Will the Union see its 300th birthday? (Alan Cochrane, 25/10/2006, Daily Telegraph)
Is the United Kingdom heading for fragmentation with the secession of Scotland from the Union, even as it prepares to celebrate its 300th anniversary next year? And if it is, should those who make up the vast bulk of its population – the English – give a damn?
The questions arise following a series of astonishing events, beginning 10 days ago when nearly 1,200 delegates packed the new Concert Hall in Perth – the biggest gathering at a political conference that Scotland has seen in recent memory – to hear Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, deliver his keynote address to his annual conference. His strident call for the break-up of the United Kingdom was cheered to the echo by his adoring audience.
Nothing new there, but what was surprising was what happened next. Two days later, Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of the Kwik Fit chain of exhaust and tyre depots, told the world that Scottish independence was “inevitable”.
His words followed hard on the heels of the announcement by this self-same self-made man that he was donating £100,000 to the SNP’s coffers to help it fight next year’s elections to the Edinburgh parliament. He is not alone. Thanks to big donations from emigré Scots, the most famous of all being Sir Sean Connery, the nationalists reckon that they will have at least as much to spend next May as Labour.
On the same day as Sir Tom’s prediction came another extraordinary intervention, not from a captain of industry, but a prince of the church – Cardinal Keith O’Brien, spiritual leader of Scotland’s 800,000 Roman Catholics. The Ulster-born cardinal said that he would have no problem with an independent Scotland, if that was the will of its people and, significantly at least in the eyes of this observer, he pointed out that other small nations – such as Ireland – had done exceptionally well since gaining their independence.
Although they insist that it is not entering the political arena, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland enjoys a decidedly rocky relationship with Scottish Labour, lambasting the devolved administration for what it sees as the Scottish Executive’s “anti-family” policies, such as those on same-sex “marriages”, gay adoption and contraceptive advice to under-age schoolgirls. Neither Sir Tom nor Cardinal O’Brien has endorsed the SNP, but their espousal of independence has confirmed the growing trend towards separatism.
The interesting thing is not the truism that separation is inevitable, but that this is the exact opposite of the sort of European Union that intellectual elites thought was inevitable.