Monday 1st May marked the anniversary, passed almost without public notice, of 310 years since the Acts of Union. These two acts created the Kingdom of Great Britain. By any standard, the resulting state has been remarkably successful. We have succeeded in peace, in war, in educating ourselves, in ideas and invention: it is a birthday worth celebrating.
However, although we have been a unitary state, we have never been a uniform one. Scotland has always maintained her own education and legal systems, a state church of her own and a distinctive culture and society. This has been the great secret of the Union. Another has been the willingness of England to be ruled by Scots who seek a wider arena for their talents. Both nations have been enriched by this over hundreds of years.
But no discussion of the Union of the two crowns can ignore the third crown, our great failure: Ireland. As with Scotland, the 1800 Act of Union was passed under duress at English insistence, but every opportunity thereafter to forge a true union failed, or came too late. With one referendum narrowly won (and another more likely than not) the question remains: How we can avoid the same fate?
We have to become Scottish nationalists, and so draw out the poison of the SNP and render the party irrelevant. John Buchan, a Unionist politician besides a famous novelist, once said: ‘I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist’. Conservatives must be champions of a certain idea of Scotland, an inclusive conception broad enough to be understood and embraced across all the British Isles.
At the core of the Union is a Scottish feeling of belonging to it, of being both Scottish and British. Yet we must be especially wary of an incipient English nationalism, which would rather see Scotland depart than fail in getting its own way. Scotland and England is more than an alliance of convenience: it is family.
With a nationalist bloc of substantial size in the Commons – unlikely to be seriously diminished in the near future – we must become accustomed to their voice in UK politics. It will be heard for a long time to come. Therefore it is inevitable that a future government will require SNP votes for a Commons majority. We must take care when this time comes, for it was the very presence of Irish nationalists propping up Liberal governments in the 1890s and 1910s that resulted in the end of the Union with Ireland.
The greatest success for British citizens, for opportunities both in Britain and globally, whether Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish, should be our policy. The Conservative Party remains the Conservative and Unionist Party. We are Unionists, and therefore we must strive to maintain this family of nations. Our enemy isn’t merely disunion; it is disintegration.
Written by James Hindson