One of the favourite pastimes of right-wing London commentators during the indyref was to sneer that “Scottish independence is more popular in England than it is in Scotland”. The implication being that the issue was only being promoted in Scotland by a small minority of hotheads, and that sensible Scots felt that the cost of independence would be too high. By contrast, the long-suffering taxpayers of England would be only too happy to dispense with the “subsidy to Scotland” – if only that choice was open to them.
Well, that wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. A full 45% of the Scottish electorate voted for independence in September 2014, while polling evidence suggested that only around 20-25% of the rest of the UK wanted to see Scotland go. A cynic might suggest that’s because people on both sides of the border see through the propaganda and understand that the “subsidy” has actually flowed in the opposite direction over the last few decades. Somebody even more cynical might suppose that the self-interest south of the border runs even deeper than that. As with the seemingly irrational attachment to nuclear weapons, the underlying fear may be that the UK’s prestige and influence will wane if it loses one-third of its landmass and one-tenth of its population.
But let’s leave cynicism to one side for a moment. The point that is unarguable here is that the “sling your hook, Jock” tendency in England is very much confined to a small and extremely shouty minority. In view of which, it’s hard not to react to the latest petition on “removing Scotland from the Union”, and the #ThrowScotlandOut hashtag it spawned, with a simple “aw, bless”.
Which is pretty much what Scotland has been doing. The hashtag has been mischievously turned on its head, with countless pro-independence Scots using it to suggest various reasons why our country just doesn’t fit in anymore inside Brexit Britain. Our commitment to free higher education and balanced budgets is decidedly rum. We’ve stubbornly failed to get the hang of xenophobia, and we constantly let the side down by being welcoming towards immigrants. We’re probably going to be of very little use in the Great British Project of reorienting the post-Brexit economy towards tea and jam. Worst of all, we’ve shown worrying signs of thinking for ourselves.
Amid all the horseplay, there is of course a serious point. The “England is losing patience” myth is sometimes exploited in the London media to absolve the rest of the UK from blame for the appalling dirty tricks that were used during the independence referendum to prevent Scotland from voting Yes at all costs. It’s true that the people of England were not directly responsible for the “shock and awe” campaign waged by their media and politicians, but ultimately there’s nothing wrong with expecting electors to take some ownership of the consequences of their votes. What the ironic #ThrowScotlandOut tweets are gently saying is “yes, throw Scotland out if you really want to, but so far you’ve been doing the complete opposite of that, and it’s high time you accepted and acknowledged that fact”.
It’s also clear enough that the people behind the new petition imagine themselves to be engaged in an act of revenge against Scotland for daring to hold an exercise in self-determination, ie. “you don’t like it so much when we do the same thing, do you?”. But what they don’t seem to understand is that “throwing Scotland out of the UK” is in no sense whatever an English equivalent to what the Scottish independence movement was [and still is] seeking. England is free to become an independent country whenever it chooses, but if it does the other parts of the UK would still be the UK, and would inherit all of the UK’s institutions, including the central bank and the currency. The fact that this doesn’t seem to have even occurred to the Jock-bashing brigade demonstrates the continuing toxic overlap between English nationalism and the old imperialist impulse.
Here’s the lesson of #ThrowScotlandOut: England is every bit as much entitled to democratic self-determination as Scotland is. The only reason it seems to be lagging behind in that respect is that it hasn’t quite stopped thinking like an imperial master yet, and started thinking like a country.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.