The U.K. general election and last year’s Brexit vote have led to new calls by the Scottish government for a referendum on independence. The desire to depart the U.K. enjoys the support of almost half the Scottish population, but it is viewed with a great deal of offense in England.
The English are convinced that the reason the Scottish want independence is an abiding, unnecessary and frankly hurtful hatred of them. They take it personally, and but the problem the Scottish have identified is a serious one that requires thought.
When I went to Edinburgh to cover the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, I was ready with my tin hat. I expected a strong dose of anglo-phobia and was even worried about whipping out my English accent in pubs.
Instead, I discovered a nation of Scandinavian social democrats determined to live in an oil rich, big state utopia like Norway. They envied “nanny states” like Sweden and Denmark and dreamt of a day they could follow them.
So, you ask yourself, “Why not just vote to be like Scandinavia?” After all, Scotland is doing pretty well and has a fair portion of the same oil fields that make Norway rich.
The problem is as simple as it is intractable: The English.
Nearly 90 percent of the U.K. population is English, and England is one of the most conservative countries in the world. Parliamentary seats have been deliberately created to overrepresent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but England has 532 out of 650 seats.
Of these 532 seats, the Conservative Party held 317 at the 2015 election, and in June this will rise markedly. In fact, if England was an independent country, they would have almost never elected anyone else.
But the news gets even worse for the Scots because the Conservatives are now ahead in Wales, which sends 40 MPs to Westminster. And in Northern Ireland 11 of the 18 seats are held by Unionist parties, who are effectively allied to the Conservatives. Add to that the plan to redraw the parliamenrary boundaries to give England its fair share of seats based on population and the picture is pretty clear: Whatever way Scotland votes, they get a much more right-wing government than they want.
Independence is therefore popular simply because of demographics. There is a basic inequality in the U.K. that comes from merging four countries that have wildly unequal populations. Even if a Scot is elected British prime minister, he would only have gotten there with the support of the English, and that support is not doled out to true socialists.
Perhaps it is not all doom and gloom. Scots are solving the problem piece by piece with additional powers regularly being given to their parliament. Within a few decades, the Scottish government will run almost everything in the country aside from diplomacy, defense and the pound.
But Scotland still cannot enjoy the freedoms it wants as long as the U.K. government is so huge and omnipresent. The solution to this is to devolve more powers to England, an idea fraught with problems.
Alas, the English dislike big government so much they strongly oppose having their own Parliament, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own.
So far, the solution to this has been to create Metro Mayors with sweeping powers in big English cities. They are not universally popular, but they serve to start the process of localizing powers and slimming the U.K. state. The problem is they do not cover the whole of England, and there are no plans for this to happen at present.
However, something needs to give otherwise the Scots will be forced to choose between accepting a political system that leaves them disenfranchised and leaving the U.K. altogether. This does not seem to me to be a very happy or positive choice.
The English are unionists at heart and would do almost anything to keep Scotland in the U.K. They see the union as a meeting of equals, even though that is plainly not the case.
It is hard to see how they would forgive any British prime minister who allowed Scotland to leave. So, reform in England must quicken. Westminster must become much more like Washington: A body that reserves itself to deal with only those things states cannot do on their own. Scotland must be given the powers it needs to create the country it wants.
Plurality is the answer.
Andre Walker is a lobby correspondent covering the work of the British Parliament and prime minister. Before studying journalism at the University of London he worked as a political staffer for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter @andrejpwalker