Alex Massie

There’s Romance in the Union

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One of Gordon Brown's flunkies* writes in today's Telegraph:

More than a year ago I argued that a debate about the future of the United Kingdom was long overdue. I suggested that, unless we start to focus more on what unites us than we do on what divides us, there     is a real risk that one day people will wake up and find that the benefits of the Union - which they had taken for granted for so long - had disappeared.

I was accused of crying wolf. But when secessionist forces are loudly at work it is not the time for silence and passivity. We must be resolute in defending the Union and argue against those who put it at risk.

What follows is blather about

common values we share across the United Kingdom: values we have developed together over the years that are rooted in liberty, in fairness and tolerance, in enterprise, in civic initiative and internationalism.

Because, obviously, all these things are at risk if Scotland (or any other part of the United Kingdom, for that matter) were to secede?

It gets worse, if you can believe it:

So although the Union reflects self-interest - and indeed enlightened self-interest - on the part of its constituent nations it means much more than that; and much more too than a contract of convenience that can easily be renegotiated when it suits each party.

The fact is, the Union is more like a covenant founded on shared values that have created bonds of belonging that make us all feel part of a wider Britain. Out of these bonds of belonging we have     created not just the rights and responsibilities of a political citizenship but also of a social and economic citizenship too.

So today, wherever and whoever you are in any part of the United Kingdom, you enjoy not only the right to liberty within the law but also the right to education, to healthcare, to help when unemployed     and to a state pension and soon, for everyone, an occupational pension too. It is through such social insurance that all parts of the UK share risks and resources to provide security for each of us.

It is precisely because these shared values are so important and continue to flourish that it is possible to reconcile English, Scottish and Welsh pride with the progress of the Union - because the Union succeeds in combining recognition of separate national identities with the ideals and common values that reflect our wider Britishness.

Again, I think it's probably that an independent Scotland would have an interest in educating Scottish children. I dare say there'd be some kind of health service too. Perhaps even, if we're bold or fortunate, some pensions too.

Brown has it exactly wrong: the Union was forged as a contract of convenience (for both parties) and is, whether rightly or not, increasingly viewed as such again today. There's nothing wrong with that.

Whether he means to or not, Brown's op-ed today reminds one that the debate has turned full circle. Whereas 50 years ago the idea of an independent Scotland seemed a laughable proposition that could only be taken seriously by incurable romantics or eccentric, even by their standards, Jacobites, today it is, in many respects, the Unionist cause that appeals to sentiment. That too is a perfectly sensible, defensible position. If the head said preserve the Union 50 years ago, today, for many people, it's more likely to recommend independence leaving the heart to pine for the old glories of Union days. At no point does Brown pause to ask why this might be.

The Prime Minister signs off with this:

There is a modern case for the Union, and it must be heard: it is not about partnership at the expense of pride, or about pride that can be satisfied only by sacrificing partnership. Instead, it is to ensure that each region and nation of the United Kingdom flourishes within a covenant and in a partnership of equals for the benefit of all.

If there is - and actually I think there may be -  "a modern case for the Union" it might have been wise for Mr Brown to share it with us. If he chooses not to he can hardly complain if folk remain unpersuaded by his assertions.

*I give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt here, assuming that he's too intelligent to have written this cliched pap himself.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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