Will we still tolerate Scottish people in 2016?

Nick Cohen argues that the British won’t tolerate Scots in public life if Scotland1 becomes independent2. Nor will charities like the RSPB, most of whose members reside south of Hadrian’s wall, be willing to fund conservation ‘abroad’ in Scotland. Nor will the British Army allow Scottish soldiers to serve.

Nick might be right (as he is about much else), but like all good theories, his is amenable to empirical testing. And we don’t have to wait until Scotland becomes independent either.

For example, Nick’s theory implies a Britain in which we wouldn’t tolerate a foreign Governor of the Bank of England3, let alone a prince consort or a king. Like Americans, who would never allow foreigners to present talk shows (unless exceptionally talented), or govern states, our TV screens would be devoid of Irish people (despite the BBC’s longstanding tolerance for regional accents from within the UK’s borders). The British Army certainly wouldn’t allow infiltration by Irish, Fijians, Nepalese or other foreigners4, the RSPB wouldn’t fund conservation on other continents, and other charities would stop at the border too.

Enough of the sarcasm. The previous paragraph is anecdotal, and it would require more time than I have spare to rigorously investigate the effects of Irish, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand5 independence6 to see if state divorces really do have an effect. But my hunch is that the effects of the internet, cheap air travel and higher incomes dwarf those of redrawn state boundaries. Casually at least, it seems that Nick’s theory might be a little too dystopian.

Nevertheless, Nick might turn out to be correct. If Scotland does become independent, we southern British might become too xenophobic to tolerate talented foreigners from the North. But the point is, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’d like to think we’re becoming steadily less xenophobic in this country, and that globalisation is slowly eroding our tendency to be intolerant of those beyond our state’s borders. Indeed, one of the reasons I’m keen on Scottish independence is because I think it will show how arbitrary and unimportant states can be. States can be handy at times, but they should never be allowed to inhibit relations between people (see yesterday’s piece). Since we’re probably not going to try to bring the whole world under British rule again, shouldn’t we concentrate on getting better at loving ‘foreigners’, rather than worrying about there being an extra 5m of them in 2016? After all, another 72m of them were born last year, even without Alex Salmond’s help.


1. Oh dear, another post about Scotland. This blog really isn’t meant to be about Scotland, but I think I picked a bad week to start.
2. He also argues that Scots won’t tolerate us. Despite the pockets of bad feeling over the last couple of weeks, I’m hopeful on that front too.
3. Even from a former white dominion.
4. Note that Nepal was never a commonwealth country or part of the empire, Ireland isn’t a commonwealth country, and none of the three mentioned have the Queen as head of state, as Scotland will.
5. I know, I wanted to write New Zealandish as well, but this is the correct adjectival form.
6. I sometimes wonder whether people have forgotten quite how many times we’ve been through this before. Admittedly never quite so close to home (at least if your home is in England) but still. I’ve even seen someone wonder whether the Scots will play for the (British and Irish) lions again.


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