SUPPORT for the Union in England can no longer be taken for granted and anti-independence messages around Scotland being “heavily subsidised” could backfire, according to a leading historian.

Richard Finlay, professor of Scottish history at the University of Strathclyde, also argued in a new book that English nationalism has been the “principal driver” in the disintegration of the UK.

He predicted the Union is “shot” and said the idea of an independent Scotland does not “look odd” against the background of a common theme in history of the rise and fall of European nations.

The National: Professor Richard FinlayProfessor Richard Finlay

Finlay, whose book Scottish Nationalism History, Ideology and The Question of Independence is published by Bloomsbury, told the Sunday National: “I think one of the big things people missed is that Scottish Unionists take England for granted.

“They assume there will be this unconditional support for the Union and I’m not convinced that exists anymore.

“You can see people in England saying – right, ‘we understand according to Unionist perspectives why you support the Union. But what does England get out of it? £15 billion a year for Nicola Sturgeon to moan’.”

Finlay said that for the next referendum he would not be surprised if some English MPs started to argue “let them go if they cost us all this money”.

He added: “Once this idea that the Scots are being heavily subsidised becomes part and parcel of the lexicon of political vocabulary, it is accepted, and no one will turn round and say well actually we just made that up.

“It is like the £350 million of Brexit, no one will actually go back on that.

“Which I think Scottish Unionists have just not really thought about.”

Finlay also said Scottish Unionists such as Scottish Secretary Alister Jack had been “unbelievably arrogant” in downplaying Scotland as a country and emphasising a ‘one UK nation’ message.

“What he is saying is England is not really a nation too,” he said.

“This is where the Unionists think they can have their cake and eat it – if you start to come away with these sort of things it has a knock-on effect in England.

“I’m sure Boris Johnson would not be happy with the idea, ‘oh well, get rid of England to keep the Scots happy and focus on Britain’.

“There are all these sorts of unknowns which will become more pronounced as the [independence] debate starts to take place.

“I think that is something the Unionists will not be particularly prepared for.”

In the book, Finlay explores what has shaped the political identity of Scottish nationalists over the decades.

One characteristic of the movement, he says, is that it has recognised the legality of the British state, which means Scottish nationalism “unlike many other nationalisms, has a core philosophic commitment to attain its political aims by peaceful, legal and constitutional means”.

But he said one difficulty is that unlike in the Spanish language, there is no specific word for someone who supports independence in English – so the term nationalist is used instead.

“One of the things you have to do is think about how you engage with this wider phenomenon of nationalism, how you disassociate with its more extreme elements, which they have always had to do,” he said.

“You do that in the name of the various organisations – they never called it the Scottish Nationalist Party, it was deliberately the National Party of Scotland or the Scottish National Party,” Finlay added.

“In part it was to emphasise Scotland was a nation, because the more people thought about it as a nation, the more you would be inclined to go for independence.”

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He continued: “One of the ways you can also get round it is to say nationalism is just instrumental, it just exists, it has a sell-by date. Once you have independence, it ceases to be.”

He added: “In a way it is quite unfair because if you take someone like [Olaf] Scholz the German Chancellor, he pursues a German national interest, but no one sees anything wrong with that.

“Nicola Sturgeon can say ‘I want to pursue a national interest for Scotland which means independence’ – but that is described as a nationalist in a way that other people aren’t described as nationalists.

“There is that complication.”

When it comes to devolution, Finlay describes it as “not the Gorgon that killed independence stone dead, but rather Aladdin who let the genie out the bottle”.

He said if Scotland does become independent, historians in the future will see it as a time of “the tendons of the state reconnecting”.

Finlay pointed to Norway – which was in union with Sweden for nearly a century until 1905 – as an example of how nations in Europe have frequently undergone change.

“People tend to think of history as events – history is a process,” he added.

“If you were to take a longer term perspective of it, most European countries have a notion of the rise of the nation and then the fall of the nation, where it disappears, and then it comes back again.

“That is a common theme that all European countries have. In one sense Scotland doesn’t then look so odd compared to other places.”

The book concludes one way of explaining the uncertainty over the future of the UK is not because of the growth of nationalism, but the “disintegration and collapse of British national identity back into its original constituents”.

It adds: “Of course, the elephant in the room is English nationalism, and the way that in the past decade or so it has been the principal driver of British state disintegration by encouraging the growth of independence movements in Scotland and Wales, and a reunification movement in Ireland.”

Finlay said one reason he wanted to write the book was to try to identify the core philosophy of the independence movement at a time when there has been frictions within it.

He also said he wanted to record the contribution of individuals who worked towards independence with the knowledge there was no prospect of immediate success, such as writer Compton Mackenzie, who co-founded the National Party of Scotland in 1928.

“He didn’t really worry about if there would be success or if they would see it in his lifetime,” Finlay said.

“He believed it was the idea you carried the torch and a lot of these people must have had the same idea.

“They have had an impact – they have changed history.”