Crowns of Thorns

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article yesterday about what to do about a problem like Scotland, got Lib Dem bloggers in a lather for wrongly accrediting the West Dunfermline By-election victory to the SNP, but what they should have noticed is that the rest of the article is even more nonsense.

His proposed ‘solution’ is a Union of Crowns – both Scotland and England would have their own sovereign and distinct parliaments, but would be united as a dual monarchic union. He cites the example of Austria-Hungary.

There are two main problems with this idea: one anecdotal, the other rather more fundamental. Firstly, it is an inconvenient fact to this argument that Austria-Hungary was a dismal failure. It lasted 50 years, ended up splitting during one of the biggest bloodbaths the world has ever known, and if the Austrians and Hungarians I’ve spoken to about it are anything to go by, continues to poison relations between the countries to this day. It was the last hurrah of an already defunct empire. What’s more, with England 10 times larger than Scotland, it isn’t even a particularly useful comparison.

The other, more fundamental problem is where this leaves that other constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which Wheatcroft does not even name check in his article. Does Wales suddenly become part of England? I’m sure they’ll love that. And what about Northern Ireland?

The latter is an issue that I feel the SNP need to address as well. Most Northern Irish protestants are Ulster Scots and have more in cultural ties with Scotland than England. Indeed, the Unionists that I’ve known have generally been not so much pro-Union as anti-Ireland. Several have told me that they not only support Scottish Independence, but would want Northern Ireland to have some form of political union with the Scots under such a circumstance as well.

I can’t help but think that Scottish Independence is going to cause Northern Ireland some difficulty down the line. Will they be content with remaining in the UK, or will a movement for Ulster-Scots unity emerge? Or will they simply feel abandoned? Scottish Independence would potentially upset the delicate balance laid out in the Belfast Agreement. Presumably Scotland would remain in the Council of the Isles, but I would be amazed if it didn’t raise the question of whether it should have a wider role. This is a can of worms Northern Ireland could do without.

Scottish Nationalists like to wrap themselves in history, but I can’t help but feel that their self-obsessed crusade for independence means turning their back on a lot of history which is little too complicated and doesn’t fit neatly into an England versus Scotland narrative. I can’t see a United Kingdom really working without Scotland, but it does rather leave Wales and Northern Ireland in the soup.

UPDATE: Peter Pigeon has more on this and Wheatcroft gets a kicking in the Guardian letters column, including from Neil Ascherson, whose article Wheatcroft uses as the basis for his.

3 thoughts on “Crowns of Thorns

  1. Hello James.

    I’m not sure why Geoffrey Wheatcroft needed to refer to the Austro-Hungarian example as to how a joint monarchy has operated in practice. A much more relevant and near-at-hand example can be found in the Union of the Crowns which took place between England and Scotland back in 1603, when the two countries opted to share a king, yet retained their separate parliaments.

    The SNP wants to end the 1707 Union of the Parliaments, not the 1603 Union of the Crowns. However, your point regarding England being 10 times the size of Scotland is highly pertinent in another regard. This ‘mismatch’, if I can put it like that, is precisely why federalism with an English Parliament would struggle if it were ever to come about.



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