The most successful bond between a family of countries that has ever existed and ever will exist is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A relationship that has defied empires, dictatorships, and tyrannies. A bond of economics and currency yes; but of a shared identity, history and belonging more so.
However, like it or not, anti-British sentiment within these isles remains strong. Independence consistently polls near 50% in Scotland, remains at near-record levels in Wales, has been rising in England, and is accompanied by high levels of support for reunification in Northern Ireland. Even if constitutionally Westminster holds the final cards, the aforementioned polling is not the basis for a healthy and stable nation. The choice is simple therefore, stick our heads in the sand or fundamentally change how we defend our Union.
In 2016 two campaigns went head to head on the fate of another union: the European Union. The Remain campaign focused on hard economics. They focused on the technicalities and the details offsetting up a Northern Irish border, the implications of creating trade deals, and economic forecasts by leading economists. In contrast, the Leave campaign, which I supported, focused not on the head but the heart. It focused on the desire for self-control, self-determination, and self-governance. To coin a phrase, it was about “taking back control.” They mobilised hopes and dreams, successfully dismissing economic forecasts provided by the Remain campaign as fantasy and “operation fear.” The threat of economic peril and collapse may have an impact on the social and financial well-off middle classes, but to the ex-miner that has nothing to lose in the first place, the threat is meaningless. As the economist John Galbraith once said, “the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,” a sentiment that allowed for the easy dismissal of the Remain campaign’s central arguments and a sentiment that has been employed in a similar vein by Scot, Welsh and Irish nationalists today.
I mentioned the 2016 campaign due to these two different styles: one for the head and one for the heart. I see these same roles duplicated in the fight for and against the United Kingdom. While the unionists almost entirely aim for the head, whether it be the difficulties in setting up an independent currency, permanent borders or financial reserves, the nationalists aim for the heart. But why do arguments of the heart pose such a threat to arguments of the head? Why does emotional appeal so often trump rational logic? Simply, the former is based on necessity and need, the latter is based on choice and love. One argues why something has to be, while the other argues why something should be.
As a result basing the unionist argument on necessity rests the case on sand. It leaves the door wide open for nationalists, at any stage in the future when the economic outlook is bright, to claim they no longer are bound by necessity. Furthermore, the same major flaw that plagued the Remain campaign in 2016 persists, with “project fear” labelling and anti-establishment sentiment easy counter-arguments.
Alternatively, making a passionate plea defending the Union we love using principles of the heart, of wanting to remain, not because we have to out of economic necessity and survival, but because we want to stay out of love and loyalty even if the economic conditions allowed for independence, is the only way we can sustainably and indefinitely defend our United Kingdom. But I will go one step further. Not only is it the only way we can defend Britain, it is the only way we should want to defend Britain; a nation that Treasury forecasts and accountant spreadsheets aside, we, or at least I, dearly love. A nation I also want my fellow subjects to love, and not just need. For in the long run, love overcomes fear, and while we just hung on in Scotland in 2014 if that vote were held a few weeks later the outcome could have been disastrous. We must champion our achievements; the foes we have faced together, our values, our heroes, our shared history but most importantly, our shared future. We must build a campaign on loyalty, on pride, on hope, on belonging, on love, rather than pessimistic economic modelling however accurate we perceive it to be.
The luxury for the nationalists is that when they fail, they just dust themselves off, pick themselves up, and come charging back at us again. We do not have that luxury. If we falter or fall, if we divert our attention for a moment too long, we will not have a second chance. In 2014 we were lucky. If we continue to persist with “project fear” and the constant focus on the head, arguing why we need to be and not why we want to be part of the United Kingdom, I very much doubt we will be so lucky again.
The basis of this article can be summed up in the words of Rameez Raja, a famous Pakistani cricket commentator “in the battle between the heart and the mind, winners always listen to their hearts”. We must do the same, or face losing the nation we hold in our own hearts, forever.