Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

State of the Union: IPPR North Project

To step back from the immediate politics, here are details of an interesting research project. It connects with the themes of this book>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The State of the Union: Anglo-Scottish Relations in 2007

The Union between England and Scotland is often considered one of the most successful the world has known. Yet paradoxically, few seem set to celebrate it as it approaches its 300th birthday. The devolution settlement, designed to preserve the Union, has thrown up a number of anomalies and tensions that look set to test the strength of Anglo-Scottish relations, while recent trends in public attitudes also raise serious questions about the health of the Union in 2007.

Public debate about the Union in the media and beyond often seems ill-informed and conducted in crude terms. Whether one is pro- or anti- Union, some of the recent tensions in the relationship should cause concern, and all sides share an interest in an informed debate. This project will set the terms of debate about the future of the Union in both England and Scotland.

Often wrongly regarded as a ‘Scottish issue’ this project will place the state of the Union into its proper UK-wide context. It will take a thorough and objective look at what is often an unhelpfully polarised and politicised debate, and highlight the challenges that both Unionists and Nationalists must answer. The project will also seek to move the debate forward by looking at different types of Union – economic, political, social and cultural and public attitudes towards the Union.

Key Questions and Themes

The Union in Perspective
It is generally accepted that the Union was a marriage of convenience for economic (Scotland) and security (England) interests. However, these motivations have lost their purchase and changed over time. The context for the Union has changed substantially, particularly as a result of European integration and globalisation, which have changed the nature of statehood and challenged identities. Within a UK context, the resurgence of Scottish nationalism in the 1960s and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the late 1990s have also challenged the Union in different ways.

Key questions
What was the original purpose of Union and the aims and ambitions of the authors of the 1707 Acts?
Have attitudes towards the Union changed over time and who supports the Union today?
What is the new social, economic and global context for the Union?
What does the Union stand for today? How has it evolved over the past 300 years? Why do we need it?
What forces hold the Union together and what challenges it, and why?

The Union in a Post-Devolution UK
A key rationale for devolution for Unionists was that it would undermine the arguments for Scottish independence. However recent opinion polls in Scotland have indicated that public support for independence is certainly no weaker, and if anything stronger, than it was before devolution. Furthermore the so-called ‘anomalies’ of the devolution settlement – particularly the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula – are gaining increased coverage in England. Polls seem to suggest that English opinion may be shifting from one of contentment with the devolution settlement to one of concern. While the ‘English Question’ remains unanswered the prospect for tension grows. Meanwhile in Scotland debate about greater powers for the Scottish Parliament and greater fiscal autonomy are ongoing.

Key questions
Has devolution strengthened the Union, or opened the door to the separation of the two nations?
What has been the impact of devolution on national identities and public attitudes towards the Union?
Does policy variation in different parts of the UK, enhanced since devolution, undermine common standards and a sense of UK-wide solidarity?
How serious are the challenges of the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula? What can be done?
Has devolution saved the Union but undermined Britishness?

The Union in 2007
The political and constitutional aspects of the Union are often debated at length, but there are other factors that bind Scotland and England. States are not simply held together by legal agreements but by a sense of identity, social, cultural and economic ties. New research will bring together a range of indicators to identify the most important factors shaping and challenging the Union in 2007. Furthermore, new research, using focus groups, will assess the relationship between the English and the Scots, and their attitudes to the Union in 2007.

Key questions
What are the most important demographic, sociological, economic, cultural and political factors shaping the Union?
Is Great Britain moving apart or closer together?

The Economic Union
Prosperity was one of the key rationales for the establishment of the Union, and economic relationships form an important aspect of the ‘glue’ that holds states together. Flows of trade, migration and capital increase interdependence, they also increase the need for coordination of economic policies. But how economically interdependent are Scotland and England?

Key questions
How important has the Union been for economic success?
Is there a business case for the Union, or indeed for separation?
How interdependent are Scotland and England in terms of goods, services, capital and labour?
Are England and Scotland any more interdependent than other neighbouring European countries?
What are the implications of the European Union for the economic relationship between England and Scotland?
What is the case for and against greater fiscal autonomy? What might the implications be for the Union?

The Social Union
Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have emphasised the social ties between England and Scotland recently, in order to make the case for the Union and Britain. But what does the social union between England and Scotland look like, and how important is it?

Key questions
What impact has increased mobility had? What do the migration flows between England and Scotland look like? How often do people from one country visit the other?
What level of inter-marriage is there between the English and the Scots?
How interconnected is the Union? Has this changed over time?

The Cultural Union
Cultural factors are very important in terms developing and maintaining a sense of shared values, identity and solidarity. Factors like popular history and how the Union is perceived in the popular consciousness, how this is reflected in the media and taught in schools are all likely to have an impact on how the Union is viewed. Scotland and England have always maintained separate identities and institutions to one degree or another – in terms of politics, the arts, media and sport –but what impact does this have on the Union?

Key questions
How is the Union popularly viewed? Do the Scottish and English education systems treat it differently through history and citizenship lessons?
What is the role of the media? Is it fuelling a sense of separateness in the way devolution and politics are covered? Do English people know or care what happens in Scotland and vice versa? Does this matter?
What is the role of sport in reinforcing or challenging the Union?
What are the values and institutions that reinforce the Union and those that challenge it?
So far, has devolution had the effect of focusing on the differences between Scotland and England rather than what binds the two nations?

Public Attitudes to the Union
Both sides of the Union debate rely on public opinion to put their case, however surprisingly little detailed work has been conducted on how the public view the Union and the relationship between the English and the Scots. While there are a number of polls available, and more will conducted in the run up to the anniversary, we propose to use the expertise of ippr’s People and Policy team to gather richer data through focus groups. Four focus groups would be held in Scotland and four in England to find out how people respond to the idea of the Union and the relationship between the English and the Scots. What are the factors that people see as being in common and what do they think divides the two nations? Furthermore the groups would test opinion in different parts of England and Scotland to see if, for example, people in the North of England have a different view to those in the South East; or if opinion in the central belt of Scotland differs to that of the Highlands. We would also aim to explore whether people’s view of the Union is affected by their age or socio-economic background. Eight focus groups would be the minimum with which we would be able to draw reasonably robust conclusions.

While we do expect a number of polls to be conducted during this period, bespoke polling would also add breadth to this work and inform the areas where it would be most interesting to drill down for more detail. Ideally we would like to conduct both polling and focus groups, although our ability to do this will be dependent on fundraising.

Key questions
What do the English think of the Scots and the Scots think of the English in a post-devolution UK?
What are public attitudes to the Union? Do people think it has a purpose in 2007?
What are the implications of public attitudes for the future of the Union?

Is Britain Facing an Identity Crisis?
Historians cite the growth and evolution of Britishness and Britons as integral to the development of the British state. So strong was this in the late 18th century that the Edinburgh elite referred to themselves as ‘North Britons’. Yet the key forces identified with Britishness have either disappeared, as in the case of Empire, or declined substantially, as in the case of Protestantism. Contemporary concern with the meaning and state of British identity seems to be reflected at the highest levels of British politics, in both government and opposition.

Key questions
What is the state of Britishness today? Is it in crisis?
Can a growth in Scottishness and Englishness be reconciled? What is the relationship with English and Scottish identities?
Is a Union without a shared identity or Britishness workable?

Prospects for the Union: Moving forward
The project will conclude with an overview of the key influences pushing the Union together and pulling it apart, and an assessment of the health of the Union in 2007. Furthermore it will set the terms of debate in both England and Scotland about the future of the Union, and highlight the challenging questions that both sides – Unionist and Nationalist – must answer.



Blogger ippr north said...

Thanks for the comment Alistair, just came across this. If anyone would like to keep up to date on this project email SUBSCRIBE to or visit or Director, Sue Stirling's, blog at where we have posted other thoughts on Scotland's choice.

6:51 AM  

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