‘Scotland hasn’t failed — its leadership has failed’
By Ricky Browne
Supporters of the union who dread the idea of Scotland gaining independence must be very happy to see the Chief Minister of Scotland and her predecessor at daggers drawn.
The current Salmond Inquiry taking place in the Scottish parliament at Holyrood is exposing for all to see the great rift between the two largest proponents of Scottish independence.
Could the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) which has been riding a wave of popularity be about to crash, as Chief Minister Nicola Sturgeon battles accusations of misleading the Scottish parliament?
The inquiry comes as Scotland prepares for its parliament elections in May, which the SNP is expected to win. But the SNP has been seen to be losing popularity in recent polls.
The previous Chief Minister Alex Salmond was accused by several women of sexually harassing them. He denied it strenuously, and in 2020 was acquitted of the 13 allegations in court, but the cloud still hangs over him especially in these days of the Me Too movement.
But he believes that his former protégé Nicola Sturgeon lied and worked to get him imprisoned. Sturgeon says it is a conspiracy theory – but she has been under attack in parliament.
Salmond is now giving his side to the story to the Scottish parliament, and is getting wide TV and media coverage.
“Scotland hasn’t failed — its leadership has failed” said Salmond during the inquiry on Friday.
Sturgeon entered politics with Salmond as the leader of the SDP, and ran for her first seat at the age of 21, when her hair was still dark and not the impressive red colour she has now.
To see the too torch-bearers of Scottish independence battling each other is a joy to many people who want to see Scotland remain in the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If the current inquiry weakens Sturgeon’s support – or even results in her being removed from power – it will also weaken support for independence, and lessen the chances for another referendum.
Back in 2014 the Scots voted in a referendum to stay in the union by a majority of 55 percent, with only 45 percent voting to become independent.
It was a blow to the SNP, and Salmond soon stepped down as Chief Minister to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon.
Since then, things have changed. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum for Brexit and to leave the European Union. But Scotland – like London — voted to remain.
This helped to build support for independence again – as the argument was that Scotland had been under the impression that the UK would remain in the EU, and that it was not right that it was now being forced to leave it.
And then Sturgeon became admired for the way she was handling the pandemic in Scotland, which helped to improve her standing and by extension the popularity of independence.
But one of the questions needs to be, why seek independence if the intention is to immediately join the European Union and therefore lose that independence?
And the other question should be, what guarantee if any, is there that the EU would accept Scotland as a member?
Turkey for years wanted to gain entry and has not been allowed. But of more importance is the view of countries which have their own regions seeking independence – particularly Spain – which might not want to give oxygen to their own independence movements.
Interestingly, it was really Scotland that brought the two kingdoms of Scotland and England together under a Scottish king. Well, almost. England and Scotland shared a king, when James I, who before that was James VI of Scotland, became king after England’s Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her first cousin once removed James as her heir.
Unfortunately, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin and the mother of James didn’t have the opportunity as Elizabeth had her head chopped off some time previously, for being involved in a plot to herself become queen.
But having no children of her own, the English crown went to Elizabeth’s closest relative – James VI. He became king of England in 1603.
James wanted to unite the two kingdoms, and even styled himself as King of Great Britain. He untied the thrones, but was unable to united the two nations under his reign.
That didn’t happen until under Queen Anne in 1707. One of the reasons for Scotland agreeing to the union was monetary – as the country was in massive debt thanks to a failed attempt to create a colony of its own in Panama.
But many in Scotland think that the union was not completely above board – with the Scottish poet Robert Burns accusing Scottish parliamentarians of selling out the country’s independence for English gold.
The last line of his Rogues in a Nation – written many decades later, in 1791 — states the view clearly:
But pith and power, till my last hour
I’ll make this declaration
We were bought and sold for English gold:
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
It was also said that many of the Scottish parliamentarians didn’t go to vote on the day. So the legitimacy of the union was questioned by many up to this day.
The parliament in Westminster in London would now be the parliament for both countries.
Interestingly, the current Salmond Inquiry is taking place in the Robert Burns room in the Scottish parliament.
COAT OF ARMS
But from the beginning, the two countries appeared to be given equal billing – with the English flag of St George and the Scottish flag of St Andrew being combined to make the first version of the Union Jack.
And the Scots could have bragging rights, as it was England who had a Scottish king as its leader and not the other way round.
But look a little closer and some of the inequity in the relationship becomes clearer.
The coat of arms carries the lion, representing England, on one side of the crest, and the unicorn representing Scotland on the other.
The lion stands proud and free, with his crown upon his head. But the unicorn, though also standing upright, has his crown rammed around his neck. A thick chain is attached to the crown and then fastened to the ground beneath him.
The unicorn, therefore, is not free and is basically enslaved – just as the African slaves in the British West Indian islands were also enslaved at that same time.
The representation of the unicorn as a chained and enslaved animal has remained, even to this day.
It is said that in ancient legends, a free unicorn is a very dangerous animal, who only a virgin child could tame, and so it is chained. There may be something in this, as even in the Scottish version of the Coat of Arms, the unicorn is still chained.
But what effect does that have on the psyche of Scottish children, who view the national coat of arms, and Scotland’s representation in it?
Maybe the legend is correct, and a free Scotland would indeed be a very dangerous animal. But isn’t it time to change the coat of arms to depict Scotland as an equal rather than forced despite its will?