Twas the last letter to the Herald before Christmas (no £) EU referendum

NOT for the first time – and we have to fear not for the last – the people of Scotland are being misled regarding the nature of their vote in the forthcoming EU referendum (“Cameron could rip Scotland out of Europe, warns SNP”, The Herald, December 17).

The SNP may contend that “Scotland will be ripped out of Europe against its will” but the fact is that Scotland will vote as part of the UK, and not as a separate country. For this purpose, the border between England and Scotland has the same significance as those between Norfolk and Suffolk or East and West Sussex.

All UK citizens as British subjects over the age of 18 will have the identical right to a vote of equal value regardless of where we happen to be located, and any pretence that any one part of the UK has greater or lesser significance than any other is just that – a pretence.

In the case of the SNP, the pretence appears to be part of its agenda which seeks to hoodwink the Scottish public into believing the fiction that Scotland is a separate sovereign state – a proposition which that same public has already rejected.

Maybe it should do something more significant. Perhaps it could get the Forth Road Bridge fixed?

Peter A Russell

Scots Myths (5) – “Either Scotland or the UK” or The Fallacy of the Zero-Sum Game

The more sharp-eyed followers of this blog will have noticed that in the background of the photograph of my poetry performance debut here the blackboard announces the appearance of Lesley Riddoch. This was in fact on the same night, and provided an interesting exercise in several ways.

The first was a good opportunity to hear in person some of the arguments for Yes in the independence referendum campaign; a second was an exercise in personal restraint, patience and courtesy being good for the mind and soul. (Nicola Sturgeon might try it, especially in televised debates.)

Having said that, it was testing to those virtues to hear Ms Riddoch say some things which were just plain wrong – “there is not a single opt-out school in Scotland” (while speaking in Thornwood, which just a mile or two from Jordanhill) and “Sectarianism is not a problem in Scotland outside Glasgow” (explained in terms of “No Catholics = No sectarianism”, which is what they might think in East Belfast.)

Lesley Riddoch featured those parts of her book Blossom which refer to culture and the Scottish sensibility, and what was most striking was the binary nature of her vision: everything was framed within an “either/or” framework. Her two examples were those of cultural sector funding, and the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

The second of these seems to be mostly a grievance against the curatorial polices of the gallery’s management, which could certainly be solved by measures well short of independence. These could include reforming the governance of the gallery or sacking the director, and maybe replacing them with someone more like, well, Lesley Riddoch, if that is what is wanted.

But the funding issue is more worthy of examination.

Her issue was that funding bodies are more inclined to favour events and bodies which represent establishment  or British rather than Scottish culture: in evidence, she called the case of Gaelic and folk music. Her case was that even where budgets are controlled by Scots, these favour non-Scottish culture disproportionately.

This appears to misinterpret several important points. The chief of these is an assumption that culture is only defined in terms of that which receives subsidy.

This is the cultural equivalent of the social policy fallacy which defines ‘community’ as ‘somewhere that has community workers,’ ignoring the strength of functioning and middleclass communities. Examples include when Jordanhill School was faced with local authority takeover in 1990s, or when the people of Milngavie objected to the extension of the treatment works which provides Glasgow with clean and safe drinking water. Mobs with pitchforks and torches in Southbrae Drive or at Bearsden Cross are a fearsome sight indeed.

Likewise with the case of music and culture: a lack of public sector subsidy for local and voluntary events and companies can be a sign of the strength of the cultural scene rather than the opposite.

For example, a quick visit to the Scottish Community Drama website shows its vigour and extent, while that of Creative Scotland appears to show that it receives no public subsidy from that source.

Likewise, it is a mark of the local strength of folk culture that it survives and thrives locally solely on the merits of its local support. Scotland is an especially good example of this: uniquely Scottish folk music includes a non-portable instrument in the piano, which firmly roots it in the church hall and village dance, as opposed to being based on itinerant (and frequently paid) musicians.

In short, it is quite wrong to assume that if there is no public subsidy for the arts, it is being discriminated against and will therefore suffer the agonies of suppression. Scotland is not, after all, Iraqi or Turkish Kurdistan.

The true position is not that the “approved” (in this case, British) culture squeezes out the “popular” (Scots) culture. On the contrary, these co-exist and indeed support each other: again the SCDA website shows actors and dramatists of UK prominence among its current and past patrons, and that winning productions have covered a vast range of Scots, British and international plays and playwrights. The fact is that there is space for both community arts and the subsidised sector, and that Scottish culture is richer for the presence of both: culture is not a zero sum game.

To take a further specific example, we can look at the career of one theatre director: Sir Michael Boyd. No doubt he is one of the people denigrated by the likes of Alistair Gray (quoted by Lesley Riddoch) as a “settler” –  born Belfast, educated in London and Edinburgh (and Moscow), trained at Coventry and Sheffield before serving at the Tron, Glasgow from 1982-96, and going on to the RSC in London and Stratford. His career can be judged in two ways.

One is that Sir Michael has been a self-interested English careerist, exploiting his opportunities in Scotland at the Tron as a springboard for his own British-determined ends and at the expense of Scots directors. The other is that he has committed himself to a wide range of theatrical settings and used these to explore and develop his art, sometimes in Scotland and sometimes in England.

In the end, it is a matter of our personal political views as to which of these views we take: whether we look for the merit of work such as Boyd’s in its (and his) national origin, or in its artistic achievement.  The difference is that between a nationalist and a theatre-lover: the former sees the presence of an English director as the displacement of a Scottish counterpart, while the latter sees the value of creating something with a value greater than the sum of its parts, and bringing its benefits to Scotland and beyond.

The same applies  to politics. It would be easy to trumpet the virtues of the nations of the UK working together by quoting the foundation of the NHS, when  Bevan applied the principles of the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as his native Wales. However, just as important in his work as Minister of Health and Housing was the second part of that portfolio, and the influence of John Wheatley, born in Ireland but who was brought up in Braehead and politically ascendant in Glasgow Corporation.

His great achievement was of course the popularisation of Council housing, which was founded on his own breakthrough proposals as published in 1913 in Eight Pound Cottages for Glasgow Citizens. As Minister of Health in the first Labour government in 1924, he paved the way for the transformation of working class housing across the UK, which was taken further in the reconstruction for which Bevan was responsible in the post-war years.

The outcome was that the ideas and policies of a Scottish pioneer and a Welsh minister became the achievement of UK governments, and hundreds of thousands of families across the whole country had modern homes and secure tenure, in many cases for the first time ever.

And it cuts both ways. In 1967, the UK Parliament, responsible for law in England and Wales, passed  the Sexual Offences Act, which legalised homosexual acts between consenting adult men. However, it required a further 13 years before Robin Cook introduced his amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. Nonetheless, in this case, Scotland had benefited from the cross-pollination arising from proximity to its more liberal and progressive neighbour.

A more recent example is afforded by the Tory Party in government. In 1996, Professor Hugh Pennington headed an investigation into the outbreak of e. coli centred on Barr’s butcher shop in Wishaw.  His findings and recommendations for new food safety procedures were accepted by Michael Forsyth, then Secretary of State for Scotland and put into force as regulations. Forsyth then took these same recommendations to the UK Cabinet and argued successfully for them to be similarly adopted as regulations for the rest of the UK, with a result of preventing much risk of illness and death by food poisoning, benefiting not millions of people but tens of millions.

A final, and crucial, instance of the positive effects of seeing beyond the either/or binary perspective is that of the influence of not only politics but also politicians. There can be no doubt that the flow of individuals between Scotland and Westminster has made them more influential than they would have been had they stayed home.

The Labour Governments 1997-2010 boasted Scots in all of the great offices of state: Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, Chancellors Brown and Darling, Foreign Secretary Cook, Home Secretary Reid.  Earlier John Smith had served as Trade Secretary in the Labour government of 1970s; earlier still, the first Labour Prime Minister (and a Scottish Home Rule enthusiast) was Lossiemouth’s Ramsay Macdonald. The Tories had fewer MPs but again these punched above their weight: Rifkind (Foreign Secretary), Lang (President of the Board of Trade), Ancram (Northern Ireland Secretary) and more recently, the Liberal Democrats have had Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury.)

These are of course in addition to those who have brought their talents and a Scottish perspective to the Cabinet table as Secretary for State for Scotland:  historically such figures as Tom Johnston, Willie Ross and Bruce Millan, and then George Younger, and of course Donald Dewar and in the post-devolution era, Helen Liddell and Jim Murphy.

It is unlikely that the achievements of such a varied list would meet with full approval as successes by any single readership: however, what is not in doubt is that all of these have made their mark, and that this has been good both for them and especially for Scotland’s standing in the UK and the world.

This picture is also reflected in the further and wider element of the success of Scots in the United Kingdom: their presence in UK elites.  One needs only to see their influence in the media and journalism (e.g., Jeremy Isaacs, Andrew Neil, Kirsty Wark), the law (e.g., Helena Kennedy), the arts and literature (e.g., Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Neil MacGregor,  David Tennant, Billy Connolly, William Boyd, C J Sansom) and the military (in form of the numerous generals, admirals and air chief marshalls) to appreciate how much Scots have gained individually from the UK, and how both Scotland and the UK as a whole are better off because of their successes.

As Orwell showed us in his masterpiece Animal Farm, another UK hybrid (penned in Scotland at Barnhill on Jura), the mind is shackled by binary thinking: “4 legs good, 2 legs bad” is in essence the flaw which ensures that the animals’ ambitions will never be realised. In the same way, the dogma of UK or Scotland serves little sensible purpose in either culture or politics.

Finally, a further footnote demonstrates the mutually beneficial nature of the union. One of Lesley Riddoch’s contentions is that the Scottish mentality is one of being inhibited by undue deference, which she ascribes to Scotland being a “nation of tenants”. In other words, a nation of owner-occupiers would be much more self-assertive and confident. We can be sure that Michael Forsyth and every other follower of Margaret Thatcher’s Right-to-Buy policies would agree wholeheartedly, although these were rejected as “unScottish” at the time.

Scots Myths (4) – Defence.

This myth covers both defence categories:  conventional and nuclear.

Conventional defence has taken an especially interesting turn, as the Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousef, has told us that its foreign policy (and therefore its defence commitments) will be based on the Hippocratic principle of ‘Do no harm’[1].

This shows a complete confusion, above all in not being able to distinguish between the job of a diplomat or soldier and that of a doctor or nurse.

The biggest difference is that in the former case, the usual position in any dispute will be that of a zero-sum game: for example, in a territorial dispute, for example, over Rockall, the UK now or a future independent Scotland would need to defend its interests at the expense of those of Iceland (or whoever), be it at the UN or on the North Atlantic with warships, or both.  To do no harm to Iceland would mean to capitulate.

It is more important still to extend this realisation to the commitments of an independent Scotland to collective security through NATO.  Most noticeably in recent years, this has been seen in the war in Afghanistan. Following 9/11, NATO invoked its charter principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, and set about the overthrow of the Taliban and the destruction of Al-Qaida’s military infrastructure in Afghanistan. Since 2003, the NATO mission has been to provide security while training local Afghan forces to assume that responsibility after 2014.[2]

In this case, the good being done to the majority of the Afghan people includes not only self-determination and the means to protect it from religious headcases but also such fundamental human rights as education and medical services for women and girls. But these cannot be secured without attacking and inflicting deadly violence (i.e., harming) the Taliban.

The SNP should be asked who they want to win the war in Afghanistan, and how this can be achieved without harming the Taliban?

A further myth is that if Scotland independent, its soldiers, sailors and airforce would not need to serve in “illegal wars.” (Also known as “English wars”), and therefore no Scots service personnel would be deployed to theatres such as Iraq.  I have made my views on Iraq known elsewhere (especially here: but to dwell on the specific is to avoid the main issue. This is that as in the cases of some Commonwealth citizens (and Irish citizens), Scots would still be enrolling in the British forces in considerable numbers, and therefore be deployed in combat zones.

Therefore, it is not the case that Scots will cease to fight and no longer be put in harm’s way, even if an independent Scotland adopted the pacifist policy of “Do No Harm.” But what will happen is that Scots will lose all influence over their deployment, organisation and resources; for example, it will not possible for Scots MPs to serve as Defence Secretary (as John Reid did); there will also be no Scottish Secretary in Cabinet to represent Scotland’s interest in times of crisis.

For many people, however, the big defence issue in the Scottish independence debate is that of nuclear deterrence and the future of Trident.

My own view is that I do not really see the point of Trident, and that it could decommissioned if it would be cheaper to use a different platform for nuclear weapons.

I would also be pleased to see those weapons scrapped. However, at the same time, it needs to be remembered that no government has ever been elected with a mandate to carry out unilateral nuclear disarmament.

At the 2010 General Election the Tories and Labour took 75% of UK votes, and in Scotland the presence of the SNP added to the anti-Trident vote, but the Tories and Labour between them still polled 59%. The Liberal Democrats were committed to using Trident as a bargaining chip in multilateral negotiations, which is laudable, but no guarantee of nuclear disarmament. In the UK they took 23% and in Scotland 19%.

In any event, it is clear from the voting record of the UK and of Scotland that there is no mandate for the UK government to remove Trident, either form the British people or the Scots.  (As defence is a reserved power, Holyrood votes have no significance in this case.)

Nuclear disarmers will always wish to contest this conclusion, on the grounds that a single issue cannot be extracted from manifestos. However, it is instructive to reverse their argument, and to imagine that a party or parties are elected with 60% of the vote with  a specific mandate for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which it then fails to fulfil. Their reaction would not be likely to be so dismissive.

Two other issues should be kept in mind on the nuclear issue, as well as there being no democratic  mandate for the unilateral removal of Trident.

The first is that to remove Trident from the Clyde would make no contribution to nuclear disarmament, as the weapons system would be moved to another part of the British Isles.  It is a commonplace misapprehension amongst poorly informed nationalists that the UK would not put nuclear weapons in the English Home Counties. In fact, the most prominent nuclear installations in the UK are in Berkshire (Aldermaston) as was the scene of most famous anti-nuclear campaign of all, at Greenham Common. There can  be no doubt that Trident would be redeployed elsewhere, regardless of the population nearby.

The second issue is that Trident as a weapons system has gratefully  not been used,  so has inflicted zero casualties, unlike, for example, the millions of deaths  caused by the AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle, or even the bow and arrow.

In conclusion, there is clearly no case for independence in issues of defence. It would not of itself save the lives of Scots in foreign wars, and could lead to less consideration of their safety in times of crisis. Moreover, independence would also fail to remove nuclear weapons from the British Isles, or to contribute to multilateral disarmament.

There is therefore no strong case for independence based on defence considerations; this possibly the reason that such surveys as the Scottish Social Attitudes[3] survey show a high level of Scots (66%) rejecting the idea that Holyrood should have responsibility for foreign and defence policy.

Scots Myths (3) – “The Scots Are More Left Wing Than the English”

Or “Scotland is social democratic, but England is a Tory country,” which was first current in the days of the Thatcher supremacy, but has re-emerged as an axiomatic part of the rhetoric of the pro-independence camp.

Alex Massie has addressed some of the issues in his Speccy blog piece . This looks at the evidence of social attitudes surveys, and comes to two conclusions. The first is that if there are any differences between attitudes to welfare, public services and taxation between England and Scotland, it is not by much. And his second conclusion is – as the title says – that if the UK is divided, the fault line is not along Hadrian’s Wall but somewhere in the English Midlands. Any demarcation line is between the North and South of the UK rather than between English and Scots.

Edit: see also

This of course makes great sense if seen through the prism of the industrial economies of the respective regions, above all in the history of the north, of the industrial revolution, coal and steel based engineering, manufacturing, organised labour, slum clearances and Council estates.  A good example is that of similarities between Glasgow and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Both owed their prosperity to coal, iron, steel, the industrial revolution and shipbuilding. Both also sit at the centre of industrial regions, and both suffered massively in the 1980s. Both cities also undertook massive urban redevelopment programmes in the 1960s and 70s, and both have come back since the 1980s with regeneration programmes based on Garden Festivals and groundbreaking arts and culture programmes.

Likewise similarities could be drawn between other populations: hill farmers in Argyll and in North Yorkshire; fisherman in Arbroath and Padstow; or people living in isolated communities in Norfolk and Caithness. What they have in common is far greater than what superficially divides them: e.g., whether they are Scottish or English.  

The other ‘evidence’ put forward by the Yes Scotland (or at least its leftish, sort-of, anything but Labour section) is that Scotland has consistently voted in a way which is more supportive of a left of centre agenda. 

However, current voting patterns do not support such a view. Most obviously, the Scottish Socialist Party has lost all of its seats in the Scottish parliament, and indeed the way in which its bubble has burst suggests that its popularity was always more due to the vast free publicity garnered by Tommy Sheridan than to inherent revolutionary tendencies in the Scottish population.

However, the SSP was never likely to be more than a freak show on the fringes of Scottish politics. The real story is that of the SNP and its “leftness,” and there are two narratives which hole that description beneath the waterline.

First, the spread of the SNP vote suggests that its message is not one of undiluted appropriation and redistribution. Even setting aside the phenomenal and probably anomalous results of 2011 election, the Nationalists’ seats of  Perth and Kinross (formerly held by Sir Alex Douglas-Home and Nicky Fairbairn) and  Perthshire North (ex-Bill ‘Biggles’ Walker) and their north-eastern strongholds of Moray and Angus are essentially Tory seats. It is therefore unthinkable that these constituencies are voting in support of a left-wing agenda.

Secondly, the policies put forward by the SNP at elections and implemented in government are far from left-wing, and indeed more conservative than those of, for example, the Scottish Labour Party.

The last time that the SNP stood on a platform to the left of the Labour Party was in 2003, when under John Swinney’s typical honest and forthright leadership, the party offered higher taxation to pay for better services.  The outcome was that the SNP recorded a poor result, and in the process learned a lesson that has nor been forgotten: that there is no appetite in Scotland for higher taxation.

As a result, both of the SNP’s succeeding successful elections in 2007 and 2011 have been pitched somewhere around the same place on the left and right spectrum to Labour. In the last (2011) election both parties presented very similar manifestos, with the sole exception being the SNP commitment to a referendum on independence. However, since then there has been  a marked divergence between the two parties.

In opposition, Labour has embarked on a bold project led by Johann Lamont to stake out its position as the voice of socialism by adopting Bevan’s “language of priorities” and has appointed a commission to investigate the sustainability of Scotland’s services accordingly. In contrast, the SNP has taken this as a spur try to consolidate its middle class vote, and has moved to the right of centre accordingly. The result is that its flagship policies are those which favour that vote most obviously – and which are most regressive as a result.  

Leading these is the policy of so-called “Free Elderly care” which is claimed as their own by the SNP but was in fact introduced by the last Labour/LibDem administration at Holyrood. From the start this policy had two fatal flaws: its sustainability and its equitability. On the first question, it is difficult to see how the policy can be maintained indefinitely in the face of an ageing demographic. On the second, it is even more difficult to see what attracted Labour to a policy which has the effect of preserving unearned inherited wealth, but which does nothing for the least well-off. Put another way, it is impossible be see how left-wing it is to have a policy which has zero benefit for people in Whiteinch, but means that people in Jordanhill can pocket the cash from their mother’s house rather than putting it towards the quality of her care.

“Free” care is deeply regressive, but the SNP know it to be popular with Scotland’s far-from-left-wing electorate. A similarly populist policy is that of “free” university tuition, which makes an absolute priority of university students, rather than addressing  the more pressing issues of Scottish education. For example, the same money invested in early years provision in deprived areas would have much greater impact on educational outcomes and social equality than paying the fees of rich students.

This policy has also cost an estimated 42,000 places at FE institutions in Scotland, which would have been likely to have been able to benefit working class students studying vocational and practical subjects. Again, this policy has undoubted populist appeal, and throws cold water on the claims of a Scottish left-wing ethos.

A further example is that of the indefinite Council Tax Freeze. The SNP came to power in 2007 with a mandate to create a Local Income Tax to make local taxation fairer. Not only has it failed to do so in the intervening 6 years, it has frozen the Council Tax, a policy which favours those in largest properties most. At the same time, the policy deprives Councils of means to raise revenues for local services: not only this regressive, it is also deeply anti-democratic. It is no way left-wing, and indeed has been taken up in England by the Tory/LibDem coalition Government.

A leaflet in the Dunfermline bye-election could not make it any clearer that the SNP’s priority is vote-buying from the centre-right:


However, as the SNP might as well have adopted the trading name “” and the people of Scotland look have been keen to sell, we can dismiss the myth of any bias towards socialism or social democracy in the so-called Scottish psyche. A left-wing Scotland would surely have rejected such crude overtures.  Conversely, if Scotland really was a naturally left-wing or even  social democratic country, it would have a left-wing or truly social democratic government already.

Scots Myths (2) – The Highland Clearances.

The first Scots myth sets to right the perception  of Nationalists that Scotland has no influence in UK General Elections. Follow-ups on LabourHame[1]  illustrate how historical election results are seen  through the prism of contrived grievance, to fit the narrative that Scotland has received a bad deal from the Union, which is a key part of the mythology of the pro-independence case.

This was most luridly expressed by Joan McAlpine  when she compared Scotland to a woman in an abusive relationship, and adds a distasteful note of victimhood.  The narrative of grievances  includes examples taken from history, such as the Highland Clearances, the story of North Sea Oil; the early introduction of the Poll Tax; and siting of Trident on the Clyde.

The truth is that the people of England suffered equally if not more in many of these cases.  

So let us look at the Highland Clearances, and to start with, its English equivalent, the Enclosures.

 The issue of land ownership, land use and its effects on the rural population is directly related to the growth of the mercantile capitalist economy, a process which began with the end of the land ownership patterns of Middle Ages.

In England, for about a thousand years, land had been in three forms of ownership: the crown (and its agents, the nobility); the church; and common land.

However, the Reformation brought to an end the vast land holdings of the Roman Catholic Church, which were transferred to the crown and nobility, and in turn to the “New Men” or financial magnates of the emergent bourgeois economy.  This new form of land ownership, by private individuals, in turn underpinned the next economic revolution which was the creation of a trade and money economy, which required investors with monetary (as opposed to property) assets.

It therefore became desirable, and then essential, to add value to those assets. Land use became a matter of maximising the income from land, with result that the rural economy converted from a largely subsistence (production to feed the local population) to a largely cash economy (production for markets.)

One outcome was the purchase or confiscation of the holdings of small subsistence farmers; but a more radical effect was the enclosure of common land. In the medieval period, including under serfdom, people had been allowed access to common land to graze their family beasts, to gather fuel wood and forage for wild food; and to use ponds for fish and fowl. Even serfs did not starve.

From the reign of Henry VIII, i.e., the end of the medieval period and beginning of the modern economy, however, legal instruments were put through Parliament which authorised the privatisation of common land. Or in some cases, the land was simply grabbed by local landlords. This had two effects.

 The first was to increase the land holdings of the new capitalists. The second was to drive the local population into penury and homelessness as over decades and centuries (until the last Enclosure Acts of the early 19th century) increased efficiency and technological innovation in agricultural production drove workers off the land. Some migrated to towns and cities to work in new industries, especially in the later part of the Enclosures period when the Industrial Revolution was getting underway.

However, many were simply and cruelly ‘put to the road,’ meaning that they were not accepted as the responsibility of any community and were liable to be driven, sometimes lashed, from parish to parish as ‘sturdy beggars.’

The Enclosures story is relevant to the independence debate in several ways.

First, it presents the historical economic background to the Highland Clearances. This shows that the fundamental basis of the rural economy changed as the modern world emerged, meaning that land was used increasingly for cash crops, and subsidence farmers were cleared from the land. In England, this happened over centuries, roughly from the 1550s to 1800: the Clearances, beginning at the end of the 18th century (1792 was the “Year of the Sheep”), were a further phase of the same process.

Secondly, the experience of the rural population in both rural England and the Highlands was similar in that they were dispossessed and displaced, with those remaining in frequently poorly paid and precariously employment. There was no difference between being pauperised in Norfolk, Northumberland or Sutherland or Wester Ross.

Thirdly, the Enclosures and the Clearances were each brought about by the actions of landowners and landlords, whose actions were driven by wider market consideration. But these are classes defined by their economic roles – and not their nationality or ethnicity. In this respect, the history of the Clearances is not relevant to independence issue.

As George Orwell wrote in 1944:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.[2]

It is contended by grievance-seeking nationalists by that the Clearances as an extension of the Enclosures would not have happened, and the Highlands would have remained a happy well-populated landscape, had Scotland not been unified with England by the 18th century. The most direct argument against this picture is that it is impossible to see how Scottish land-owners and capitalists would have resisted the economic imperative underway in the neighbouring economy or indeed the revolution which had occurred in capitalism..

Inside or outside the UK, the Highlands would have suffered the same fate as rural populations elsewhere, and the Union has no case to answer.

Note: those interested in the fate of English common land might like to read Christopher Hill’s work, especially Liberty Against the Law (1996)

[2] George Orwell, As I Please, Tribune, 18 August 1944

Scots Myths (1) – ‘Scotland Always Gets The Government That England Votes For.’

After the 2011 SNP Conference,  it was reported that its activists possessed an unshakeable confidence that they would easily win an independence referendum. This was obviously not based on their election victory – in which they secured less than a popular majority, and only increased their vote by attracting further Lib Dem and Tory voters. Instead, activists took strength from the assertion that “we have true religion, and the Nos do not.” 

Religions of course do not operate on a basis of fact, but on a faith stoked by myths and folklore, and the SNP faith is no different. Anyone who spends a day of two on social media will verify this: and a week or two will prove beyond all doubt that the SNP and the Yes campaign share a rich landscape of received wisdom which informs their world view and dominates their logic.

Scots Myth 1: Scotland Always Gets The Government England Votes For.  

The truth is that since 1945 there have been 18 General Elections. The outcomes were as follows.[1]






























E – Lab

Sc  – Con*




















E   – Con

Sc – Lab*













E – Con*

Sc – Lab






E   – Con

Sc – Lab*













E – Con*

Sc  – Lab






E – Con*

Sc – Lab






E – Con*

Sc – Lab






E – Con*

Sc – Lab




















E   – Con

Sc – Lab*






E – Con

Sc – Lab

Same = England and Scotland voted for the same majority party; E = England; Sc =Scotland; Bold* = Majority party. In 2010, there was no party with overall majority.

The above shows votes cast, rather than seats gained; in other words, these are the outcomes when individual voters  have been to the ballot box and how this relates to the overall result of the elections in question.

 (Incidentally, I am in favour of electoral reform, although the prospect appears to have been put back at least a generation by the LibDems and their miserable failure with the AV referendum of 2011.)

The table shows:

  • 8 elections when the electorates of Scotland and England voted the same (1945, 1950, 1955, 1959, 1966, Oct 1974, 1997, 2001) and got the governments each wished (6 Labour and 2 Tory)


  • 5 elections when the Scottish electorate prevented the outcome that England had voted for:


  • 1 election when more people in England voted Labour but got a Tory government Scotland voted for (1951);
  • 3 elections when more people voted Tory in England but got the Labour government Scotland voted for ( 1964, Feb 1974, 2005);  and
  • 1 election when Scotland prevented  Tories from getting the overall majority which was voted for by the English electorate (in 2010).


  • In the 5 remaining elections, English voters prevented the outcome that Scotland voted for: in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, and 1992. In all of these, Scotland voted Labour but gt the Tory government for which England had voted.


  • In the 7 elections from 1945 to 1966, the Scottish voters always had the government which they voted for, including 2 (1951 and 1964) when these were not those for which the English electorate had voted.


  • Other then 1970, all of the instances of Scotland voting Labour and getting the Tories were in the Thatcher and Major years.  Interestingly, if support for independence is strong in the age group 40 to 50, this may be because these were the people who had most to complain about in these elections.


  • Since 1992, Scotland has twice voted with England to produce Labour governments, once voted for a Labour government that English voters did not want; and once stopped the Tories getting an overall majority.


The current indications are that Labour could either win a small majority or will be the largest single party in the 2015 UK General Election, which means that Scots will again cast crucial votes to determine which party forms a government, either alone or in coalition.

Whatever the case, it is clear that there is no truth in the assertion that Scottish votes have no influence on who forms the government at Westminster.


Addendum: Comments on LabourHame:

I deliberately used the percentages of votes cast as the basis of my comments, as these concentrate on voters. The idea is to show that a Scottish elector casting their vote gets the government of their choice nearly as frequently as their English counterpart. I do not take into account the duration of the governments in question, as that is not on the ballot paper, and to me it appears that only someone deliberately seeking a grievance would use that approach.

It is true that since 1970 (the first bifurcation), Scotland has not cast its votes for a winning Tory government. This appears to be because those not voting Labour chose increasingly to vote for the SNP: for example the Nationalists only stood in 23 seats in 1966 but had polled over 128,000 votes; in 1970, this had increased to 307,000 or 11.41% as the party organised in 65 seats.

Throughout the Thatcher and Major years, the two parties contested the position of the main anti-Labour party, with the Tories ahead until 1997 and the SNP pulling marginally ahead thereafter, with the situation fairly even at SNP 20% to the Tories 17% in 2010.

What is clear however, is that the impact of the SNP has been to split the opposition to Labour which elsewhere in the UK is attracted to the Tories and the LibDems. In fact the latter are probably the better analogy, as to vote for them has usually been a vote for a bogus radical party which cannot provide a government at Westminster.

The realpolitik of the situation is that a UK General Election is a vote for a Tory or a Labour Prime Minister, and a vote for any other party is an abstention in that process. If the non-Labour voters of Scotland choose to take that option, that is of course their prerogative, but if they do so, it is in the knowledge that they are reducing their influence on the government which results. In contrast, a Labour vote counts at Westminster.

There is a further element which must also be taken into account, which is that since the Tory governments of 1979 to 1997, the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown introduced and enhanced the powers of the Scottish Parliament. This means that unlike English voters, but like those in Wales and Northern Ireland, Scots get the government they choose every time at Holyrood to govern Scottish issues.

Finally, the evidence of the elections of 1951, 1964, February 1974 and 2010 is that Scots votes are most influential when the result is tightest. This could well be the same in 2015.