Britain – sleepwalking to separation

The historic victory of the SNP at Holyrood places the UK’s very existence in grave peril writes Marcus Booth.

Alex Salmond

By Marcus Booth, who stood for the Conservative Party in Angus in the 2001 General Election

The biggest cheer at Conservative HQ may have been for the defeat of AV, but the real story of this election is, in fact, the victory of the SNP at Holyrood. The historic result places the UK’s very existence in grave peril.

The prime minister is about to find that the ‘Scottish Question’ is going to be the defining issue of his premiership. David Cameron could be the last prime minister of the UK.

The collapse of support for the Liberal Democrats may have been a principal cause of the SNP victory (the Tory and Labour vote actually held up) and it may be the case that the Scottish electorate were not voting for separation but the shift is seismic and SNP strategy is never accidental.

This is nothing personal; Alex Salmond was the Hon President of the St Andrew’s Students’ Association when I was President. I admire Alex Salmond; he is one of the UK’s most talented politicians. I also like the SNP leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, who is one of the finest campaigners I know and who has been a friend for over ten years. But as a one-time Tory candidate who fought the SNP machine in an area under SNP control, I learnt that we underestimate them at our peril – they are brutal, disciplined and effective opponents. Once in power the SNP ruthlessly use every means at their disposal to advance one cause – separatism. There is cold calculation behind the bonhomie.

The electors in Scotland may not have voted explicitly for separation but the SNP will now use every effort to create the conditions surrounding a referendum (including setting the rules and the question) that will deliver their desired result. Salmond will only go to the people when he knows he will win.

Those of us who oppose the break-up of Britain have a duty to prevent separation becoming a ‘fait accompli’. The dangerous cocktail that must be faced down includes:

Inertia south of the border – in particular the Tory leadership need to confront the ‘little England’ tendency of some in the Tory ranks. Short-sighted and misplaced self-interest has led some in England to think “we are better off without Scotland”. This is not the case. SNP MPs at Westminster are happy enough to encourage this misinformation.

Weakness of opposition to Salmond in Scotland – the strongest politicians of the principal unionist opposition party in Scotland (Labour) are in Westminster and many of the strongest Tory Scots represent English seats. The likes of Douglas Alexander may well be the brightest stars in the UK political sky but they may be packing their bags and heading North sooner than they intended. We need all hands to the pumps now – the Scottish political leaders of the unionist parties cannot remain detached from events in Scotland any more.

There is nothing progressive about the SNP’s so-called “Civic Nationalism”; there is nothing progressive in nationalism full stop. This is not about reviving ‘Rule Britannia’ but in acting together the nations of the UK can yet be a force for progressive values, a force for good in the world. We are stronger together.

In the coming weeks and months a new cross party group ‘Stronger United’ will be joining those making the positive argument for a modern devolved union; north and south of the border against both the ‘little Englanders’ down south and narrow nationalism in all its guises – fighting the politics of division with the politics of unity and hope.

We must work harder than ever to ensure that there is nothing inevitable about the break up of Britain.

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