“I don’t want to be Prime Minister of England, I want to be Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom,” says David Cameron. And Ed Miliband, who has seemingly joined the coalition on this issue, was correct when he told the Commons: “This is a momentous decision which our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we get it wrong.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have any analysis to explain quite what “wrong” would be or for whom.
At the same time, hoping to appeal to romanticised myth and obscure real history, Alex Salmond wants to hold the referendum in 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. But the battle was fought between two feudal overlords, sole possessors of the land! Scotland no more belonged to the people who lived there than did England to the English.
The Act of Union in 1706 merged the parliament of Scotland with that of England and Wales, and Britain became officially one nation. A rapidly growing capitalist economy throughout Britain destroyed feudalism, and the working class emerged.
Britain developed in the heat of the industrial revolution with all its national elements coming together in large-scale manufacture and the growth of major towns across England, Scotland and Wales. It didn’t matter which particular area mined the coal firing the furnaces, which were located throughout the nation.
From this rapid industrial expansion emerged the British working class, with a common interest in opposition to naked capitalist exploitation. It quickly developed a sense of itself. The skills required by industry were working class skills of hand and brain, the same in Scotland as in England and Wales.
The emergent working class found its collective voice through trade unions. Often local at first, they discovered real strength as they became national. Movements such as Luddism spread throughout Britain.
The British working class has achieved great things: the building of the welfare state after 1945 is a marker of our united strength, in that the ruling class felt the necessity of conceding such to workers who had defeated fascism and demanded a better society. The battle for what was created then began almost immediately, as we see now so acutely.
A referendum on Scotland breaking away from Britain poses a crucial question for the whole British people. Our greater strength lies in unity. All must have a vote on the future of Britain, not just Scotland, with a simple yes/no question. On this, Cameron got it right.
A ‘yes’ vote in a referendum would mean subservience for Scotland. Let Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy serve as examples, subsumed by the European superstate. Do Scots really want the euro?
The British working class must not allow itself to be split along false “national” lines. We are a nation – a British nation – who share the same problems and are tied together in common interests. Salmond has been pumped up – by himself, his party and the press. He does not want a referendum because he is afraid his rhetoric will be exposed for what it is. He requires deflating.
Britain needs to re-discover a positive sense of itself, of its actual history as a united working class. We must turn to the real problem: our future as a nation and how to rebuild Britain. ■