ONE of the favourite boosterish post-Brexit terms deployed by Boris Johnson to show just how the country can “prosper mightily,” unshackled from the confines of the European Union, is Global Britain.
Liam Fox, the former International Trade Secretary, this week, no doubt with a smile in his heart, wrote that “finally, after two generations of political tethering, the United Kingdom is free from the EU”.
The Euro Project, Dr Fox, argued had always been an “unnatural berth for a country that has traditionally looked to the wider globe”.
His Conservative chum Theresa May, however, raised a concern that, having left one Union, England must do all it could to now preserve another, the one with Scotland, and oppose those who regard Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom as another unnatural berth.
The former Prime Minister, who when she took over in No 10 put the file on the Union at the top of the stack of documents on her desk, told MPs this week a “clear and present danger” to the notion and practice of Global Britain was the break-up of the UK.
“We often talk in this chamber about Scotland and how important being part of the UK is to the Scottish economy. The reality is that England needs the rest of the UK as well,” she argued.
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Indeed, Mrs May pointed out, should Scotland become independent and leave her “previous Union,” then “I doubt that England would have a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations”. She probably meant a seat as one of five permanent members of the UNSC as countries like Ireland, Estonia and Vietnam are currently two-year temporary members.
But the point the former PM was making was that Scottish independence would diminish the international stature of the remnant UK made up of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mrs May urged her parliamentary colleagues to think carefully about its impact on the notion of Global Britain and why, therefore, it was so important to maintain the “integrity of the United Kingdom”.
In the Commons debate, the SNP’s Alyn Smith emphasised his party’s desire for an independent Scotland within the EU, describing Britain as a “middle-ranking state within the European continent”. He wished Global Britain well but did not want it “inflicted” on Scotland against its democratic wishes.
Hywel Williams, the Welsh Nationalist, was a tad more critical, claiming the notion of Global Britain captured the “arrogance of the Westminster Government towards the non-England UK”.
Were Scotland to leave the Union and become independent, then Global Britain would become a misnomer because Great Britain, the political marriage created between Scotland and England in 1707, would cease to exist.
Take Scotland out of the Union of Great Britain and it would leave just England and Wales. There is also the argument that if Scotland were to become independent, then this would trigger increased pressure for a border poll in Northern Ireland, asking the question whether it too wanted to leave the United Kingdom and complete a united island of Ireland.
Of course, if the political union of Great Britain ceases to exist, then so too, over time, would the sense of Britishness.
The Union flag, in its present form, would go. All those institutions beginning with the word “British” would, as the years passed, be faced with changing their names to reflect the new constitutional reality. Also, passports across the island that label people as “British citizens” would have to change.
Some time back I got into a conversation with an SNP MP about national identity. I suggested that while his being Scottish was probably 100 per cent of his identity, or certainly the best part of it, for many people in England, Scotland was also a part of their identity. He looked quizzically at me and insisted: “But people in England are English.”
I pointed out that I suspected that most people south of the border still regarded themselves first and foremost as British and so Scotland was a key part of their identity.
It is sometimes asked – given the constant bombardment of the UK Establishment by those calling for an independent Scotland – why on earth do the English put up with it. Surely life would be so much easier for them if Scotland were to unshackle its political tethering, to use Dr Fox’s phrase, and become independent? Or as Alex Salmond sometimes put it, Scottish independence would mean England would exchange a surly tenant for a good neighbour.
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It could be that those who make such points fail to fully appreciate how deep the affinity is psychologically, historically, culturally and familially for many Britons south of the border with Scots and Scotland.
Indeed, in a second referendum, with the stakes so much higher, these ties would likely be more emphasised than they were in 2014 with England seriously love-bombing Scotland to help keep the political marriage together.
So, any threat to Global Britain from Scottish independence would be just one more reason why Mr Johnson, the self-styled Minister for the Union, is so adamant that he has no intention of signing an Edinburgh Agreement 2.0 to set up Indyref2 during his time in Downing St; however hard Nicola Sturgeon and others bang on his door to do so.