Common Weal or Commonwealth: Scots Must Decide

Contradictions are being voiced by putative separatists on post-independence Scotland’s Commonwealth membership

In his novel ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, Thomas Harris has one of his more competent characters, the intriguing Jack Crawford, articulate the thought that those who assume are likely to ‘make an ass out of you and me’. It does not take much trawling through the annals of political history to discover this to be one of the guiding principles of the political gods. The staff at the Chicago Daily Tribune who prematurely declared ‘Dewey defeats Truman’ in 1948 are the iconic martyrs to this principle. However, as per our usual human failings, it seems our Scottish political class are failing to heed the warnings of previous victims of the malevolent political deities; and this is especially true of those who are demanding Scotland’s separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.

This week’s self-flagellating assumption which has bubbled-up from Yes Scotland (or, as this commentator prefers to call it, ‘The Of(f?) Course Campaign… i.e. of course an independent Scotland would x, y & z! How dare you question it!) concerns Scotland’s continuing membership of the Commonwealth family of nations. As we have heard previously, it is the separatists’ contention that an independent Scotland would take with it all the benefits which have fallen the UK’s way over the course of history, including membership of all the international organisations such as the European Union, NATO and, in this latest case, The Commonwealth.

It is difficult for those of us who could not find a glass when the nationalist Kool-Aid was being poured to comprehend the compatibility of this contention with the ‘Of Course’ campaign’s other assertion, or perhaps admission, that Scotland would be a newly independent country. After all there is much testimony, ranging from EU Commission President Barroso to the recent comments by Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, to the opposite effect, and only the nationalists’ word for it (Of course….etc etc) on their compatibility. It seems that Scots are being given two, inherently conflicting, stories.

Scotland & England Split

The nationalist’s ‘nothing will change except everything’ schtick has worn very thin. The Scottish people are intelligent and self-aware enough to realise that Scotland would, on the balance of probabilities and professional opinion, be forced to re-negotiate its membership of all the desirable international organisations of which it is already a member by being part of the UK, including the Commonwealth.

What the Scottish people will also be aware of is that with negotiations come the inevitable compromises, which are made even more inevitable given the political feistiness of the others who would be around the table. The options are: ‘almost certainly lose something and maybe gain a little something’ or ‘lose nothing’. Scots are a pragmatic people with heads screwed on tighter than we are given credit for, and there is only one practical option in this case.

Better Together are, as usual, in a more stable position with regards to Scotland’s position internationally. They point out the existing structure as one which serves Scotland and the broader UK well, even if our EU membership is still a best-worst case scenario. They also have the empirical evidence for the benefits of their case vis-a-vis Scotland’s place in the world in terms of pounds and pence, a language Scots gravitate to, as per our previously mentioned pragmatic nature. Their optimal strategy would be to emphasise what Scotland does for the world from within in its existing framework, where it could go in the future, and what the world does for us. The slightest whiff of negativity will neuter their case completely.


As a long-time proponent of both the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere, it pleases me to see the former being explicitly praised as positive and the latter, by extension, praised also. The Commonwealth is founded upon a traditional alliance of countries who have chosen to embrace, at least in theory and to varying levels of success, principles which chime with anyone of libertarian leanings. It extolls free trade, individual liberty and the primacy of market forces as being the key to economic development.

Compare that with the ‘Common Weal‘ idea critiqued in an earlier issue of this column and popular among the nationalists, as well as with their general pro big government, markets-sceptic doctrine, and it seems difficult to understand why the nationalists would even want to be part of the Commonwealth. Perhaps they see it as the vote winner that it surely will be following the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014: or is it perhaps that they are not as convinced by their principles as they tell each other they are? Do they perhaps know, deep down, that they have deeply misjudged the political, ideological and nationalistic inclinations of the Scottish people? This commentator would hate to assume…

Alan Grant


  1. Worth remembering that the EU/Commonwealth decisions are not Barosso’s or Sharma’s to make….also that – so far – every claim by Better Together (or ‘Project Fear’ as they call themselves), and, indeed, Cameron & Co. has turned out to be utter tripe. I don’t believe for a moment that the ‘Yes’ campaign will win the referendum, but I fear there is every chance that the ‘No’ campaign will lose it.
    The whole business of campaigning will also become rather more difficult in the actual ‘election period’ when the BBC will have to be rather more even-handed than has been the case. That won’t affect the newspapers of course, but there is no guarantee that none of them will side with the gnats…the Herald and the Sun look like they may yet swing that way and even the Record is becoming less amenable. .


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