The Union: An aberration? – Part 1

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By Molly Pollock

Little in the world ever remains the same

Why do independent nations join together to form larger, more powerful countries? Presumably mainly for power and to exercise that power over others that are smaller and weaker. Over the centuries, often due to wars, the map of Europe has been redrawn and recoloured numerous times.

Europe during the 14th century – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/Public_Schools_Historical_Atlas_-_Europe_14th_century.jpg

This video of Europe over the last 1000 years gives an even better impression of how boundaries are never permannt but often change over time due to events, mainly, though not always, wars and the result of wars.

In Scotland’s case a union was forced upon it by the machinations of our neighbouring country. Read the history.

The Union of the Crowns and the Union of England/Wales and Scotland are in the past, but that does not mean they are set in stone forever, that they shouldn’t be changed. When something isn’t working why continue? Two individual countries once joined can, with some sense and goodwill, be unjoined but still remain closely connected, collaborating and on the friendliest of terms. That doesn’t mean to say they won’t have a wee dig at one another occasionally. We’re all human.

Companies which amalgamate don’t always stay as one. For a number of reasons some decide that going their own way is best for the future of both partners. As with companies so with countries. Empires, countries and borders have changed over the years. Little in this world is permanent. Even continents like the Arctic and Antarctic are rapidly changing due to the climate crisis bringing rising temperatures. So why should the Scotland and England/Wales Union be immune from change? Why should Scotland remain the poor relation of the U.K. government when we are perfectly capable of looking after our own affairs? In 2022, even more so than in 1707, is the UK Union an anomaly, an aberration?

Union – benefits or handcuffs?

For some, and for a time, mainly as part of the British Empire, there were advantages to the Union. Countries were looted, their natural (and human) resources plundered. A number of Scots benefited greatly from that, some of the wealth even going into projects that raised standards at home. We had our share of slavers and tobacco lords, gun runners, opium traders and blockade busters – all of it for money. Many names of our city streets are testiment to that. For most people, though the face of the Union was city slums, clearances off land, poverty, hunger, poor jobs, and low life expectancy. The road most trodden was the road to London and its promise of riches, or at least less poverty.

Tenement courtyard Maryhill 1971 From Flashbak – https://flashbak.com/powerful-photos-of-glasgow-slums-1969-72-54283/

Over 250 years of being in the Union and Scotland’s population has decined significantly as a proportion of the UK population. Whilst the population of England increased almost five-fold between 1801 and 1951, the population of Scotland slightly more than trebled in the same period.

Figures from Scottish Population and Statistics including Webster’s Analysis of Population 1755, pdf downloaded from https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files/research/census-records/websters-census-of-1755-scottish-population-statistics.pdfs
Figures from Scottish Population and Statistics including Webster’s Analysis of Population 1755, pdf downloaded from https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files/research/census-records/websters-census-of-1755-scottish-population-statistics.pdf

With the end of Empire it was Commonwealth countries that attracted many of our best and brightest. The 1970s name ‘ten pound Pom’,referred to people from the UK who migrated to Australia under the Assisted Passage Scheme, a scheme which was run by the Australian Government after the Second World War. Canada too attracted many well eduacated, highly qualified young people.

In 1801 Scotland’s population was 18% of that of England and Wales: in 1952 it had reduced to less than 12%. Today, the ONS estimates for population are in the following table. Scotland’s population is now only 8.1% of the UK total, and with the immigration policy of the UK government and the exodus of people from the EU in the wake if Brexit the figure could drop further.

There can be many reasons for population decline – emigration, age structure of the population, low birth rate, poverty. But a political union working in the best interests of its population should surely see a stable if not an increasing population. Certainly not a decline. A decline indicates that all was not well in the precious Union. That a one size fits all by a controlling UK government doesn’t work. That capital, jobs, money, infrastructure was being sucked to one part of the UK to the detriment of the rest. Scotland’s Union benefits have been mainly enjoyed by those already well off. A look at old photographs of slums, back greens, children in ragged clothes, makes this abundantly clear.

Aberration or not?

My computer dictionary defines aberration as: a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome.

That to me seems to fit with Scotland being forced into a Union a few of its nobles but few of its people actually wanted. Independence is normal, so giving up our independence and becoming a junior partner in the Union was in effect an aberration – a departure from what is normal, one that is unwelcome. Unionists will protest in fury at the use of the word, bristle with red, white and blue indignation, spout drivel about the Union’s broad shoulders and the benefits it has brought. But let’s ask them to enumerate those benefits and detail which ones we wouldn’t have been able to achieve as an independent country.

The move from being ruled by another country to independence had benefitted Norway greatly as a recent article by Believe in Scotland shows.

Too poor

In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, and increasingly again now as we move to council elections and with an independence referendum again on the horizon, Scotland was constantly told it was too poor to go it alone – too wee, too poor, too stupid, we all know the meme. Our main resource – our oil – was running out and would be gone within a few years, and where would we be then? Bankrupt. Impoverished. Many of those who shouted this loudest are weirdly quiet now that oil is over $100 a barrel, and it’s again being regarded as the saviour that will bail out a UK facing fuel hikes and shortages

Despite this, brought about by the uncertainty caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concern over gas supplies, Scotland’s future will not be reliant on oil, though it will be around for some time to come until we can move away from its use in heating and in vehicles and substitutes are found for its use in such things as plastics, clothing, medical supplies and medicines such as antihistamines and cortisone, dyes, toiletries and makeup.

Scotland’s 21st century assets

Scotland’s future will be based on its 21st century assets – renewables (wind, wave power, hydro, tidal, solar). We will have more than enough for our own needs and to export the excess. Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and no one knows how long that will last, other countries are going to be hungry for energy because of the stop on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an $11 billion project controlled by Russia to transport natural gas into Germany.

But Scotland’s assets are not merely in what remains of its oil and gas reserves and in its potential for renewable energy. Once renowned for its manufacturing and engineering, these languished and shrivelled in a Tory drive to build a country based on financial services. Though mainly focussed in London Scotland did have a not insignificant financial services sector.

Manufacturing’s share of national income has fallen from a quarter when Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street in 1979 to just over a tenth today.

Mrs Thatcher’s industrial legacy: Whether the long-term ‘unbalancing’ of Britain’s economy should be a cause for concern – https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/mrs-thatchers-industrial-legacy/

At one time almost a fifth of the world’s steel ships were launched on the River Clyde, with the ‘Clydebuilt’ description standing for quality and reliability, as well as their speed and beauty. Some of the most famous and iconic ships ever built slid down slipways into the river. These days have gone, though Scottish yards still build ships. Scotland’s traditional heavy industries may have declined, unlikely ever to reach the zenith of their heydays, but with a changing world comes a changing focus and changing opportunities where the skills of Scotland’s traditional industries can be built upon to provide opportunities in the modern world.

Manufacturing is important to Scotland’s economy, accounting for more than 169k jobs, over half Scotland’s international exports, and 47% businesses expenditure on research and development. Now, in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution with data, automation and artificial intelligence riding high, the Scottish Government is pushing and supporting a new emphasis on manufacturing with the construction of its National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) Group operated by the University of Strathclyde. This will support manufacturing innovation, supporting businesses to tap into new opportunities and become more competitive.

University of Strathclyde – https://www.strath.ac.uk/research/advancedformingresearchcentre/news/constructionunderwayonflagshipnationalmanufacturinginstitutescotlandfacility/
Artist’s impresssion of National Manufacturing Institute from Paisley Invest

This facility is sited near the new £35 million Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Renfrewshire that is set to develop next-generation pharmaceutical manufacturing processes to drive forward innovation in the medicines supply chain, accelerating access to affordable medicines.

Scotland is at the cutting edge of the industries of the future – Glasgow builds more satellites than anywhere outside of Houston – and our life sciences cluster is one of the biggest in Europe. The growing space sector which has some of the highest space-related activity in Europe focuses upon high-tech, high skill and research and development intensive areas, creating a Scottish space industry turnover of £254 million, with almost one fifth of all UK jobs in the space sector based in Scotland.https://www.youtube.com/embed/vVDeIJk3tR4?start=1&feature=oembed&wmode=opaque

Inward Investment

Scotland remains a prime location for international companies considering foreign investment and expansion amid global challenges. Scotland’s foreign direct investment (FDI) performance outpaces Europe and the rest of the UK. Scotland has reinforced its position as the most attractive location for inward investment in the UK outside of London – a position it has held since 2014 – with a 5.9% increase in FDI projects. While incoming projects across Europe as a whole fell by 13%, and projects into the UK also declined by 12.1%. The growth of FDI in Scotland outpaced the UK and Europe, with Scotland’s share of UK inward investment also growing from 9.1% in 2019 to 11% in 2020.

These are all reasons why Scotland, far from being bankrupt or impoverished, will fare well, look after the wellbeing of those who live here, and be able to play its part in international affairs and in the world.