Some thoughts on Tom Nairn’s death and his obituary.
Tom Nairn, hailed as the ‘intellectual godfather of the Scottish Independence movement’, died this week: he was 90 years old.
Others have written of his profound writing and of his prediction that the United Kingdom as a state will inevitably break up.
So I pose this question: is the sundering of the Union inevitable?
Given that the vision offered by the Union between Scotland and England has changed over decades and centuries, yes, it is inevitable.
Most recently the case for the Union has centred mainly and increasingly on a financial argument that Scotland depends on subsidy from England. It doesn’t, but the defenders of the Union have that one debating point to hang onto, and they will dig in: they have even manipulated the numbers to do so. The other arguments they could have made have fallen one by one.
In previous decades there was a shared pride in industrial achievement, Scotland’s part in the Empire’s success demonstrated by her prowess in innovation and heavy engineering. There was shared pride in British Made goods carried by Clyde Built ships around the world. These would be distributed in destination nations on railways built as part of Empire on trains often drawn by Scottish-built locomotives. Subsequent questioning of the values of Empire, and shame over the part Scots played in it, have not helped the case.
That bubble started to burst on the rocks of poor management, on a rentier philosophy based on taking income from assets without reinvestment. So Clyde-built ships were being built in the 60s in the open using tools from the 1910s, in competition with ships built in Korea in covered yards with the most modern tooling. Similarly for other industries. Confidence, trust, pride in the Union were eroding along with industrial prowess.
To more modern times. North Sea oil was found in mainly Scottish waters. However, instead of rejuvenating Scottish industry and increasing Scottish wealth, as happened in Norway with its Sovereign Wealth Fund, the wealth went South in another example of rentier exploitation. The labour government minimised the potential of the find in fear that it might prompt calls for Scottish Independence, and took the revenue generated to bolster the UK economy. It did the UK no harm when they had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF.
Scroll forward to the present. Scotland hasn’t voted Tory for 50 years, but has suffered decade after decade of Tory rule. The oil revenue has largely gone – a major part of the “better together” campaign in 2014 – and Scots still haven’t seen the benefits. Many point to major capital projects such as the M25, Crossrail or HS2 as where the money has gone – all down south. Some point to the defeat of the miners in the 80s, funded in part by North Sea Oil. All point to the damage caused by Tory austerity, imposed by a government Scots didn’t want.
Then there’s Brexit.
Yes, it is inevitable that the Union will break. That which held us together has withered.
In the future, the energy resources Scotland has will centre on wind and wave power, and the good news is, they won’t run out.