According to the political commentator Iain Macwhirter, “In the last 30 years, London and the southeast has carved itself off from the rest of Britain and devised a post-industrial economy based on financial services and neoliberal tax policies.” Those in turn have fed a widening inequality that appalls many Scots but that, they suspect, England tolerates.
That reference to “30 years” is significant. Some in Scotland may well have assumed the drift rightward would end with Blair’s landslide victory in 1997. But in these matters—privatization and inequality—the trend continued uninterrupted. Labour added further to Scotland’s alienation with Blair’s support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a move deeply unpopular among Scots. Many in Scotland drew a glum conclusion: if even a strong Labour government in Westminster—one headed by two Scottish-born prime ministers, first Blair and then Gordon Brown—does not make a difference, then maybe we really do need to go it alone.
Viewed like this, it is, paradoxically, Scotland that has been clinging to an idea of Britain, one that has been abandoned by the rest of the UK—at least if that idea is defined in part as the collectivist spirit of 1945. As Macwhirter writes, “Scots have arguably been more committed to the idea of Britain than the English over the last 200 years. What Scotland didn’t buy into was the abandonment of what used to be called the post-war consensus: universalism and the welfare state.”
Which is why the Yes campaign’s offer, set out in Scotland’s Future, consists as much of social policy as constitutional change. The document contains few abstractions about democracy, but promises instead “a transformational change in childcare,” the scrapping of London-imposed changes to welfare benefits, and, in the move most likely to attract international attention, the removal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system from Scotland. “We’re half an hour away from the biggest collection of weapons of mass destruction in western Europe,” Jenkins told me. “There’s no version of devolution that allows us to get rid of that.” In other words, only independence allows Scotland to fully realize the distinct political culture that has arisen there.”