Rishi Sunak at Conservative Party Headquarters, Westminster, London, October 24, 2022 (Photo: Getty Images)
THE ELECTION OF Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s first minister has set the cat among the pigeons. Yousaf is a strong advocate of an independent Scotland, undoing the 300-year-old merger of England and Scotland that formed the United Kingdom in 1707. An independent Scotland, Yousaf has pledged, will apply to join the European Union (EU).
In India, the chatter has been about the irony of an Indian-origin prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, and a Pakistani-origin first minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, presiding over the ‘partition’ of Britain.
Fantasy alas has run ahead of reality. The appetite for an independent Scotland has waned in recent years. In the 2014 referendum, 45 per cent of Scots voted for independence. The latest opinion poll by YouGov for Sky News conducted between March 9 and March 13, 2023 revealed that only 39 per cent of Scots today want an independent Scotland. That makes Yousaf’s job difficult, if not impossible.
Sunak has said his Tory government will absolutely not allow a second referendum on Scottish independence. Labour, which will likely win office in the 2025 British general elections, has categorically ruled out a second Scottish independence referendum for the next 10 years.
Why has interest in an independent Scotland diminished? There are three key reasons. First, the local Scottish economy is doing badly, even worse than the UK’s dismal economy. Without the net inflows it receives from the UK, Scotland’s economic future as an independent country could be even worse.
Second, educational standards in Scotland have fallen. As Therese Raphael wrote in Bloomberg, opinion polls show that “50 per cent of Scots think that generally speaking things in Scotland are headed in the wrong direction.”
Third, there is a growing realisation in Scotland that following the Russia-Ukraine war, the country will find it difficult to untangle its military ties with the rest of the UK, especially Britain’s nuclear deterrence.
Moreover, a partition along the border between two sovereign nations, England and Scotland, will present a logistical nightmare if an independent Scotland joins the EU. Customs checks at the England-Scotland border between an EU member and a non-EU member can lead to chaos for goods crossing the border.
In India, the chatter has been about the irony of an Indian-origin prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, and a Pakistani-origin first minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, presiding over the ‘partition’ of Britain. Fantasy alas has run ahead of reality. The appetite for an independent Scotland has waned in recent years
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It has taken the EU and the UK two fraught years to arrive at an agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol. Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK but, following Brexit, not a part of the EU, all goods from mainland Britain to the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member, had to undergo customs scrutiny in the Irish Sea separating mainland Britain from Northern Ireland if the final destination of British goods was the Irish Republic. A land border for goods between an independent Scotland that is an EU member and the rest of Britain, which is not, will create far greater problems.
Yousaf’s own credentials are also being called into question. He defeated Kate Forbes by a narrow 52-48 per cent margin in the leadership contest for first minister. But his previous record as health secretary was sub-par. Waiting periods for emergency surgery in the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland have, on his watch, become among the longest in the UK. Yousaf’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) that runs a partially devolved Scotland is seen as anti-business.
For the growing Indian diaspora in Scotland, the larger issue is Yousaf’s politics. As Puneet Dwivedi, Scotland president of the Indian National Student Association, put it: “The Indian diaspora are not too happy about him being chosen as they don’t like his hate crime Bill, which they feel curtails free speech. We’ve not seen him at any Indian community event. The diaspora were rooting for Kate Forbes, owing to her background. He is pro-independence whereas the diaspora are unionist.”
Indian-origin leaders in Britain tend to prove their pro- British credentials by hewing, as Sunak has done, to harsh immigration policies. Home Secretary Suella Braverman, also of Indian-origin though with East African provenance, was the architect of a cynical policy to send asylum seekers in Britain to Rwanda by paying the African country a large sum. The policy has been suspended by a legal challenge.
The other senior minister of colour in Sunak’s cabinet— Foreign Secretary James Cleverly—is equally colour blind. Sunak himself has done nothing to change the grammar of British historiography. School curricula barely touch upon imperial crimes, Britain’s transatlantic slave trade and the invasive settlement of Aboriginal Australia.
Sunak and others carry lightly the brown man’s burden.