Saturday 20 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Pit Theatre
The future of the UK came into doubt last year when the Scottish National Party won a surprise majority in the Scottish parliamentary elections and pledged to hold a referendum on a fully independent Scotland. Polls suggest most Scots are not in favour of independence, and the SNP victory had more to do with disillusionment with the other parties. Nevertheless, the prospect of independence is now real, and it affects more than just the Scottish electorate. Those in favour of maintaining the Union often struggle to make a positive case for it beyond the appeal of history and tradition. So might we, as one commentator put it, be ‘sleepwalking into the break-up of the Union’? For some English observers, the loss of Scotland would be no bad thing, providing an opportunity to reaffirm a distinctive English identity. But for others this raises uncomfortable questions about ethnicity and culture. Britishness is sometimes championed as a modern, post-ethnic identity in which multiculturalism can flourish, but is this either historically credible or a sufficient basis for national cohesion in the future? Is the UK a tenable political entity?
The rationale behind the campaign for devolution in the 1990s was that, for years, Scottish voters had consistently voted Labour, while English votes meant it was the Conservatives who consistently formed governments at Westminster. Paradoxically, it took a Labour victory in 1997 to bring about devolution, arguably just at the point it had become redundant. Much of the contemporary debate about Scottish independence focuses on practical issues over the economy, oil and military matters, but there are also questions of principle at stake. If Scotland did go it alone, what would that means for England and Wales? And what would it mean to be an Ulster Unionist? As for Scotland itself, SNP leader Alex Salmond talks of establishing an independent nation within the European Union. But even leaving aside recent economic problems within the EU, is it meaningful to talk of ‘independence’ within a technocratic supranational entity? What does the debate about Scottish independence tell us about the meaning of British nationhood and its prospects for the future?
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; university finance and accommodation officer
chair, Hansard Society Working Group in Scotland; judge, 2010 Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award; theatre critic, Scotsman
deputy director, ResPublica
director, Debating Matters Competition
A successful British showing at the Olympics doesn't automatically mean that the Unionists will win an independence referendum in 2014. But the contrast between Nationalist peevishness and the generous, optimistic, outward-looking spirit of the British effort at London 2012 will boost Unionist morale and add to the sense that the game is drifting away from Salmond.Iain Martin, Daily Telegraph, 4 August 2012
As Scotland prepares itself for a vote on independence, the question of these identities is prescient. And Britishness is nothing if not a plural set of identities: encompassing not just English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish strands, but British Asian, British Carribean, British Jewish, and any number of other ethnic and regional identifications.Samira Shackle, New Statesman, 11 June 2012
Crucial to the argument for Scottish independence is the idea that leaving the political union of the United Kingdom will not mean leaving the social union. But what is this 'social union'?Cailean Gallagher, openDemocracy, 30 January 2012
A Place for Pride finds that there is disconnect between political narratives of patriotism and ordinary citizens’ pride in Britain. Drawing on qualitative research with over 2,000 British people from England, Wales and Scotland, this pamphlet argues that patriotism does not, and should not, come from either top-down narratives about Queen and country nor from so-called ‘progressive’ notions based on values.Max Wind-Cowie, Tom Gregory, Demos, 18 November 2011
The author of The Illusion of Freedom: Scotland Under Nationalism traces the rise and rise of the SNP.Craig Fairnington, spiked, 10 May 2011