28 November 2006
An opinion poll had shown support for an independent Scotland, rising to 52% of the electorate there.
Those regarding themselves as Scottish had risen from half to three-quarters in 25 years, while those saying "British" had halved to just 20%.
And already devolution has subverted the legitimacy of Scots MPs in Westminister voting on English bills.
Just when the 300th anniversary of the 1707 Act of Union is about to be celebrated, it seems to be falling apart.
The Scottish debate shows British politics at its most conservative. Any sign of a desire for local autonomy, in any part of the United Kingdom, is seen at Westminster as uppity insubordination by people ignorant of their best interests.
Scotland's pooling of sovereignty with England was, as Christopher Whatley points out in his new history of the union, always pragmatic rather than popular.
The English wanted protection from Catholic incursion. The Scots Presbyterians wanted the same, plus a share in England's colonial expansion.
It was moot how long the union would survive imperial retreat and the opening up of continental and global trade.
I would not lose any sleep if the Scots voted to repeal the 1707 act. Independence need not end the United Kingdom: Scotland and England shared a monarch before 1707, as Britain and Canada do today.
Separation need be no more radical than the partial autonomy of a dozen European countries from their neighbours.
Borders were not sealed or passports cancelled under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. If eastern Europe can handle partition, so can Britain.
The phased withdrawal of the subvention would be traumatic, but it would do Scotland nothing but good to learn that public money does not grow on English trees.
The phased end of the subsidy would be thoroughly good for Scotland, not bad. If economic history teaches anything, it is that huge inflows of aid rot an economy, while "unearned" wealth, as from oil, is usually wasted.
Partition is the new politics, despite being the hobgoblin of centralism.
It is through partition that Ireland is booming, Slovakia reviving and the Baltic states prospering.
The British government is in favour of it for everyone else, even forcing it on the former Yugoslavia and Iraq/Kurdistan. This year it welcomed Montenegro to Europe's community. By what hypocrisy do Westminster grandees ridicule Scotland's ambition?
Big federal states were fine when governments were small and unobtrusive. Today's governments are elephantine and unresponsive to local sentiment.
That is why Spain, France and Italy have all opted for constitutional devolution in the past two decades, fending off separatist pressure.
Anti-federalism is why European public opinion revolted against Brussels last year, and why there is no more talk of a Scandinavian union.
As for size being crucial to viability, this is corporatist rubbish. If Denmark is viable, why not Scotland?
All such considerations must anyway bow before self-determination. If the Scots want to repeal the 1707 act (as some Britons want to repeal the European Union's treaties), the British cannot deny it.
The story of the past quarter-century is that states enjoy no legitimacy without the consent of their territorial minorities. Britain went to war for this principle in Kosovo.
The British union is now afflicted by the same self-doubt as most of Europe's states. Scottish devolution was precipitated by the crassness of [Westminister] rule in the 1980s, but it was bound to come in time, as did Irish home rule half a century earlier.
Under the 1998 act fiscal policy was never devolved and the golden handcuff of the subvention remained in place.
Yet no visitor to Edinburgh today can doubt that Scotland is a far more coherent country and culture than it was before. For all the sneers hurled at the new parliament, its return after 300 years of absence is surely permanent.
The concept of national independence within a global political economy is everywhere debated.
In Scotland the concept has passed from the realm of the unthinkable to that of common discourse among politicians, lawyers, academics and the press.
It reflects the same aspirations as those of Basques, Bavarians and Bosnians. One day it may reflect those of independent Latvians, Slovenians and Irish.
Whether or not because of the insensitivity of modern central government, the world is going that way.
In the multi-tiered sovereignties of Europe only one thing is for sure, that the tiers will argue. In that argument power will always be centripetal and democracy always centrifugal. I prefer democracy.