Michael Fry's conversion to Scottish independence is the greatest challenge to unionism I have seen in a long timeby John Lloyd / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
More than anything written on Scotland than I can remember, Michael Fry’s cover story in the December issue of Prospect jolted me into thinking in a new way. Fry argued that, as a Tory, his political aims and ideals would be better served within a framework of an independent Scotland than that of the United Kingdom. I had seen this claim, in a telegraphic form, at the end of Fry’s book “The Union”; a full-length rehearsal of it was even more of a shock.
Fry appeals to political reason, not to the different variants of anti-Englishism which have posed as analyses of Scotland’s crisis these past 30 years. He wants a society imbued with Tory values, and believes that Scotland, while sucking on an over-indulgent English pap and ruled by a British Labour government, will never recover enough moral fibre to develop these values. It is an inversion of the usual argument that Scots votes keep a naturally Tory England imprisoned in a British Labour straitjacket: Fry sees Labour preventing Scotland from developing a small-government, self-reliant, unsubsidised Toryism which, he suggests, could be its natural state were it not bribed into sloth. This approach has traditionally been made on the left—with, of course, a different policy programme. The Scottish Socialist party—now fragmented under the strain of its former leader Tommy Sheridan’s court case against press allegations that he had visited sex clubs—was only the most successful electorally of the various attempts to form a nationalist party of the left. The Scottish National party is itself leftish in programme and rhetoric, as Fry points out.
In accepting that Scotland, not Britain, is the appropriate forum for his programme, Fry is selling a pass which his Conservative party had guarded most assiduously. We don’t yet know if this one defection will start a trend, but the statement on its own is a greater challenge to unionism, of any kind, than I have seen in a long time. It prompts a calculation, preliminary at least, of the gains and losses of full independence.
Gains (for Scotland): a government that would set its own revenue and spending levels and have its own foreign and defence policy; oil revenues, possibly; inward investment on its own terms; a relationship with, and officials in, the EU and European commission; a revival of national pride;
(for England): the end to a large drain on tax revenues; the…