May 01, 2007

Act of Union

One cannot let this date go by without a mention. On this day, 300 years ago, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united to create the one Kingdom of Great Britain.

Article I of the Treaty (or Act) of Union, 1707 says:

That the two kingdoms of Scotland and England shall, upon the Ist day of May next ensuing the date hereof, and for ever after, be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain, and that the ensigns armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as Her Majesty shall appoint, and the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George be conjoined in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit,and used in all flags, banners, standards and ensigns, both at sea and land.

Article III, the most important in many ways, has, very sadly, been undermined some time ago.

That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same Parliament, to be styled the Parliament of Great Britain.

Indeed, the whole treaty may well be abrogated in the next few month. At least that is what the SNP is saying in its election manifesto but there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip, particularly when these include hefty amounts of money being transferred from England to Scotland.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at May 1, 2007 08:30 AM

many a slip

Let's hope.

Posted by: Jonathan at May 1, 2007 09:47 AM

Another important anniversary is this month. May 14, 2007 will be the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's settlement. Jamestown, Virginia is the oldest English settlement in the United States.

Posted by: Ætheling at May 1, 2007 03:14 PM

I would be remarkably surprised if it happens "within the next few months". The large vote-share for the SNP is predicated on the feebleness of the main UK-wide parties in their opposition to Labour in Scotland. It's a protest vote which therefore has to go to a party which is in a fit state to protest. Many Scots will vote for the SNP to give Labour a bloody nose and then vote against independence in the promised referendum. The opinion polls show beyond a shadow of doubt that this is true. Even the much vaunted EU connection - conjured up by the SNP as a sleight-of-hand to pretend to Scotland that little would change under independence - is hardly more popular in Scotland than England: polls invariably demonstrate a difference of less than 2% between Scottish and English attitudes towards Europe.

But I would like to raise the point of the alleged wealth-transfer from England to Scotland: this idea that Scotland is a burden on English taxpayers. The idea that Scotland 'costs' England £10 billion per annum (or whatever it is) through the Barnett Formula is totally absurd. What Scotland contributes in terms of her young people, her talent, her disproportionate contribution to the armed forces, her beautiful towns and countryside is worth a good deal more than 10 billion quid to England. Similarly, this small subsidy is negligible in value to Scotland when compared with the priceless benefits of sharing our island on an equal basis with the southern neighbour: let us suppose, hypothetically of course, that the subsidy were to continue after independence - Scotland would still be worse off without the Union dividend.

As for the idea that Scotland is over-represented at Westminster as well as having a vote on English matters which England does not have on Scottish ones, it must be admitted that both of these things are true. But why can we not accept that this is a perfectly reasonable, if rough-and-ready, means of compensating a little for the overwhelming preponderence of England within the UK? As 85% of the UK population and about 90% of the UK economy, any decision which affects England directly impacts on Scotland precisely because of the Treaty of Union - so why not let Scottish voices be heard in these 'English' debates?

Similarly, the argument that we might have a Labour or Lib-Lab government courtesy of Scottish votes, against the explicit wishes of Tory England, well, how on Earth is one to imagine that the Scots have felt under Tory governments for which hardly any of them have voted? Why is it acceptable for that to happen to the Scots but not to the English? It is the price we pay for the Union. The boundaries of the democratic nation state are set by the area in which we feel that the inhabitants have enough in common with us for us to feel comfortable in sharing with them the choice of government.

If we do not feel that way about Scotland then it's time for the Union to go. But I suspect that most of us Sassenachs don't feel that Scottish political behaviour is too foreign for us to share a representative government with them, so the Union stands.

One might as well say that England itself is unfit to exist as a single polity given the almost absolute cleavage between the solidly-blue south and the solidly-red north. Looking at a map of British parliamentary constituencies and local councils coloured according to the controlling party, one might easily conclude that the people south and north of the Bristol-Wash line are separarte ethno-religious groups, given that a strategically shaved gorilla could win in, say, Northumbria provided that it wore a red rosette, and my old Chesterfield armchair could win in Buckinghamshire if it wore a blue one.

No, the true schism between types of political behaviour is not at the line between England and Scotland but at the equally imaginary line between the south and east of BRITAIN and the rest of the United Kingdom. If anything, this is further proof that Scotland is in fact part of a pan-British political discourse which defines itself in opposition to power and wealth centres in London and the South East.

Indeed, I would go so far as to put my neck out and say that this is really the cleavage between 18th and 19th century Britain. There is much in the South which, as in America, is of a rather austere, Augustan cadence which stresses individualism and property and all the rest of it, and is concentrated in those parts of Britain which dominated the proto-industrial political discourse of Georgian Britain: Bristol, Bath, London and so on. Conversely, Scotland and the North are a creation of the 19th century, with their red-brick terraces and their non-conformist concern for the welfare and dignity of the poor which is the central pillar of their political edifice and which is the direct antecedent of British socialism, which really just latched on to the vocabulary of Marx and Engels as a means for promoting the ideals of collective charity and social responsibility of Rowntree and Plimsoll all that mob.

I could be wrong though. Wouldn't be the first or last time...

Posted by: Ed at May 2, 2007 07:27 AM


"What Scotland contributes ... is worth a good deal more than 10 billion quid to England"

No, it isn't.

Your arguments against English devolution apply just as equally to Scottish devolution.

"how on Earth is one to imagine that the Scots have felt under Tory governments for which hardly any of them have voted?"

- why do you think they got devolution? And if devolution is OK for Scotland, why should it be denied to England?

"the almost absolute cleavage between the solidly-blue south and the solidly-red north"

- take another look at that map. Try looking at rural areas in the north, and urban areas in the south.

"a strategically shaved gorilla could win in, say, Northumbria provided that it wore a red rosette" - or Hull.

(Funnily enough, the biggest single concentration of BMWs, Porsches etc I've seen in one place outside a car dealer's was in the car park of a pub a few miles outside of Hull.)

"my old Chesterfield armchair could win in Buckinghamshire" - there's got to be an Ian Gilmour joke in there somewhere...

"the cleavage between 18th and 19th century Britain" - way oversimplified, I think. The growth in the importance (and size) of London mostly took place in the 20th century. On the other hand, the areas of the country that most consistently vote Conservative (ie mostly to the south and east of the Humber) correspond quite closely to the areas which supported parliament during the Civil War (17th century).

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 2, 2007 08:01 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, Simon. I don't think that we entirely disagree, but let me address a couple of your objections in something like the order in which you put them...

Firstly, I would be more circumspect than to say merely “no it isn’t” to the suggestion that the Union is responsible for a boost to England’s economy that amounts to more than ten billion pounds. I admit that I don’t have any figures, but I find it hard to believe that the Union is not worth such a relatively small sum – based on a GDP of USD $2 trillion, it’s only 1%. Surely the costs of having to fish out the old passport at Berwick would alone cost the English economy more than that.

My arguments against English devolution do indeed apply to Scotland as well as to a hypothetical English parliament. Hence, in fact, my opposition to both. I do not think that devolution is okay for Scotland and not for England. I just think that tit-for-tat constitutional tinkering would be a cure worse than the disease. The Midlothian Question calls into doubt the central principal of representative government, i.e., the community of interest binding MPs to constituents, by which a representative can not pass laws over those whom he represents without also being subject to that same law and thus can not be a despot without harming himself or herself. So far, I’m with you. My point is merely that, in practice, the problem can be fudged simply because Scotland’s noise drastically overstates its weight in the Union. Less than 10% of the population can not hold the rest of the country to ransom, and so the Union can be saved for the time-being by a little English magnanimity. We can, therefore, with open eyes and by a free choice, accept what is in practice a small injustice in order not to escalate the argument until we have dumped the EU and turned back to the Commonwealth and the United States and thereby begun to reassert the concept of nationhood as a community of culture as opposed to a geographical community of economic interests like the EU.

As for my point about the cleavage between south eastern Britain and northern and western Britain, of course there are patches of Torydom up north and beleaguered socialist outposts in the South. Obviously, though, these are the exceptions. And in any case, my argument was that the Tory vote does not tail off at Scots border, but much further south. So it’s a blurred line and not a kind of political Hadrian’s wall, but I hardly think that that negates what I was saying. Take a look at this link, which is not by constituency but by council, with half-shades for hung councils, which I think shows better the gradual but highly visible distribution of political attitudes across the UK:

The Scots border just isn’t an obvious line of change, but the line from Birmingham to the Humber really is.

Finally, I agree that the 18th/19th century paradigm is too simplistic, but it’s supposed to be. I was just making the argument that the Anglosphere can be subdivided into two parts: one whose political behaviour is recognisably Augustan and Georgian, and another whose political behaviour is recognisably Byzantine and Victorian. The US falls into the former category, Canada, Austalia and NZ into the latter. In Britain, however, there are elements of both types, and I think it is clear that the most Victorian, in terms political thought forged in industrial revolution, is in the North for obvious historical reasons; and the most Georgian, in terms of political thought forged in Kevin Phillips’ “Century of Revolutions” from the 1640s to 1770s, is London and the South East, also for obvious historical reasons. You said yourself that modern conservative Britain has similar boundaries to Cromwell’s heartlands, which would be a remarkable coincidence if southern and eastern political behaviour were not predicated on pre-industrial British history rather than the industrial and post-industrial history which dominates northern and western political behaviour.

As for London and the 20th century, I would make the point that the adjustment in population and power towards London in our own age is in fact a re-adjustment. After the National Grid was switched on in the ‘20s, industry no longer had to be situated near the coal fields as energy could be delivered across long distances. This reversed the trend which started in the late 18th century to draw population north and west, before which London had a higher proportion of the population than it was to have again until the 1930s. It has been estimated that by 1750 one sixth of the British population lived either all or part of their lives in London, which was certainly not true by 1850. Even now it’s only about 12-14%. I daresay you’ve read it, but if not I can really recommend M Dorothy George’s “London Life in the 18th Century”, which is very informative.

Mind you, I’m a patriotic Londoner so you can probably ignore me…

Posted by: Ed at May 2, 2007 04:31 PM

Jim Bennett:

Hope you received my column in tact. Glad to see Albion's Seedlings up and at 'em.

Matt Bondy

Posted by: Matt Bondy at May 2, 2007 08:25 PM

Hmmm - I'm having trouble posting due to allegedly questionable content. So here goes, in small pieces.

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 06:58 AM

Hi Ed,

My "No, it isn't" was at least semi-facetious. Your statement that "What Scotland contributes ... is worth a good deal more than 10 billion quid to England" was such a bald statement of opinion without supporting evidence that I decided to reply in kind. As far as fishing out passports each time we get to Berwick - this wouldn't necessarily happen if Scotland achieved independance; as I understand it, there are no passport checks on either side of the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland borders.

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 06:58 AM

I largely agree with you on the issue of devolution. However, asymmetrical devolution (as we currentlty experience) is fundamentally iniquitous and utterly unsustainable. Devolution should be for all or none.

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 06:59 AM

Less than 10% of the population can hold the rest of the country to ransom. Even if it couldn't, should we show such magnanimity to people who hate us so much?

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 07:00 AM

On a side note, is Scotland even a member of the Anglosphere? I seem to recall that James Bennett's criteria for membership were the English C0mmon Law, the English language and relatively (classically) liberal economics.

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 07:01 AM

(It appears that the content verification system doesn't allow references to the English C0mmon law - rather a problem on a specifically Anglosphere blog!)

On the geographical distribution of votes, I think your map supports my point better than yours. (Incidentally, although you said it was "not by constituency but by council", the map I am seeing is of parliamentary constituencies, not councils.) Ignoring the big conurbations, the Tories have constituencies running right up to the Scottish border (and not just isolated ones).
Meanwhile, London is its usual pick'n'mix self.

On the other hand, Scotland doesn't appear to have any Tory seats at all.

It seems to me that much of Oz and NZ's were formed during the 20th Century. Meanwhile, the USA has at least some of the same 17th Century cleavage as England, where the Southern US states were Royalist and the North was parliamentarian.

Thanks for the book recommendation - I haven't read "London Life in the 18th Century", but I'll look out for it.

By the way, as one patriotic Londoner to another - why the Isle of Man telco e-mail address?

Posted by: Simon Jester at May 3, 2007 07:03 AM

Simon -

Again in some semblance of order:

My comment about passports at Berwick was at least as facetious as yours dismissing the Union dividend… All I mean to say is that it simply and inevitably costs more to do business across a political frontier, with all the associated economic legislation, than where no such frontier exists. The EU, as the SNP always points out, will tend to minimise this effect, but would an independent England stay in the EU? I heartily hope not…

As for assymetrical devolution, I think that I was more in agreement than not on its iniquities. I just do not think that this is a propitious time to respond in kind with devolution for England. I would instead counsel patience, put up with the unfairness for a while, and return to the issue in a few years when circumstances offer us a way out which does not involve precipitating disunion.

I don't think that the Scots hate us. I admit that in international sports matches the English will cheer on Scotland against whomever their team is playing against, whereas the Scots will cheer on whoever is playing against England; but I hardly think this is a sound basis for infering widespread hatred. After all, the same is true of the Australians. An Australian once explained to me his impish glee at a cricketing victory over England by saying that it was like beating your uncle. It's just a kind of chip-on-the-shoulder reaction of small nations towards large ones, which I happen to find rather juvenile but hardly sinister.

I would also suggest that without Scotland there would be no Anglosphere. No Canada, certainly; no Raj and hence no India in the modern sense of a democratic republic; no New Ulster in America, to borrow from Hackett Fischer; none of those railways and steamships and telegraphs which were the information super-highway of their period. I wouldn't go as far as to say, as I heard one chippy Scot once assert, that the British Empire should really be called the Scottish Empire; but it is certainly true that the Scots, i.e. less than 10% of Brits, contributed between a quarter and a half of our Empire Builders, from the up-country trappers of the Hudson's Bay Company like McLoughlin, the early Nabobs of Bengal like Kirkpatrick, to the explorers of the African hinterland like Livingstone.

Geographical distribution of votes: the interesting part is not where the trend ends, but where it begins. That is where the change lies. The northward shift from rightist dominance to leftist dominance is complete by the time you get to Scotland, but the fundamental point - and you will not convince me otherwise, I'm afraid! - is that it begins much further South. And I think that you have to click various options on the link to bring up the council-by-council version.

As for the e-mail address, I'm currently an exile on the Isle of Man. I go where the Stoney-Hearted Stepmother (Merrill Lynch, in my case) sends me, and offshore wealth structing is where the action is, these days. It's the great moral crusade of our times: putting our hard-earned cash out of reach of the bloated state apparatus of western governments!

Posted by: Ed at May 3, 2007 10:28 AM

Just a quick response to Simon Jester from a Scot. As a Scot I am proud to be British & as a direct result think of the English as brothers over the border.

There may be a few silly people who have once watched Braveheart & gather their opinions from there but 90% of Scots would disagree with these silly notions.

Someone also made a comment about it being a sport thing. This I could agree with 100% & is entirely down to the fact that English media hype up England in EVERY sport. Our wanting to see England loose in this part is purely for the comedy value.


Posted by: Snowman at June 7, 2007 04:39 AM

Yes, sport. Well the hype is mostly around football but I agree there is altogether too much of it in the English media with all sorts of people who know nothing about sport pontificating. What is noticeable about British teams is that the people in three of the four parts of the Union tend to support each other's unless their own teams are playing. The exception is the Scots in that they will support quite literally anyone against England. I, too, blame Braveheart. It may be a joke but it is a very tedious one and it is turning a lot of the English against the Scots and, therefore, against the Union. Silly, really.

Posted by: Helen Szamuely at June 7, 2007 02:30 PM
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