Beyond the triumphalism of the British mainstream media, beneath the jubilation of the London politicians, the last rites of “Britishness” maybe gathering pace. The percentage margin of victory for the pro-British Union in the Scottish independence referendum belies any notion of a comfortably united British, so-called “United Kingdom.”
Scots were clearly galvanised to the tune of a remarkable 84% electoral turnout. This numerically translated as 3,619,915 votes being validly cast. Of these 2,001,926 were cast to remain in the United Kingdom, that is, to remain part of the British state. While 1,617,989 wanted complete autonomy and separation from the Kingdom.
What separated victory for the Union and with it the complete cessation of the state we continue to refer as “British” were 191,969 votes – or 5.3% of the voting electorate. The United Kingdom if the vote had gone for independence would have continued to include England, Wales and officially Northern Ireland (however, everyone knows that half the population of the latter want nothing to do with the British state). A United Kingdom without Scotland, that is, a Great Britain without Scotland would have found it very difficult to continue referring itself as “British.” Obviously, the British Isles consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and some small islands would have continued but a British state which manages the united affairs of these three main countries would have needed recalibration.
In a snap opinion poll conducted after the election by the pollster Lord Ashcroft, of those that voted to remain in the United Kingdom 47% cited currency and economy and only 27% cited an attachment to the United Kingdom and a shared history. In other words, less than a third of those that voted for the Union did so because of any possible idealistic reasons that could be associated with “Britishness.” Which translated into votes would be the equivalent of 540,520 of Scots that voted did so because of their Britishness, that is, 14.93% of the total votes did so because they considered themselves to be British first and foremost.
Furthermore, according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll there is a more telling story when one looks at which way particular age groups voted. In the age group between 16 and 54, 54% voted for separation, while 46% voted for the Kingdom. While, in the over 54 age group, 66% voted to remain in the Kingdom and 34% voted for independence.
It is quite clear the majority of Scots who voted to remain part of the Kingdom did so for economic reasons. Needless, to say Scots still enjoy certain benefits that no longer exist in the rest of the Kingdom such as free medical prescriptions, no tuition fees on higher education, free elderly care and in the final days of the two year electoral campaign further political devolution was pledged by the leaders of the three main political parties.
As can be seen “Britishness” was saved by the older generation and socialistic policies that are specific to Scotland. It was certainly no allegiance or attachment to British ideals or memories of the British Empire i.e. shared history, which safeguarded “Britain” as a political construct on the map.
However, writing in the immediate aftermath of the Union victory the Conservative politician and historian, Daniel Hannan cooed, “Thank God. Just Thank God…my country is intact.” For anyone following the campaign, especially in its final weeks, Hannan’s thanking of the entity and agent known as “God” is quite misplaced. Largely because the actual human agents who were visibly on the stomp to save “Britishness” were Left and Labour politicians such as John Prescot, John Reid, George Galloway and Gordon Brown. It was these stalwarts of Labourism who saved the Union. In the battle for the United Kingdom or ‘Britishness’ in Scotland, Conservative politicians like Hannan played a very limited role. Indeed, the Union was saved by, more than any other political figure, Hannan’s political bête noire, Gordon Brown advocating benefits of socialistic policies that are an anathema to Hannan and his political ilk. To drag ‘God’ into this and credit such a providential agent with rescuing his British identity is neither enlightening nor scientific but entirely disingenuous.
Mr. Hannan further parades his self-delusion when he argues the referendum “result tells us that a measure of joint identity predominates: most Scots have a sense of patriotism large enough to encompass both Scottishness and Britishness.” Besides circumventing the fact Glasgow, the once second city of the British Empire has decisively rejected ‘Britishness’ by majority vote, this is clearly not true as already discussed.
In the final analysis “British” identity is now electorally quantifiable. What separates “Britishness” from oblivion are the 191,969 Scots, that is, the 5.3% of vote casting Scots who chose to stay with the United Kingdom. As time progresses “Britishness” will succumb to the law of diminishing returns, it will cease to mean anything to more and more Scots as the older generation makes way for a younger generation. Actually, it is now clearly arguable that “British” identity is a busted flush.