We must never forget that the United Kingdom is one of the world’s greatest democracies and manages this despite not having a formal written constitution. Our freedoms have developed over a thousand years and the evolution of these involved all parts of the United Kingdom – from events like the signing of the Magna Carta and the declaration of Arbroath, through the abolition of the monarchy and its restoration as a constitutional monarchy, the abolition of slavery, the extension of the right to vote to all men and women of voting age (as opposed to just male landowners) and the creation of the trade union movement.
Whatever happens in the independence referendum we must never lose sight of this or ever play down Scotland’s role in this.
This leads us to explore the role now played by the United Kingdom in Scotland.
Unless the people of Scotland really do want independence from the rest of the UK, then Scotland must continue to expect that the democratic processes, enjoyed by the whole of the UK, should also apply and work in Scotland.
There has been much talk lately about the UK government not having a mandate in Scotland. Much of this appears to be based on a propaganda exercise that has been undertaken to create a feeling of isolation from the rest of the UK within Scotland – seemingly rooted in the fact that Scotland has a more “socialist” persona compared to the more “conservative” persona of the rest of the UK. Indeed, it appears to suit the independence movement to brand the current coalition government as “Tory Toffs”.
This “socialist” persona – rooted in a profound sense of fairness – has however been critical in the development of democracy in the United Kingdom. It has and continues to play a profound role in developing the social conscience of our entire nation.
A division in our nation would “de facto” remove this current balance.
Indeed, the danger with creating even a nominal divide is that it could tend to limit the UK Government’s ability to function effectively in Scotland and effectively curtail its role and influence there.
We have had a recent reminder of this that has attracted some criticism – as if the United Kingdom stops at the border between Scotland and England. That is why it is profoundly important to understand that sometimes politicians speak from the authority of their office and not just as themselves – or with political motive with an eye to the next election. When they speak in this way, they do so to safeguard the nation and its citizens.
Indeed, we have grown used to the Queen speaking for the good of the nation from the authority of the crown but lately we have grown suspicious of politicians doing the same thing. We have tended to assume they are acting from political motive, financial motive or a degree of nepotism.
But such cynicism is not always warranted.
Last weekend David Cameron did, for once, speak out from the authority of his office – and he gave a warning to the Scottish Government that Scotland was still part of the United Kingdom and that the same rules of democracy and free speech applied there despite a perceived “lack of mandate”.
To put this in context, Scotland has a much larger proportion of people working in the public sector than the rest of the UK. Much of our local economy is predicated on that. This means that many of the goods and services supplied filter in some way through the public purse with the Scottish Government being the ultimate “client”.
It therefore matters a great deal to businesses whether they are to be branded as “unacceptable” simply because they are “for” remaining in the UK
Any perceived sense of “you will never work in this town again” being picked up by businesses worried about their future is unacceptable. Privately many appear deeply concerned about any “impartiality” that might be shown to them if Scotland were to become independent. Most do not want to state a “position” on the issue for this very reason.
That is why it was important for the Prime Minister to speak out at the weekend with all the authority of his office and defend the rights and freedoms of all businesses and citizens within the UK..
In the Prime Minister’s words, “You can’t go on like that, this is a democracy. People have got to be able to put forward their views without fear.”
He also committed to a fair and equally funded campaign on both sides – allaying fears that the huge “war” chest amassed by the Nationalists so far would create an unfair advantage.
This has demonstrated that he takes his position as Prime Minister of the whole UK very seriously. It demonstrated that he represents the whole of the UK, not just those who voted for him and that the full authority of the UK Government would be behind safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all UK citizens – those in Scotland included.
The United Kingdom is still a good and safe place to live in democratically.