History, especially that section of history which passes into the national consciousness, is rarely fair. That is why it’s entirely possible that the present Government will be remembered, above all else, as the administration which lost the Union.
The exact Brexit deal which is agreed, and its wider impact, will be a historic footnote compared to whether Britain survives as a political unit. The Union’s contribution to Britain’s security and prosperity is hard to overstate, and its collapse will essentially mark the end of the UK as a great power. Consequently, preserving the Union should be the top priority for both the Government and wider Conservative movement.
The Scottish Nationalist Government has announced its intention to hold another independence referendum. In 2014, then SNP leader Alex Salmond described the upcoming referendum as an ‘once in a generation’ opportunity. Perhaps he was using the lifespan of a rabbit as his reference point.
To be fair, it’s undeniable that, at least to some extent, Brexit has changed the playing field. The UK outside the EU won’t have the same economic, and to some extent political, relations as the country Scotland voted to remain part of in 2014. Thus, whilst Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum is currently being blocked by the Prime Minister, a stance backed by Scottish public opinion, another referendum as some point looks highly likely.
I’ve noticed that a small, but significant, section of English Conservative opinion has become increasingly defeatist regarding the Union. With a few exceptions they don’t want Scotland to leave the UK, but they think she could well do and that it doesn’t matter all that much if she does. Defending the Union, unlike say ensuring Brexit, isn’t an issue which would drag them to the barricades. I’m convinced this view is mistaken.
The British Union has, by my reading of its record, been an almost unparalleled success. Let’s focus on that most fundamental duty of any state; ensuring the security of its citizens. Since the 1707 Act of Union the island of Great Britain has not been successfully invaded by any hostile power. Can anyone seriously contend that peoples of Britain would have been safer, when confronted with the likes of Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler, had we not been politically united? British unity greatly enhanced our internal security, allowing Britain to become an outward facing power exporting both its governmental system and people around the world.
Some of the above may strike you as alarmist. But when considering a question as fundamental as the Union we should be thinking in terms of decades, if not hundreds of years, rather than electoral cycles. It’s very easy, when you live in a country as stable and peaceful as Britain, to come to the erroneous conclusion that this is the natural state of affairs. You hardly need to be a keen weather watcher to have noticed dark clouds on the horizon.
The current American President’s commitment to NATO, and indeed to Liberal Democracy, is conditional at best. Putin shows no signs of reconciling himself to the current borders of Eastern Europe, whilst the radical Right could plausibly make a breakthrough in one of several Western European states. Now is hardly the time to start undermining the fundamentals of our national security.
A view has formed in certain quarters that the end of the Union is, at some point, virtually inevitable. That the forces of nationalism are too strong, bending the Union until at some point it snaps. I’m confident this is nonsense. Nationalist movements can, and have, been defeated in countries similar to the UK before.
There was a time when Canada’s survival in its current form looked pretty unlikely, especially after the 1995 Quebec independence referendum when the Canadian Union survived by a whisker. Catholic and French speaking Quebec is surely culturally further from the rest of Canada than Scotland is from England. And yet the Quebec question now looks settled in favour of unity. A recent poll found that 69% of Quebecers believe the sovereignty question has been resolved, with an even larger majority favouring continued union with the rest of Canada. Meanwhile, the vote share of the main nationalist party in Quebec has fallen sharply as a result of, and I hope your listening SNP, incompetent performance in Government.
The importance of the Union as the bedrock of the British people’s security, and hence prosperity, should not be underestimated. Its collapse would be a historic catastrophe, making Suez seem almost trivia. To her credit, Theresa May seems to appreciate this.
The British Union has achieved an enormous amount, and could achieve a good deal more in the future. It is absolutely worth protecting.
James is a liberal-conservative blogger. He graduated from Oxford University in 2014, and has a years previous experience of working in Westminster. You can follow him on Twitter at @JBickertonUK
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty