England's missed opportunity: Scottish independence and the ripple effect

28th September 2014

Scott Irving

Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh
Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh

Last Friday morning, we discovered that the Scottish people had voted down independence by 55% to 45%. We can’t know when there will be another referendum or even a timetable for one, in the aftermath of such a significant ‘No’ returned at the ballot box. Not for ‘a generation’ to come, we are told, but these things can and do change quickly. After all, who could have been able to predict fifteen years ago, when the Scottish parliament first convened, with the SNP just a small presence, that in 2007 they would be the largest party and in 2011 the first to hold an overall majority in that same parliament? Who would dared to have predicted that in 2014 we would have some so close to independence from the United Kingdom — and how much of a laughing stock would they have been at that time?

A lot can change, then, and so much is uncertain.

What we can be sure about is that Scottish independence, if we opted for it, would indubitably have a ripple effect on the nations around us. It seems to go without saying that a victory for the Yes Campaign would have reinvigorated and deepened similar movements throughout the United Kingdom. Furthermore, we now see that, in spite of a clear ‘No’ result, things have surely changed already.

Indeed, the United Kingdom has suffered a crisis of legitimacy from which it has not yet really emerged victorious, supposing it eventually could do so.

Wales, Cornwall and Ulster

Welsh nationalism will be one of the biggest and most closely analogous beneficiaries; Wales, however, is more deeply embedded in the United Kingdom than Scotland ever was and has been incorporated for far longer. Scotland has its own legal system, while Wales shared its laws with England as one consistent entity, known in legal parlance as ‘England and Wales’. Scotland has a well-developed banking system and, via its banks, mints its own paper currency, whereas Wales does not have this same kind of economic or monetary infrastructure. Still, the Welsh have a stirring example before them of a national movement close to home, which came within a hair’s breadth of shrugging off the British state’s yoke.

The annual Eisteddfod - symbol of Welsh nationhood

The shake-up for the United Kingdom may also prompt the Northern Irish to reflect upon their situation and reconsider their traditional fall-back position of Ulster unionism. That said, independence for Scotland, witnessed in practice, would have made a bigger impact, since Northern Ireland is predisposed against it. As things stand, their bias will only be reinforced by the result of the referendum. The vast body of loyalists will be emboldened by the independence initiative’s defeat, much like the small and violent contingent of their fellows who caused riots and mayhem in Glasgow after the referendum results.

All of this is to say nothing of the more marginalized movements for autonomy in Cornwall and the West Country.

So, why do I call this England’s missed opportunity, rather than Scotland’s? Well, first, Scotland is still reaping the benefits. More broadly, we are accustomed to thinking that Scottish independence and its continuing prospect benefits other independence movements, specifically those for the nations in the British periphery, relative to England, nations traditionally part of Europe’s ‘Celtic fringe’. We speak in terms of Welsh nationalism, even Cornish separatism or occasionally a larger scope leaves Britain behind and we talk about Catalans and Basques.

However, in the event that we ever see Scottish independence, it is England herself who may well experience the biggest ‘ripple’, the deepest and most decisive transformation, also the most beneficial, despite her seeming to be the most unlikely beneficiary.


No other country in the United Kingdom is as challenged by the very prospect of Scottish independence as merry old England. This seems so clear as to go unchallenged and virtually unmentioned. Why? Simply because, for England, it is a complete crisis of identity. It’s easy for a Scot to understand what it is to be Scottish and this vague spook of ‘Britishness’ need never really becloud his sky. For the Englishman, though, English and British are understood so much with reference to one another that one can’t be articulated without almost circular reference to the other. The English can’t imagine England without the United Kingdom, i.e. they can’t imagine the UK without Scotland. They are not merely loathe to imagine it, they literally can’t conceive of themselves as a distinct nation, beyond the muddled abstraction of 'Englishness'.

We can infer from this the more immediate and intense abuse the English suffer under the British state. For the Scotsman, it comes from far across the border, down in Westminster. No matter how noisome it is, we can forbear it. Its 'foreignness' is some defence against it. Not so for the English, who really feel deep down that the British government is their government, the British state their state; and this, not simply more than it is ours or the rest of the UK’s, but in a way that it is not ours. This has hitherto been the Englishman’s undoing, for it is baseless hubris. It ignores the fact that the British state is distinct from England and that the British government is the one best suited (for the elite’s purposes) to govern the British Isles in the interests of the State. Nor does our form of government offer us any genuine defence. Our much-cherished parliamentary liberal democracy is the form of government which has turned us into dupes for career politicians and financial interests. What makes us think it will do differently in future?

Westminster - symbol of the British State but synonymous with England

Now, there is certainly a relationship between the English nation and the British state; that much is indubitable. That being said, the relationship still resists over-identification because these two entities are, to put it bluntly, just different. They are different in structure, different in nature. Moreover they have wildly differing interests. It is in the interest of the British state to keep England part of its unitary state structure — that is to say, to keep the English as such unrepresented, but only represented and favoured insofar as they people the majority of constituencies represented in the UK parliament.

The politics of the British state may correspond to the English temperament — the insistence on fair play in most fields of endeavour, the obsession with ‘fairness’ itself (an English invention), almost immoderate reserve and withdrawal, which other groups mistake for deference, cowardice or even rudeness — but they do not match the interests of the English nation.

The grifting elite with which we are stuck at present will exploit English traits right up until these same traits threaten the status quo or ‘offend’ the unwashed masses of cheap foreign labour. Whenever the constituent nations of the United Kingdom become too self-aware, too ethnically conscious, the British state attempts to pacify them, gives them bread and circuses, divides and conquers. Notice that it was the British state and the money-power concentrated through it which bore down on the movement for Scottish independence.

Wide-scale immigration of unassimilable Third Worlders is a threat to England more than any other part of Britain. This is why Cameron placates them with token enforcement of immigration laws, sending out a couple of PR-coached nipple-heads from the local constabulary, with a camera crew following them, as if policy making were a kind of reality television.

Street scene - Southall, not much Englishness remains

Demography is destiny

Demographics, of course, are central to the whole question of England against the British state.

A quick glance at the British census of 2011 shows the discrepancies in the statistics, between Scotland and England. The figures show that Scotland at the time of the census had a population which was about ninety-six per cent European, while England’s was about eight-five per cent. That’s not a small difference. Given the size of England and its much larger population, something around fifteen per cent is a lot of foreigners, their greater numbers making them far harder to assimilate culturally, if nothing else.

Supposing Scotland left the United Kingdom, not only may there be the much-touted (perhaps oversimplified) right-ward shift in the make-up of the British parliament, but we will additionally see the English forced to look more closely at their own demography, as the non-European elements will suddenly become a bigger proportion of the UK population — and less pleasant fellow citizens than we Scots. This would trump the over-emphasized fact of Scotland’s Labour MPs, since it would entail a transformation of political consciousness and a visceral shift in the policy demands made by the population, rather than a simple change in parliamentary arithmetic that too many commentators are focusing on. This does not mean Scotland would forever vote Labour and the rump UK (or ‘rUK’ as it is fashionably known) would forever vote Tory majorities, time after time. (Who would want either of these outcomes anyway?)

What it means is a change of the political landscape, not a mere switching of ruling parties. In the event of Scottish or English independence from the British state (either of which amount to the practically same thing), the English remnant of the Labour Party will finally be forced to read the writing on the wall and heed the Blue Labour message of Lord Glasman and others. Attempting to (re)gain ground in its industrial heartlands of the North and elsewhere, Labour would have to acknowledge that the working class is nationally (and, yes, racially) conscious, as the frontline of the nation’s contact with new and unassimilable elements; as well as the fact that traditional communities are the most effective political units at protecting their own poor, elderly and vulnerable. Immigration policies which reflect the needs of working class communities would be a requirement of electoral success. Otherwise, it will submerge beneath its own irrelevance and implode once and for all as a political force.

Better Together?

Scotland’s departure from the Union would force the English to confront this serious threat to their biocultural continuity or descend into ethnic obscurity and, ultimately, perish as a nation.

Why, then, would the nationally conscious English possibly support another Better Together campaign? To do so would be a dissolute distraction from their genuine interests, an act of self-sabotage on a national scale, with lasting historical consequences. The interests of Better Together (that is, the British state) are not those of the true-born men and women of England. The squad of Westminster crooks behind Better Together and other scams would rather focus on keeping Scotland ‘British’ than keeping England really English. The Greater London cosmopolis, the British (no longer English) capital, is like a gigantic raffle box of mutually hostile racial and religious interests which are gradually, forcibly and inexorably being exported all over England, as soon as their lot is drawn. It is a multi-ethnic anarchy shaped by the interests of commerce alone. So far as the State is concerned, the habitable areas around London and Birmingham could burn to the ground in race riots (the likes of which we had a foretaste in 2011), as long as its interests are not impeded and not too many commercial interests are inconvenienced.

The fact of central importance here for England’s prospects post-independence is this: as soon as the English recognise that their interests are distinctly and fundamentally different from those of the British state and as soon as the English nation, by that recognition, turns on the British state and militates against it, the Nation is free and the broken State is done. This will give the men and women of England a chance to reaffirm their commitment to their ancient constitution and form a state which organically arises out of their interests, their communities, their customs and their institutional needs, an English state to match the English character.


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