Oberon Houston: Why I've changed my mind on Scottish (and English) independence
Oberon Houston works as a New Developments Manager for a major international oil and gas company, and is a regular contributor to ConservativeHome. He is currently based in Tunis, North Africa. He believes that an English legislature will breath fresh life into England and English identity.
Back in November 2005, I wrote a Platform piece on this site in which I argued that a Scotland dominated by socialist political thought and devoid of serious conservative influences (small 'c') was an unhealthy situation. I concluded my piece by stressing the importance that the ‘big C’ Conservative party remain committed to the union and committed to conservatism in Scotland. Now, a week may be a long time in politics, but to change one's mind on whether Scotland should be independent or not within little over three years may seem strange.
However, that’s exactly what I will now argue. I believe this would indeed be better for Scotland, as centre-right politics continues to languish under the Scottish Conservatives, where the brand remains holed below the waterline. But that’s not the real reason why I think an independent Scotland would be a good thing. It's the English I'm worried about.
In an article published in the American Spectator, Roger Scruton wrote persuasively that the English national identity is under sustained attack both at home and abroad. His arguments covered three areas:
- The European Union project: Originally created to counteract the destructive nationalism of France and Germany, it has instead has set about systematically attacking the identity of the English. In the map of the European Union, England is divided into four regions and the name erased. Scotland and Wales are not divided, and keep their national identities, as do France, Germany and Italy. England it seems is a special case, and deliberately so. There are more tangible attacks too. The European Union seeks to undermine the bottom-up system of English Law (good enough for the United States to adopt) by replacing it with a Code Napoléon, a top-down system, where judges are installed with power over our judiciary to enforce top down decisions from eurocrats in Brussels.
- The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly: The creation of the Labour Party, with the ultimate aim of also regionalising England, this project came to a halt when the North East of England rejected a regional assembly in a referendum. However, this plan remains a threat which can be revived when and if the political landscape changes. Crucially, it is the regionalisation of England that is sought by both Brussels and Labour.
- The Language of Gordon Brown: The Prime Minister talks fervently of a 'British' identity, but his language is carefully aimed at undermining the 'English' identity by dismissing any talk of Englishness as old fashioned and offensive to a ‘modern British society’."
His article coherently describes the threat to the English national identity, but where does a fully independent Scotland fit into this? Well, what the creation of the Welsh and Scottish regional assemblies have done is breath fresh life into the sense of national identity within these countries. The Scottish Nationalists now rule in Holyrood and the Welsh language is now so powerful in Wales that people who don't speak it complain of being treated as second class citizens. Yet in England the opposite is occurring. English national identity, constantly under attack becomes daily less coherent.
The creation of the regional assemblies has also produced an imbalance within Westminster. An undemocratic system now prevails where Scottish and Welsh MPs are needed to keep Labour in power. This situation is undemocratic as these MPs can vote on laws which their respective regional assemblies have jurisdiction over at home. Now that the Scottish Nationalists are in power in Scotland, they are intent on 'mission creep', constantly looking for ways to aggregate more power away from Westminster to Holyrood, making a bad situation worse.
The English identity is therefore being undermined in Brussels; it is also being undermined by the Labour Party and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. But, these two seats of power govern the English today, so what could be done to redress the situation? Well, if an English Parliament was created, this would go a long way to countering the threat. However all four 'regions' of Britain would now have national assemblies (Northern Ireland is deliberately left as the subject of a separate debate). As these bodies exert their influence, Westminster would become a defunct institution, deep in the shadow of the new national parliaments. Britain as a coherent governing body and national identity would inevitably wither and be resigned to history. Better to create then, national sovereign parliaments in each country and agree through treaty any additional cooperation over and above that currently offered by the European Union. This upheaval is worrying to contemplate, but the stakes for the English couldn't be higher.
David Cameron has previously said that the modern Conservative Party under his leadership will judge itself not on the economic objectives prevalent of the Thatcher era, the necessity of that time, but the social benefits we can bring to people today. What better way to begin than by giving the English back their sense of identity?