City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: Iain Macwhirter - Scotland and the UK: What Future? Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 19 August 2015

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
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Iain Macwhirter, Ruth Wishart (chair)

Iain Macwhirter was, of course, a columnist for ‘The Herald’ long before the referendum on Scottish independence. His book ‘Road to Referendum’ provides an historical background to the question and the context for the campaign of 2013-14.

His more recent ‘Disunited Kingdom; How Westminster Won a Referendum But Lost Scotland’ brings the account of events up to date.

The title may disgruntle some but to others will simply present the present as it is; membership of the SNP rose dramatically in the wake of a ‘No’ vote that was large enough to look like a convincing win but insufficiently convincing to ensure the question of Scotland’s future was ‘settled for a generation’ as politicians on both sides of the debate had assured the voters.

Macwhirter went into some of the reasons for this in his talk, chaired by Ruth Wishart, although it felt as though the divisions produced by the referendum, albeit politely expressed, remained deep despite the lapse of almost a year.

Macwhirter attributed this largely to the intervention of Chancellor George Osborne in the matter of an independent Scotland continuing to use the pound. As damaging as a previous Conservative government’s introduction of a poll tax in Scotland before attempts to implement it on a UK wide basis, it gave the impression of a view of Scotland as a second-class dependency of an essentially English state, producing an entirely predictable reaction.

Although the announcement probably influenced the outcome of the referendum, the resilience of the ‘Yes’ movement has been such as to energise Scottish politics in ways unthought of prior to the campaign, a phenomena noted and documented by Macwhirter is his new book.

Macwhirter was less convincing when discussing what the future may hold – he affirmed a personal commitment to federalism as a solution, but was somewhat vague as to how this might be achieved, envisioning a situation in which a Scotland that had voted for independence would then seek to join a federation made up of the former United Kingdom’s constituent parts, although he gave no indication as to how this might be brought about.

In a present that can give no indication of possible future, however, we may all speculate on what that may be, with the proviso, perhaps, that it is likely to be something else, and certainly not what the situation is now.

Iain Macwhirter: Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum and Lost Scotland.
Cargo Publishing 2014 £8.99 isbn; 9781908885265