By Alex Robertson
The Christian Bible, and plain old experience, teaches us that you cannot serve two masters, at least not with equal conviction or commitment.
And watching the MPs on the Westminster Committee on Scottish Affairs, I was struck by those of them sitting for Scottish constituencies, especially the chairman, Ian Davidson.
Questioning ministers from the MoD and focusing on the questions around a Scottish Defence Force and its relations to what would be left of the UK military, I was struck by, among other things, the MPs use of ‘we’ and ‘our’ when referring to the remnant of the military edifice after Scottish independence.
Since when did these MPs loyalty slide so far south?
Of course, it highlighted the dilemma facing all those who have thrown their lot in with Scotland staying within the UK Union. It is their raison d’être, in spades. And in that committee room it was clear where their loyalties lay, which master they served above all.
Their careers, their income, their little bit of fame and fortune, all were bet on Scotland staying within the Union. Clear then where their interests lay. But what of the interests of their constituents?
That led me on to think of the degree of commitment these MPs have to propping up the Union, almost no matter what. Well, their jobs, their egos, and their careers for a start. And there is no parallel on the other side of the argument.
MSPs have no real similar added importance if Scotland does gain its independence. They are already MSPs, and only the MPs would lose their jobs and kudos. But having started down this trail, the thought struck that perhaps there was at work some other factor which has not really been picked up on yet.
It may be that there are conviction Unionists, people who feel in their water that a Scotland outside the current Union is somehow unthinkable, utterly wrong, to be resisted to the ultimate degree, to the last man, to the last ditch.
Our generation has seen such feelings at work across Europe, from Northern Ireland to the Balkans in its extreme form, but prevalent too in resistance to even consideration of a sovereign Catalonia, Basque country, North Italy, Bavaria, or Flanders in Belgium to name only the obvious ones.
The nineteenth century gave flower, but not birth, to the idea of the state subordinating nations, and the need of states to have expansionist aspirations in terms of territory, peoples and cultural domination. In the 20th century these reached their zenith in two world wars and a cold war.
Belgium was formed in the early 19th century under the motto of “L’Union fait la Force” – Union makes strength. Yet anyone looking at the evolution of history sees that kind of thinking led to unimaginable devastation, misery and horror. I am old enough to remember Willy Brandt preaching the doctrine of “two states, one nation” in reference to East and West Germany.
That didn’t last, but anyone who really knows the two parts of Germany, from Wismar to Konstanz knows that two nations are still there today in the one state. The whole “mittel-europa” is a patchwork of nations and states forged and foundered in war, and both the break-up of the former USSR into nation states, and the more violent history of the Balkans’ quest to undo ‘unnatural unions’ should remind us that sovereignty struggles always encounter entrenched fundamentalist forces who wish to retain the status quo.
I am coming to believe that the struggle for Scottish independence is encountering deep-seated fundamentalist resistance, from those with vested interests and sentimental adherence to a time of very long ago. All the appeals and reasoned dialectic to find a collaborative way to focus and build a new homeland for the Scots will fall on deaf ears when it comes to those fundamental reactionary forces.
It can come as no surprise when these forces are found in a party with the concept embodied in its name – the Conservative and Unionists. But eyebrows must surely be raised when it comes to the Liberals, the party which championed home rule in the very teeth of imperialism. Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George, where are you now?
And then there is the Labour Party. How far has it strayed from the ideals which inspired and sustained Keir Hardie and the Clydesiders? A Scottish Party which got lost in the labrynths of Westminster politics and their quest to find enough votes in an instinctively Conservative country to form a Labour government, when all along their ability to dominate Scottish political life has been allowed to bleed away.
The struggle to persuade and win over those of independent mind, by tradition and culture adherents to one of the once great Unionist parties, will have to face head-on the reactionary Unionism of people like Ian Davidson and by talking directly to the needs and aspirations of their erstwhile loyal adherents, split them apart.
Thus, leaving the fundamentalist and reactionary forces to spin off on their own, relieved of their hold over Scots who put Scotland above all their political loyalties and are excited about building a new homeland the way they want it to be.
Until the hold of the reactionary fundamental Unionists is broken, it will make the kind of collaborative partnerships of the new kind of politics, where we look for the ways to work together, to contribute our own special contribution and help achieve a common objective, very difficult indeed.