One of Scotland’s most prominent academics - and a staunch defender of the union with England - has announced his conversion to independence
Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard University and author of several books celebrating the success of the British empire, said that he now believes Scotland would be better off as a separate nation state.
He claims that Scotland’s “dismal” progress since devolution has convinced him to abandon his lifelong commitment to unionism.
It is not the first ideological volte-face performed by the Glasgow-born historian. In 2003 he supported the allied invasion of Iraq before becoming a critic of the war and reversing his previously strong support for the Bush administration in the 2004 American election.
Earlier this year he compared Scotland with Belarus, the former Soviet republic which has clung to Stalinist policies.
Ferguson, presenter of a new history of the 20th century series for Channel 4, entitled The War of the World, said he believes that the 1707 Act of Union should now be repealed.
“Devolution gives Scots the illusion of self-government but not the reality of it. The parliament is essentially a glorified council and cannot flourish while it acts as a mere channel for aid from England,” he said.
“I now find myself feeling that independence would be preferable to this halfway house we have at the moment.
“Ireland and some of the east European countries like Estonia are showing that small countries which embrace economic liberalism can thrive.”
The expatriate Scot said one reason why he left Scotland was the sustained erosion of the “can do” enterprising spirit that he had experienced in the Glasgow of his childhood. Ferguson believes that an independent Scotland could flourish if it ditched its statist economic assumptions.
“What Scotland needs is a re-injection of the ideas of Adam Smith,” he said. “If economic liberalism has a birthplace it is Glasgow and I do wonder where that all went.
“It was part of the culture I grew up in, but increasingly it seems to have vanished and been replaced by a clapped-out socialist model of state intervention and hand-outs.
“There is a kind of dead hand gripping hold of Scotland at the moment and this lack of enthusiasm for market economics is causing the country to underperform economically.
“The future looks grim if, as present, Scotland maintains a demoralising gradual decline as little more than an extra bit of the north of England.”
He said Scotland needed to shake off its “unhealthy fixation” with its southern neighbour before it could progress.
“We have got to stop worrying about how we compare with England and start looking outwards at how other small countries fare. It is frankly pathetic that the most important issue on Jack McConnell’s agenda is reassuring people that he will be supporting Trinidad and Tobago rather than England in the World Cup.
“Since I left Scotland I have found it liberating not to be thinking about my identity in terms of this ‘wha’s like us’ attitude that prevails.
“A reduction in financial drip-feeding from England might force Scots to think a little harder about the world around it.”
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, described Ferguson as a “surprising convert” to independence, adding: “It is better to have a repenting convert than a constant detractor.”
‘Who gives a toss what a London hack thinks of us?’