Brian Monteith: End of Britishness as we know it

Should independence arrive, Britishness will die – fooling people into thinking otherwise is wrong, writes Brian Monteith

The British & Irish Lions tackle the Barbarians on Saturday. Picture: Getty
The British & Irish Lions tackle the Barbarians on Saturday. Picture: Getty

At THE weekend, the British and Irish Lions rugby team played the Barbarians in Hong Kong as they prepared for their Australian Test tour. Although formed in the 19th century when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, the Lions team of the four home rugby unions used to be called by the geographical description of the British Isles, and latterly from the fifties just the British Lions. This changed from the 2001 tour of Australia, when the geographical description was dropped in favour of the political description of two sovereign states – the British and Irish Lions – and that is how they are now known.

It is probably of no importance to rugby followers but it will not escape the antennae of politicians that if Scotland chooses to votes for independence next year how long would it take before demands would be heard that the team be renamed to reflect the three sovereign states that would then exist, namely the British, Irish and Scottish Lions?

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Compared to the real everyday challenges of life, the name of a rugby team that plays only occasionally is not even small beer. It is, however, illustrative of how over time the very glue that holds us Scots together with the rest of Britain is likely to become weakened to the point that it has no power and the bonds break.

Over the last 20 years research by Scottish academics has shown how Scots have gone from feeling they are British and Scottish to now being Scottish and British – but for all the subtle change in the order they put the two, the majority does still feel British. It is for this reason that nationalist politicians have sought to make their proposed break by Scotland from the United Kingdom feel as painless as possible. Not only will the everyday aspects of Britishness remain but, we are assured, we will in fact remain British.

Thus, Scotland will retain Her Majesty the Queen as the head of state. We will not just keep the pound sterling but enjoy a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom. There will be no border posts to check documentation – and even our soldiers shall stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other British troops in Nato.

It is a great deceit that is being played upon the Scottish public, for many of those that tell us to relax in the certain knowledge that if we vote Yes in the referendum we shall remain British, also happen to believe that such representations of Britishness should be disposed of.

Nationalists who are republicans will endure Elizabeth’s continued reign but raise the question of a Scottish presidency when the throne is eventually taken by the next in line. It is naive to expect that republicanism will simply go away because the new sovereign Scottish state will be a settled constitutional construction, just as it was naive to expect that devolution would not evolve under the pressure of those seeking greater powers for Holyrood.

Indeed, the demand for Scotland to be different, to not be Britain or hold with anything British will be given greater impetus.

That an independent Scotland might change aspects of its health, education, housing, policing and transport is to be expected (it can, of course, do so already) – but just as we are also told that our welfare system will be better why should we expect those components of our identity that make us British as well as Scottish will be left alone?

It is not that long ago that the SNP was a strong supporter of the euro single currency, but just as it can change its policy abruptly to be in favour of sterling to suit current political circumstances, so too can it change policy to join the euro – or seek to establish a Scottish currency.

Arguing for a republic, be it British or Scottish, is a respectable and honourable position, as is choosing the euro over the pound and being outside Nato – but the reason these positions are being downplayed or dropped for the time being is to secure a Yes vote in the first instance so that the other issues can then be picked off one-by-one at a later date.

Although comparisons with Ireland do not fit exactly, for there are many differences in the nature of the relationship that Scotland and Ireland have had with the rest of the United Kingdom, it is still of value to look at what happens to a nation seeking to assert itself – even rediscover itself – after it has left a larger conglomeration. Ireland at first retained the monarchy and was a member of the Commonwealth but in less than 30 years changed to become a republic and left the Commonwealth, choosing not to apply when republics were admitted to the Commonwealth.

There will be those that say it will be for an independent Scotland, like Ireland, to choose its own path – to which I can only say I agree. So why do some nationalists seek to assure everyone we will remain British; when the geographical description will become marginalised; the icons that we hold dear will be challenged and most likely lost; and ultimately those that seek to defend us remaining British in an independent Scotland can expect to be vilified?

No doubt I will be accused of being alarmist and of scaremongering, but we only need to look at how Sir Chris Hoy – Scotland’s greatest Olympian and clearly a proud Scot – was abused online for stating last week the tougher challenges Scots athletes would face until an independent nation could get its act together to know what would lay in store for defenders of remaining British in a new Scotland.

If there is a Yes vote it will be the intention of some nationalist politicians and campaigners to marginalise and undermine those that have defended the Union for no other reason than that is the natural outcome of competitive politics. But it will not end there. Those that seek to retain any aspects of Britishness, even down to the name of a rugby team, will be accused, like Hoy of being ant-Scots, traitors or worse.

An independent Scotland is a noble cause, but let’s stop pretending it means we shall remain British.