At some point during any debate a narrative emerges which, unless challenged, starts to become accepted as the truth. One such narrative is that ‘Scotland voted Remain’ whereas ‘England voted Leave’. It is true that 62% of voters in Scotland voted Remain in 2016, but it’s often forgotten that over a million (1,019,322 or 38%) voted Leave. From the way the SNP talk, you’d think that everyone in Scotland voted Remain. Similarly, based on the SNP narrative, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the vast majority of people in England voted Leave. In fact, 46.6% (13,266, 966) of voters in England voted Remain. In the London borough of Wandsworth, the proportion was 75%.
The SNP are of course not alone in pushing this kind of simplistic spin, but it certainly suits their binary Scotland v England narrative, the logical conclusion of which is that the two countries are so incompatible that separation is the only possible solution. The inconvenient fact for the SNP is that English Leave votes were not enough to secure a Leave victory. The overall UK majority for Leave depended on votes from the other three nations of the UK, not least the million who voted leave in Scotland.
The other problem with the Scotland v England narrative the SNP favour is that it assumes a strong degree of homogeneity in both countries. The reality is that parts of England have more in common with parts of Scotland than other places in England. Is Glasgow so different from Liverpool? Are the fishing communities of Cornwall so different from their counterparts in Scotland? No, of course not. And maybe what they also have in common is their mutual sense of dislocation from London.
Indeed, in recent years, regionalism has been playing a stronger role in British politics. The Yorkshire Party has been growing in popularity and is campaigning for greater autonomy for England’s largest county; Mebyon Kernow is doing the same in Cornwall and Llais Gwnyedd is advocating for more autonomy in north Wales. And in Scotland, the Shetland Islands Council has argued that island communities feel undervalued and ignored by Edinburgh.
Reflecting this increased regionalism, there has been a move for greater devolution within parts of England, witnessed by the establishment of powerful new mayoral authorities in Manchester, Liverpool and the West of England. This increased regionalism may in turn lead to a more federal constitutional framework, something Keir Starmer has recently proposed. Starmer’s proposal for a UK-wide constitutional convention to consider these complex matters is certainly welcome, preferably as apolitical as possible.
Let’s beware of false narratives in British politics, not least the SNP’s mantra that it speaks for Scotland. It doesn’t. Other voices need to be heard.
Trevor Slack, Scotland in Union supporter.