Five False Premises of Scottish Separatism: And why they make it Impossible, Impractical, and indeed Immoral for Scotland to Split

Alistair McConnachie 19-6-12. Photo copyright of Alistair McConnachie.

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The following was delivered by Alistair McConnachie at the London Swinton Circle (Chairman, Allan Robertson), at 7pm on Tuesday 19th June 2012, at Orange Street Congregational Church, Orange Street, London, WC2. This article was posted on this site on 22 June 2012.

False Premise 1: Scotland is just like every other country in the world.

False Premise 2: Britain is not a nation.

False Premise 3: Scotland is not a self-determining nation.

False Premise 4: Scotland is equal to England in every way.

False Premise 5: Scots should only be concerned about what is good for Scots and Scotland.

What We Should Do

Mr Chairman, thank you for inviting me, and ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming along tonight. I also want to thank all the people who are supporting my Project and who have thereby enabled me, financially, to devote the time to writing this material and hosting it on the website. Without them, I would not have been in a position to spend 10 days writing the 5,000 words which I am about to present to you.

I'm going to speak for 45 minutes. I spoke here in February 2009. The title of my talk that night was Seven Stupid Separatist Sophisms. A sophism being "an apparently genuine, but really an illogical and unfounded argument; a plausibly deceptive claim."

This time I want to speak about "False Premises": A False Premise being something which is not substantiated by reality, yet upon which an ideology is constructed.

While I mention these False Premises, I also want to develop the argument that independence for Scotland, within the context of this island archipelago, inevitably will be impossible and impractical; as a consequence of the natural reality of our mutual inter-dependence; and that such a divorce, which would pull apart our island home, will do nothing but increase bitterness and rivalry and hostility between us all; while placing many Scots into a fundamentally dishonest and immoral position.

That's why I'm calling the talk "Five False Premises of Scottish Separatism: And why they make it Impossible, Impractical, and indeed Immoral for Scotland to Split".

Then I want to conclude by speaking about the importance of one True Premise - that we are all inter-dependent here in Britain, and that it is for us to embrace that reality, wholeheartedly, and with joy.

I speak about "False Premises" because it is essential when debating with someone to understand their core beliefs, and if these core beliefs are false, with no bearing on reality, then they are "coming from" a place which doesn't actually exist in reality.

You are going to end up justifying your words and actions by things which have no basis in fact. And no good can come of that.

There are more than Five False Premises - but these are some of the main ones which animate the ScotNat position.

Furthermore, the famous "Scottish whinge" is also based on many of these false premises. Therefore, no amount of so-called "independence" is going to reduce the Scottish whinge if it is based on falsity in the first place.

I should be clear, as far as the English question is concerned; I accept fully that asymmetrical devolution - devolution for one part but not for the other - has compromised the integrity of the UK. I don't want to get into talking about solutions for that. I accept that we need fairness for the English. There is a Parliamentary Commission, called the McKay Commission, looking at that right now.

I should also say that I am producing this material in the hope that others, better placed than I, will take the crux of what I am saying and develop it even more effectively, including fleshing it out with more vivid examples.

Further, I should say, I am not opposed to the concept of "independence" for nations. Far from it, I published the only non-party-affiliated, monthly, anti-EU newsletter in the UK for 10 years. I support the idea of sovereignty in a broad sense.

However, whether "independence" makes sense, depends upon context.

Sometimes, independence will make more sense for some than for others.

An analogy is our own individual lives: Often we may want to be "independent", but the reality of our lives is that we have responsibilities to others which means that we should not leave them, or we are mutually inter-dependent with others, or we may be largely dependent upon others.

The point is, there will be realities which prohibit us just waking up one morning, throwing it all aside, going away, and "doing our own thing".

The idea that we should just up and destroy a relationship, and throw away our responsibilities and with no regard for our existing network of inter-dependence, and with no regard for those upon whom we depend and who are dependent upon us, can be an immoral point of view, and an immoral action.

So it is with countries. And this is where we come to the first False Premise of the Scot Nats, which is:

False Premise 1: Scotland is just like every other country in the world. (Therefore it should be "independent".)
The first sentence is the False Premise. The second is the conclusion we are meant to draw.

You know, you hear people say, "Why can't Scotland be independent, if other small countries like Iceland can break from Denmark". The comparison is not valid.

Scotland is not an icy rock in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of 350,000.

That is not our reality. That is not who we are. The relationship which, say, Iceland had with Denmark is in no way comparable to Scotland's relationship with the rest of the UK.

Scotland is not just like every other country. It is unique, and it is in a unique situation.

The same can be said for all the constituent nations of the UK.

Our relationship, together, is like none other that exists in the entire world.

Therefore, the premise that we are just like every other country is, utterly false.

Our reality in this multi-national nation of ours is that we have responsibilities to each other, we are mutually inter-dependent upon each other and in some cases we are dependent upon each other.

We are in a closely bound relationship that cannot be sundered in the manner of say, Iceland breaking away from Denmark.

So, when people say, Scotland is just like every other nation in the world - that's an ignorant thing to say. Ignorant of Scotland's unique situation and the unique consequences which would arise from a split with its family members (and it is not just the English family member we would be splitting from, it is the Welsh and Northern Irish one too).

So, False Premise, number 1: The simple fact that Scotland is a country, does not mean that it is "just like every other country", or that it can be, or should be "just like every other country".

It is unique, and we need to examine its unique situation to discover what is best, and if indeed, so called true "independence" is even possible.

I maintain that it is virtually impossible, and to the extent that we can say it is possible, the reality would be a largely impractical, dishonest pretence, which would lead only to bitterness and strife.

False Premise 2: Britain is not a nation. (Therefore, it doesn't matter if it is broken up.)
This is a favourite of the separatists. They've been banging this drum for decades. They say it is a "state" not a "nation".

Their aim is to de-legitimise the idea that Scotland is part of a bigger nation called Britain.

Clearly, if Britain does not exist as a nation, then, goes their reasoning, it doesn't matter if such a mythical construction ceases to exist. Indeed, how could it even be broken up if it doesn't exist?

It's pedantic. It's political word play. It's an attempt to intellectualise out of existence a primary, and often, the primary, point of unionist allegiance - which is Britain, our nation.

It is to ignore firstly the way many people feel about Britain. We feel it as a nation. It is to ignore the fact that this nation has an identity called "British" and it is to ignore the political reality, which is that Britain behaves as a nation, in every way.

It is not for anybody to suggest that the nation and country, with which many of us identify, and which we do not want broken up, does not exist in reality. I mean, what a cheek!

It should also be said that unionists also recognise the phrase "United Kingdom" or "UK" as being not merely the name of a state, but another name of our nation and country (just as the "USA" is regarded as not merely the name of a state, but the name of a nation and country).

Britain exists as a nation by any definition of the term. It has all the popular characteristics of a nation including a people with common origins, ancestry, history, language, religion (to a large extent) and customs. It has all the political structure of one: a recognised international Boundary, a common National Citizenship, a Passport, a Parliament, a Flag, a Head of State, an Anthem, Armed Forces, and British political and civil Institutions the length and breadth of the Islands, and worldwide.

As for those who claim the customs are different - many countries have, or have had, regional variations in customs, dress and language (Germany, Italy). Yet, they are nations.

All the commonalities which make Scotland a nation also apply to Britain, at large.

So, it is a False Premise to say that Britain is not a nation or a country. Rather it is deliberate political rhetoric attempting to delegitimise the object of our allegiance.

Furthermore, by failing to grasp that we regard Britain as a nation, separatists fail to understand where unionists are coming from, and they also fail to appreciate our resolve to keep our nation united.

False Premise 3: Scotland is not a self-determining nation. (Therefore it must become one by separating from the UK.)
There are variations on this theme. For example, I've heard grand words to the effect that "Scotland must take its rightful place in the community of nations". Or Scotland must "become a nation in its own right", or the popular one "a nation again!"

Here is Dr Winnie Ewing, speaking at the annual SNP Bannockburn Rally on 21 June 2003, when she was SNP President:

"The enemies of Scotland are not the English, as one of our founders RB Cunningham Grahame said, they are in fact well disposed towards us. The enemies of Scotland are the traitors within the gate, the unionist parties who, whilst claiming to be Scottish, don't wish for their country the normal freedom that every world citizen expects for their country."

That internet link is no longer working. It's certainly a quote that the SNP should be embarrassed by.

[Update: 5-10-12: We've been informed by a reader that this quote can still be found on the SNP website, at the following page: ]

"Claiming to be Scottish". I like that! An excellent insight into the separatists' dogmatic attitude there.

Apparently, Scotland should have "the normal freedom that every world citizen expects for their country."

Note that she said this, after the Scottish Parliament had been well established - after two elections had come and gone. So, even a Scottish Parliament did not satisfy her, or make her believe that Scotland was enjoying "normal freedom". David Cameron and the No Campaign should note well that these people can, and will, never be satisfied.

It is utterly false, it's ridiculous, it's melodramatic, to imagine that Scotland is not a free country, or a self-determining country right now.

Prior to devolution, Scotland's position was exactly the same as the position of England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Scotland was a self-determining nation, which was part of a bigger self-determining entity called the United Kingdom.

While asymmetrical devolution has tended to damage the internal logic of the UK, we can still say that Scotland is a self-determining nation.

We self-determine through the mechanism of electing our representatives to Westminster. And we self-determine through electing representatives to Holyrood.

The only sense that we are not self-determining is that, as part of the UK, we are obliged to consider and often accept the views of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in our overall system of government. But that is a good thing because these people are family and we share the same home with them. To ignore them, or to forbid them to have any say about what we do in our common home, would be shameful and immoral.

So, False Premise number 3: The idea that Scotland is not somehow a self-determining nation, is not an appropriate argument, or appeal, because Scotland already is a nation in its own right. It doesn't need to become one by separating from the UK.

False Premise 4: Scotland is equal to England in every way. (Therefore, the two countries should be independent of each other, co-operating in a true "partnership of equals".)
Certainly Scotland is England's equal as far as things like the inherent character and ability of the people are concerned, but as far as political power is concerned - if we measure "power" in the sense of, the size of its economy, its resources, its military might, the size of its population - Scotland is not equal.

England, for centuries, has always been the centre of such political power on these Islands.

It's foolish to imagine that if Scotland were somehow "independent", then there could be some kind of "partnership of equals". It would not be an equal relationship because the two countries are not equal in terms of political power.

We are not making a moral judgement when we say that we are unequal. We do not mean that one is "better" than the other, or that one is good and one is bad, we are simply observing political reality.

The reality is that economically, politically, militarily and in its footprint internationally, England has always been more powerful than Scotland and it always will be.

It is like boxers who are equal in ability but who are in different weight categories. If England is the heavyweight, then Scotland is the middleweight. Both equal in skill, energy and determination, but one punches considerably harder than the other, because of his size.

There is no shame in admitting that fact. Indeed, many Scottish separatists, if they are honest, will admit it too.

Indeed, one once described Scotland's relationship with England as "sleeping with an elephant" - which is not a bad metaphor for a country of 5m sleeping in the same family bed as a country of 50m.

What the separatists imagine is that if Scotland and England got a political divorce then Scotland wouldn't have to sleep in the same bed as the elephant and so it would no longer be in danger of being crushed.

However, here is how they get it wrong: While we share this bed right now, here's the thing, we always will share this same bed.

This bed is called "Great Britain, and the British Isles".

Even if the two countries were "independent" from each other, they will still be living with each other, and they will still be sleeping in that same island bed.

Scotland will still be a country of 5m living, intimately, with a country of 50m.

But unlike today, the country of 5m would have no say over the direction of the country of 50m.

Today, Scotland has a say, a direct say, some would say, "too much say" over the elephant.

But with "independence" we would have no say over which way the elephant in the bed chose to roll. We'd be back in the Middle Ages, where Scotland was highly vulnerable to its much larger neighbour and where this was manifest often in violent conflict!

That's why the Act of Union was such a progressive Act because it brought the quarrelling Scots and English neighbours into the same house, around the same table, and into the same bed, and - it made them family!

Who can know how much bloodshed between the Scots and English was prevented by that Act. Who can tell how much it may yet prevent.

So given the fact that we are fundamentally unequal with England, economically, militarily, politically and internationally, the real question is how do we work with that reality to get the best for us all, both Scotland and England?

The answer is, an inter-dependent partnership where each is legally obliged to incorporate the other in its overall decision-making. This is what we have with the Union.

Inter-dependent co-operation for the greater good of all.

Generally speaking we will get this right more often than we get it wrong. Sometimes we will get it wrong, and yes, that will lead to quibbling.

But generally speaking, the Union is a partnership where Scotland is able to take a central role in guiding, influencing, restraining and often leading England and the rest of the UK.

That's a powerful part to play, and to use the boxing analogy again, it means that by pairing up within the Union, on the same side, the Scottish middleweight can form a Tag Team with the English heavyweight, enabling the Scotsman to punch well above his weight!

This is far better than - what the ScotNats want - which is for Scotland to be sitting outside the ring of whatever England is doing, where we will have no ability to guide, influence, restrain or lead. Or worse, where we're forced into the ring to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweight, and get flattened.

We don't want to be Scottish, sitting on the sidelines, able only to curse England's actions, or occasionally being forced into the ring to get knocked out!

Yet, this is what would happen if the Nats had their way, and it would lead to rivalry, bitterness and hostility all round.

Here's a for-instance. Military action.

ScotNats will say that "independence" will mean that Scotland doesn't get involved in what they regard as "unjust wars". Maybe so, but it is not going to stop England continuing to get involved in such wars, if England chooses.

All it will mean is that Scotland sits on the sidelines with no influence at all over what England does. No ability to restrain it or stop it.

That, if they could only but see, is a much worse situation!

So, False Premise number 4 - which leads to the faulty thinking of the Nats - is the boastful notion that Scotland can somehow be "equal" with England on the world stage, if we were separated from each other.

It is just another premise - not founded on a proper understanding and analysis of reality.

The reality is that an unequal Scotland will have no say whatsoever on the direction that the English elephant in our bed chooses to roll.

False Premise 5: Scots should only be concerned about what is good for Scots and Scotland. (Therefore if we can get a better deal outside the UK then we should split.)
We don't accept this. We think it is a disgracefully parochial and selfish view.

We are not in the Union only for the main chance. We're in the Union because it is the right thing for us to do.

Sure, we should obviously care about Scotland, but we should also care about everyone else with whom we are intimately associated with on these Islands.

We should not put the Scottish interest above the interest of everyone else in the UK.

We're in this together! As unionists we realise that once one partner starts putting their own interests over the interests of the other partners, then whether that is a marriage, or a board of directors, fall out will be inevitable.

That is the big difference between our perspective, and the separatist perspective.

And consider this: Even if Scotland would be somehow "better off" on its own, financially, would that be moral?

Some ScotNats want an independent Scotland because they think only that way will Scotland prosper economically. Let us image for the sake of argument that Scotland somehow does that, and hits on the magic prosperity formula.

We'd be prosperous in relation to whom? In relation to England.

So, are we then meant to go about saying, "We're richer in Scotland than you guys in England. Hee Haw! Hee Haw!" That would be immoral.

Surely if Scots have the magic formula for success, then it is only right that we find it and share it within the existing structure of the UK, so that we all benefit.

The attempt to make Scotland more prosperous than England or, worse, at the expense of England is, within the context of our island home, quite wrong, morally.

We should share our ideas, share our expertise, share our wealth.

Those of us who have a British identity, don't care if we are run by Scotsmen or if we are run by Englishmen, just so long as we all put the best interests of Britain first.

We are not obsessed with the petty politics of the Westminster moment because we know that moment will pass and that what appeared to disadvantage us, in a specific sense, during some years, will work to our advantage during other years.

We see the big, long-term picture.

We know it balances out, for the greater good.

Even those of us who do not have a strong British identity, or none at all, can nevertheless accept the reality of our inter-dependence on these Islands, and the privileges (as well as the burdens) which accrue from that unique fact.

And we can accept, as I mentioned earlier, that the best way for us to get what is best for Scotland - if that is our only consideration - is to be able to influence, guide, restrain, and even lead England, through the mechanism of the United Kingdom.

Once we start declaring separate interests then we are on dangerous ground. Rivalry and tension will increase and life starts to become unbearable.

Far better that we all muck in together, and get along as best we can. We already have the mechanism for that. It's called the United Kingdom.

So, False Premise 5. It is not about what is best for Scotland. It is about what is best for us all, including Scotland, within the UK relationship.

Let me end, in the final 15 minutes of my talk, with one True Premise: England is not something Scotland can do without, and Scotland is not something that England can do without. We are inter-dependent upon each other.

Rather than talking about so-called "independence", based on False Premises, we should embrace our inter-dependence within the United Kingdom, and accept that our destiny is to be bound intimately with each other on these Islands, and be thankful and glad of that!

That is the honest position because it is the reality of our lives, and it is not ever going to change.

The natural state of affairs is for Scotland and England to be inter-dependent on each other.

And this natural reality means that any kind of "independence" for Scotland is inevitably going to be about having one's cake and eating it too. What do I mean by that?

If Scotland were able to declare "independence", then it would quickly become evident that what people like myself have been saying all along is indeed correct. That is, it will be in Scotland's best interests to keep most things the same!

Why duplicate the entire constitutional mechanism, why have separate embassies, separate defence forces, separate driving licences, separate mail delivery, separate passports, separate citizenship, separate Head of State - the economies of scale, alone, are obvious. Why have unworkable, impractical, separate immigration policies. The mind boggles.

Indeed, the "mother of all divorce settlements" would reveal the fact that Scotland wants to keep most things in place, because they work, because they are practical, because they are sensible, because they are most cost effective, and because they are the fruits of hundreds of years of experience working together in the Union, for the good of all.

Scotland would be like a wife or husband leaving the marriage and saying, "Well, actually, after I leave you, I'm going to keep about 90% of what we built up together over all these years. I do hope you don't mind darling."

So-called independence would put Scotland in this fundamentally immoral position.

A position where it claims to be independent, may receive some benefit from being independent, but remains highly inter-dependent, and in many cases, plainly dependent, with and upon its closest neighbour from whom it receives most benefit.

We're going to be in a position where we are going to have to behave, or try to behave, or claim to behave, in a way that is fundamentally against the nature of the reality we live in.

We'd be like those Southern Irish who make a big thing about the Republic being independent, but who choose to make their own lives here in the UK!

I am happy that they do make a life here! There is nothing wrong with that. We live in a small island archipelago which is always going to be inter-dependent. What's wrong with their attitude is that they are not willing to admit the obvious fact of their inter-dependence, and acknowledge and appreciate the benefits it brings!

And we'd be like those Scots who come to England, or London, to live here, to work here, to marry here, to make money here, and who enjoy life here, but who want "Scotland to be independent" from England - and who reject the Britishness that makes their entire life possible.

These people are enjoying and indulging in the wonderful fruits of our Union, but are wilfully blind to the benefits which it has brought them, or, in a sullenly ungrateful manner, are not willing to admit to them even while the very facts of their existences belie what they say they are physically, or want intellectually.

As an aside: I can easily understand English people being disgusted by that sort of attitude. The least we should expect is that if you want Scotland to be "independent", then you should only have an opinion on that, if you live in Scotland. Don't be a Scot in England, enjoying the fruits of Britishness, yet talking about how you want Scotland to be independent from the rest of Britain. That's just ignorant!

So, it would be ridiculous for Scotland to continue to enjoy the fruits of our inter-dependence, but claim to be "independent".

If such separation were to occur, we would find ourselves in a fundamentally dishonest and immoral position - claiming to be "independent", but clearly still inter-dependent.

It would be an immoral posture.

All it would do is create English resentment - quite understandably, leading to bitterness, rivalry and hostility.

Scotland would be trying to have its independence cake - and eat it too - keeping all the good bits of the Union in place. The cheek of it, would be embarrassing to witness.

So, rather than go there, rather than waste so much time and energy on that, and suffer years and years of pointless haggling over the divorce settlement, which would also be financially ruinous to both parties, and which will only fester bitterness and hatred even - what we need to do is this:

We Scots need to acknowledge that Scotland is inter-dependent with England, and that is a good thing.

There is no shame in that. Indeed, we are very lucky to be able to live in such a close relationship which allows us to benefit in this way, and to have all these structures already established, which largely work fine.

Of course, all relationships have their problems. Nothing is perfect. But the alternative - to break away, yet to hold onto all the best parts because it suits us (which is what we would almost certainly end up doing), would be utterly dishonest and immoral.

Indeed, we are not just inter-dependent, but we actually need England, and England needs us. We are dependent, also, on each other.

This would become obvious very quickly.

For example, Scotland is going to continue to need England - or more precisely the English taxpayer - to help us economically. Scotland will continue to need the goodwill of English consumers for our products, and English tourists for our Highlands - a goodwill, it must be said, which we cannot necessarily depend upon after a messy divorce!

And what happens the first time Scottish hostages are seized by the Taliban or taken captive by Somalian pirates? We'll need England - or more specifically what would have become the English SAS - to rescue them, because we are not going to have our own special forces. That's utter fantasy, albeit an irony since it was a Scot who invented the British SAS in the first place! Another example of Scots punching well above their weight in the Union - sometimes quite literally!

And England will need Scotland's oil resources, its submarine base, its military training grounds, its - dare I say it - Labour vote even! We are all going to continue to depend upon each other.

Patriotic decorations in Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London 19-6-12. Photo copyright of Alistair McConnachie.

Practically we cannot be truly independent from each other, and morally we should not even try, since our position in such an event would be fundamentally dishonest and would lead inevitably to bitterness, rivalry and hostility.

Practically and morally, whether or not some of us like the fact, or want to accept it, we are bound intimately.

The best way for us just to get along, is to maintain and improve the United Kingdom - the home, the family home, we already live in, and are so lucky to have.

Ladies and gentlemen, it would be folly to tear this home apart.

For everyone, being part of Britain together is better than being part of Scotland - or England - on its own.


Patriotic decorations in Gerrard Street, Chinatown, on Tuesday 19 June 2012. Pic taken by Alistair McConnachie prior to speaking at the event.

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