An Englishman Ponders Scotland’s Recent Referendum
When Britain had an Empire
The sun would never set,
But the sun set over England
And Englishmen forget
That greater than the Empire
Are the rolling Yorkshire Moors
And more glorious the Dales
Than all the Empire’s wars.
I wrote these lines many years ago in an outpouring of my love for Little England as opposed to Great Britain and as an affirmation of my conversion to the former from my earlier allegiance to the latter. I mention this as a necessary prerequisite to the following discussion of nationhood in the wake of the recent Scottish referendum on independence and in the light of the present controversy surrounding a similar referendum in Catalonia.
Unlike many of my compatriots, I had hoped that the Scots would vote “yes” to independence, though I had always expected them to vote “no.” I said as much in an interview on Ave Maria Radio with Al Kresta on the eve of the referendum and was consequently disappointed to be proved right on the following day.
My reasons for favouring Scottish independence are rooted in the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that political and social problems are resolved best and most justly when dealt with at the most immediate level consistent with their solution. In practical terms, this means that many political and social problems currently being dealt with by national or international governments could and should be dealt with by newly-empowered or re-empowered local and regional governments. Subsidiarity is, therefore, consonant with localism and the decentralization of political power.
My reason for believing that the Scottish people would spurn the opportunity to become independent from the Westminster Government was rooted in a knowledge of the way that political referenda are manipulated by big business and big government to ensure that the results reflect the big-is-best agenda. Nowhere was this more evident than in the referendum, held in June 1975, on Britain’s membership of the Common Market, also known as the European Economic Community (EEC), the embryonic free-trade zone which was destined to morph into the monstrous European Union.
In early 1971 an opinion poll showed that three-quarters of those polled were opposed to Britain’s membership of the Common Market. Less than a year later, in spite of such clear opposition from the voters, Edward Heath, the Conservative Prime Minister, unilaterally took the UK into the Common Market. Faced with an outraged public, Mr. Heath’s Government spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on propaganda to persuade those same taxpayers that they were wrong to oppose Britain’s membership. At the same time, the European Commission Information Service, the propaganda arm of the embryonic European superstate, spent around £10 million to persuade opinion formers of the benefits of the UK’s membership of the EEC.
Big government was joined by big business in the campaign to influence public opinion. The Confederation of British Industry, which represents the biggest companies in the UK, favoured membership whereas the Federation of Small Businesses opposed membership. Today, almost half a century later, big business continues to support the big government in Brussels, even as it has continued to get bigger and bigger, whereas the Federation of Small Businesses remains deeply skeptical about the alleged benefits of Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The unholy alliance between big government and big business was enhanced still further by the power of the media, with every single major newspaper coming out in support of Britain’s membership. With this unholy alliance in place, the British public was bombarded with a one-sided view of the EEC during the referendum on membership, with something in the region of ten times as much money being spent on pro-EEC propaganda compared with that spent on the anti-EEC campaign. Outgunned by the sheer financial power of the alliance of big business, big government and big media, the arguments of the anti-EEC campaign that membership would be disastrous in terms of the country’s economy and its political freedom were either unheard or unheeded. Lulled into a sense of passive acceptance of the claims of those who were making the most noise, the British electorate duly ratified the UK’s membership of the EEC. The rest, as they say, is history–and what a disastrous history it has been!
As I watched the build-up to the Scottish referendum, the shadow of the earlier referendum loomed large in my memory, especially as the same pattern began to emerge. After an opinion poll showed that those intending to vote “yes” to independence were in the majority, the hydra-headed power of big business, big government and big media was again unleashed. Big business, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, threatened to move to London if Scotland became independent; big government flexed its political muscle to warn of the dire consequences of independence; and the media presented an overwhelmingly biased perspective of the arguments. Faced with this juggernaut of manipulation, the Scottish voters changed their minds at the last moment and voted “no” to independence.
Scarcely had the dust settled on the Scottish referendum than another referendum, this time in Catalonia, was making the headlines. On September 29, only two days after campaigning had begun, the referendum was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared that the proposed referendum, which had been called by the regional government in Catalonia, was “anti-democratic.” Stating that the Spanish constitution made it illegal for one part of the country to unilaterally make decisions that affected the whole country, Mr. Rajoy dismissed the notion that Catalonia had a right to forge its own destiny if it clashed with the will of the rest of Spain: “We can’t allow the will of the few to deprive everyone else of their rights.”
In order to comprehend the nature of Mr. Rajoy’s argument, it is helpful to compare the attitude of the Spanish government towards the Catalonian referendum with that of the British government towards the Scottish referendum. If the British government had held the same constitutional position as that expressed by Spain’s Prime Minister, it would have declared the Scottish referendum illegal and refused to allow it to take place. Furthermore, it would have declared the very notion of a Scottish referendum as being “anti-democratic” because it allowed “the will of the few [the Scots] to deprive everyone else [the British] of their rights.” Such a line of reasoning is dangerous because it is profoundly anti-subsidiarist. It could, for instance, be used by multinational bodies, such as the European Union, to declare that all referenda held by individual member states to decide upon continued membership of the EU or independence from it were “anti-democratic” because it allowed “the will of the few [the British, the French etc.] to deprive everyone else [the people of the European Union] of their rights.” This is the very antithesis of subsidiarity, which, to reiterate, holds that political and social problems are resolved best and most justly when dealt with at the most immediate level consistent with their solution.
A just solution to the problems caused by the giantism of our age, in which governments continue to get bigger and, therefore, further from the people, is the empowerment of local and regional government and the devolution of power away from Machiavellian and macro-oriented central government. The Scots, kowtowing before the threats of big business and misled by the deceptions of big government and big media, chose the devil they know in fear of the devil they don’t know. Meanwhile, the Catalan people have been told by the devil they know that they cannot vote for the devil they don’t know. For my part, I would simply venture to suggest that voting for the devil is never a good choice and that voting for the devil we know is downright foolhardy. As for the devil we don’t know, he might not be the devil at all!
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.