Blogs Coffee House

English voters send a message to Scotland: we can’t go on living like this

20 August 2014

Way back in the olden days, Scottish Labour won the 1999 elections to the Scottish parliament, at least in part, on the back of the slogan Divorce is an Expensive Business. (The SNP’s promise to raise income tax – the naffly named ‘Penny for Scotland’ – helped too. The Nationalists have never since risked making an overt case for higher taxes.)

Anyway, these costs run both ways. That’s made clear by new polling from England in which the extent of the oft-threatened, never-yet-delivered, English backlash to devolution is revealed.

It makes depressing reading for Unionists. True, only 19% of those surveyed think the UK would be better off without the troublesome, whining, Jocks. Or, at any rate, not sufficiently better off to make their departure an attractive proposition. 59% would like Scotland to vote No.

But that’s not the whole story. In the event of a No vote, a majority of English voters would like to prevent Scots MPs at Westminster voting on bills that only apply to England. Moreover, a majority of English voters think the Barnett Formula should be reassessed – that is, scrapped – and that Scotland should cease to enjoy greater per capita public spending than England. (Tim Montgomerie agrees, it might be noted, writing a piece for the Times today that has some Unionists wishing their English friends would just shut-up. At least until September 19th.)

More striking still, is what happens when you ask English people what should happen if Scotland votes Yes. Only 23% think it’s ‘Scotland’s pound too’ and agree that a formal currency union is the best idea for both states. Perhaps more surprisingly, only 26% said the continuity UK should endorse or support Scottish applications for EU and NATO membership.

How seriously should we take these findings? Well, the Barnett formula should be readdressed. Everyone knows this even if many people pretend not to. Many of those doing the pretending, of course, are Scots who know that even though there are some good reasons* for higher public spending in Scotland and though once oil revenues are included Scotland contributes pretty much what she gets out, it remains the case that a needs-based approach to public spending might not reward Scotland so generously. Wales, in particular, has reason to feel pinched and squeezed at present.


And, look, Barnett was only meant to be a temporary measure anyway. That was nearly 40 years ago. In other words, the distribution of funding across the UK is based on a 40 year old sticking plaster that was itself an adjustment to the Goschen Formula first introduced in 1888. You can’t accuse the British state of rushing these things but no-one can sensibly deny that looking again at Barnett is as sensible as it is overdue.

Granted, Unionists would prefer, I imagine, to talk about other things a month before the referendum. This sort of thing is the kind of thing that’s more likely to encourage Scots to vote Yes in a spirit of taking-the-huff and hell-mend-those-bastards-anyway than it is liable to batter them into accepting whatever they’re given from the Union table.

The kind of thing, frankly, to make you remember that, just as the Roman Empire was lost in Rome not the provinces, so the United Kingdom can be lost in England not on the so-called Celtic Fringe.

The clear message from this poll – which, of course, is only one survey and all that – is that the English take the view that if you want your independence you should have it. But remember that independence is just that. This view, unsurprisingly, is most sternly held by UKIP supporters (UKIP being, in large though not exclusive part, an English nationalist party) but supporters of other parties also have some sympathy with it. You’re on your own now, Jock.

Now as it happens the UK government will support Scottish membership of international institutions because it is overwhelmingly in its own interests to do so and because, when push comes to shove, very few people in England are likely to be care one way or the other about such things.

So what we see in this poll is really a reaction to repudiation. If you don’t like us then we’re under no obligation to like or help you. It is a reminder, frankly, that the impact  – and even importance – of Scottish independence is as much a matter of psychology as of politics. Divorce is an ugly business, especially for the party that didn’t want to initiate the break-up.

It will be a loss – for England and for Wales and Northern Ireland too – that will change the way these other peoples view their country. And it will change without their having been consulted. I can see and understand why that might rile or upset or discombobulate some folk. We neither asked for nor wanted this but now it’s happened this is how it’s going to be. 

Pique? Perhaps. Pique that would pass? Quite possibly. And yet also a reminder that the SNP notion that a situation that is intolerable now will be resolved entirely amicably and we will all be winners and take home prizes once independence has been achieved is a rosy-hued and optimistic vision indeed. If independence might bring some benefits it is surely the case that it must come with costs and loss in other areas too.

Be that as it may, this is research that helps the nationalists. It allows them to claim that the English just aren’t that into us and if this notion is modestly contradicted by the fact the English would like the Union to be maintained it is given at least some support by the poll’s other findings.

*Population density does matter. Some public services – health, education, roads and so on – are quite reasonably more expensive to run in thinly-populated places. The subsidy junkie tag has, in recent decades, been something of a myth.


More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Peter Out

    Personally I will be glad to see them go. They are so unhappy with the relationship that a break is the best solution. Whatever the cost, it will be worth it.
    Scotland has always erred on the side of wanting a socialist Utopia. Let them try.
    All I want is that, when they go, they understand that they no longer have any influence on the remaining countries political and economic future. We must do what is best for us and, sorry Scotland, but you will just have to work it out for yourselves.
    BTW – on what authority does Gordon Brown have to make the kind of statements and guarantees that he is making? Didn’t the UK electorate boot him out?
    Lastly, On the back of Yes vote- when it to comes to the next election (in which the Scots should have no voting rights) I will be looking to see which party left in the union will be working to support our interests and not pandering to our Ex.
    Good luck Scotland you have my full support as I think my country will be better off for seeing you go.

  • Lamia

    Be that as it may, this is research that helps the nationalists. It allows them to claim that the English just aren’t that into us

    You are contradicting yourself, Alex. Elsewhere you acknowledge this is “a reaction to repudiation”.

    It isn’t the English who have been pondering whether to leave the UK. As you admit, most of us would rather that the Scots stay. But if someone walks out on a marriage, then that is fair reason for the other partner to feel aggrieved. It is trying to have your cake and eat it to offer that reasonable consequence as a validation of the impulse to leave in the first place.

    What do you expect the rUK to do? Allow ourselves to be treated as doormats after the other partner has walked out? Why on earth would we?

  • Allan Finlayson

    Who is this inverted brain who seems to think using racial stereotypes is acceptable? for any other race he would have the SPG at his door and taken away!
    Has anybody noticed that the Yes folk have the most knowledgable, informed and accurate arguments? English currency? no it is sterling! Bank of England? only by name – it is the governments bank, ps set up by a Scot – who was not called laddie!

  • rjbh

    “Subsidy Junky”. I have for most of my life been a rock solid Labour voter, only changed to SNP when Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, decided to attack Iraq, but the label “Subsidy Junky” was what has turned me to an almost fanatical Yes voter

  • Christian Wright

    I’m appalled by the degree of ignorance driving this debate in England. Of course responsibility for the whole subsidy canard lies squarely at the feet of the Westminster pols who thought is a wizard wheeze to keep the jocks in line.

    Problem is it was believed by our English brethren and became a malignancy that has metastasized and now serves to destroy the very union it was designed to protect.

    Alex Massie has it slightly wrong: When revenues from oil and gas are taken into account Scotland is a net contributor to the UK economy AND HAS BEEN FOR THE PAST 30 + YEARS TO THE TUNE OF 27 BILLION POUNDS.

    Given what we now know of the true nature of the malevolent intent of Westminster, Whitehall, and of the ire of the English populous, it’s pretty easy to predict the consequences of a NO vote for Scots and for Scotland.

    Succinctly: Scotland is likely to suffer decline as an ignored and reviled low-opportunity celtic backwater of a Greater England.

    And let’s not delude ourselves – there will be no substantive further powers granted to Holyrood.

    Do not forget that the UK Government’s official policy on matters constitutional and Scottish, is predicated on the legal fiction that Scotland was extinguished in 1707 when it was absorbed by England. England they assert, continued, and the titles “UK” and “England” are synonyms.

    The signs and signals from Westminster, from Boris Johnson and Tam Dalyell, and from the English people themselves are clear: Scotland is to be defunded and diminished, and its trappings of statehood dismantled.

    It is certain that if NO prevails, the Unionist parties will argue a no vote gives them a mandate to implement the repatriation of key devolved competencies ( back to Westminster) to neuter Nationalist power (curtailing “SNP mischief-making”) to put an end to the Scottish Question once and for all.

    It will mean the effective end of the Scottish Parliament stripped of power and its diminution to a wee pretendy parliament (thus proving Billy Connolly right after all).

    Scottish representation in the Westminster Parliament will be reduced to the already proposed 50-51 MPs initially, and will continue to decline as Scotland’s population continues to comprise a smaller and smaller portion of the greater English state.

    Per the London Government’s published opinion, and the scotching of the theory of “states within a state”, there will be concerted and coordinated efforts to dissolve the instruments and protocols of Scotland’s status as a country within the UK (AKA England), and to recast it in the public’s mind as just other northern region of Britain.

    Our legal system, unique education system, and our NHS, of necessity dismissed and rejected by the statists as incongruous anachronisms, predicated on the once-held delusion of our uniqueness as a people and a country.

    Now that’s the cold hard reality we face and we are being given ample warning of it.

    • Michele Keighley

      There is not much that disgusts me in this peurile debate any longer, I thought I had heard it all – but this piece of hate filled drivel has just managed it.

  • Oor Wullie

    Salmond and all SNP MSPs are what the late Robin Day termed the here today gone tomorrow brigade as whenever their decisions turn to disaster they are either no longer in power and are never held accountable. Anyone who follows this Pied Piper is doomed, doomed to an existence of purgatory.

    Recall that it was our own countrymen who handed William Wallace to the English and that during the years of the cold war with Russia we allowed their clondykers a safe harbour at Loch Broom and that when allegations of sexual abuse towards neophyte priests were made against Cardinal Keith O’Brien that he was spirited out of the country without being indicted.

    Why do so many of our country folk feel inferior to the English and why the need to paraphrase our institutions and industries with the term ‘Scottish’ and in our own country; a sure sign of feelings of inadequacy. Why too the need to provide side arms to patrolling police officers in our parochial little towns and who made this democratic decision, our Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who probably also allowed the Cardinal his freedom? Who then is running the country?

    We Scots are nothing other than nauseating kilt-swinging toadies, an indisputable fact borne out by history and we feel that we can manage ourselves without the aid of our southern friends and those too from Wales and Northern Ireland. Dream on!

  • The_greyhound

    I don’t know why Alex Massie keeps writing articles about he referendum. It isn’t as if anyone takes salmond or his mad vanity project seriously any more.The only question now before us is the margin of victory for the Better Together campaign, and the speed with which we can expunge the slimy little SNP from the country in the next two years.

  • abystander

    Its hurt pride, isn’t it.

    Scottish independence hurts English pride.

    That’s because most English people have a completely different view of Scotland than the Scots have of their own country.

    The English see it as an extension of England, a kind of protectorate ( they think of ingrates), basically England but some quirky things like a funny legal system and different school exams.

    The Scots know better.

    • Wessex Man

      No we don’t, we want the Fat controller to win the referendum, we keep telling you jokers that we do but you don’t want to go do you because you are frightened arn’t you.

    • Dorset Rambler

      I wouldn’t know what most English think. And I certainly don’t wish to be rude. But I’m reasonably confident that down in my part of the world, most don’t think about Scotland from one year to the next.

      I suspect that most here in the south would wish an independent Scotland well. But don’t see any obligation to back a Scottish currency without it being win-win.

  • scotsvermin

    Lets hope the whinging , bigoted scoots vote yes and we can be finally done with them

  • F5!!!

    This article is racist.

  • john

    The fundamental reason for the Scots to do a bunk is that the UK is run entirely for the benefit of the South East and its wealthy Tory inhabitants. NB The same argument would apply to anywhere north of Watford!
    Independence would allow Scotland to become a real peoples democracy – not the class driven elitist semi-democracy we now have.

    • Wessex Man

      power to the people!

  • Barry Scarfe

    Good point, Mr Massie about the cost of public services in Scotland. I’ve actually visited the Highlands (beautiful area that it is if rather austere) and yes you are entirely correct that one good reason why Scotland has a higher level of public spending is because of the cost of providing decent public services in a very sparsly-populated yet geographically large area of land. Unfortunately, too many English people don’t take this fact into account and papers like the Daily Mail don’t seek to inform them of this.

    • Wessex Man

      Why should they? Vote yes and you won’t have to ctitise the Daily Mail, I’ll still do that for you!

      • Barry Scarfe

        I’m English not Scotish but I am also proud to be British.

  • william martin

    The comments should be divided into whatever region they come from Scotland,England,Wales,Ireland then the Scots with the Vote could read what the Scots people have to say instead of having go through all these English opinions
    of the Scottish referendum

    • Dorset Rambler

      Perhaps the English think they’re entitled to a say because Salmond is telling the English that they will have to back the Scottish currency.

  • kenneth jamieson

    when are unionist journalists going to wake up and realise that Independence does not mean “just that”, as if by way of a threat your on your own, Independence is not like that at all in the 21st century, and well they know it, with Independence you become part of the world, you trade with the world, you have a say, you take total sovereignty then cede what you wish, you don’t just keep the lot and not talk to any other nation ever again, more scary stuff from the unionists, all drivel of course.

  • Harv

    I want them gone so we can move the clocks and have lighter nights down south, They always whining about the dark but how do they think the Scandinavians survive, and its the Scandinavians they hope to emulate

    • Newton Unthank

      They always whining about the dark but how do they think the Scandinavians survive, and its the Scandinavians they hope to emulate

      Amazingly, the cunning Scandinavians cope with “the dark” by the outlandish method of setting their clocks forward in the spring and back in the autumn.

      • Harv

        Amazing thing the European time zone, Its a pity they used the word European in the title as the Daily Mail or the Murdock Mafia could not support anything Johnny Foreigner uses )

  • Curios

    How can Salmond claim Oil and gas off the Coast of Scotland as being all Scotland’s Assets? We have all been involved in the expense and production of the whole of the UK oil fields and we all own it legally. It should be up to the whole of the UK how much would be allocated to Scotland and rules to cover any supplies. There are only six million Scots but 60 million others in the UK. We should stand firm and hang on to what is legally ours.

    • Tokopol

      Because it’s in Scotland’s EEZ, you twit. Legally, international law guarantees Scotland economic rights to the area. They can claim it just as surely as they can claim Glasgow and Edinburgh, regardless of how many buildings and roads Englishmen built there.

      My god, British nationalists are so daft.

      • CortUK

        Scotland doesn’t have an EEZ you idiot. The UK does.

        Next you’ll be insisting Scotland is already a member of the EU and NATO.

        My god, Scottish nationalists are such liars.

      • CortUK

        Scotland doesn’t have an EEZ you idiot. The UK does.

        Next you’ll be insisting Scotland is already a member of the EU and NATO.

        My god, Scottish nationalists are such liars.

        • Curios

          Cort Uk 18 hours ago. I agree wholeheartedly.with all your comments.

        • Tokopol

          Christ almighty. Pay very close attention…

          – Scotland, even though it is a sub-national unit, has territorial waters that are clearly defined in relation to the other regions of the UK.

          – An EEZ is defined as an area extending 200 nm from the shoreline of a sovereign entity.

          – Assuming the shorelines and maritime boundaries of the Scottish region of the UK and the rest of the UK are set in stone (they are, and they were never up for debate), the future EEZs of Scotland and the remainder of the UK can be known exaxtly by drawing a straight line from the *already existing* maritime boundary between Scotland and England, out to 200 nm.

          To that end, Scotland’s EEZ quite clearly exists. It has no legal relevance until Scotland becomes independent, but it is an objectively defined area that — in accordance with international law — will not change based on any British nationalist attempt to divide the hydrocarbon reserves therein on a per capita basis.

          On this basis, deciding that the oil in what *will* be Scotland’s EEZ might not all be Scotland’s is just as absurd as deciding that a street or two in Glasgow might remain UK territory. The defined extent of Scotland is not what’s up for debate in September, and it has not been for centuries.

    • Newton Unthank

      We have all been involved in the expense and production of the whole of the UK oil fields and we all own it legally.

      Here in the Real World, the UK oil and gas fields were explored and developed by private companies.

      • Curios

        Ithanku. Unthank. Your agreement on this is welcome. Salmond seems to think that if there is a Yes vote, he suddenly becomes chairman of all the Oil and Gas revenues off the Scottish Coast. to spend wherever he likes, The Investors and Shareholders will have a few things to say about that. His favourite quip is “Its Scotlands Pound as well” Well Mr Salmond “Its mostly our Oil as well!”

  • disqus_pbeXc7mQgk

    Whatever the Scottish people decide is up to them but I think it’s about time the people of England were given some devolved powers to at least put them on a par with the other UK countries. One way would be to ensure that Scottish (assuming they remain part of the UK) Welsh and Northern Irish M.P.’s are not allowed to vote on purely English matters. Come on English politicians get some backbone and demand what most people in England probably want!

  • tony walker

    it’s not on that Scottish M.P’s should not vote on English matters, that would mean that Scots P.M and chancellor, like Brown and Darling could not vote, that is ridiculous. Not many people realise that Scotland is overrepresented at Westminster in accordance with the size of it’s population, it shouldn’t have nearly as many M.P’s as it has. This has been the case since Scotland was merged with England years ago. Now despite the fact that we now have a Scottish parliament, this continues. It should be reduced at least to the English level, which I think means getting rid of about a dozen M.P’s., but as it has it’s own parliament then it should be reduced well below that, I would suggest to about 1 per county. As this would not suit Labour, it is doubtful if they would ever do it.
    Every democracy has an elected assembly, but why should the Scots have several?

    • Wessex Man

      What are you views on Scottish MPs to the UK Parliament being able to vote on English matters but not being able to vote on the very same matters in the land thety were elected in.

      • tony walker

        don’t understand. If you mean they cant vote beause the Scots Parliament decides these matters then that is for Scotland to sort out.

        • Wessex Man

          What don’t you understand about the West lothian Question asked by a Labour Scottish MP?

          What do you mean? your statement is nonsense.

          Scottish MPs elected in Scotland can’t vote on any matter devolved to Scotland but the can and do in the case of Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib/dums on those very same matters in England even though they should hang their heads in shame!

          • tony walker

            that is what I thought you meant. No this is not satisfactory at all but we must reduce the numbers of Scots mp’s at Westminster in an effort to re balance this. They now have their own Parliament and we do not need as many as there are.

  • Tim

    In 10 years time most of the economic to extract oil will be gone and I suggest that is the time that we need a referendum on the countries that make up the UK. With no oil Scotland will be one big parasite.

    • alexicon

      Heard of the Bentley field on the East coast of Scotland?
      Not even scratched the surface of the West coast and were still finding oil off Aberdeen.
      Oil is a bonus that will be used to diversify our other manufacturing industry.
      Nice try, but no coconut.

      • Pete

        Success by Skunk Works will probably make oil, gas, coal, wind and solar etc irrelevant and worthless by 2030.

        • alexicon

          Good! Oil & gas is a bonus to Scotland not a panacea.

          • Pete

            Salmond won’t be happy when he has an £18bn hole in his economy.

            • alexicon

              Oh it’s £18 billion now, it seems to grown every day with you unionists.
              News flash for you! The UK has debts totalling £1.4 trillion expected to rise to £1.6 trillion by 2016.
              The UK has a public/private pension black hole of around £700 billion, why do you think we’ve just had a pension cut of 1, 2 and 3 years depending on your age. Oh and for that pleasure Scots have a shorter life expectancy than the English. A bit of a wake up call for you.
              Some black hole.

              • Pete

                Don’t think anybody in the worldwide energy business will be happy when the new technology makes them irrelevant. The good news is that the new energy will be cheaper to produce and purchase.

                • alexicon

                  Good, then maybe we’ll get the cheaper bills we’ve been promised for decades.

  • Tim

    It looks like Scotland will lose this referendum and the vote will be to stay a united UK. How many times will we have to go through this however? Also how many ‘concessions’ do we need to make to Scotland to keep the Jocks happy? It is about time English people got a vote on the UK, i.e. do we want to be a part of it and more importantly, do we want Scotland to be a part of it.

    • alexicon

      Why do you not start up an online petition on England’s Independence and stop whinging.
      The amount of times I’ve heard this there must be enough signatories to get over the magic 100,000 so you can get this brought up in the house of commons.
      How many of you have taken my advice and started an online petition…? Not one. Go figure or stop whinging.

      • Wessex Man

        classic, you accusing someone sane of whinging!

        • alexicon

          That’s your perception, not mine.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here