The recent General Election results in Scotland were wonderful news for all unionists. With the SNP losing over one third of their MPs in a single dramatic night, the very unrepresentative result delivered in the election of 56 SNP MPs two years ago was finally corrected. For years, we have had to grow weary of seeing the same old faces on TV: the likes of Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson, Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, John Nicolson and Paul Monaghan. Perhaps worse yet, these were the people that, in the minds of a UK audience, represented Scotland. But following a catastrophic night for the SNP and significant gains for all three pro-UK parties in Scotland, all this will be no more. We will now send a broad range of representatives down to our British parliament to represent Scottish constituencies.
MPs aside, equally significant is the fact that the unionist vote was drastically higher than the nationalist one: a percentage point difference of twenty-four points, as the SNP’s share of the vote plummeted from fifty to just thirty-seven percent. The electorate’s rejection of the SNP’s plans for a second referendum was the major factor behind this astonishing swing, and it was remarkable to see Nicola Sturgeon, who initiated the formal call for a second referendum in the Scottish parliament, admit so herself. For all of Theresa May’s disappointment at the UK-wide result, there is no doubt that it is Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP who were the biggest losers on June 8th, and who were forced into the most embarrassing backtracking afterwards as they shelved their plans for IndyRef2.
After the 2015 General Election, the SNP had seemed invincible, and unionist voters felt compelled to rally around whoever seemed capable of ousting them, reducing Scotland to single-issue politics in the particularly divisive and oppressive form that separatism engenders. With Scotland now returning a broad range of MPs to Westminster, it is clear that some sense of normality and multi-party politics has returned to Scottish politics. Voting will no longer be dictated by the SNP’s ruthless and single-minded pursual of independence above all else.
With the SNP now firmly on the back foot, unionism must continue its advance by moving beyond the purely reactionary position of opposing a second referendum, and really challenge the SNP at their very roots; those root causes which have allowed nationalism to flourish in the first place. And ultimately, we must stand up for things that are true and worthwhile in and of themselves, and that have been long abandoned by the political class in this country.
This challenge must cover a broad range of constitutional, social and economic issues. Constitutionally, we must challenge the piecemeal breakup of the UK through the devolution process. We must challenge the increasingly monolithic institution that is the Scottish parliament, returning powers back to local councils and, where appropriate, our British parliament. So long as the Scottish parliament exists, Scotland will continue to be separated from the rest of the UK politically, legally, economically, socially, culturally, and in just about every way imaginable. Legislative devolution gave rise to nationalism, and only the abolition of legislative devolution can put an end to it. Can anybody imagine the referendum of 2014 even occurring if Holyrood hadn’t been established in 1999?
Another constitutional issue on which many unionist Scots need representation is our exit from the European Union. While the UK-level Conservative Party fought the recent election on manifesto commitments to leaving both the EU and Single Market (as did Labour, meaning 86% of voters voted for parties with pro-Leave manifestos), Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives have been openly critical of “hard Brexit”, or in other words, any meaningful Brexit at all, calling instead for what she terms “open Brexit”. Since the recent election, Davidson has already criticised the Conservative/DUP coalition, called for Theresa May to change course on Brexit and for the UK to remain in the Single Market as far as possible. This is not what the British public voted for in the EU referendum, and there are undoubtedly pro-Brexit Scots who would like to see a pro-Union, pro-Brexit voice emerge in Scottish politics.
Constitutional politics aside, there are a huge range of very fundamental issues that need to be addressed, and that no political party is currently addressing; issues that in many cases are changing beyond recognition the very nature of our country. In Scotland, declining education and health care standards have come under particular attention. To address declining education standards, there has to be a party that will speak out against the revolution in teaching methods that abandoned the old values of fact-based learning and individual attainment, and that destroyed the authority of teachers in the classroom, replacing this tried and tested system with the current wishy-washy set up where teachers aspire to be ‘friends’ to pupils and teach them through unstructured and vague ‘skills based’ methods, losing both their respect and attention. If you want to talk about declining education standards, that is where to begin.
Problems in higher education are perhaps even more fundamental. Our once world famous university system in past years allowed moderate numbers of state-funded pupils, selected through educational attainment, to gain the qualifications to build careers and become the next generation of thinkers, innovators, business leaders and civil servants. Today, it has become a money-based industry and a sort of social phenomenon; a universal ‘rite of passage’ for the youth, many of whom view their university years as a primarily social experience rather than the foundations of a serious career, and who in return take on substantial debt to pay for the privilege. Universal, debt-funded higher education, a legacy of Blair and the proto-Blairite John Major, has utterly ruined Britain’s higher education institutions, while uprooting young adults from their communities and throwing them into the quite unnatural and unrestrained setting of campus life, inculcating them in its loose morals and stiflingly politically-correct, liberal-left ways of living and thinking. It is no coincidence that students and professors have been key driving forces behind the Yes movement and Corbyn’s Momentum campaign. It is the products of this environment that form the basis of our political, media and cultural establishment; they have been the drivers of the broad progressive revolution of recent decades that ignored, then remoulded and has now largely destroyed what was once the silent majority of patriotically-minded social conservatives in this country.
This social revolution seeps inevitably into our very households, and its successful destruction of the family, once the bedrock of society and all our liberties – a vital bastion against the power of the state – is its most insidious achievement. Only half of children now have married parents when they finish primary school, while one-third must go through the trauma of witnessing their parent’s divorce. Rapidly decreasing numbers of people benefit from the social and financial stability offered by the family unit. As family disintegrates, government fills the gap, and in particular the invasive Scottish government, which now seeks involvement at every stage of a child’s life from the provision of ‘starter kits’ for parents packed into baby boxes, to the notorious Named Person scheme. This adds to the UK-level phenomenon of nationalised childcare and the role of the state as economic provider for growing numbers of single-parent families.
Children no longer have a broad range of influences to inform their understanding of the world: the phenomenon of commuting and suburban sprawl has largely removed children from the everyday influence of grandparents, while other once common features of childhood which any Scot would have known, such as Sunday School or the Boys Brigade, are now largely gone (the author considers himself fortunate to have had a childhood shaped by all these things). Now, in place of these, the liberal state serves as the provider of child-care and financial provision, while its schools and its closely regulated university system are the sole authoritative influences upon the minds of our youth. Can we then truly be surprised when the products of this system end up supporting the distinctly statist and liberal-left ideology of the SNP?
In order to address the root social causes that fuel the nationalist movement, unionists must recognise the need to support socially conservative, pro-family policies, because only strong-minded and independent members of society have both a vested interest in the manifestly sensible arguments for Union, and the circumstances that allow them to appreciate them. Our grandparents (or maybe now we need to start speaking of great-grandparents on this point), thoroughly British and used to hard lives of thrift and responsibility, would never have countenanced the ideology of today’s SNP or the arguments of the Yes movement. Deep points like this, rather than the headlines of the moment, are things that unionists ought to spend more time dwelling upon.
These social mattes aside, there is the economic issue of globalisation, which has been fuelled by the liberal, cosmopolitan elite, typified more than anywhere else by the current crop of party leaders at the Holyrood echo-chamber and the liberal consensus that defines its discourse. One manifestation of the move towards a borderless world of free trade and free movement of people is effectively uncontrolled mass immigration, and its damaging social and economic consequences. The consequences of globalisation can be seen also in the asset-stripping and sell-off of basic national infrastructure, one recent casualty of which is the very National Grid, which now earns a tidy profit of £3bn a year for a Sino-Chinese conglomeration as energy prices for ordinary Britons soar. Meanwhile, the Dutch government profits from Scottish railways, while Germany’s does well from those in England. We import coal from China while shutting down our own mines, and build our infrastructure with Chinese steel while our own steel firms are forced out of business. Not only do our low-wage workers have to compete with immigrants here in the UK itself, the wider British economy is now in price competition with the third world. Similarly, it is the remnant that remains of our working-class that suffers most from our transition from a strong industrial nation to an insignificant cog in the European Single Market, reduced to a sort of financial services hub for the rest of the continent, and left with a finance and service economy that provides little in the way of stable employment.
And then there’s the rest: an NHS in crisis as billions is wasted on the ideologically-driven ‘internal market’ and its ever-ballooning bureaucracy of managers and administrators, and PFI contracts used to fudge borrowing costs multiply the costs of new hospitals several times over. Unparalleled national and private debt as the last vestiges of productive industry are sold off and the very means of economic generation are abandoned. Creeping military decline as the destruction of our once proud historic regiments and years of cuts see our army reduced to its smallest size since we lost the Thirteen Colonies; never mind the shameful treatment and indeed outright persecution of our veterans. A permissive society in which all but the hardest drugs are de-facto legalised. An ageing and increasingly unsustainable, top-heavy population brought about by a culture that has no place for the responsibility of family life or the innate value of life itself. A young generation who will never know home ownership of stable employment, and who will be bound accordingly to the state for their material needs as far as they are met. Combined together with many other trends, all these things represent a broad political, social and economic revolution that has brought about our transition to a rootless, amoral, materialistic society in which the values and the way of life which once defined our country are viewed with indifference or derision, and increasingly with outright contempt.
These issues, tangential though they may seem to the matter of Union, lie at the roots of the nationalist movement in Scotland. We increasingly live in a society that is contemptuous of all traditional authority, of all traditional values: in short, everything that Britain used to be. It is no coincidence that the term ‘modern Scotland’ features prominently in the rhetoric of the Yes movement. ‘Britishness’ has been so diluted by multiculturalism that to many it now means little more than ‘tolerance’ of a broad range of social groups; who could defend such a notion with any enthusiasm?
A once tightly-knit, stable and intimate society has been replaced with an atomised, disconnected collection of individuals, weak, rootless and vulnerable to the forces of the state (and in particular the rather authoritarian devolved Scottish sub-state) which subsumes a loyalty and a sense of identity once vested in family, faith and community. The British state itself is increasingly consigned to irrelevance as devolved governments govern everyday life and multinationals and foreign governments take over what little is left of our national industry and infrastructure. A whole way of life rooted in the dignity and responsibility of family life, stable employment and a sense of place, purpose and common experience has been destroyed piecemeal over the last half century, bust most especially since the rise of Blairism in the 90s. The fruits of this cultural suicide can be seen very visibly each time a nationalist rally passes through Glasgow.
These are deep, philosophical points that cannot be addressed in a single article. But broadly, there is a sense that our country is going ‘to the dogs’, that our politicians are letting us down, and that we are in a period of political instability which is quite unusual in British history. The most extreme manifestation of this national break up and decline was the emergence of the mass nationalist movement in Scotland, which sought to finally and fully end the very existence of the UK as a nation. The recent election result, and the definitive rejection of a second referendum, made it clear that the Scottish people have drawn a line in the sand. But we cannot continue to say we want to maintain the Union while remaining silent, or even supportive, of everything that has in recent decades undercut the very bonds of Union and of British national life.
Now that we have broken the SNP stranglehold on Scottish politics and the space for normal multi-party politics has reopened, there is now a role for a unionist party that is willing not just to oppose a second referendum, but to truly challenge nationalism at its roots, and the broad direction our country has gone down in recent decades. It must tackle the tough issues that others won’t speak about: devolution, de-industrialisation, social collapse, mass immigration, the education industry and so many other things, and do so by offering a broad platform of reform that gets to the heart of these issues. This is what is needed to truly tackle separatism at its roots.