All kinds of questions are being asked about what will happen if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom on September 18. How will the national debt and the North Sea oil and gas reserves be divided? What about fishing rights? Will Scotland be allowed to keep the pound? Where will the Royal Navy base its nuclear submarines, since they are not welcome in Scotland? What will the remainder of the United Kingdom do for a flag if the white cross of St. Andrew on a blue field is ripped from the Union Jack?
All of these are very pressing questions to be sure, but there is one even more pressing question that appears to be going unasked. Namely this: If the Scots split, who will govern England?
This question is by no means frivolous. Look at the present prime minister, David Cameron. Yes, Mr. Cameron was born in England, and is the product of Eton and Oxford. But he is very obviously of Scots descent. His surname fairly reeks of heather and haggis.
Mr. Cameron’s immediate predecessor, Gordon Brown, was born and educated in Scotland. Mr. Brown’s immediate predecessor, Tony Bair, was also born in Scotland. Brown and Blair were both from the Labor Party, which was co-founded by a Scotsman named Keir Hardie. Ramsay MacDonald, another Scot and Labor Party co-founder, became Labor’s first prime minister in 1924.
The list of British prime ministers who were Scottish by birth or of Scots descent is a considerable one. In addition to MacDonald, Blair and Brown, two other post-1900 prime ministers were born in Scotland: Arthur James Balfour (1902-05) and Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-08).
Prime ministers of Scots descent include one of the towering figures of the Victorian Age, William Ewart Gladstone, who was four times prime minister (1866-74, 1880-85, 1886 and 1892-94). Gladstone was born in Liverpool, but his father was born in Leith (now part of Edinburgh). Gladstone represented a Scottish constituency while in Parliament, as did Herbert Henry Asquith (1908-16) and Andrew Bonar Law (1922-23). Bonar Law was born in Canada, but was raised in Scotland.
Two more recent British prime ministers who boasted of their Scottish roots were Harold MacMillan (1957-63) and Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64).
Scots with political ambitions have been migrating south ever since the Scottish Parliament was dissolved after the union with England in 1707. This migration did not go unnoticed by Englishmen, especially those who found themselves elbowed aside by pushy Scots. Dr. Samuel Johnson once sneered that “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England.”
Johnson scored with that one, but many years later an anonymous Scot delivered a riposte. There is a story about an English candidate standing for Parliament from a Scottish constituency. After giving his first speech to his prospective constituents, he opened the floor to questions. An old Scotsman raised his hand and asked, point blank, “Are ye an Englishman?”
The candidate decided that he would not spend the whole campaign being dogged by questions about his national identity. He would settle the matter then and there. Drawing himself up proudly, he replied, “Yes, I am an Englishman. I was born an Englishman. I have lived an Englishman. And I will most assuredly die an Englishman! What do you say to that?”
The old Scotsman was thunderstruck. “Mon!” he exclaimed, “Have ye nae ambition whatsoever?”
England will survive if the Scots leave, but its pool of political talent will certainly shrink.