Bought and sold for English gold

How Scotland has yet to be consulted over the Treaty of Union that established the UK

On the 1st of May 1707, Scotland’s shotgun wedding to England came into force through the Treaty of Union, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. News of the decision was met with rioting across Scotland and the backers of the union were forced to hide in an Edinburgh cellar to escape the rocks and chamber-pot contents that were being thrown their way.

As Robert Burns so eloquently put it: “bought and sold for English gold; what a parcel of rogues in a nation”. It was a union that the people of Scotland did not want, secured by bribing Scottish parliamentarians with lands and titles while English troops stood ready on the border. This was far from a marriage of willing and equal partners.

Fast-forward 300 years, and the people of Scotland are still waiting to be asked what it wants its relationship with England to be. The constitutional question has been central to Scottish politics since the 1960s, yet at no time have the people of Scotland been given the opportunity to decide their future in a referendum. If those who argue in favour of the continuation of the union truly believed in the strength of their argument and that the will of a majority of Scots backed their views, then what better way would there be for the legitimacy of Scotland’s marriage to finally be underpinned with a clear and demonstrable example of public support?

The fact of the matter is that the unionist parties are all too well aware that if Scotland were to be asked what it wanted in a fair manner with balanced arguments presented by both sides of the debate, there would only be one outcome: Scottish independence.

No matter what the historical causes of the union, the question of what Scotland’s relationship with England and the rest of the world should be is one that is firmly rooted in looking to the future, not the past.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would allow us create a business environment that is responsive to the particular needs of Scotland rather than those of the South-East of England. It would allow Scotland to harness the resources available to it in terms of its educated population, its huge renewable energy potential and it’s oil supplies and couple it with a business friendly environment to emulate the success of Ireland, Norway and Iceland, all three of which are in the top six of the worlds most wealthiest countries.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would grant us a seat at the table in a European Union where power firmly resides in the hands of the member states. This would allow Scotland to fight to protect her interests, particularly fishing, in a way that is not possible as long as the UK as a whole regards the industry as expendable.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would mean an end to Scotland’s involvement in bloody and illegal wars and would allow us to use our armed services to protect the fundamental values that Scotland believes in, such as human rights, rather than to protect the oil interests of neo-conservatives in the United States.

But most of all, a forward looking independent Scotland would mean an end to the illegitimate sham of a marriage that exists between Scotland and England and would allow us to cooperate on an equal footing. Where we agree England would have a new partner on the world stage and where we differ Scotland would be able to do so without antagonising her nearest neighbour. More and more it is becoming clear that it is time for Scotland and England to become ‘just good friends’.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.