the destruction wrought on its economy between 1707 and the 1780’s. There is nothing in the joint economic history that demonstrates an independent Scotland would have done worse during the industrial revolution. There is an argument that many of the UK patents which were key to the industrial revolution, as diverse as James Watt’s condensing steam engines and Neilson’s hot blast furnace, an independent Scotland’s economy would have benefited more. To this you can add the income and trade generation by companies such as Jardine and Matheson in the Far East (now better known as HSBC) or Thomas Glover in Japan (a founding board member of Mitsubishi) and you are left pondering how Scotland has benefited from the economic union with England and the wealth generated by Scottish entrepreneurs over the last three hundred years.

The problem with the objective evidence is it indicates no economic benefit accruing to Scotland that Scotland would have not gained if we were outside the Union.

Defence, surely that must be one area where there has been mutual benefit since 1707?

One of the many reasons why the English Parliament suddenly wanted the Union with Scotland had to do with the English military force tied down on England’s northern border just in case France attempt to invade via Scotland. Marlborough, the English Defence Minister, needed them in Europe to thwart French ambitions and the Union would free up this trained force for action. Scotland had, on the other hand, no standing army - in fact the Scottish Parliament had enacted laws to ensure this could never happen. For example it was illegal to ‘barrack soldiery’ on towns people or to force them to provide food or fodder. A Scottish Army could only be raised by an Act or Order in Council of the Scottish Parliament and only for a limited time. The Scottish Navy was more concerned with custom and excise patrols rather than waging war.

Post 1707 and agreed in a codicil to the Treaty of Union any Scottish Regiments raised could only be used for home island defence and were not to be sent overseas. The first mutiny by a Scottish regiment within the UK standing army occurred precisely because Horseguards (as the British Army HQ was long known) decided to send a Scottish Regiment overseas contrary to the understanding of the men when they took the King’s shilling. In the history of the ‘British Army’ there are a number of times when Scottish regiments or soldiers have mutinied - all have to do with broken promises emanating from Horseguards.

The two ‘World Wars’ surely they demonstrate the importance of the Union in the security of the country?

‘Maybees aye, maybees naw’ is the answer. The First World War was triggered by an arms race between the European powers and the British Empire. The tipping point is considered to be the Arch Duke’s assassination but the reality is the stress and strains were there as the European powers scrapped over smaller and smaller extensions to their empires. 

An independent Scotland, out with the ‘British Empire’, could have strategically put England at a disadvantage unless some agreement had been reached to allow the English Royal Navy to use Scapa Flow. Would an independent Scotland have remained neutral is harder to answer. It could have followed its northern trading partners and declared itself neutral yet with France being invaded, would the draw of the ‘Auld Alliance’ have lead to Scotland sending men to France, who instead of dying on the Somme, anyone of three Ypres or Paschendale had died before Verdun or on the Aisne instead?

Did Scottish participation in the British Army between 1914 and 18 make Scotland a safer place to live? The answer to that came a mere 22 years later with the bombing of Clydeside.

If there is ever any such thing as a ‘just war’ then the conflict between 1939 and 1945 is as near as it comes. Given the nature of the conflict I can only see an alliance between Scotland and England having occurred. You could say that Scotland could have taken a similar position to Southern Ireland but the impact of unrestricted submarine warfare on Scottish Trade lanes would have forced us to take sides. The crushing of France would be a major factor in the decision to join or stay neutral.

Again did the outcome create a safe international arena for Scotland to be part of?

To which the only short answer I can come up with is, no.

Since 1945 the British Military has only not been on ‘active service’ for one year, 1968, since 1945. Sadly it may be only in our joint defence of these islands during the course of the 20th Century that there has been any incontestable benefit.

Not much of a positive case for the Union.

1 comment:

  1. Some very good points. The "Auld Alliance" and our relations with Northern Europe are often overlooked as providing alternative trading and political links to those with England.