A postscript on Scotland – now with update 17 January 2012

While we are on the subject of the Scottish referendum, I should announce the result of the competition for the most obtuse, confused and misleading contribution to the analysis of the possible consequences of a Scottish referendum vote for full independence. The winning entry is from the Sunday Times of 15 January 2012 (yesterday), in a ‘Focus’ article on page 18 headed “Scot Free”.  So, [tearing open the envelope], THE WINNERS ARE: Nicholas Hellen and Jason Allardyce!

Nicolas and Jason, your entry came out on top because of the almost unique way in which it confused England, the United Kingdom, and what would be left of the United Kingdom if Scotland were to secede from it.  I am confident that in the coming months many more commentators south of the border will try to live up to the standard you have set.

Here is your winning entry:

At stake is much more than England’s alleged appropriation of North Sea oil revenues. If Scotland went its own way more than three centuries after the 1707 Act of Union, it could raise questions over England’s status in Europe, its claims at the United Nations to be one of the great powers and its relationship with other members of the United Kingdom.


Update, 17 January 2012:  For a stark contrast with the sloppy journalism quoted above, you should read an excellent article in today’s Scotsman by Professor Gavin McCrone, a distinguished Scottish former public servant, academic and economist (full disclosure: also one of my oldest friends). After describing some of the complex issues that will have to be negotiated either for Scotland to become independent or for it to achieve devo max, McCrone concludes that –

Sorting out all of these issues and ensuring that they are fully understood by those who will vote is going to take time, so that whatever Mr Cameron says, I do not expect the referendum to take place any earlier than October 2014, the date chosen by Alex Salmond. What worries me most is that as the debate continues, it could become not only increasingly intense but acrimonious. I give politicians the credit on both sides of not wanting that to happen, but they might find it difficult to control. There are plenty of people both in England and in Scotland who might make it so.

All those of us who comment on Scotland’s future, from north or south of the border, in the conventional media or on the blogosphere, have a duty to heed Professor McCrone’s warning. Fortunately, it’s not a zero-sum game: if all concerned play fair, both Scotland and the rest of the UK can benefit equally from whatever constitutional changes emerge from the referendum process. Let’s all go easy on the acrimony, keep the temperature down, and treat each other like friends and neighbours, not as rivals or enemies.


2 Responses

  1. Geoff, England says:

    I suppose it makes a change from journalists saying UK/Britain/British when they should be saying England/English, but, as you imply, Mr Barder, it’s certainly sloppy journalism.  Sadly, however, such conflation is far from unique.  As far as I can tell, all the mainstream media and most in the Westminster/Whitehall village are culpable.  I agree with you totally when you say that other commentators in England will live down to the standard set by Messrs Hellen and Allardyce.  Oh well, at least people like you can provide intelligent and thoughtful commentary on current affairs (although I might not always agree with you) and know the difference between England, Britain and the United Kingdom.

    Keep up the good work, sir.

    Brian writes: Thank you for these kind words. Like you, I’m already getting bad vibes about the likely quality, or lack of it, of the debate on all these issues in the media and on the blogosphere, stretching ahead as far as the eye can see – or at any rate until October 2014!

  2. Tim Weakley says:

    It may be because I lived the first twelve years of my life abroad, including the war years, but I considered myself British rather than English (my parents were both born in London) until I came to live in Scotland in 1963.  I have always been annoyed when otherwise competent authors write England when they mean Britain – including C.S.Forester (English) and John Buchan (Scottish).

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Tim. It is indeed extraordinary that so many English people can’t tell the difference between England and the UK (the fact that ‘Britain’ doesn’t include Northern Ireland is another man-trap). One malign result is that the powerful arguments for creating a parliament and government for England tend to be met with incomprehension and incredulity: people take it for granted that the Westminster organs are English, and can’t see why anyone should want another set.

    I have never been bothered by this question of feeling more British than English, or vice versa, since I feel (and of course am) both — and European too, come to that, and I can’t attach any meaning to one ‘feeling’ being stronger than any other. In my case, the years spent working overseas trying to represent the whole of the UK and its successive governments in successive ‘British’ embassies and high commissions has perhaps cured me of any tendency to Little Englander petty nationalism. But it’s a great pity that English nationalism has been largely hijacked by the political right wing, which along with its manifestations in the context of football makes it suspect in the eyes of ordinary moderates and liberals.