It seems to be an accepted conventional wisdom among politicians that, as Bill Clinton said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was the assumption of the most recent Republican presidential campaign in the United States and it continues to be the assumption of the parties in my country. It is also clearly the assumption of Better Together, their prime campaign focus having been, perhaps until very recently, the economy and the negative consequences of leaving.
The trouble is that the question that the Scottish people will be answering this Thursday is not fundamentally an economic or utilitarian one, but one of identity. If you miss out the history and the culture, then you miss out the most profound and compelling reasons to preserve the Union. It is true that any divorce will have painful consequences for both parties, and if Scotland divorces itself from the rest of the United Kingdom, these consequences will be symptoms of the destruction of such a closely intertwined and connected partnership.
We should remember how rare it is for a union of different peoples, especially one which at the start was not entirely consensual, to be as successful as this one has been, as described by Daniel Hannan in this excellent blog post. Together, despite some major blots in our history, we have won two world wars, exported the values of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law throughout the world and, incidentally, remained the sixth-largest economy on earth, despite the hardship many of us are experiencing at the moment. Why throw away a union this strong and this valuable?
Why should we be proud to be British? Because no country has made such a contribution to the happiness of mankind. The idea of constitutional liberty, of freedom under the law guaranteed by parliamentary representation, is a British invention…
The relationship between Scotland and England is rather like that between Boswell and Johnson: under the teasing, there is affection based on a shared outlook. We share our vices and our virtues: we are stubborn, brave, morose, drunken, stoical, loyal, taciturn, sceptical, slow to anger but resolute when roused. We are laconic where others are panicky…
The Union brings out the best in its component nations: tolerance, fair-play, indignation at injustice, love of freedom, respect for the law, calm in the face of misfortune.
Like every nation, we’ve had our shabbier moments, our failures, our hypocrisies. But, taking the bad along with the good, we can be as proud as any people on Earth. Do we really plan to toss it all away?
Please also take a look at this website, in which my American Britophile friend conducts interviews with unionists from across the spectrum.