Monday, August 6, 2012

A Positive Case For Unionism

Unionists are frequently asked to come up with positive reasons why they support the continued existence of the Union. For me the main reason to support the union is that I think that it is better for people who live contiguously and who speak the same language to live in one country rather than many.

When the United States has a presidential election something fairly extraordinary happens. Across a huge country, with a population originating from all over the world, essentially people do the same thing. They choose between either a Republican or a Democrat and they accept that the president who results from this choice is the president of all of them. No one much cares from which state that president comes. It is the fact that the United States is a union that makes this process possible. The common identity of the citizens of the United States keeps them together, even when they are in other respects diverse. Fundamental to the unity of the United States is the existence of a common language. There are differences between states and a good deal of power is devolved to the state level and even more locally. However, the common federal structure of law, the rule from Washington, creates an experience for citizens such that they feel that they are in the same country wherever they live. This means that it is easy for people to move. If there is a lack of jobs in Ohio, people can move to California and start seeking work immediately. Their qualifications and experience are immediately recognised, the work practices are familiar, the language is the same. This makes the United States one huge labour market, with enormous economies of scale. It is the fact that United States is a union that makes it prosperous.

Imagine if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. Imagine if the southern states had succeed in their attempt at secession. How would history have played out subsequently? The two successor states would undoubtedly have been less powerful than the United States that came to dominate the twentieth century. Even if both the South and the North had chosen to join the world wars on the same side, the fact that there would have been two armies, two navies and two air forces, would have weakened the contribution from North America. Economically the United States would never have reached the level it did if it had given up its unity in the 1860s. There would have been no single market between Alabama and New York. It is undoubtedly the union of the United States, the unity of the people who live there, which has enabled them to be both wealthy and powerful.

The same, of course, is true of Britain. Imagine if Britain had not gradually come together to form a single country from the middle ages onwards. Imagine if there had been four separate sovereign states in the British isles in the 18th century. Would it have been possible under these circumstances to create the power that this country had, would it have been possible to create the wealth? The answer to this is obviously no. There is a single labour market in the UK and the economy in each part of the UK is closely related to the others. People from one part of the UK can easily work in any other part, our qualifications and experiences are recognised everywhere. Just like the United States, the United Kingdom is a successful union and this union is the source of both our wealth and strength. It is the fact that we did not have to worry about fighting amongst ourselves which enabled us to concentrate on developing strong armed forces, which faced outwards rather than faced inwards. If the UK had been four sovereign states, no doubt each squabbling with the other, who is to say that the Industrial revolution would have developed in these islands, who is to say that our success at innovation and invention would have happened at all?

Looking at the English speaking countries in the world, it is obvious that they are all better together. Imagine if the United States was made up of fifty sovereign nations. Imagine if Western Australia seceded along with New South Wales, if the South Island of New Zealand decided it could no longer bear to live with the North Island? Imagine if British Columbian nationalism rose, with the rallying cry "it's our fish", why should we share it with landlocked Alberta? Does anyone seriously think that the result for any of these countries would be anything other than that they would be less powerful and less wealthy? The strength of each of the English speaking countries of the world is that they are united, that they each form a union of parts. The benefit in terms of economics is that there is free movement of labour and a single market, the benefits in terms of power is that they each can fight a common enemy as one.

To suppose that a democratic union of people speaking the same language is undesirable, is to suppose that none of the English speaking nations are desirable and that it would be better if secession occurred in each of them. But this is exactly what the SNP are saying about the UK. This implies that they think that it would be sensible, if oil were discovered off the coast of Nova Scotia, that this province should decide to secede from Canada. They are saying that if Texas always votes Republican, but sometimes gets a Democratic president, that it would be better for Texas to secede in order to get a political regime closer to the wishes of its people. There are indeed some Texans at the moment striving to secede from the United States, but they are generally recognised as poor losers bordering on the ridiculous. But these sort of people have a line of argument remarkably similar to the SNP.

What we have in the UK is actually quite unusual. Our common language culture and identity is exactly what makes the existence of a single market in this country possible. It is the source of our wealth and prosperity. The reason that the Scottish economy converges so beneficially with the English economy is that we have been living in the same country for over three hundred years.

Nationalists might wonder if union is so beneficial, why are so many unionists also Eurosceptics? A Scottish nationalist might suggest that a unionist who supports withdrawal from the EU is expressing his British nationalism and desire for British independence, while hypocritically denying a Scot the same right to express his own Scottish nationalism by seeking withdrawal from the UK and independence for Scotland. The answer is to realise that many unionists are not nationalists at all. We are unionists precisely because we do not see nationalism as the solution. Rather we see it as part of the problem. In principle, I have nothing whatever against the EU. I have at various times been a keen supporter of European integration. The ideal of countries coming together because they are willing to give up their nationalism appeals to me. If it were possible to create a fully democratic United States of Europe I would wholeheartedly support it. Unfortunately, recent events have made clear that it is not possible. The reason that the United States and the UK can succeed as countries is that we have a common identity, language and culture.

The lack of a common language, the lack of a common culture and identity dooms the attempted union of the EU to failure. The attempt at monetary union fails because Germans don't feel that they are at all the same as Greeks. Most ordinary Europeans struggle to seek work in another country owing to their lack of the necessary linguistic skills. Because the EU lacks the conditions for the possibility of creating a single country, the process by which they are attempting to create a United States of Europe is progressively becoming more and more undemocratic. People are being ruled by unelected officials and international organisations, the results of referendums are being ignored. It is for this reason that unionists are more and more frequently expressing opposition. Not because we are against union, but because we are in favour of democracy. If on the other hand, someone suggested creating a federation of the Anglosphere, with common elections, a single head of state and the right to live, work and travel anywhere where English is spoken, I for one would see this as a wonderful opportunity.

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