Independence essay: Alistair Carmichael on the Union

In the latest of our Scottish independence essays, Scottish Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael argues that the UK is a union of partnership that has been built together.

Alistair Carmichael believes Scotlands openness towards the rest of the world should extend to our nearest neighbours. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alistair Carmichael believes Scotlands openness towards the rest of the world should extend to our nearest neighbours. Picture: Jane Barlow

AT THE risk of sounding immodest, can I suggest that if there was such a game as Scottish Top Trumps, you would definitely want me as one of your cards.

I was born and raised on Islay, I went to a Scottish state school, graduated from a Scottish university, practised Scots Law, am a member of the Church of Scotland, and I have a relationship with green vegetables which can only be described as “troubled”.

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I’m Scottish; and it is precisely because of that rather than in spite of it that I’m fighting as hard as I possibly can for us to remain part of the UK.

In this crucial debate on the future of our nation, we cannot allow the feeling to grow that to be on the other side of the argument from the SNP is somehow to be less Scottish.

That unless you see your identity purely in terms defined by the nationalists, you are in some way selling your country short, that you do not really believe in the talents and abilities of your fellow countrymen and women. That you do not really believe in yourself.

I think that actually, the polar opposite is true.

True confidence, true belief in yourself and your nation allows you to be comfortable in not just your Scottish identity, but also in your identity as a citizen of the United Kingdom.

I believe the nationalists are offering a false choice between being Scottish or British.

Being Scottish and British is no contradiction. In fact, it is who, for the most part, we are.

The UK isn’t something that was done to us. It is something we built in partnership with the rest of the country.

We played an active and central role in its creation. Its strength was mined in Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, was sustained by the North Sea fisheries; its economic and intellectual rigour was honed in Kirkcaldy and its ability to become a commercial and military power was in large part Clydebuilt.

The blueprint for our NHS was devised by William Beveridge, a man raised in England; much of the force behind the modern welfare state came from Wales and Scots have a great deal of common kinship with friends and family in Northern Ireland.

Walk through our towns and cities; take the time to look up at our buildings and I defy you to feel anything other than pride at what our forefathers built, at what they bequeathed to us.

Institutions like the BBC and the Bank of England were created by Scots. Why would we want to walk away from them?

Today, Scottish universities, academics and researchers receive considerably more funding per head from the UK Research Council, not because of the pretty scenery, but because their work outperforms their counterparts in the rest of the country.

It is our talent for innovation, leadership and creativity which defines us and means that the identity of the UK has a large streak of tartan running through it.

Now, I am keenly aware that many of these arguments could be used by those who believe Scotland should break away from the rest of the United Kingdom. That our talents mean we could flourish as an independent nation.

But for me, the debate has never been about whether Scotland could go it alone; it has always been about whether Scotland should go it alone.

It must be a decision taken in the best interests of all of the nation, not one which simply fulfils the political dreams of those who feel their hour of destiny is at hand and are willing to set out a beguiling but fundamentally flawed analysis of what a post-independence Scotland would be like.

I would have far more respect for the SNP argument if it admitted an independent Scotland would also face tough times ahead; that difficult choices would have to be made in areas like welfare spending, just as they are in the rest of the UK; that we might be able to have milk or honey, but probably not both at the same time.

I would be less suspicious of their ambition if it did not try to impose a version of Scottish identity which seems happy to pull up the drawbridge on issues like social justice just north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Does a sheet metal worker in Glasgow really have different values and concerns from one in Gateshead?

One thing we Scots could never be accused of is being insular. There is a reason so many Americans, Canadians and Australians have Scottish surnames, why our major football teams have supporters’ clubs in the most remote and unlikely places, why the Church of Scotland has an influence in Africa.

In general, our view of the wider world is outgoing; that contact and friendship with other nations are opportunities rather than threats; that partnership with others is a good thing.

If we believe that about countries thousands of miles away, why wouldn’t we believe it about our nearest neighbours, especially when the evidence is there before our eyes?

Put simply, I believe the dual identity of being Scottish and British works for us, personally and politically.

Holyrood gives us the ability to create Scottish solutions to Scottish problems – with more powers on the way for the Parliament, should separation be rejected – while benefiting from the global reach and economies of scale provided by the UK government.

I suppose in the end, the question of what kind of Scotland – and Scots – we want to be comes down to this.

Do we want to go it alone, or do we want – as a nation and as individuals – to be a driving force within the world’s sixth-biggest economy, using the size and global reputation of the UK – which, just to labour the point, we helped to build – as a platform for good, for exporting Scottish values and ideas, multiplying our reach and influence by factors unimaginable to and envied by nations who would be of similar size and heft to an independent Scotland?

So actually, the vision for Scotland which is most Scottish is the one which embraces Wales, England and Northern Ireland, sees the benefit of brotherhood with those other parts of the UK and feels no contradiction between being Scottish and British, because, in truth, there is none.

How you vote on 18 September is, of course, a matter for you.

I hope you will vote with your heart and also having made a calm, rational examination of the facts.

But if you decide to reject the notion of separation in favour of remaining part of the UK, you’re doing it as a Scot, secure in an identity which is enhanced, not diminished, by its duality.

Because if you really want to know what I think the positive case for the United Kingdom is, it is simple.

It is us.

We are that positive case because the UK is something we created in partnership with our nearest friends and neighbours and something we continue to nurture through our thoughts, deeds and words.

It is the legacy of our ancestors and the inheritance of our children.

And it has ‘Made in Scotland’ running through every single part of it.

• Alistair Carmichael MP is Secretary of State for Scotland