by Dave Taylor
For years, we have been asking Unionists to spell out their arguments for the Union. Now we have seen them laid out.
Do they stand up, or are they laid low? Let’s have a look at the claims made on the “One Dynamic Nation” website.
- The Union has been one of the greatest political success stories of modern European history. It has helped to provide us with a degree of political stability in the United Kingdom that is virtually unparalleled anywhere else in Europe over the past 300 years.
- Thanks to the Union the English language is possibly the greatest export that Britain has ever produced.
- In the 18th century, the Union helped create the sense of possibility that inspired the Scottish Enlightenment. In the 19th century, the Union brought unparalleled prosperity to both our countries in what was Europe’s first common market between Scotland and England. In the 20th century, we confronted side by side totalitarian regimes that were the scourge of mainland Europe.
Interestingly, their “history” stops in the 1940s. This was also the “end of Empire”. They aren’t arguing that “union with England” brought about advantages. They are arguing that it was “union with the British Empire”.
It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that Scotland did get economic advantage from the Empire. That was why the Glasgow merchants were so keen on the Union. They made fortunes from the slave trade and tobacco.
Historians of Scotland (until fairly recently) sanitised much of our involvement in the nasty side of Empire. Even the Wiki article on the Tobacco Lords pretends that “Later, a third leg on the transatlantic trade was added by English merchant[s] carrying slaves from West Africa.” The slave ship Neptune that arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, on May 22 1731, after leaving Port Glasgow months earlier, carried 144 enslaved Africans, half of whom were children. When they arrived they were “polished” – meaning a layer of skin was removed with fierce scrubbing – and a wadding rammed up the rectum of those who had dysentery, and then put up for sale.
Slavery and drug-dealing. That was the side of Scotland encouraged by the Union – not the Enlightenment which stemmed from the strength of Scottish education, and a move to a more moderate attitude to religion in the 18th century.
The attempts to hide the unpalatable bits of our “union with the British Empire” are grist to the mill for Unionists. They like to portray the “union” as if it had no warts.
The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the Decline and Fall of European Empire.
The global spread of English as a second language coincides with the end of Empire. The spread of English has a lot more to do with the economic and military clout of the USA. When the British Empire was at the height of its power and glory, the global language with the greatest prestige and spread as a second language was French not English. Almost no one used English as a second language.
By the 1890s, the USA had already overtaken the GDP of the UK. The British Empire’s GDP continued to exceed that of the USA until 1948, when India became independent. Again, it was the “union with the British Empire” that was successful not “union with England”.
So, it’s not surprising that the Unionists prefer not to examine the history of the UK since the mid 20th century. Limited to a minimal union with parts of these islands, Scotland entered a period of accelerated decline. North Sea oil has made Scotland the 3rd largest wealth creating part of the UK, but its benefits have not been returned to us.