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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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.