The most successful bond between sovereign equals that has ever existed and ever will exist is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A relationship that has defied empires, dictatorships, and tyrannies. A bond of economics and currency yes, but of a shared identity, history and belonging more so writes Benjamin Woods.
However, like it or not, the nationalists are winning. They have been polling consistently over 50% in Scotland, with record support both for independence in Wales and reunification in Northern Ireland, on top of a recent poll putting half of Conservative supporters in England in favour of English independence. The choice is simple. Stick our heads in the sand or fundamentally change how we defend our Union.
In 2016 two campaigns went head to head on the fate of another union; the European Union. The Remain campaign focused on hard economics. They focused on the technicalities and the details of setting up a Northern Irish border, the implications of creating trade deals and economic forecasts by leading economists. The leave campaign, which I supported, focused not on the head but the heart. It focused on the desire for self-control, self-determination, and self-governance. To coin a phrase, it was about ‘taking back control’. They mobilised hopes and dreams, successfully dismissing economic forecasts provided by the remain campaign as fantasy and ‘operation fear’. The threat of economic peril and collapse may have an impact on the social and financial well-off middle classes, but to the ex-miner that has nothing to lose in the first place, the threat is meaningless. As the leading 20th century economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”
I mentioned the 2016 campaign due to these two different styles; one for the head and one for the heart. I see these same roles duplicated in the fight for and against the United Kingdom. While the unionists almost entirely aim for the head, whether it be the difficulties in setting up an independent currency, permanent borders or financial reserves, the nationalists aim for the heart.
I have often wondered why the heart appears to be a much stronger determinant on people’s willingness to vote than the head. However, after much thought, the reason why the heart wins over the head is fundamentally simple. Arguments of the head focus on why we have to be as opposed to arguments of the heart that focus on why we want to be. I cannot stress the difference between ‘has to be’ and ‘want to be’ enough. The former is based on necessity and need; the latter is based on choice and love.
Basing the unionist argument on necessity rests the case on sand. It leaves the door wide open for nationalists, at any stage in the future when the economic outlook is bright, to claim they no longer are bound by necessity. Moreover, the same major flaw that plagued the Remain campaign in 2016 persists, with ‘project fear’ labelling and anti-establishment sentiment easy counter-arguments.
Alternatively, making a passionate plea defending the Union we love using principles of the heart, of wanting to remain, not because we have to out of economic necessity and survival, but because we want to stay out of love and loyalty, even if the economic conditions allowed for independence, is the only way we can defend our United Kingdom.
Love always overcomes fear and, while we just hung on in Scotland in 2014, if that vote were held a week later, the outcome could have been disastrous. We must champion our achievements: the foes we have faced together, our values, our heroes, our shared history and most importantly; our shared future. We must build a campaign on pride, on hope, on belonging, on love, and not on pessimistic economic modelling; however accurate we perceive it to be.
The luxury for the nationalists is that if they fail, they will dust themselves off, pick themselves up and come charging back at us again, as they are in Scotland. We do not have that luxury. If we falter or fall, if we divert our attention for a moment too long, we will not have a second chance. As the IRA said to Margaret Thatcher after the Brighton bombing, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” In 2014 we were lucky. If we continue to persist with ‘project fear’ and the constant focus on the head, arguing why we need to be and not why we want to be part of the United Kingdom, I very much doubt we will be so lucky again.
The basis of this article can be summed up in the words of Rameez Raja, a famous Pakistani cricket commentator: “In the battle between the heart and the mind, winners always listen to their hearts.”
We must do the same or face losing the country we love forever.
Benjamin Woods is a student at Swansea University