Devolution for Scotland will mean the end of a politics distorted by the national question. Peter Jones, of The Economist, says issues will soon have to be discussed on their merits. This might come as a shock to the Scottish establishmentby Peter Jones / April 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
In a recent television interview, Gerald Kaufman had some wise advice for the average MP representing an English constituency. Do not comment on Scottish politics, he counselled: “It is more difficult than Bosnia or Chechnya.” He was speaking after Stephen Dorrell, the health secretary, had been sacked by John Major as a party spokesman on constitutional affairs for getting-as Kaufman once did-his devolution wires terribly crossed.
Scottish culture is full of the same mantraps. What would a commentator, equipped with the knowledge that the Scots resent the English, make of the fact that at a Glasgow Rangers football game, the fans will sing “Rule Britannia” in praise of a team which contains two Englishmen, not to mention two Danes, a German, a Swede, a Serb, a Chilean and an Australian? Or that should the opposition be Hibernian, an Edinburgh team of evident if distant Irish origin, its supporters will retaliate by singing “Flower of Scotland”?
And what should be made of the fact that the fans of Glasgow Rangers who flock in from the surrounding Govan district to wave Union Jacks and sing their praises of Britannia, have twice, in 1973 and 1988, elected a Scottish National party MP at a by-election?
What Dorrell and Kaufman unwittingly caught their feet in was the hidden sub-strata of Scottish society. These underground layers are much more fissured than is suggested by the rolling surface undulations of a country seemingly united by a desire for a political means of self-expression. Assuming the desire is satisfied after the election the fissures will soon become more visible.
Scotland: less united than it seems
The Highlander and the Lowlander, while they might agree that they are both Scottish, would find it more difficult to agree on what bonds them in their Scottishness than the Cornishman and the Cockney would concur on the essence of their shared Englishness.
Yet it seems clear that the Scots are moving towards self-government. Opinion polls, although an uncertain barometer of mood, nevertheless indicate a steady wish for some form of home rule. For a decade, the mercury has shown a constant 25-30 per cent of voters favouring independence, 45-50 per cent wanting self-government within the UK, and only 15-20 per cent supporting the constitutional status quo.
This points to one crucial difference between politics north and south of the border. South of it, sovereignty is something under threat. North of…