The Scots bid for power has got them a dull parliament and a resentful Englandby John Lloyd / December 18, 2004 / Leave a comment
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Scots made a bid for greater power within the United Kingdom. That bid has failed.
The bid for power may better be represented as several bids – though these were strongly interlocking, and at times could combine. A sense of grievance was the unifying feature, and this grievance was largely directed at the English. It was combined with a strong sense of superiority – which could, itself, take differing forms, though with a common theme.
Among the most pervasive beliefs was that of moral superiority. It was devoutly believed – and devoutly is the word, since it derived from the presumed greater virtues of a flinty Presbyterianism over an accommodating Anglicanism. The late John Smith was among those who believed that “the Scots are a more moral people” (as he once told me) than the English whom he aspired to govern. He shared this belief with that other gifted and self-sacrificing Scots politician, Donald Dewar who had for much of his political life drawn the appropriate conclusion: that Scotland should have a separate parliament.
Moral superiority could and did coexist perfectly well with a desire to remain British. “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us?” was a toast which could be either grudge-filled or giggling, depending on the speaker or the time, as could the derisive adaptation of the patriotic song, “There’ll always be an England,” with the second line “As long as Scotland’s there.” In his oddly titled The Day Britain Died, Andrew Marr writes of what he gathered of the Scots/English relationship as a child in his moderately Conservative, proud-to-be-British, middle-class Scots home – “we Scots lost, but we were nobler and braver and more tragic than the English, who were dull and smug. We were rough, they were smooth. We were gritty, they were suburban.”
This harmless self-regard hated Scottish nationalism, in part because nationalism demanded it take its half-serious sentiments fully seriously. If the Scots were uniquely blessed (“wha’s like us?”), then why not create a paradise for such creatures? This point was put, with increasing insistence, from the 1970s on until, by the 1980s and early 1990s, it almost monopolised Scots political debate. Nationalism left the cranks’ soapboxes, went into the broadcasting studios and took hold of the nation. The meta-narrative provided by Tom Nairn, of a relentlessly declining Britain, played at…