Seven Stupid Separatist Sophisms (from Scotland and England): Exposing the fallacies of those who would tear our country apart

Alistair McConnachie 26-2-09

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The following was delivered by Alistair McConnachie at Orange Street Congregational Church, London, at 7pm on Thursday 26 February 2009. He makes the case for the Union and why the UK should continue and he points out the dangers of separatism.

This speech was published originally in the February 2009 issue of Sovereignty. It was posted to this site on 21 March 2012.

You can find a lot of random patriotic imagery in London. There are several of these Union Jack air vents on the back of the Westminster Reference Library in Orange Street.

"A Sophism: a specious fallacy; an apparently genuine, but really an illogical and unfounded argument; a plausibly deceptive claim."

Before I get to the meat and potatoes of my talk tonight, let me just lay a couple of starters on the table.

Firstly, I should tell you that I support the British Union.

I am for our country, Britain, which can also be used as shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

And I don't want to hear people say, "But the United Kingdom is a State, it's not a country."

That's a favourite separatist line.

Pedantically speaking, yes, you can say that. But as far as I am concerned, the UK is a country, and a nation, just like the USA is a country, and a nation.

You don't hear people say, "The USA isn't a country, it's a State. The proper name of the country is 'North America...minus Hawaii.'"

No, the USA, just like the UK, is a country.

It's "my country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty!"

So, Britain is shorthand for the UK, and it's my country. And I don't want to see my country destroyed. I don't want to see my country broken up!

That means, within the unifying context of Britain, England is my country also, just as much as Scotland is an Englishman's country.

I don't want Scotland to be independent from England because when I visit England I don't want to regard England as a foreign country.

When I come down to England from Scotland, I don't want to be a foreigner, in my own country, and I don't want to look on the English when they come up to Scotland, as foreigners.

Yet there are people who want to make us foreigners in our own land!

So, it is not just about breaking up "the Union". It is about breaking up our country!

I am against the SNP because Britain is my country and I don't want it broken up!

And secondly, one thing I don't want to get into tonight is talking about "the English Question" - anything about an "English Parliament" or even "English independence".

All I want to say about that is that we need fairness for the English, at the same time as we seek to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.

We need fairness and unity.

To the extent we seek fairness and unity, we seek also to keep the various nationalist aspirations of the Scottish or English contained within an overall British package - in a British wrapper - so the Scottish or English nationalism within, doesn't come bursting out of its box like an evil crackerjack doll armed with a knife and a wicked grin.

And then climb out of its box, and go on a rampage of anti-Englishness or anti-Scottishness - while we're all asleep!

No, to avoid such a nightmare, we keep these aspirations within an overall British wrapper.

OK. That said, let me bring you up to date with what is happening north of the border and why I've chosen this time to speak on this subject.

The SNP is presently the ruling party in Scotland. It wants to hold a referendum on "Independence for Scotland".

Now, Alex Salmond's raison d'etre, the entire reason-to-be, of the Scottish National Party, is to destroy our country, and the most effective way to destroy our country is to seek constantly to ferment tension and unhappiness between Scotland and England.

I said just there, I don't want Britain to break-up. Well, Britain could "break up" if the separatist mentality triumphs on both sides of the borders - if it became the orthodoxy.

The Scottish Parliament has made the Scottish separatists' job a whole lot easier, but it doesn't make their aim inevitable.

It just means that those of us, who have faith in the idea, and the ideal, of Britain and who have confidence in its ability to inspire and convince and appeal, must work hard to promote it.

It's our job to promote the rightness of our cause.

And that also means exposing the separatist fallacies: The Separatist Sophisms, the deceptive pretences…

Let's get to them!

Sophism No. 1: Independence is nothing to worry about because 'the Social Union' will survive.
This is the big favourite of the SNP, because they know that maintaining good relations with the English is a concern of most Scots. The SNP is trying to say that our common friendships will survive any political ripping apart.

Well, that is precisely wrong! The social union is built upon the idea that we are all part of Britain and within that Britain we are all equal politically. If Britain is destroyed, broken, riven, rent, then the social union will suffer hugely because there will be political inequity throughout these islands.

Separatism will lead to political inequality.

And here is what will happen: The Scots and English will start to think of themselves, over time, as two different and distinct peoples, whereas today we still have enough in common that we can regard ourselves as inclusively British together.

The social union will rip! And it has started to fray already. Let me give you an example.

Back in the mid-80s, I went from Scotland, to Reading University, which was one of the very few Universities in Britain which taught Agricultural Economics. Reading was a great University, and I look back on that period of my life very fondly. That was back in the day when every Uni student in Britain got a government grant.

There was nothing to prevent Scots and English students mingling throughout the UK, at any University - and that genuine social union led to young Scots and English meeting each other and broadening their perspectives, and even marrying each other! All very positive stuff!

Now, of course, Scottish students get grants, and there is nothing to stop a Scottish student going to an English University on a full grant, but it doesn't work the other way. An English student has no incentive to come to Scotland because he or she is paying for it wherever they go.

So the point I am making here is that two different parliaments have created two different funding mechanisms for students within Britain, which looked at from a British perspective is completely unfair to all the English, Northern Irish and Welsh.

So Alex Salmond, don't tell me that "the social union will survive" when your policies are already tearing it apart, and damaging our young people.

Independence will create fault lines and it will mean that the social union will wither.

Not only will many of our common friendships not survive, but friendships won't begin in the first place.

A heavy, dreary Tartan Curtain - not an Iron Curtain - will descend over time, to smother us all in its parochial darkness.

There will be a psychological drift apart, and if we take the field of young peoples' further education, we can see that it has started already. That's very serious!

Sophism No. 2: Independence will stop the Scottish whinge, and reduce anti-Englishness.
Who are you kidding? The sort of Scot who whinges about "the English" is an irrational being. His irrational mind is not going to be cured by a set of new political circumstances. Nothing will stop him from whinging. It is in his nature. So it is the height of folly to imagine you can appease him.

England could cease to exist and he would still whinge about it. You know, you could beam England into the Andromeda Galaxy, and he will still complain about it being up there.

So, for that element of the Scottish population, the Scottish whinge is not based on anything rational, but is just an expression of deep-seated psychological, chip-on-shoulder issues, so don't kid yourself that it will change.

Indeed, "independence" is just as likely to revive ancient animosities, and stupidities, and hatreds than appease them.

You know, stupid Scottish separatists will point to Ireland - by which they mean the Republic - as an example of a "successful country" which has broken away from the UK.

Are they having a laugh?

The island of Ireland has been plunged into a vicious sectarian and Marxist war for the past 40 years and longer over the question of membership of the British Union, which may never be resolved!

Look at the horrendous damage which the separatist mentality has done to Ireland, both on that island and on our mainland.

Ireland is a perfect example of the dangers of separatism and parochial nationalism.

Independence will not get rid of any nasty emotions. The example of Ireland shows us that independence could just as easily encourage them!

In an island archipelago as small as the British Isles, separatist attitudes can be very dangerous.

The best we can aim for is the most stable political consensus - and that is the British Union.

Sophism No. 3: It's Scotland's oil!
Right now, the benefit of the oil revenues is spread throughout Britain. That's how it should be. Scots don't hoard it for ourselves.

We share it. Sharing the richness of our islands is what being British is all about - sharing our natural inheritance.

As has also been pointed out by Frank Taylor if the so-called border is extended north eastwards from Gretna Green to Berwick upon Tweed, in a straight line into the sea then we might find that a good part of North Sea oil isn't "Scottish" after all!

Sophism No. 4: There are specific Scottish problems which can only be solved specifically by the Scots.
This can be heard from Scottish separatists, but it can also be heard from some English - but it is just not the case as far as the big issues are concerned.

With local issues, that can sometimes be the case. With big issues, which affect us all, it's not the case.

I can't think of any big issue which is specifically Scottish, or English, which could not also be solved at the British level, and I can think of lots of big issues, the solutions to which are, or would be, made much more difficult, impractical, unrealistic and downright unnecessary at the Scottish or English level.

For example, if we were to have separate Scottish foreign policy, immigration, defence, economic and tax policies, then these would be as much against England's best interests as they would be against Scotland's best interests.

And I've already shown how devolved education policies are messing up the Union.

Take other issues: And I hear this from some English people who have important concerns revolving around things like political correctness, breakdown of society, indiscipline in schools...

These are not concerns specific to the English, or Scottish. They are concerns to us all, wherever in Britain we live and whether or not we identify as English or Scottish.

That is, they are concerns for all the British.

The question is, how are we going to address them most effectively?

I can tell you that the experience in Scotland is that we don't address them any more effectively because we have a Scottish Parliament! In fact, we make them worse!

Sophism No. 5: Scotland is governed by England...or...England is governed by Scotland...and that's not fair!
The latter part about "England being governed by Scotland" has been made much more pointed now that Scotland has a Parliament.

However, at its heart, accepting government by "Scots" or "English", is what being part of Britain is all about. It is about accepting the government which has been chosen by the political opinions of our fellow Britons, whether they live in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

You know, during the 18 years of Conservative government, the SNP would complain about how "the English were ruling Scotland." It's looking forward to singing that same old song again if the Conservatives win the next General Election.

Of course, those of us who believe in Britain were not bothered about that whinge, as such…although it certainly could be argued that some Tory policies damaged Scotland and that this led to disillusionment among some with the Union.

Just as equally today it can be said that much of the Labour Party's support comes from Scotland and that some of its policies have damaged England.

I don't dispute that.

What I emphasise, though, and what I would ask you to consider is that within the context of Britain, the Scottish Labour vote and the English Conservative vote, actually work well together to moderate the extremes of each other.

That's certainly true in Scotland, where the British Union is a good way to balance out the tendency for Scotland to be entirely socialist.

The electorate of Scotland is situated mainly in the central belt, which runs in a band across from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and from which come at least half of Scotland's 59 Westminster MPs.

This area is overwhelmingly socialist in its voting tendencies, and will always have the dominant influence over Scottish politics.

If Scotland were independent, the socialist faction - expressed to varying extents through both the Labour Party and the SNP - would dominate forever.

That would not be good economically, or politically, or socially for Scotland.

For the long-term health of Scotland, it needs England's moderating conservative influence upon it, and it receives this via its political relationship with the rest of the UK.

These moderating effects work the other way too.

I suggest that a conservative England without the moderating effects of Scottish socialism could risk over time creating social division and tensions.

The point is that Scotland and England need each other politically because we exercise important moderating effects on each other's political sensibilities, leading to a balance which has maintained a relatively good degree of social stability throughout the United Kingdom for the last century.

Within the political context of Britain, Scotland and England work well together and balance each other out.

However, an independent Scotland loosed from these moderating effects would risk becoming a socialist nightmare.

Socialist domination for all eternity! A very good reason why "independence" for Scotland is a very bad idea!

We're Voting for Great Britain. Not for Party Politicians

Sophism No. 6: The Scots are deliberately destroying England.
This is the notion that the English are the victims of a plot by "the Scots" to destroy the auld enemy!

We hear this sort of thing from people like Simon Heffer.

The extent that the Labour government may be staffed disproportionately by Scottish MPs at this time in history, is just a simple result of the fact that Labour support is disproportionately located in Scotland.

While the Tories were in power for 18 years, these Labour MPs were developing their careers, in safe seats, in the aforementioned Central Belt, and rising through the Labour hierarchy.

When the Labour Party attained power in 1997, it so happened that the qualified individuals who were able to slide into place, came disproportionately from Scotland.

It is entirely misleading to misidentify the present Labour government's policies as somehow a consequence of Scottish envy. It is leading people on a wild goose chase - completely in the wrong direction!

Sophism No. 7: English taxpayers subsidise the Scots.
Firstly, everyone in Scotland pays the same taxes as everyone in England. The only thing that differs from place to place is council tax rates.

Secondly, the Scottish Parliament's spend is funded by block grant from Westminster. That means, if it spends more on student grants, or care for the elderly, it has to be found within the existing grant - so other spending options will suffer. Thirdly, let's put this into perspective.

Scotland has a population exactly one tenth that of England, (5,100,000 to 51,000,000) and two-thirds that of London (7,600,000) but a land mass equivalent to almost two-thirds of England (30,414 sq mi to 50,346 sq mi).

It also has a very large public sector in relation to its workforce. So, two issues arise. Does Scotland need increased public spending per head of the population, and if so, how do we fund this?

In that regard, we have the Barnett Formula, which delivers a significant amount of money a year, from the Treasury, to Scotland, for public spending.

It allows more to be spent per head in Scotland, than in England.

Most of that money is going to come from England because there are more English taxpayers than Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh put together!

Now, I am not making an argument here for the Barnett Formula. It is merely an administrative arrangement and there may well be more equitable ways of arranging this funding.

The point is: We are living in something resembling a state of marriage - the British marriage - where the one is greater than the sum of its parts, and - like a marriage - that means we need to give and take...and take and give.

And we don't want to start nagging and getting cranky over the purse strings.

But, as I've shown, Scotland has a small taxpaying population in relation to its huge, uninhabitable land mass.

It has a population 2 and a half million less than London!

So, it is possible that Scotland is always going to need a higher public sector spend, per head, than England, and that has to come somehow from the UK Treasury.

If the Barnett Formula is unfair then let's address it!

But let's not use it as an excuse to break up our marriage! It's not worth getting a divorce over!

Let us Hear the End of the Matter.
Britain united is greater than the sum of its parts. What we have in common is greater than any differences there may be. A problem in any part of Britain is a concern of us all and the challenges which confront all of us throughout these islands can best be resolved by working together in union, as one.

This evening, I've laid out Seven Stupid Separatist Sophisms. Perhaps you can think of others. If so, let's hear them! We want to get them documented! Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for listening.

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You can find out more about Alistair at the About Alistair McConnachie page
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