Michael Kelly: The US offers a history lesson for Nationalists

Nationalists attempted to liken their cause to the American Revolution
Nationalists attempted to liken their cause to the American Revolution
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SUPPORTERS of Scottish independence are mistaken if they think America’s past strengthens their case, writes Michael Kelly.

The Nationalists’ latest attempts to wrap their referendum in the Stars and Stripes is an admission of failure – their failure to find a credible present-day model for their headlong dash into the dark. Having failed to convince with “independence in Europe”, and even less with the crumbling “arc of prosperity”, supporters of separation are forced back more than 200 years to a time of different political philosophies and different geopolitics to provide a crutch for their disabled position.

George Kerevan’s piece in these pages last week was carefully argued to show that if the British colonists had fallen for the “fear” arguments and dire warnings of caution, the United States would not have come into being. He made his case, but in doing so admitted the uncertainty which surrounds such decisions and the risk involved. We just don’t know where independence might lead. But we do know the stability that we are asked to sacrifice. We are not the SAS. “Who dares wins” is not an attractive slogan to persuade us to loosen our ties in an increasingly interdependent world.

Some SNP supporters took the argument further by comparing our 2014 vote to the American Revolution. The differences between the two situations clearly show the comparison to be invalid. First and most importantly, the colonists were campaigning for strictly defined and strongly held principles on human and civil rights that had been developed by the great philosophers of the day, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine.

In particular, they were fighting against the tyranny of taxation without representation. The reform they would have settled for was representation in the British parliament. If discussions along those lines had been successful there would have been no revolution. The point is that, since the union of the parliaments, Scotland has already had such representation. Meagre at first, growing as democracy advanced, but always equivalent to that in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The second difference is that the colonists were prepared to fight for their beliefs. No-one here feels strongly enough about the constitutional issue to suggest going to such lengths. In fact, battles did take place here. The kind of state we wanted was fought over in 1715 and 1745 – well before the American War of Independence – when Scots rejected the idea of abandoning the grand promises of rights achieved by the Glorious Revolution of 1689. And we’ve still got our George and Hanover Streets to prove that we are not unhappy with it.

Further principles were involved, as Councillor Eric Milligan’s recent letter to this paper argued. From its very inception, the United States considered itself as a single unit with a common purpose – a God-given right no less – entitled to expand across the continent and even into the Caribbean and South America. That union was prepared to fight a civil war to deny those states that had voluntarily joined the federation the right voluntarily to secede. It wanted to depose hereditary monarchy and replace it with a republic. We’re apparently not that principled, for the SNP has quickly rowed back from that one.

It is also forgotten that the constitution wasn’t the perfect blueprint that Americans still claim it to be. It condoned slavery and the general right to carry guns. It has led to a society which neglects the poor, the sick, the unemployed. American independence did not lead to the kind of society that the SNP would support. Equally, to appeal now to Americans for support for Scottish independence founders on the twin rocks of the Scottish Government’s leniency to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who in America would have been executed before he could develop cancer, and on the unilateral non-nuclear stance, which Americans regard as insane. Never has Scotland’s reputation been so low in the US.

Seeking such principles in SNP literature as the drafters of the Declaration of Independence specified draws a blank because the same grievances do not exist. Here there is no democratic deficit. There is no blatant discrimination. There is no gross unfairness. For a time, separatists attempted to exploit feelings of resentment and ill will towards the English: the “British if he wins, Scot if he loses” portrayal of English sports coverage, the irritating use of England and Britain as synonyms. All that has been abandoned because “preserving the social union” (whatever that is) seems to be a better tactic.

Why Nationalist opposition to border posts? Any self-respecting independent country, such as Switzerland, enjoys controlling its borders. And if Scotland is going to pursue a more generous policy towards Third World immigration (which would be welcome), they will be essential. Yet they are denied because of the inconvenience they would cause.

A more liberal immigration policy than that of the UK would be a principle worth debating. But we haven’t heard it proposed. Instead, the constant assurances that an independent Scotland will be more or less the same suggests that this debate centres around political power for its own sake, not to improve our society. It has always been based on an economic argument. Will Scots sell their British birthright for a mess of pottage worth £500 per head per annum? The SNP clearly thinks so.

And, in that light, I should report that – in the SNP’s beloved colonies – a two-question, three-choice referendum was held in Puerto Rico on Tuesday over its constitutional future. The result was that most voters (61 per cent) favoured joining the US as the 51st state, while sovereign free association, their equivalent of devo max, received 33 per cent, with independence trailing at 5 per cent.

Relevant too are Obama’s words on re-election: “We will continue to protect the union … We are not just a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States.” Substitute “Kingdom” and we have what the No campaign is fighting for.