According to Boris Johnson and assorted British nationalists, the United Kingdom is the most successful union in the world. That’s a claim which begs many questions. Questions like, how are you defining a union exactly? Questions like successful for whom? What criteria are you using for “successful”? The number of foodbanks perhaps. The UK has been highly successful in the past few years at making people, even people in work, rely upon foodbanks in order to feed their kids. Or perhaps it’s based upon the least number of years without being involved in war or military action. That would be just a couple of dozen years out of the three hundred plus during which the UK has been in existence. Or maybe it’s based upon the number of Tory MPs who got their position on the basis of lies on the side of a bus.
Dunno about you, but I can think of quite a few unions that have been considerably more successful for their members than the UK has been for Scotland. Switzerland springs to mind. It’s peaceful, prosperous, has better public services, and doesn’t keep getting involved in wars. That sounds successful to me. It’s also highly successful in ensuring that members of the Swiss union can’t be browbeaten and dragged along into things that they don’t want by the largest member of the union. It would be very nice if that was also the case in the UK. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with Brexit.
The truth is that the union between Scotland and England has been spectacularly successful, but only in a very narrowly defined sense. It has been highly successful for London and the tellingly named Home Counties in the South East of England. It’s been successful at sooking resources and humans out of Scotland and using them for the benefit of the economy of the South East of England. For Scotland, success? Not so much.
In 1707 when the Treaty of Union was foisted upon Scotland under threat of economic blockade and invasion, Scotland was not the bankrupt basket case of British nationalist myth. Many of Scotland’s wealthy had lost money in the Darien fiasco, but that was their own money, not Scotland’s national wealth. The fact is that during the early years of the 18th century Scotland was doing as well as or rather better than other northern European states of a similar size and population. Scotland was wealthier than Denmark or Norway. Finland was an underdeveloped possession of the Swedish crown.
Yet after over three hundred years of what we’re constantly told is the most successful union that the multiverse has ever seen has reduced Scotland from a position of equality with other northern European nations to being far poorer. That’s because for the past three hundred years Scotland has exported its people, along with their talents, skills, and abilities honed by education that Scotland has paid for, to the maw of London, where those talents skills and abilities generate wealth and revenue for the economy of the South East of England and not for Scotland. Scotland exports its resources, its wealth, and its capital and we are told that having to export our children is a “union benefit”. Personally I think it would be a lot more of a benefit for Scotland to be able to develop itself so that its children aren’t driven to seek employment elsewhere. That would be a better and more realistic definition of success. But then the definition of success used by British nationalist politicians in Scotland is a highly self-serving one.
The cumulative result after three hundred years is a nation that British nationalists delight in describing as an economic basket case that’s supposedly too impoverished to join the EU in its own right. The peculiar thing is that they seem to believe that this claim is a vindication of London rule in Scotland and not an indictment of it.
In the 1600s Scotland was not an economic basket case. It was an averagely prosperous northern European nation enjoying a successful and thriving trade with France and the Baltic countries as well as with England. Today the GDP of Scotland is around half of that of Denmark, a country which does not possess a fraction of the resources that Scotland does. Denmark has exceeded Scotland in population growth and in wealth. Yet surely if the UK was indeed the most successful union of nations in all of history, it would have enabled Scotland to develop greater wealth than Denmark, to increase its population at a faster rate than the rest of Europe. Instead the opposite has happened. Far from being the most successful, the union has acted as a drag upon Scotland’s development. And that’s hardly surprising considering that Scotland’s role in the UK is the same as that of the English provinces – to act as a reservoir of resources and skilled labour for the benefit of the economy of London and the South East of England.
Population growth is a good proxy for comparing the economies and opportunities offered by different European countries over the past 300 years. At the time of the Treaty of Union in 1707, Scotland had an estimated population of approximately 1.1 million. A quarter lived in the Highlands. England and Wales at the same time had a population of approximately 5.1 million. Scotland’s population was about one fifth of that of England and Wales combined. Today the population of Scotland is 5.4 million, the population of England and Wales combined is 58.1 million, over ten times the population of Scotland. If Scotland’s population growth had kept pace with the rest of the UK, modern Scotland would have around 11 million people, over double what it actually has. The excess population has been lost to emigration, much of it to the rest of the UK.
(Source: http://www.spanishsuccession.nl/uk_england.html )
Denmark had a population of approximately 797,000 in the year 1769, about 75% of Scotland’s figure over 60 years after the Treaty of Union. Today Denmark has a population of almost 5.78 million, more than Scotland. The same pattern is repeated in Finland. In 1750, the first year for which records are available, there were 421,000 people living in Finland, less than half of Scotland’s population. Today there are 5.5 million Finns, more people than live in Scotland. Norway had approximately 440,000 inhabitants in 1665, and didn’t exceed a million in population until 1825, today it has a population of 5,399,962, almost exactly the same as Scotland’s.
There’s a very consistent pattern here. The Scandinavian countries have all seen their populations grow by a factor of between 8 and 11 since 1700. Scotland’s population has grown far more slowly, well below the average for Europe. Since fertility levels are similar in all northern European nations, this indicates that Scotland has been markedly less successful in holding on to its population. That can only be as a result of the macro-economic policies adopted by successive Westminster governments. Scots have been forced to emigrate, and we’re told this is a benefit of the union.
The only northern European nation which has had a worse demographic history than Scotland is Ireland – the only other northern European nation which was ruled by Westminster. Ireland’s population reached 8 million just prior to the Great Famine, a tragedy for which the Westminster governments of the day bear considerable responsibility. Those are the same governments which bear the blame for the Clearances which depopulated much of the Scottish countryside.
All of this at least gives us an objective criterion for defining “most successful union”. The UK has been most successful union when it comes to devastating the population growth of its smaller members. It has been the most successful at producing the Cringe and destroying the languages and cultures of the non English parts of the union. It has been the most successful at creating the greatest chasm between rich and poor in Europe. It has been the most successful at warmongering abroad. So yeah, sure, it’s the most successful union, just not in a good way.
Scotland has been impoverished by Westminster and those who support Westminster cite Westminster’s mismanagement as a reason why Scotland needs Westminster. If the UK really was the most successful union the world has ever seen, then opponents of independence would not be able to claim that Scotland can’t become independent because it’s too poor. They can’t, or won’t, explain why it is that Scotland has fallen behind other northern European countries economically. If this union really was as successful as they claim, why isn’t Scotland as rich as Denmark or Finland – never mind Norway which also has oil in the North Sea.
The truth is Scotland could be considerably more successful as an independent country. A truly successful union is a handshake, a supporting hand. The reality of this union is a Westminster with its hands around Scotland’s throat.
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