In the midst of all the other excitement going on these days (especially the demise of Osama bin Laden, which cheers 9/11 victims but doesn’t get us any closer to the end of the war on Islamic careerism) we have some voting in the UK to consider. Topping the list is the change in the voting system they use, but we also have local elections going on, and their results are mostly known. The Liberal Democrats, now in coalition in Westminster, took a beating at what has been heretofore their home turf (much to Cranmer’s glee) but beyond that the Scottish Nationalist Party made significant gains, which raises the spectre of independence (sort of, I’ll get to that shortly) from England and the end of the UK.
The whole business of a United Kingdom isn’t a given, even less so than a United States. And the causes of division, past and present, within the two are very much related. That division has its roots in the basic nature of Great Britain, which is in simple terms geographically divided into two parts: the English lowlands extending westward from London to the Severn and northward from same to Yorkshire, and everything else, including the North of England, Scotland and Wales. That division was made human by the two series of invasions that took place in the first millennium after Our Lord’s time on the earth: the Roman invasion, which civilised England and Wales but not Scotland, and the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth century, which drove the largely Celtic populations into the rougher parts of Great Britain. That division, in turn, was replicated in our own country: the English predominate in the North and the Celts in the South.
The Celtic parts of the island, as is the case here, were and are the poorer parts. So why would the English be so concerned with conquering them, only to be a drain on the realm? It should be obvious that the English like to conquer things, having been taught the importance of same by William…the Conqueror. But a more cogent reason is strategic. The only land border Roman Britain had was its border with Scotland, one that concerned it to the extent that it built Hadrian’s Wall to contain the horde from the north. This investment paid off; the Scots invaded on a sporadic basis, and the invasion that put paid to post-Roman Britain came from the east, not the north. In more modern times an independent Scotland was always making cause with France, and that alone made it a high priority for the English to deal effectively with. The Union that resulted when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and subsequently solidified by both legislation and more military action, secured England’s rear border (along with their rule over Ireland) and allowed them to face their Continental opponents in a more focused way.
That strategic gain was replicated on these shores during the War Between the States. Lincoln had the option of letting the Confederacy go, which would have immediately raised the per capita income of the United States. But to do so would have left an independent nation to make cause with European powers such as the UK and France and trapped what was left of the Republic between British Canada and a Celtic Confederacy. (The French were already making trouble in Mexico with Maximilian, and the Union victory was that unhappy emperor’s death sentence at the hands of Benito Juarez.) Like his English counterparts vis à vis Scotland, Lincoln evidently felt that the long-term security of the United States lied in its control of the Southern states, and that’s an important consideration that has gotten lost in all of the back and forth concerning slavery. (The Russians weren’t so fortunate in their loss of the Ukraine.)
In any case, in our current situation it’s unlikely that Scottish hordes (except those which follow football matches) would be invading England from an independent Scotland. It’s equally unlikely that Scotland would achieve full independence, as it would simply join the EU. And all of the Celtic parts of the UK–Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland–are the poorest parts of the Union, which follows historical experience but is also in part the product of the typical European trend to centralise wealth and power in the capital. So why not just give them the boot and be done with it?
There’s obviously a good deal of sentimental feeling towards the Union that this the UK just as there is in the US, given the long-term success that both unions have achieved. But an independent (or more accurately separated) Scotland would be one more voice to once again gang up on England in places like Bruxelles and Strasbourg. It would also be one more place for European financial powers to control via debt, as the Irish have found out the hard way. And the experience of the Irish is instructive; the Irish fought long and hard for their independence, only to give it away in the financial crash.
But it’s probably time for the Scots to make up their mind one way or another whether they’re better off in the UK or not. The Celts have always had independence as their battle cry, but making it work is another story altogether. The English just might come out ahead for the bargain, but this is one of those great “what-if’s” of history that just might get played out in our lifetime.