Friday, July 25, 2008

They have made a nation...

They have made a nation.

I reflect on these words that I uttered some 150 years ago in a somewhat premature and erroneous fashion; and I do not claim they apply to the current situation in Scotland.

Nevertheless it is apposite that the Scottish now have a nationalist government and last night the people of Glasgow rejected a century of socialism to embrace their new nationalist future. I do not believe the strength of nationalism or the injustice experienced by the Scottish people compares in any respect to the situation in Ireland during the years of my ministry.

But when a people express a yearning for national determination, when they reject their historic bonds with England, it is a matter that must be treated with seriousness. The prime motivation of the Glaswegian voter may well have been to reject the Queen's ghillie and all his works; to demonstrate the hardship they experience in the current dire economic situation. But it is part of a movement, and a movement that cannot be ignored, towards nationalism in Scotland.

The leaders of British politics must respond to this. There is a government in Scotland but it is a peculiar government that spends money, governs great departments of state but has very little responsibility in the raising of taxes. Some argue that it makes it irresponsible; that it makes Scots ungrateful for the largess bestowed on them by English tax-payers. It would therefore be a wise and far-sighted move to transfer tax-raising power to Holyrood; it would make the nationalists take fiscal responsibility for their nation.

Now I can envisage many objections to this. How will the British state continue to raise taxes for its chief objectives of foreign policy and defence? Will governments have to levy a separate English and Welsh tax? Will fiscal transparency increase regional resentment and further loosen the ties between the nations of this island? These are all risks that exist but to overstate them is to understate the significant differences that already exist between Scotland and England and the privileges enjoyed by Scottish people as a result of even some limited measure of self-government.

For I believe it is far more serious when the Scottish people see their choices as lying between socialism and nationalism. It places them in a European backwater and puts them at odds with their own heritages of liberalism and enterprise. This is the nation of Mr Adam Smith, of Midlothian, of Sir Walter Scott, of a million adventurers. It would have distressed our own dear Queen to the marrow of her bones; for she had a great and abiding love of the Scottish nation and its people.

It is time for British leaders to be bold. I have every hope in Mr Nick Clegg in this respect for he has already outlined proposals to offer similar fiscal responsibilities to municipalities. He must demonstrate the boldness that secured him his office and appeal directly to the peoples of this island.

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