The Phoney Union

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The overwhelming majority of Scots believe in the UK and want to remain part of this 300 year long equal partnership.
– Ruth Davidson, 5th November 2011

There is more that brings us together than tears us apart. A future in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side-by-side as equal partners.
– Theresa May, Scottish Conservative Party Conference, 24th March 2012

Today we are equal partners in the United Kingdom.
– Alistair Darling, John P. Mackintosh Lecture, 9th November 2012

Four people are in a bar. They make a decision over what to do next, agreeing that they do it as a cohesive unit in a democratic manner. Two vote to leave: the other two vote to remain. One of those people is several times larger than the other three people combined. This person then says that because they’re that much larger than the other three, they have a much larger say in what the group should do. Since they want to leave, that means the two who want to remain have to leave as well.

Hardly seems fair, right? Doesn’t seem like much of a cohesive unit at all, does it? It almost seems more like the biggest person will always get their way, regardless of what the other three want.

Back before the European Union Referendum, the First Minister proposed a “double majority” mechanism to prevent any individual nations being taken out of the EU because of the democratic mandate of the largest member. In practise, it meant that the only way the UK as a whole could vote to leave the EU would be if each of the four nations comprising the UK did so. Of course, this would incur the furious wrath of the Leave campaign, who knew that England was far more favourable to their cause than the other nations.

Yet the UK Government was resolute: this was a UK vote, which meant that the UK were voting as one.

In doing so, the UK Government confirmed what many had suspected for a long time: that the United Kingdom was not a union of four nations, contrary to the rhetoric of the “family of nations” and “most successful political union in the world.” What kind of a union is it when one member can overrule all others combined? Germany may be the largest member of the EU by far, but they alone do not have a majority over the other 27; Ontario’s population is barely a third of Canada’s 10 provinces and territories; California has more people than the whole of Canada, but they don’t decide who gets to be President of the United States regardless of what the other 49 think. England, on the other hand, can overrule the wishes of every other nation within the UK… and nobody seems to have a problem with that.

Hence the “double majority” strategy. Now, if it was a simple majority vote of the nations, then the referendum would be tied 2-2. But then, it wasn’t just the UK: Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, also voted in the referendum. And, well…

England: Leave
Scotland: Remain
Wales: Leave
Northern Ireland: Remain
Gibraltar: Remain

3-5 is a simple majority, and while giving Gibraltar effectively equal status with England might sound outrageous to some, is it functionally any different from Joseph Muscat having the same voting power as Angela Merkel on the European Council?

Another issue is that the final result does not reflect the strength in the regions: hence, the West Midlands were almost as pro-Leave as Scotland was pro-Remain, something which you wouldn’t guess from the 48.11%/51.89% result.

Consider: what would happen if each of the four nations were given a more equal footing? Including Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish votes in with English votes just means the first three are almost entirely overwhelmed by the volume of English voters: 1 Scottish vote is equal to 1 English vote, but there are 10 times as many English votes as Scottish ones. It’s for this reason that, even if you treat each region’s percentages, rather than votes, as weighted – 1% of Yorkshire voters being equal to 1% of South East voters, for example – then the result is much the same, until you include Gibraltar as its own entity rather than lumping it in with South West England:

E. Midlands: 41.2% Remain, 58.8% Leave
E. England: 43.5% Remain, 56.5% Leave
G. London: 59.9% Remain, 40.1% Leave
N.E. England: 42.0% Remain, 58.0% Leave
N.W. England: 46.35% Remain, 53.75% Leave
S.E. England: 48.2% Remain, 51.8% Leave
S.W. England: 47.37% Remain, 52.63% Leave
W. Midlands: 40.74% Remain, 59.26% Leave
Yorkshire: 42.29% Remain, 57.71% Leave
Scotland: 62.0% Remain, 38.0% Leave
Wales: 47.5% Remain, 52.5% Leave
N. Ireland: 55.8% Remain, 44.2% Leave

All 12 nations & regions: 48.1% Remain, 51.9%  Leave

With Gibraltar (95.9% Remain, 4.1% Leave): 51.75% Remain, 48.25% Leave

But something stranger still happens if we treat the percentage of the votes by nation as equal – as in, 1% of Scottish voters is weighted equally to 1% of English voters – then how would it affect the vote?

England: 46.6% Remain, 53.4% Leave
Scotland: 62.0% Remain, 38.0% Leave
Northern Ireland: 55.8% Remain, 44.2% Leave
Wales: 47.5% Remain, 52.5% Leave

All four nations: 53% Remain, 47% Leave

With Gibraltar (95.9% Remain, 4.1% Leave): 61.56% Remain, 38.44% Leave

This, I think, would be the most workable Double Majority method beyond unanimity across the four nations: while England and Wales only marginally voted to Leave, Scotland voted very strongly to Remain, while Northern Ireland had a fairly clear majority for Remain. Naturally, including Gibraltar as its own entity boosts Remain even further.

But this wasn’t to be. As it is, only a small percentage more people voted Leave than Remain across the United Kingdom, which was itself only a bit smaller than the percentage more voters in England voted Leave. An even smaller percentage of voters in Wales did the same. As a result, all four nations of the United Kingdom would face leaving the EU – even Scotland, where almost 2 of every 3 voters backed Remain. And if we want to remain part of the UK, we’re just going to have to put up with it, just like how we put up with governments we didn’t vote for. That’s democracy, isn’t it? A nation not getting the government it votes for: funny sort of democracy, that.

Scottish Unionism is founded on the idea that the UK is a union of equals: that we have a strong voice in Westminster, a say in how the UK is governed, a sense of consequence to our votes. But if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that the United Kingdom is not a union at all. It cannot be a union of equals when one member of four outnumbers the other three combined. It cannot be a union of nations when one nation’s parliament has control over what powers another nation’s parliament can exercise. It certainly cannot be a union of sovereign states in the way the EU, NATO or the UN are, where so many refer to the union itself as a country:

Why is it nobody refers to the European Union as a country? Why is it no-one refers to individual American or Canadian states as countries? The United Kingdom is the only sovereign state that is regularly called a country, whose constituent parts are also referred to as countries. Only, the countries in the UK are not sovereign, like countries in the EU are, despite the proclamations of the Leave campaign: they all do what one country tells them. What, then, is even the point of keeping up the pretence – other than to lull Scots into thinking they’re already “near enough” independent, so why bother going for all that uncertainty & danger?

When it comes to the so-called United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, I’m not going to refer to The Union, Unionism, or Unionists any more. It’s a fiction crafted to mislead, to infer a false sense of equality and commonwealth in a deeply unequal construct. There is no Union: there is only the Nation of Great Britain. No Unionism, only British Nationalism. How could it be anything else, given nearly every political leader in the UK Government speaks proudly of their country in reference to the UK?

Like I’m always saying, the people of Scotland are sovereign. It is entirely within our power to decide whether Scotland is a country or not. Just because the official referendum result was No, it does not mean Never – no matter how much the more dedicated British nationalists want it to be so. As long as the British Nationalists keep up the pretence that Britain is a Union of Equals, a Family of Nations, then we have to fight harder to wake up from England’s dreaming.

The polls so far suggest we’re rousing from our slumber. The “victors” of the 2014 referendum demand that the sovereign will of the people of Scotland be respected.

PostEUref IndyPolls

So do we.

*A wee shout out to Kevin Pringle for the quotes at the start of the page.

9 thoughts on “The Phoney Union

  1. rob scott says:

    We’re out so it’s time to get over it & get on with it

  2. Funny,but a lot of Unionists used (and continue to use) the same line about the 2014 Indy ref. Didn’t work then either…
    Anyway, we’re not out yet; the British haven’t triggered Art.50 yet.

    • Marconatrix says:

      Exactly, and expect plenty of stalling as they try to stitch up some kind of face-saving deal, or simply manage to kick the referendum result into the long grass. It was once said (sorry I forget the source) that the nation can never keep more than three burning issues alight at one time, and that two of them are usually entirely trivial. So no doubt like buses if they can delay long enough they´ll be another one along soon enough to distract the public´s attention.

  3. Of course, the logical alternative to Scottish independence would be to turn the UK into a functioning federation, but for the reasons you’ve listed above, that’s impossible when one member country is much bigger than the rest combined; therefore, Unionist Federalism only works if England is split up into separate countries (e.g., Greater London, Southern England and Northern England). However, Unionism tends to include a strand of English Nationalism, so they’d never consider this seriously in a million years.

    • alharron says:

      Hey, you never know: Cornwall has a small but faithful following, maybe we can get the other kingdoms of early Medieval Britain going: we could end up with Kent, Anglia, Rheged, Mercia, Northumbria, Essex, Sussex, Wessex…

      • Marconatrix says:

        Cornwall´s identity is based, or at least rationalised, on the concept that it´s one of the six Celtic nations, and indeed it´s bigger than the Isle of Man.

        There is also at least a possible case to be made that Cornwall was never properly annexed by England, there is no act of union, simply charters etc. confirming pre-existing rights of the Duchy, which still exists as a constitutional oddity. Possibly it should really have a status something like that of the IoM and Channel Isles?

        Another strand is the growth since Victorian times of various institutions, Gorsedh Kernow, various language organisations, branches of the Celtic League, Celtic Conference etc.

        Whether or not you take these manifestations seriously they exist and are not likely to go away any time soon, so there´s something to anchor a separate non-English identity on to. And of course Mebyon Kernow is the political wing of this more general ´movement´ with many of the same individuals involved. Not that I´ve heard much of them lately.

        Anyway, my point is that afaik there is nothing equivalent anywhere else in the UK outside of Wales, so no strong basis for regional/national autonomy. Well I suppose Yorkshire could start to discover it´s viking heritage, or whatever, but it would be as tenuous as that …

  4. […] problem which decades of UK Governments refuse to address. We are not being treated as a country in an equal partnership with four others: we are being treated as a region who has to accept the will of the largest […]

  5. […] a time as it may be for Scottish Independence supporters, it’s even more confusing for the British Nationalists who make up their opposite number. The meme right now is that even with the prospect of the UK […]

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