Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whatever It Takes

Lately I’ve been watching the British news with what can only be described as morbid fascination. Will the rump of the Empire survive its present woes, or are we witnessing the death throws of the artificial construct that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I’m not the first to ask this question: political commentators(1), investment analysts(2) and historians(3) have been predicting Britain’s inevitable demise for decades. My goal here is to summarise the political forces for both cohesion and disintegration, and to speculate on how the existing British state might counter these political threats to its existence. 

The array of constitutional forces tearing at the fabric of the British state is truly staggering. At one end of the tug-o’-war are limbering up the combined forces of disunity – the movements for English, Scottish and Welsh independence(4,5,6), each with the same goal of breaking free of Britain. Two of the team members have a youthful, steely demeanour, but are wary of the third whose heart does not seem to be in it. At the other end of the rope is a bickering rabble of four middle-aged men. Three of them are Englishmen who eventually throw down the rope with cries of ‘now look here!’ One blusters about the need for English votes for English laws(7), while the other two academic types talk over each other about the case for a devolved English parliament within Britain(8) and a federal structure for the whole of Britain.(9) Meanwhile, the fourth team member is seen circling, a Unionist Scot pleading with the others to pick up the rope and pull once more in a celebration of British identity. He falls silent when he realises that no one is listening.(10)

English demands for change are of course being whipped up by elements of her right wing press, outraged at having to foot the bill for subsidy-scrounging Scots(11) and bailing out her banks.(12) The motivation for these articles would seem to be to sell newspapers, but their half-baked arguments cut no ice with Scottish nationalists, who are all well versed in the facts: it’s a long time since ‘Scottish’ Banks were Scottish run, and tax earned on Scottish oil revenues has subsidised England for 35 years to the tune of £250billion ($360billion).(13) Indeed, the dependence of Britain on Scotland’s oil was stripped bare during the Grangemouth strike of 2008.(14) The irony is that these anti-Scottish rants play right into the hands of Scottish nationalists, who I sometimes think must be behind the stories themselves, causing as they do so many pro-Union Scots to question how much common cause they have with Englishmen. If nothing else, independence would certainly end all debate about who’s sponging off whom.

Should it happen, it would be a traumatic event for British Unionists to see Scotland go, and for several reasons. I believe their fear has four distinct components: loss of identity, loss of personal income, loss of status, and fear of change. All four anxieties scream in unison in the Unionist politician. You can hear the hate and fear rising in the throat of British PM Gordon Brown when he says he will do “whatever it takes” to preserve the Union.(15) Ominous stuff, but what does he mean? Just what is he prepared to do?

An intriguing factor is the correlation between the survival instincts of the Labour Party and the British state: should Scotland become independent, Labour is almost certainly facing political oblivion for a generation in Little Britain, if not for good. You can be sure Labour party strategists understand exactly what is at stake and have not been complacent: key by-election results have been rigged(16), and attempts to reform the electoral system are routinely ignored or headed off, with proportional representation kept in reserve as a rearguard action.(17)

As for the Tories, the stench of desperation is absent. They seem much more ambivalent to the prospect of an independent Scotland, probably because they stand to hold power for many years if Scotland goes its own way. And although Eton Rifle(18) and PM-in-waiting David Cameron has also stated he will do “everything in his power” to preserve the Union, personal ambition has a lot to do with his stance. “I want to be PM of the whole UK!” he announced recently, sounding more like a spoilt child stamping his feet in the toy department of Harrods than a statesman.(19) I suspect Cameron’s sentiment is closer to that of middle England than Brown’s cornered rat snarl. You get the sense that Cameron will do anything as long as it’s legal, whereas Brown will simply do anything. You can see Cameron’s point too, or at least his thinking. How could Little Britain continue to tell others how to run their affairs? And what about her status on the international stage, and her seat at the UN Security Council?(20)

So much for the politicians, but what about Whitehall? Just how far would the state machinery go to save UK Inc? You can bet your soon-to-bottom dollar that the Whitehall minions know exactly where they stand should Scotland go her own way, and though I would be surprised if they stand back and let it happen, I would, however, be astonished if force is used to keep her. Yes, it would secure what is left of the oil reserves for London, but as a strategy it would be too stupid and too obvious for words, laying the foundations for a British civil war that would take generations to put out. England, land of cricket, fair play and twitching curtains, doing the dirty on her former partner in Empire, with the world watching on? I just can’t see it happening.

No, the most likely outcome is that the unelected faceless monolith of the Whitehall civil service and the UK security services will continue to work the old ways, using every underhand clandestine trick in the book, carefully deployed over time to sap the Scottish will for independence. Whitehall was certainly complicit when the true extent of Scottish oil revenues was suppressed in 1975 to avoid stoking the nationalist fires.(21)

Frustrating Scottish independence would also appear to be within the remit of MI5’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure.(22) MI5 is known to have infiltrated the SNP in the 1950s(23), and has played a active part in the fostering of independence movements in the Orkneys and Shetlands since the 1970s, however unsuccessfully.(24) The political infiltration and interference will no doubt continue, but I seriously doubt there will be a return to the heavy-handed tactics of the 1980s and the assassination of a key Scottish nationalist by Special Branch(25):

On the other hand, given that the British government has done its best to deny it ever happened, and the fact that the agents are probably still on the payroll, anything is possible.

The bottom line is that Whitehall will have its hands full over the next few years, with or without Scottish independence. Even if it manages to remain intact politically, Britain is about to endure a barrage of economic woes: depression, hyper-inflation(26) and the collapse of sterling(27) are widely predicted. And should Scotland become independent – even if hyperinflation could be avoided and sterling saved – the rump state of Britain would be an impoverished shadow of its former self, stripped of any means to repay the truly gigantic national debt that has been accrued.(28)

Or would it? Perhaps the mandarins of Whitehall have already seen the writing on the wall. They would seem to be planning for every eventuality: in the event the Scots do break free, the Scotland-England sea border has been surreptitiously relocated north, moving many formerly Scottish oil and gas fields into English waters.(29)

Sir Humphrey likes to hedge his bets, you have to give him that.


(1) David Smith, ‘Is Gordon Brown's Britain a basket case?,’ TimesOnline, Feb 1, 2009,

(2) Investment guru Jim Rogers predicts a dramatic fall in sterling and dark times ahead for the UK.

(3) The historian Norman Davies said in 1999, ‘I happen to belong to a minority who hold that the breakup of the United Kingdom may be imminent.’ See Davies, The Isles, Oxford, 1999, p1053

See also Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain: crisis and neonationalism, London, 1977

(4) Movements for English independence: gives an overview, while and present the English organisations involved.

(5) Currently scheduled for late 2010. Should either Holyrood opposition parties or Westminster either sabotage it or prevent it from taking place, a free and fair referendum will become the central issue in the Scottish election the following year. See

(6) Welsh independence does not seem as popular as the the English and Scottish varieties.$366564.htm

(7) English votes for English laws’: See Alan Cochrane, ‘Devolution gives English votes for English laws’, Daily Telegraph, Dec 13, 2008

David Cameron has only recently demanded this as a means of keeping Britain intact. See Torcuil Crichton, “English votes for English laws would ‘damage union’,” Herald, August 9, 2008,

(8) Even left wing intellectuals have recognised the case for an English parliament as a democratic necessity. George Monbiot, ‘Someone Else’s England,’ Guardian, Feb 2, 2009.

(9) For example, see ‘No More Great Britain: a blueprint for a federal UK,’ on the excellent blog A National Conversation for England,

(10) Patrick Wintour, “Brown: Remembrance Sunday should become ‘British Day’”, Guardian, January 14, 2006,

(11) The Daily Express is a good example, stirring up discontent in middle England. See Jimmy Young, ‘Cameron Must Rally England in Revolt Against Scottish Perks,’ Daily Express, Aug 12, 2007.

Those in power have not been shy in pandering to this sentiment. See Gerri Peev, ‘London “Subsidising Scots Lifestyle”, says Livingstone,’ Scotsman, June 7 2006,

(12) For example, Dominic Lawson’s intolerant rant: ‘A Sorry Tale of Scottish Shame – and English Tolerance,’ Independent, Feb 17, 2009,

(13) The figures at depend on whether you consider the oil to be Scotland’s. But as Ken Livingstone, former Lord Mayor of London, has said, “It’s most probably true that Scotland subsidises the rest of Britain if you take into account a classic international law interpretation of who the oil belongs to.” Quoted from Magnus Linklater, ‘Before you start laying into those subsidy junkies . . .: Defending the Scots against English bile,’ TimesOnline, June 27, 2007

(14) ‘Strike to Close Key Oil Pipeline,’ BBC, April 25, 2008,

(15) Patrick Hennessy, ‘Brown Won’t Let Union Split,’ Daily Telegraph, May 10, 2008,'t-let-England-and-Scotland-split.html

(16) Jill Sherman, “Massive voting reform needed to block fraud loopholes”, TimesOnline, August 17, 2008.

A public enquiry has also been launched into the disappearance of the Glenrothes electoral register, which would have shown who actually voted in the by-election of Nov 08.
See Robbie Dinwoodie, ‘Demand for enquiry as Glenrothes by-election register is lost,’ Herald, Feb 4, 2009.

(17) Peter Facey, ‘Electoral Reform after the Review: where now?’, Jan 25, 2008

(18) A youth military cadet group at the famous school. Cameron was a member of this group at Eton, and even likes the song by the Jam, much to the disbelief of Paul Weller.

(19) David Cameron, “I Would Govern Scots With Respect,’ Scotland on Sunday, Feb 8, 2009,

(20) Jack Straw, govt MP: ‘Our voting power in the European Union would diminish. We'd slip down in the world league GDP tables. Our case for staying in the G8 would diminish and there could easily be an assault on our permanent seat in the UN Security Council.’
Quoted from ‘Jack Straw Q & A,’ BBC Question Time, Sept 28, 2006.

(21) Ben Russel & Paul Kelbie, ‘How black gold was hijacked: North sea oil and the betrayal of Scotland,’ Independent, Dec 9, 2005.

(22) MI5’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has the authority to ‘protect national security by helping to reduce the vulnerability of the national infrastructure to terrorism and other threats’ (my emphasis). The nature of these ‘other threats’ is not stated.

(23) See Marc Horne, ‘Files prove that MI5 spied on SNP’, Scotland On Sunday, September 16, 2007.

(24) Magnus Linklater & George Rosie, 'Secret Plan to Deprive Independent Scotland of North Sea Oil Fields,' TimesOnline, Feb 14, 2009,

(25) The suspicious circumstances surrounding the murder even reached pro-Labour govt tabloid Daily Record, probably as a swing at Margaret Thatcher:
Reg Mckay, ‘The McRae Mystery,’ Daily Record, Oct 19, 2007.

(26) Heather Stewart, ‘Bank of England governor paves way for “quantitative easing”’ Guardian, January 20, 2009. Various market forecasters have predicted this will end in hyperinflation. For example:

(27) Graham Tibbetts, “Gordon Brown risks 'collapse of sterling' says George Osborne”, Daily Telegraph, Nov 15, 2008,

(28) Ashley Seager and Nicholas Watt, ‘Bailouts add £1.5 trillion to Britain's public debt,’ Guardian, Feb 20, 2009,

(29) In 1999, several hundred square miles of Scottish territorial waters were quietly moved into English jurisdiction by a private Westminster committee vote. No vote was taken in the house.


Anonymous said...

An Excellent ppst sir

OutLander said...

Why, thank you, Sir.

scunnert said...

With the disappearance of the Glenrothes electoral register I became convinced that the election was stolen through fraudulent postal votes. As long as Westminster controls Scottish elections the danger of fraud will be ever present.

I am at a loss, however, to explain the near hysteria of Broon and co regarding Scottish independence. Broon, who is so keen to save "Britain", is the same man who signed the Lisbon treaty which will see the UK subsumed into a greater Europe losing its legal status as a nation state.

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote this article is more than just a litle bit thick.

"English demands for change are of course being whipped up by elements of her right wing press--"
The Guardian is probably the leading major newspaper to discuss and provide increasing support for English self rule.

Additionally, Thickness appears to be entirely unaware that it is in England, not Scotland, where support for Scottish and therefore English, independence, is strongest by far.

And another point "should Scotland become independent" implies the end of the union.
ie no more union .
The Union is the union of England and Scotland and if one "leaves" ie ends the Union then the other cannot still be in union with the one which has left but is also independent.

Think "divorce" and you will get the nub of it.

OutLander said...

Indeed. Although as yet there's no hard proof of electoral fraud, the stench is becoming overwhelming.

We need to ask the legal question 'cui bono?', ie, to whose benefit all the anomalies of the Glenrothes result are:

- who supervises Scottish elections?
- in whose favour was the postal vote aberration?
- who gained when the marked up register went missing?

I think we need to consider bringing in the UN to supervise the next one.

OutLander said...

Re: anonymous

Greetings, Nameless One.

Read again the words of mine you used. I didn't claim the right wing press had exclusivity. They are simply the ones doing the rabble-rousing. The Guardian's approach is that there is a deficit of democracy, as Monbiot's recent paper argued. They're not whipping up their readers into a frenzy like the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun, etc.

Yes, I've seen several surveys about the English desire for Scottish independence. The point of the post is that the movements for English and Scottish independence are on the same side, and should work together. The tug-o'-war analogy was to imply that English and Scottish movements are strong, while Wales is lagging.

Finally, yes, when Scotland leaves the Union it will effectively be over. Scottish nationalists have been arguing this for years, while Englishmen only seem to have got this recently. The problem is that Wales and N Ireland will still be in it. Do you honestly believe that the rump state will not continue to call itself the UK of GB and NI as a face-saving exercise?