Monday, 2 September 2013

Flodden a dead horse-lasagne

In a lovely acted political metaphor, a cross-border group is celebrating the impending referendum on Scottish independence (and, incidentally, the battle's quincentenary next week) by unearthing the dead of the Battle of Flodden. It remains the eeriest and best-preserved battlefield in Britain that I know: the landscape is sufficiently unchanged that it is all too easy to visualise where and how James IV and his men were cut to pieces.

Whether recalling this particular slaughter now is helpful or not is hardly the point. I do wince at some of the BBC coverage: it was a nasty battle, but 'every bit as awful as the Somme' seems a bit steep, and while I know I should expect comments like 'the outcome of the battle led to the union of England and Scotland 90 years later', I still can't get used to them. For the record: it didn't. Indeed, apart from the deaths themselves, the award of a dukedom to the English commander, and giving the Scots nobility a settled aversion to invading England, the battle had remarkably few direct consequences. If Henry VIII had been a sharper political strategist and had been less obsessed with trying to restart the Hundred Years' War, he might have exploited it.

Still, the battle's context - a sideshow in a French war - is a reminder that Anglo-Scottish relations have always had a European dimension. As they do now. The two forthcoming big political battles - the Scottish independence referendum and the UK European referendum - are also intertwined. If (as seems unlikely) Scotland votes to leave the UK, the balance may well be tipped decisively against the rump UK staying the EU. If (as seems more plausible) a UK which still includes Scotland votes to leave, then I can see a second Scottish referendum being demanded very fast, and securing a different outcome. England may well want to leave Europe: Scotland, I think, doesn't.

The complexity of how these issues may interact is almost enough to make you wish for the days when these issues could be resolved with billhooks in a couple of hours. But if, like me, you want to preserve the UK whole and in the EU, the sequencing of the two referenda is a mercy. My hope is that the Scots will resist the siren lure of independence for long enough to thwart those in England who are enchanted by the same impossible vision.

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