Review Essay of John Lloyd’s Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot:
The Great Mistake of Scottish Independence (Polity Press, 2020)
Published six years after the 2014 independence referendum in which 55 per cent of Scots voted against independence, this review of John Lloyd’s Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, written to address the perceived injustice that took place in 2014 insofar as ‘only those living in Scotland have had a voice’ (p. 1), this delay has proved serendipitous in light of the 28 June 2022 announcement by the Scottish government that it intends to hold a second independence referendum on 19 October 2023. While former Conservative prime ministers Theresa May (2016–2019) and Boris Johnson (2019–2022) argued ‘now is not the time’ for another referendum, soon-to-be prime minister (and soon to be former prime minister) Liz Truss was more forthright, declaring in August 2022: ‘If I am elected as prime minister, I will not allow another independence referendum.’
If the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022 saw a brief period of palpable unity, the ongoing deadlock on the issue of another independence referendum saw attention turn to the UK Supreme Court on 11–12 October 2022, with legal arguments from the Scottish and UK governments on whether the Holyrood Parliament is legally bound to secure permission from Westminster before holding another referendum. As we await the decision of the court in early 2023, the premiership of Liz Truss (who resigned on 20 October after 45 days in office) saw relations between the UK and Scottish governments reach an all-time low, with the UK prime minister having no meeting or telephone call with the ‘attention seeking’ Scottish first minister (Nicola Sturgeon). However, the new ‘new’ Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a point of speaking with leaders of the devolved governments on his first day in office (25 October 2022), though when asked on 16 August 2022 during his leadership bid for the Conservative Party if he would allow another independence referendum, replied: ‘I can’t imagine the circumstances in which I would.’
Lloyd’s 2020 text, then, is more relevant today than when first published, and was written to press home the argument that ‘first-generation Scots living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland’ (p. 13) should have a vote in a second independence referendum. However, the book is more accurately described as an attack on Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party (SNP), and all its works. Chapter 1 ‘The Other Union’ (pp. 16–43) begins with an analysis of the European Union and the SNP government’s civic nationalism. Lloyd, a self-professed liberal, concedes the SNP’s civic nationalism is to be praised for being liberal, rather than a variant of the populist right-wing nationalism seen across Europe, most recently in the election of Giorgia Meloni in Italy on 25 September 2022. ‘The new nationalists of Europe have taken up the cause of the many who now feel […] that their country has let them down by letting too much of the rest of the world in […]. The nationalists of Scotland, though, are of a different stripe. The many European movements which would claim nationalism as their political home […] are not the Scottish National Party’s allies’ (p. 17).
Scholars have critiqued the concept of ‘civic’ nationalism as an oxymoron, and I share Lloyd’s ‘suspicion that nationalism cannot be civic’ (p. 3) given that at the heart of Scottish nationalism is the determination to resurrect a long-dead political border where currently none exists, and to impose a unitary national and state identity onto all inhabitants of a Scottish state (where currently there are many national identities), and use these as criteria for determining who belongs and who does not belong in the new polity. The SNP, while it clearly represents nationalism, also misrepresents nationalism insofar as promoting civic nationalism is to demote the cultural aspects of Scottish nationalism which are impossible to couch in liberal and universalist terms, and Lloyd is correct to note this absence from the SNP’s lexicon in contrast to its strong presence in the rhetoric of other European nationalist movements. The argument as to whether a civic basis or a ‘thick’ socio-cultural heritage is the matrix out of which the nation emerges dates to the Scots literary renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, and Lloyd suggests that the civic-minded leadership of the SNP may be a form of ‘false consciousness’ as he suspects the real nature of nationalism is to be anti-universal and non-liberal. While Lloyd notes the hegemonic civic liberalism of the SNP, it is something of a pity that he has not explored the development of a post-liberal unionism or nationalism. By such an exploration Lloyd might have improved upon ‘the lack of debate and clash of ideas’ (p. 11) he identifies in contemporary Scotland.
Scottish nationalism has been described by Christopher Harvie as Europe’s best behaved national movement, and what is also interesting is the absence of any exploration of whether the SNP variant of nationalism is evidence of the Scots’ lack of self-assertiveness when compared to ‘the new nationalists of Europe’ (p. 16) who are much more vocal in their opposition, for example, to EU liberalism. Likewise, despite his critique of the Scots’ lack of ‘risk taking’ in business, Lloyd has not taken the opportunity to explore whether ‘risk-averse’ behaviour in political debate, economic life and how the nation is politicized may be ‘blood relatives’ with a shared parentage in dependency.
While Lloyd adverts to the ‘death’ of liberalism (p. 18) that has occurred in many countries, he merely notes that the Scots seem immune to this development. This lack of curiosity is a serious weakness, as Lloyd’s failure to separate the SNP (whom he clearly dislikes) from the social and economic changes that have propelled nationalism to hegemony since 2007, is a serious analytical omission which runs throughout the book, and means whatever SNP politicians say nationalism is, that is what Scottish nationalism is for Lloyd and is what he attacks; leading the author into analytical blind alleys and a class-blind and age-cohort blind representation of nationalism, along with jarring descriptions of nationalists as ‘confident globalists’ (p. 18).
Despite Lloyd’s prescient awareness that ‘nationalists believe that the desire to continue a common life is best rooted in the nation that was once a state’ (p. 28), he does not explore the notion that behind the ‘official’ SNP mask there may already be a post-liberal movement instantiating the communitarian ideas of the likes of Alasdair MacIntyre insofar as a post-British experiment in communitarianism is in the making. Perhaps Lloyd’s unionism means he does not allow himself to consider the possibility that another kind of nationalism (and unionism for that matter) may be the successor political ideology to the current hegemony of liberalism within both nationalism and unionism in Scotland today.
Despite being a Scot himself, Lloyd does not thematize the wish to exercise greater agency not only as individuals but collectively as a dominating social fact, or recognize younger generations of Scots have reasons of their own for politicizing national identity. Instead of such explorations, Lloyd resorts to telling the reader of ‘the bitterness with which the SNP government has encouraged Scots to regard the recent past’ (p. 85). In my view, such descriptions are superficial and divest ‘the people’ of their density and agency, and give far too much agency to a political party. While Lloyd refers to the impact of macro-historical events such as de-industrialization during the 1980s and 1990s, he does not burden himself with re-imagining the union upon a post-industrial basis, or explain to the reader the impact of post-industrial society and culture on Scottish politics.
Instead of explorations of the rerum novarum, then, Lloyd seeks to discredit the cultural resources available to the Scots. National identity, for example, is depicted as having had its day and in decline in today’s global village. Citing Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the case is made that a politics based on national identity ‘is no longer a long-term option in today’s world, and that borders are now unnecessary and irrational’ (p. 19). Another important political consequence of the decline in national identity is the ‘irrationality’ of a politics based upon a collective self. Hence, ‘a civic, liberal nationalism […] depends, however, on the essentialist argument of “being ourselves” in government, since only ourselves can govern in the interests of the Scots people’ (p. 4).
This view is truly remarkable. From such universalist heights, even liberal nationalists are guilty of ‘essentialism’, and one has to wonder at such spectacularly elitist opinions about a post-national identity. One may speculate that the life Lloyd has lived is characterized by breaking boundaries and origins, where national identity has never been lived as a matter of fate, and one wonders if Lloyd is aghast at people and views that remain loyal to ethnic and geographic origins. The mobile and happily post-national individual is implicitly superior (to the nationalist mired in locality), as is his or her ‘free floating’ kind of politics which is implicitly the superior and more realistic worldview. This liberal overreach, of course, is strange in a writer who wishes to defend at least one ‘essence’ (being British) from being splintered into at least four sub-identities.
While Lloyd does acknowledge ‘the claim that Scotland was being governed against its will, especially in the Thatcher premierships, carried real weight’ (p. 42), there is no exploration of how for the last generation and more the lived reality of what Lloyd views as the ‘comity of nations’ has been an on-going democratic deficit for many Scots, with the latest example coming in 2016 when the Scottish electorate expressed its clear desire to remain within the EU, only for Scotland to have to leave the EU on 31 January 2020 because the far more numerous English voted to leave. While Lloyd recognizes the lack of unionist response to this problem, even conceding that in the post-Brexit context ‘there may be little unionists could do to hold back the [nationalist] flood’ (p. 43), the Achilles heel of unionism is revealed as the reader looks for Lloyd’s solution to this problem, but finds none offered. Also not offered is a moment of reflection that might have seen the penny begin to drop as to why so many thousands of Scots have become nationalists: it may well be a risky remedy to end the union with England to solve the problem of the democratic deficit, but such a strategy is a solution, and is currently the only solution on the table. Hence its increasing popularity.
As someone who professes to want to renew the union, a basic grasp of the demography of who nationalists typically are, and which social groups are more immune to its appeal, and why voters over the early years of the new millennium started to vote for the SNP after a lifetime of voting for unionist parties, seem basic facts to be gathered in order to plot a strategy to defeat nationalism. It is remarkable, then, that nowhere does Lloyd take the time to understand these ordinary voters and the unprecedented popularity of Scottish nationalism and ask, for example, whether nationalism has become popular among all social groups and age cohorts, and both sexes, and why. In terms of his strategy of understanding the movement he wishes to oppose, it seems Lloyd did not live through the pre-history of the triumph of nationalism, and has written the only book he was able to write by drawing upon an impressive array of high profile commentators, intellectuals, and politicians, rather than access any of the thousands of ordinary Scots who until recently were banal unionists whose support for Britain never needed to be brought to explicit awareness, far less defended and justified. This is a weakness in my view as understanding this shift in voting is the ‘heavy lifting’ required to understand both the appeal of nationalism and what has to change to improve the appeal of unionism.
Chapter 2 ‘The English Speak’ (pp. 44–80) looks at English national identity in the wake of the 2016 Referendum where the English (and Welsh) voted to leave the European Union. A reluctant ‘remainer’, Lloyd sympathizes, however, with those who voted for Brexit in light of the EU being remote and unaccountable. Lloyd recognizes the legitimacy of English ‘Brexiteers’ wanting to take back control and who brought this political and economic union to an end. Lloyd supports England finding its voice, and while he recognizes Scottish nationalists in 2014 similarly engaged in a rhetoric of taking back control from a remote Westminster, this particular political and economic union in Lloyd’s view is so old that bringing it to an end is deemed too complicated and risky.
If sociologists tell us the advent of post-Second World War affluence has meant people enjoy freedom from dependency at the micro level of interpersonal behaviour, Lloyd advises that it would be folly for the Scots to re-negotiate access to English markets which they currently enjoy thanks to full political union. The bedrock of Lloyd’s argument is the conviction that only political union can secure Scotland’s economic access to England. This seems a strange dogma in the twenty-first century, given the reality of the EU meant England and Scotland enjoying access to 27 national markets without the need for a full incorporating political union with these 27 countries. Hence the SNP’s policy of ‘independence in Europe’ and desire to have an EU-style union with England rather than the full incorporating political union of 1707, seems not only reasonable but empirically tried and tested; indeed, such a new relationship with England that is sought by Scottish nationalists is perhaps the kind of re-negotiated relationship Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s wished the UK to have with the EU. Such re-imagining, however, is a non-starter for Lloyd, who does not explore the ways and means, other than full political union, by which Scotland might enjoy a fruitful economic relationship with England. Also, then, why the Scots should be unable to re-negotiate the union and why the English should be unwilling to do so, are questions that are simply off the table.
What is very much on the table, however, is the question of how the UK can remain viable in the new devolution era which sees Scotland having its own centre of political gravity in the Holyrood Parliament sitting in Edinburgh. Lloyd’s answer is that the devolution of power to the English is ‘the lines of thought and activism that a re-working of the Union must come’ (p. 62). This, again, is a strange line of argument given that the 2004 North East England referendum saw 78 per cent of voters reject the offer of political devolution from Westminster. Lloyd, however, is undaunted: ‘Britain has long been criticized for being an over-centralized state: it seems that England, at least, likes it that way. But the campaigns to shift that mindset […] have only begun to limber up’ (p. 62).
For this reviewer at least, this proposed basis for a new imagining of Britain is mere speculation and idle hope: how devolution of power from London to English regions is relevant to securing Scotland’s union with England into the future is not explained, and Lloyd’s claim of the ‘largely unobserved’ rise of English nationalism and an awakening ressentiment at Scottish devolution is entirely speculative in light of no empirical data evidencing any such rise in demand for devolution within England. Lloyd speculates about a new politics centred upon English national identity, and the English may well be set to politicize their national identity as they search for their post-EU place in the world, but how such a development is good news for the future of Britain is not explained. Indeed, an equally likely scenario may be the English, as a stateless nation themselves, will follow the Scots’ example and agitate for the same post-British future which the Scots are contemplating for themselves, while Lloyd’s preferred scenario is undermined by the cultural shifts he himself points to, such as Roger Scruton’s view of Britain: ‘It has become quite apparent that there is no such cultural entity any more’ (p. 68).
Chapter 3 ‘The Cash Nexus’ (pp. 81–105) correctly identifies that for many Scots the independence question is ‘a matter largely of money’ (p. 81). Lloyd’s remark that ‘once the empire crumbled […] what was left was the money’ (p. 82) is a pithy reminder that much of the set-piece debates during the 2014 referendum focussed upon arguments about currency and pensions, and whether Scotland and England would share a common market in the event of independence. Lloyd advises that of Scotland’s estimated £85 billion worth of exports in 2018, for example, over 60 per cent (£51.2 billion) went to the rest of the UK, while £16.1 billion went to the EU. Hence: ‘Scotland needs a single market with England more (than with the EU)’ (p. 126). On this issue at least there is no dispute between nationalists and unionists. England was, is, and for the foreseeable future will remain Scotland’s biggest single trading and export market, and is therefore vital for its continuing prosperity.
Unsurprisingly, then, it is part of unionism’s intellectual DNA to claim Scotland’s union with England in 1707 secured its long-term prosperity, and that maintaining this political relationship remains the keystone to maintaining economic prosperity. Lloyd is fulsome in stating what he takes to be some home truths: ‘an independent Scotland, on most forecasts, could continue to provide the level of public provision it has only by raising tax revenues substantially’ (p. 95); ‘the Scottish National Party must confront the harder choices of running an economy that has been dependent on its big neighbour for most of three centuries’ (p. 95). Finally, in the fiscal year 2007–2008, Lloyd informs his reader each Scot received £1,600 more in public spending than the average English person. Lloyd is very interested in arguing Scotland lacks the economic resources to be a prosperous independent nation, singling out former SNP leader Alex Salmond, for example, as ‘shamelessly over-optimistic’ (p. 53) in his economic analysis, and is also critical of the SNP’s ‘lack of will in confronting the real and damaging conservatism in Scots economic behaviour’ (p. 105).
The message of this chapter, then, is clear: if Scotland suffers a democratic deficit, it enjoys a ‘union dividend’, and chapter 4 ‘The Crumbling Pillars’ (pp. 106–148) reviews the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 and continues the theme of Scotland’s economic dependency upon England. The 2008–2009 crisis saw the Bank of Scotland (founded 1695) taken over by Lloyds Bank to avoid liquidation, while the Royal Bank of Scotland (founded 1727) similarly lost its independence, having to be rescued by a £45 billion bailout from UK taxpayers’ money. For Lloyd, only ‘the fact that Scotland remained within the United Kingdom’ (p. 112) saved it from the greed of banking executives, and the lesson to be imparted from this economic parable is that ‘the whole mess […] was saved by the British government’ (p. 106), and much like the failed Darien scheme of the 1690s, the global financial crash of 2008–2009 is further proof of the Scots’ economic dependency upon English financial muscle.
Lloyd is very interested in discrediting the economic resources of Scotland, and just as with national identity, Scotland’s natural resources are depicted as having had their day and being in a state of terminal decline. Scotland’s oil ‘is now, a steadily wasting asset’ (p. 121). ‘Had the [nationalist] political surge come sooner or the oil discoveries later, Scotland, with almost exactly the same population as Norway […] could now, with good government, be rich’ (p. 121). Just as national identity in a globalized world is no longer a credible basis for organizing the polity, so Scotland’s oil and gas revenues have had their day. ‘The great chance passed when, in the 1970s and 1980s […] a referendum on devolution [in 1979] had not secured the required majority’ (p. 120). While Lloyd draws attention to what he considers more realist nationalists like Marco Biagi and the Scottish Growth Commission’s 2018 report, authored by Andrew Wilson whom Lloyd praises for his framing of independence as a chance for the Scots ‘to grapple with reality’ (p. 133) and for not predicting Scotland ‘becoming Denmark in a decade’ (p. 135), Lloyd assures his reader these individuals are marginal to the SNP leadership’s propaganda, according to which ‘independence is a deliverance from all British evil’ (p. 136).
As well as such macro-economic facts of life, Lloyd draws attention to another problem: ‘the real and damaging conservatism in Scots economic behaviour’ (p. 105). Putting aside the admission that ‘Scotland is a developed market economy with a relatively high GDP per head’ (p. 105), and that on the next page Lloyd discusses the aftermath of Scotland’s banks hardly behaving in a conservative manner, the evidence for this alleged damaging conservatism comes from page 128 onwards, with Lloyd citing a 1996 lecture on the topic of entrepreneurialism from economist Brian Ashcroft, which argued that after the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there occurred ‘a general failure to realize new productive opportunities by introducing new products […] in the declining heavy industries’ (p. 128). In Ashcroft’s view, the enriched owners of Scotland’s industrial companies remained content with their wealth and failed to innovate. In addition, ‘Foreign investment in the 1960s and 1970s […] may have dampened springs of native entrepreneurialism. Business enterprise research and development is still very low—about 0.7 per cent of GDP. In Sweden it’s 2.5 per cent’ (p. 129).
While such observations about international entrepreneurial activity may well be true, the implied existence of a chronic lack of entrepreneurial drive and its existence into the future should the SNP government fail to act, is a different matter. It is entirely unremarkable, indeed innocuous, if an industrial sector lets slip an established lead in a particular area of economic activity, and so Lloyd’s observations are far from innocuous as he seeks to politicize this alleged lack of innovation occurring on the SNP government’s watch. Lloyd wishes to link these issues to the constitutional question and his wider argumentation whereby no matter the economic data being reviewed, whether the suppressed McCrone Report of 1974 on Scotland’s oil reserves and revenues, or the Scotland’s Future report of 2013, or the Sustainable Growth Commission report of 2018, the same conclusion is always pulled from Lloyd’s unionist sleeve: ‘a strong case for Scotland staying in the UK’ (p. 132).
While questions about money will remain crucial should the referendum planned for 2023 go ahead, a purely materialist argument for union is a dangerous game, as divesting Britain of its ‘mythos’ or mystique and reducing the union to a business arrangement is to concede that, when the numbers change, the political union will have served its purpose and will be surplus to requirements. Chapter 5 ‘To Be Yersel’ (pp. 149–190), then, moves the defence of the union up the ‘chain of being’ to address spiritual and cultural realities. In Lloyd’s excursion into the Geisteswissenschaften, we find the by now familiar story about how the union of 1707 was a necessary, if not sufficient, cause of the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment. This post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is a signature ‘move’ of unionist argumentation, and Lloyd does not disappoint. Just as union signalled the advent of modernity and prosperity, so it resulted in unprecedented cultural achievement.
No political union? No cultural Enlightenment. And if Lloyd has little time for the nationalist rhetoric of ‘liberation’ surrounding independence, such rhetoric is deemed applicable when describing the consequences of the union in 1707, with Lloyd citing Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations argument that union with England was something of an exodus event which saw Scotland’s people liberated from their feudal bonds to aristocratic superiors, insofar as political union with England resulted in Scotland’s economic, societal, and cultural modernization.
The idea that Scotland’s Third Estate could only be freed from the aristocracy through political union with England is something of a founding narrative of Great Britain (despite the fact it was the aristocracy which enacted the union against the wishes of the Third Estate). In the unionist imagination post hoc is raised to the altars to become ergo propter hoc: only union with England is capable of sealing the advent of modernity within the Whig/unionist imagination, implying that the Scots could not have taken another route to inaugurate post-feudal modern conditions (avoiding altogether the dynastic union of 1603 and the political union of 1707) such as that taken by the Americans in 1776 or the French in 1789. It may be said Lloyd’s defence of Britain, then, remains in a nineteenth-century linear and fixed evolutionist account, in which the causes and consequences of modernity are fixed and law-like, and that not only could modernity not have arrived differently in the past, but its existence today and into the future remains dependent upon the preservation of these same fixed conditions. Lloyd, then, ties unionism to the ‘higher superstition’ labelled historicism by Karl Popper in the 1950s.
In contrast to this unionist framing and politicization of Scottish culture is the MacDiarmid–Muir thesis, according to which Scottish culture has been in a longue durée ‘identity crisis’ ever since political union with England, as this event meant the Scots not only lost their royal, courtly, and aristocratic patronage of the arts, but also their language and medium of self-expression, which has severed the living linguistic ‘chain of memory’ that bound the Scots to their cultural patrimony.
The observation culture is upstream from politics is often heard in today’s ‘culture wars’, and is a variant of Peter Drucker’s aphorism culture eats strategy for breakfast. What is puzzling, however, is Lloyd’s lack of critique of unionism’s silence on these issues and unionism’s absenteeism on the vital issue of representation and culture. While Lloyd mentions the ‘politics of recognition’ (p. 25), he fails to suggest how unionists might wrestle Scottish culture, language, and history from the nationalists’ grip. Lloyd correctly points out that ‘before devolution, Scots had accepted the incorporating Union with little protest for three centuries’ (p. 166), but does not pause to give this rupture the attention it deserves. Uncovering why Scottish nationalism only became electorally significant from the 1970s is the key to explaining its very nature. While Lloyd sees that Britishness has become disembedded thanks to the end of all-British industries and all-British trade unions in the 1980s and 1990s brought about by globalization and the emergence of a post-British economy, and while he also adverts to the fact that de-industrialization led to unemployment and ‘the politics of devolution took off among working people […] in the 1960s’ (p. 88), the new drivers operative within post-affluent generations and the new cultural conditions that came ‘on-line’ from the 1970s and 1980s struggle to make an appearance, far less play a decisive role.
Unsurprisingly, then, Lloyd has no proposal to put the reality of Britishness back together again upon a cultural basis, and instead spends his wordage upon the limitations of the SNP and the inadequacies of individual nationalist literary figures. As an example, Lloyd singles out fellow-Fifer Tom Nairn’s ‘uncompromising disgust at England’ (p. 161), despite alerting the reader to a chapter of Nairn’s entitled ‘Not Hating England’. As a parenthesis, an interesting exercise in reflexivity (which does not come) would have been a response from Lloyd to Nairn’s thesis that it is Scots émigrés like Lloyd himself who have failed to lead the nation to political freedom; that the nation has been betrayed by a diasporic bourgeois class which instead of leading the nation to independence as other European Third Estates have done, have preferred to sing jeremiads predicting doom and gloom should they choose independence.
Similarly, Lloyd criticizes writer Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘conversion’ in 2017 to the view that Scotland requires a cultural declaration of independence ‘from the British embrace […] to realize its true essence, its identity, its authenticity’ (p. 190). This criticism, however, is not balanced by an exploration of how unionists might address the issue of Scottish cultural autonomy and how such a project might be identified with and integrated with a renewed vision of unionism. This is a real electoral weakness insofar as Scottish unionists must at some level be seen to identify with Scottish culture to remain credible in the eyes of the electorate. While Lloyd is able to list initiatives of the SNP government trying to bolster Scottish culture, he cannot put on the page for his reader to see the track record of unionists’ enthusiasm for policies celebrating Scottish history, language, and culture, or give an account of the history of the debate within unionism as to whether Scottish culture should be based upon a ‘restorationist’ model or a purely modern or post-modern basis. The upshot of this absence, then, is that it can be no surprise that Scottish unionism ‘can’t muster the fierce attachment to a future liberation that many nationalists manifest’ (p. 49).
At the outset of his book Lloyd informs his reader that the Union ‘must be better defended than it has been in the past’ (p. 1), and at the end of the opening chapter we read: ‘I believe some approach similar to that introduced by the Canadian government to be essential’ (p. 43). The reader, then, has to wait until the final chapter, ‘The Re-imagining of the Union’ (pp. 191–203), for Lloyd’s solution. This short chapter, however, is an anti-climax. Looking forward to the next independence referendum, Lloyd’s ‘solution’ is to learn from the Canadian experience where the province of Quebec came within 0.58 per cent of becoming independent in 1995. Lloyd approvingly quotes the view of Emile Simpson: ‘the justice of Scotland’s right to choose its own future is simultaneously to recognize the injustice that all other British citizens have no democratic voice in the future of their own state […] to have no voice feels culturally unjust. Not just for many of those among the 830,000 people born in Scotland who now live elsewhere in the United Kingdom (and thus can’t vote), but for many British citizens who feel that Scotland is inseparably intertwined with their broader cultural identity’ (p. 195). Lloyd, then, recommends new legislation to make independence more than gaining a simple majority, recommending ‘first-generation Scots living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland’ (p. 13) should be enfranchised and to secure independence ‘the majority should be at least 60 per cent’ (p. 195).
While such proposals may not be egregious per se, they will undoubtedly anger many Scots old enough to remember the 1979 Home Rule referendum, where a ‘last-minute’ amendment to the legislation stipulated that at least 40 per cent of the entire registered electorate had to vote in favour of the proposed devolved assembly for it to go ahead; and how this delayed devolution for twenty years despite the proposal gaining a majority among those who voted on the day. Rather than articulating ways to re-imagine Britain or offering a solution to the democratic deficit, then, Lloyd’s solution smacks of a ‘political fix’ and another resort to Westminster-style ‘dirty tricks’ to safeguard the union and hold back history once again.
In summing up the weakness of Lloyd’s analysis, I would observe that he appears to be an outsider looking onto a reality he does not understand. Lloyd cites Edwin Muir writing about Sir Walter Scott: ‘his picture of life had no centre because the environment in which he lived had no centre’ (p. 158). Scotland today has a centre. It is the Holyrood Parliament. And the challenge for unionism as it enters the new regnal era of Charles III is to re-imagine itself from within this new context of the Home Rule era, and this is proving difficult insofar as the shibboleths of Protestantism, Enlightenment, Progress, and Modernity that featured on the ‘birth certificate’ of Scottish unionism are either obsolete among the intelligentsia or have been stolen by the nationalists and been repatented and repurposed for nationalists’ ends.
Leslie Mitchell’s (2005) The Whig World, 1760–1837 describes how Scottish Whigs/unionists knew the secret of historical progress, championed its arrival and fought off reactionary Jacobite enemies in the pages of the Edinburgh Review. Whereas late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Scottish Whigs taught the rest of Britain about ‘the march of mind’, the danger is that today’s unionists have been stripped of any animating mythos or mystique, and are easily depicted as reactionaries who exercise no agency beyond maintaining the status quo. The problem for unionism, then, is that it no longer has a narrative or, even worse, it is the nationalists who have captured the rhetorical structure of the movement of history: imprisonment—event—exodus. Unionists are seen as risk-averse and unable to imagine Scotland outside the arrangement arrived at in the eighteenth century, and as happy to polish a relic from 1707 until doomsday. Being out of touch at a time when there is a new appetite for agency across the land means that, somewhat ironically given Margaret Thatcher’s criticism of a dependency culture within Scotland in the 1980s, it is unionists who are in danger of fostering a dependency culture and being defenders of an ancien régime, rather than innovators seeking to re-negotiate a new relationship with England (and Europe).
Very few people fail to see the hegemony of nationalism within Scottish governance since 2007 indicates that after 300 years the union is failing to articulate new and compelling reasons for its continued existence. If it is to have a future, unionism must appeal to generations who have only ever known affluence and the risk-taking freedom this prosperity normalizes. Since the 1970s and 1980s freedom of choice has replaced ‘fate’, and choices and decisions taken previously out of necessity are now being rescinded, while histories and traditions that have been long suppressed and apparently defeated are resurrected among the generations born since the 1960s and 1970s. For these younger generations the attraction of post-affluence nationalism is its promise of a politics based on a more flexible and freed understanding of the relationship between polity and economy; thus it would be inconceivable for these young Scots to repeat the decision made in 1707.
Lloyd may be correct that a dependency culture exists in Scotland which successive Holyrood administrations show little sign of addressing. In this regard, it is a pity that Lloyd has not explored the opportunity the Scots have to develop a conservative nationalism that would appeal to the electorate on the ‘Thatcherite’ basis of extending the triumph of free market economics to an integral rejection of all forms of dependency (economic, political, and cultural) via a non-liberal nationalism. As a concluding thought, then, I propose the weakness of this book and that of unionism more generally is their failure to respond to the rerum novarum, to the need to respond not only to the limitations of civic nationalism but to the post-liberal and post-SNP nationalism that is emerging among the membership of new nationalist parties such as Alba and Sovereignty.