Magazine article The Spectator

Britain without Scotland

Magazine article The Spectator

Britain without Scotland

Article excerpt

If Scotland votes for independence, Britain will be left weaker than anyone yet realises

Credit: James Forsyth

On 19 September, people over all Britain could wake up in a diminished country, one that doesn't bestride the world stage but hobbles instead. If Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom, it would be Britain's greatest ever defeat: the nation would have voted to abolish itself.

The rump that would be left behind after a Scottish yes vote would become a global laughing stock. Whenever the Prime Minister of what remained of the United Kingdom raised his voice in the international arena, he would be met by a chorus of 'You couldn't even keep your own country together!' If even the British don't believe in the British way of doing things any more, then why would anybody else?

This problem would be particularly acute for David Cameron since the referendum would have been lost on his watch. But it would affect his successors too. One can almost hear Vladimir Putin deriding the idea of taking lectures from a country that couldn't even hold itself together. Those whose job it is to assess threats to our security say that Scottish independence would make us infinitely more vulnerable. President Obama's decision to intervene in this debate was a result of Washington's fears about what would happen to its ally's global role if Scotland left.

The worst thing about a yes vote is that Britain would have been lost in a fit of absence of mind. Scotland is not a colony speaking a separate language; the Scottish people are not discriminated against within the Union. Indeed, the last prime minister and chancellor were both Scots. Rather, the momentum for independence is being produced by a general anti-politics mood and a folk dislike of the Conservative party in Scotland.

It is a weak basis on which to try to rend asunder the most successful marriage of nations in human history, but it has gained traction because this country has forgotten how to talk about itself. We have said for so long that it's just not British to discuss what makes you British that we have forgotten our raison d'être. If this referendum is defeated, it is imperative that we learn how to foster our sense of national identity again. If we do not, this plebiscite will not be the end of the matter but the beginning.

Already the Scottish vote is casting a long shadow over Britain's international standing. It looks to the rest of the world as though Britain is having a national identity crisis. One cabinet minister exclaimed after a recent foreign trip, 'I am fed up with going abroad and being lectured about how to keep my country together.' What interests a foreign audience most is our two referendums: the one on whether Scotland stays in the United Kingdom and the subsequent one on whether the UK, or what's left of it, will remain in the European Union.

The rest of the world has grasped something that too many people in this country have not: this September's referendum isn't just about Scotland's future but about the rest of Britain's too. If Scotland votes 'yes', Great Britain will become Little Britain.

One Labour frontbencher tells me that this country would be a 'shitty Singapore'. This might be going too far, but he has a point. Think of almost any foreign policy or national security issue, and Scotland's departure from the UK would affect it. Britain's position in Europe would be weakened, its military forces cut down still further and its nuclear status threatened. But perhaps the most profound effect would be on the nation's psyche. Scotland choosing to leave would be a Suez moment.

Many calculate that the departure of Scotland, one of the more pro-European parts of the Union, would strengthen Euroscepticism. But if Scotland went, the next thing to go would be any chance of a substantial renegotiation of Britain's terms of EU membership.

In the aftermath of Scotland's departure, what remained of the United Kingdom would hardly be in a position to demand concessions from Brussels. …

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