Lord Flight is chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The most concerning aspect of the General Election result, and of the next Parliament, is the potential power for the SNP to mess up British politics and government. There are important lessons to be learned from the mishandling of Irish nationalism post-1880, of which the most obvious for the main UK political parties to avoid is doing deals with the SNP to achieve a Parliamentary majority. Gladstone disapproved of Home Rule, but agreed to it, as the price to pay for Parliamentary support from the Irish nationalists; but, in the event, it was defeated by members of his own Party. This led to a prolonged period of Conservative Government.
Neither the economic nor political cases against Scottish independence have been made adequately. The economic arguments involve different, important assumptions – i.e: as to the future price of oil, and whether or not an independent Scotland were to become a member of the EU. But even on optimistic scenarios, independence would be seriously bad economic news for Scotland. Aside from the ending of Barnett Formula subsidies, there are thousands of UK Public Sector and other jobs, moved to Scotland to help its employment, which would need to move back to the UK. But the political case against independence is just as serious bad news: it implies a one party socialist State.
What is needed, politically at Westminster, is public agreement by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties on committed opposition to Scottish independence – and an agreement that they will not do deals with the SNP in order to secure Parliamentary majorities. On the ground in Scotland, last autumn’s referendum showed that there is a substantial “silent majority” against independence – but this will not come through in terms of elected MPs.
The problem is that the opposition to independence is divided, and will not get its voice heard under the present Scottish party political arrangements. What is needed is a single, Scottish Unionist Party committed to the Union, merging the Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties. Until recently, the Labour Party would never have considered this, since it regarded Scotland as its homeland; but post the coming General Election results, Labour will need to think again.
Opposition to the SNP and Scottish Independence by both the Scottish diaspora, in the rest of the UK, and by Scottish business has been feeble. Scots (born in Scotland) but living in the rest of the UK are overwhelmingly pro the Union. I suggest that they need to set up and fund an organisation to promote the arguments against independence and for the Union; and to insist that Scots born in Scotland, but employed in the rest of the UK, have a vote in any further Referendum. They could well co-operate with Scottish business, which is mostly against Independence, to help get their voices heard.
Following Parnell’s disgrace over his affair with Kitty O’Shea, 130 years ago, Irish nationalism drifted into violence – first that of the Fenians and then that of the IRA. There are already some unpleasant aspects of Scottish Nationalism in terms both of attempts to intimidate business and of attacks on English students at the Scottish Universities. These both need much more public exposure.
The behaviour of the SNP is increasingly offensive to English citizens who have gone along with subsidising Scotland via the Barnett Formula in the interests of the Union, and who have happily worked with Scottish men and women for over 200 years. Perhaps the hidden SNP tactic is to annoy the English in the hope that a majority in England decide that it wants to get rid of Scotland.
But I do not believe this will work, unless one of the political parties is foolish enough to do deals with the SNP for their own Westminster advantage. What is needed, both in Scotland itself and Westminster, is a united political stance to face down the SNP. The substantial “silent majority” of Scots who voted against independence need political support and a single, Unionist “ticket” for whom they can vote in general and local elections,