Is Scotland really more “left wing”?

The underlying basis of the “Yes Scotland” campaign, arguably, is the notion that Scotland should become a country independent from England (ahem, the “Continuing UK”) because it is fundamentally more “left-wing”. Prime evidence for this is the old line that there are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs.

In fact, however, there is little real evidence for this. By “England”, too often there is the lazy assumption that this means the Home Counties. However, this should be put the other way around: does, say, Liverpool have significantly more in common with the Home Counties than Glasgow has? Put that way around, it seems ludicrous that post-industrial heavily Irish-influenced Liverpool could soon be in a different country from Glasgow but the same one as Oxford or Haywards Heath.

Even historically, there appear few grounds for this contention. Is Scotland more progressive? The only part of Great Britain which refuses to count votes on a Sunday is in Scotland, not England. Is Scotland less capitalist than England? Where was Adam Smith from again?! It is true that there was never a truly Conservative (as opposed to right-leaning Liberal or Unionist) tradition in Scotland, but neither was there in parts of England and, in any case, Conservatism is not the only (or even predominant) centre-right political philosophy. A century ago Scots accounted for a twelfth of the UK population yet a third of all British Imperial Governors and Governors General – hardly renowned for their left-wing sympathies!

Even in terms of contemporary social make-up, if anything it is England which looks more progressive. 13% of England’s population is non-white compared to 4% of Scotland’s – where, therefore, are the more progressive and liberal attitudes to immigration based on those numbers?

This is devil’s advocate stuff of course – there is of course competing evidence which does suggest Scots are broadly marginally to the “left” of the English. However, perhaps the main argument for suggesting Scots are just as individualistic, selfish and, well, right-wing as the English is the fact that this referendum is happening at all. After all, Scotland gained hugely from the UK at its height – as its living standards grew to match England’s and its people gained unimaginable influence over world affairs through their hugely disproportionate role in the military, administrative, political, industrial and economic affairs of the Empire. Yet as soon as the decline set in, far from working together with their compatriots in Liverpool, Newcastle or Sheffield to overcome the blight of deindustrialisation, many Scots seem content to take their oil money and run. Where’s the social conscience in that?!

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11 thoughts on “Is Scotland really more “left wing”?

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    Most Scots are:

    in favour of continued EU membership *and* the social protections that it brings;
    against hugely expensive Conservative and New Labour attempts to end the efficient and cost-effective command economy of the NHS in England;
    against prescription charges;
    against Conservative and New Labour attempts to fragment education in England;
    against selection in second-level schools (never widely practised in Scotland);
    against student fees;
    against privatisation of the Royal Mail;
    against benefit cuts that members of all three main Unionist parties supported;
    against the Conservative and New Labour belief that revenue from oil should be used solely to lower taxes (if one of the Westminster parties were actually investing that revenue or using it for social programmes, your point about Scots Nationalists being selfish would have more traction).

    I’m not sure either that having a large number of immigrants in itself makes a country progressive; that immigration has not affected Scotland to the same extent is not because Scots are any more or less racist than the English (sadly, there are racists everywhere). There is, however, evidence from the US and now England that racial diversity may lead more privileged majority groups to withdraw their support from the welfare state because they find that unemployment in times of recession tends to affect minorities much more than it affects them. There is also evidence to suggest that Scots are currently a good deal more relaxed about immigration than white English people are.

    As for Adam Smith, it is absolutely true that he has become a right-wing icon. However, his writings, which most people never read, contain a great deal more nuance than that suggests, and even if he were what people make him out to be, it could have little relevance to a discussion of contemporary political trends.

    • I’m not sure I see the relevance of any of that. Most people in England are all of those too – or, at least, profess to be until they get to a position to do something about it.

      And that really isn’t any difference from Scotland, is it? The SNP introduced free Prescriptions (a regressive measure, suiting the middle classes), argues against tuition fees (which suits the better off), proposes to reduce corporation tax (ditto), abandoned paid elderly care (another for the middle classes) and has left income tax untouched. All of these are odd priorities too, while Glasgow remains the poorest city in the UK and Scottish life expectancy remains the lowest in Western Europe.

      I wonder, in fact, are there any truly *left*-wing measures the SNP has adopted since 2007, despite the obvious multitude that it hasn’t? And so does Brian Wilson: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/04/scottish-independence-nationalism-progressive-george-monbiot-uk

  2. harryaswell says:

    LOL!! – Typical Scottish Independency followers attitude and comment. So What? one asks. Is it not relevant that 300 or so years of satisfactory union with the rest of the UK is, or, rather, maybe, about to be trashed?? – That small minded petty hatreds of the English are being vengefully sought by very Socialist minded and somewhat ignorant persons? They really have not thought this all through properly, quite obviously. I agree completely with IJP’s summation. If the Scott’s leave the UK it will be a complete disaster for ALL of us, including Scotland! – NO thought for the effect of being a tiny country with no World Wide influence? NO thought about the grave possibility that Scotland on it’s own cannot be a member of the EU whether or not they like it? NO thought about the depleted world wide influence of the remaining UK? As for oil, who paid for this to be developed in the first place anyway? Removal of the Nuclear Subs yards? Well, I suppose that making 5000 or so workers really doesn’t matter! “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies neatly here. I could go on for ever!! My last comment, which applies to myself as well, is, what do the Scott’s feel about being thought of as traitors, selfish, narrow minded and ignorant Gobshites, rejected by the rest of the UK in general terms and so on? Scotland would be left to paddle her own canoe with NO help from anyone. If we have another financial disaster, who will bail out the Scottish Banks then? The Bank of England?- Oh, I don’t think so!! – I just hope that the Scottish people per se have a lot more goodwill and common sense than the dreadful Salmond thinks that they have!

  3. Mick Fealty says:

    I’m convinced that Scotland will move to the centre and the centre right but not necessarily for reasons of heritage. Off the top of my head, here’s two more contemporary reasons:

    Oil, business and Finance make up around 50% of Scots economy. That’s a hefty hammer with which to threaten any government which even thinks about raising taxes.

    The only mainstream party of the left is the Unionist Labour party. After a Yes it will effectively be the opposition for the ten and more years.

    This doesn’t make the SNP New Christian Democrats, but it will make them pragmatists, perhaps in the mould of the Swedish moderates (currently trying out SD the SDs).

  4. howard says:

    Talking of Adam Smith: he was quite a Unionist.

    Indeed, he believed that the USA and UK should be in a Union with the US States sending elected representatives to London. He even argued that the capital of this large Union should move to America (a new Constantinople of the West), once the population there exceeded that here.

    • harryaswell says:

      Hi Howard. A great idea actually. The whole of the UK and Ireland becoming a new State of America? The way to a United Ireland and a United UK all together living amicably, all in one fell swoop! I won’t hold my breath however.

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