Today, as commentators everywhere are reminding us, is the 300th Anniversary of the Act of Union (actually, there were two Acts) between England and Scotland. In recent days, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and others have been praising its success. They are wrong. The Act of Union has been an unmitigated failure. It is perhaps the single greatest error in the history of the two nations.
For two nations they still are. "Union" comes from the Latin unus, which means "one". To unite is "to become one". Yet will anyone seriously claim that the two nations of England and Scotland have become one? Of course not. England intended to. For more than 250 years, the English hauled down the flag of St George and called themselves "British" (except when playing sport). Scotland, of course, never intended anything of the kind.
300 years ago, Scotland had few choices. Incompetent leadership and failed colonial adventurism had brought her to the point of collapse. England offered to underwrite the Scottish government's debt to its people in return for political union. An English spy reported that
"for every Scot in favour there is 99 against".Yet Scotland sold herself out, because she had no choice. Rather like an impoverished spinster marrying a man she hated, she came to the altar with a murderous combination of shame and resentment. Poison in the breakfast porridge was thereafter always a possibility.
God knows Scotland was not the bride of England's dreams. However, the English approach was both more practical and more optimistic. The English, mistakenly assuming the Scots to be as unemotional and pragmatic as themselves, were quite happy to spend money on peace. The Celts north of the border had never been a serious military threat, but their infuriating habit of giving succour to England's more dangerous enemies had to be stopped. The choice was between compromise and conquest. England chose nobly, but wrongly. Had we driven home our advantage 300 years ago with full military force, we might well have achieved a far better solution to the Scottish problem.
The Union gave England false hope for change. 300 years later, the Scots still favour "anyone but the English". The only change is for the worse. Today, the institutions of our nation are infested by Scots pulling the levers of power to favour their own. This leads to such outcomes as life-saving drugs available to Scots, but denied to Englishmen, fees charged at Scottish universities to English students that may not be charged to Germans or Romanians and shocking discrepancies in care for the elderly.
In every material respect, the Scots have benefitted from the Union. The English played up and played the game with a will, systematically favouring the Scots people over their own to win their affections. The Barnet Formula means that to live in Scotland is to receive - by right - a greater share of the Treasury's bounty. So extreme has this become that only 163,000 Scots are net contributors to the nation's budget. The rest are "on the take" - effectively 4.93 million aggressive beggars.
Yet the Scots still see the Union as a failure. I think that's entirely to their credit. They could not, in the end, be "bought and sold for English gold." Their pride has not allowed them to get over the indignity with which the Union began.
Sadly for England, while the Scots are still too weak to defeat us, our defeat is the only thing that motivates them. The Union was meant to end a long war, but it merely turned it cold and nasty. It has cooked Scots hatreds into a dish as foul as a Scots kitchen ever produced (which is a big claim). It is time to take off the lid. Hold your noses this year, as Mr Salmond serves England better than any Scot before him.