The View from England: “The Union Is Over”
Matthew Parris thinks that “the Union is over” and expects the general election results to confirm this. He notes the growing frustration with Scotland in England:
In hundreds of conversations I’ve joined or overheard in the last year in England — conversations far from the shadows of Westminster: on buses, on the doorstep, in pubs and with non-political friends — I have hardly once heard anyone express sorrow or apprehension that Scotland might leave the Union. Two remarks recur. “Well it’s up to them, but if they’re going to go, let’s do it, and have an end to all this argy-bargy”; and “why can’t we have a referendum in England about this? I tell you if I see Alex Salmond’s grinning chops one more time I think I’d vote for them to leave.” Words to this effect are heard everywhere.
Beneath these waters the independence referendum shot like a torpedo. Scots seemed to discover an anger that had not been apparent. The English are discovering a disdain that their politicians have noticed and will now exploit.
Parris’ larger point is that unionism doesn’t mean all that much to large numbers of English voters. If Scotland left the union tomorrow, one gets the impression from this that the main reaction in much of England would be a sense of relief that they would no longer have to think about Scottish complaints or aspirations. The same voters in England that previously didn’t “harbour any feelings, positive or otherwise, towards Scotland” seem very likely to be displeased by an election result that greatly empowers a nationalist party that thrives in part on cultivating anti-English sentiment. If “the Union is over,” as Parris states at the end of his column, it is because large numbers of voters in both England and Scotland have grown increasingly tired of the arrangement and would just as soon be rid of it.
Parris says that the important post-election choice will be between “separation and federation,” and that is probably right. Based on the English attitudes he is describing and the Scottish attitudes that we’ve already seen on display over the last year, it’s hard to imagine what sort of federal system could successfully accommodate the interests of all of the nations to their mutual satisfaction. It seems more and more likely that the outcome will be separation sooner or later.