Should Scotland become Canada's 11th Province?
A transcript of Bruce Simpson's talk at the "Oor Club" on April 5, 2019
My question today is whether Scotland and Canada should combine, politically — a thought-provoking idea first suggested by Canadian author Ken McGoogan? After all both Scotland and Canada were the same landmass until the Atlantic opened up 60 million years ago. Now we both have water on three sides and a challenging neighbour to the south. But Canada is 127 times bigger geographically and Scotland is a long way away. How could governance work? Could historical and cultural bonds, with the aid of technology, trump geography?
And is this heresy — abandoning the UK in its time of need? Or could it in fact be a win-win for both countries, and simply an extension of our historical ties? Let's explore this together. And let's start with my personal background. As an immigrant I carry the threads of many other Scots who came this way.
I am a proud Canadian, and a proud Scot, like many of you here. I moved here 19 years ago from Europe, having lived in Paris for 12 years and before that the USA, England and Switzerland. I've been around the world but I was born in Glasgow — a great city where it is said we have more fun at a funeral than people in Edinburgh have at a wedding! I grew up there in the 1960s and 70s — a hard era for Scotland, with the closures of the shipyards, steel mills, and coal mines which were the industrial backbone of the country.
I was inspired by work McKinsey had done to help revitalize Glasgow in the 1980s, so I joined this global firm and for the last 32 years I've worked as a consultant to help large industrial companies avoid the fate that ripped the heart out of my home town. I help companies build a more resilient future, adapting their cultures and performance to be able to withstand the volatility and stiff global competition of the 21st century. As Darwin said, "it's not the strongest species who survive, but the most adaptable." Therefore, in view of the current Brexit crisis, should Scotland not adapt now and leave a deeply divided Great Britain?
I grew up in Glasgow, but my parents are arctic explorers. Much of my childhood was spent exploring Greenland and the Canadian Arctic with them, living with the Eskimos and First Nations. We travelled by kayak, camped, hunted, fished and lived off the land. I wintered in Canada's most northern community in Resolute Bay in Nunavut in the 1960s. This built my respect for Canada's north, and love for the people who live there. With my own family now, I continue to travel north most summers, camping, kayaking and escaping the hubbub of Toronto.
Canada owes a great debt to Scottish explorers from prior generations so perhaps it's time to return the favour. Scots mapped the north, built the Hudson's Bay Company and developed early trade routes in Canada's north and west. Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish explorer known for accomplishing the first east-to-west crossing of North America north of Mexico, preceding the more famous 1793 Lewis and Clark Expedition by 12 years.
I'm in the Fraser clan and like my parents, many past Frasers were also explorers — Simon Fraser for example. In the early 1800s this pioneering fur trader charted BC and built the first European settlement there. He explored the Fraser River, which is named after him, as is Simon Fraser University.
My parents named me after one of these explorers: William Speirs Bruce who, in the 19th century, pioneered scientific exploration of the arctic as well as protection of its wildlife and habitat.
John Rae, another Scots explorer in Canada, was the one who discovered the crucial final link of the Northwest Passage. He also discovered what really happened to John Franklin and his disastrous expedition. But when he brought the grisly story of starved corpses and cannibalism back to the UK, he was blacklisted and marginalized by Franklin's widow who was determined to prove that her husband died a hero.
The first argument then for combining Scotland and Canada is that this is just an extension of these strong historical links. Let's go further with this argument.
In fact, Scots were among the very first Europeans here. In 1010 AD the Viking prince Thorfinn Karlsefni took two Scottish slaves to Vinland. When the longships moored along the coast, they sent the slaves ashore. Only after these intrepid Scots survived a day without being attacked, by either human or animal, the Vikings deemed it safe to land, and settle. The explorers were followed by settlers.
Hundreds of thousands of Scots emigrated to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries. Gaelic was spoken as the first language in much of "Anglophone" Canada. It became the third most commonly spoken language in Canada and is still spoken in Cape Breton. Importantly it was the cream of Scotland who moved here. Sadly, the famous painting by Scottish artist Thomas Faed, called "The Last of the Clan" shows the aged, weak and weary last members of the clan left behind on the jetty in Scotland, as a ship of settlers leaves port.
Not only were the Scots here early, they also shaped Canada in many ways. Ken McGoogan categorizes them as the pioneers, the visionaries and the builders of this great country. The first two Canadian prime ministers — Sir John A. Macdonald, and Alexander Mackenzie — were born in Scotland. Of this country's 22 past prime ministers, 13 claimed at least some heritage from Scotland including Pierre Elliott Trudeau whose mother was Montreal Scots. The Elliotts are a proud border clan in southern Scotland. My son is called Elliott, and he shares their feistiness.
Some Scottish settlers distinguished themselves on the battlefield, in building and protecting Canada's borders. Back to my own clan: the Fraser clan. This clan comprised the Fraser Highlanders: the crack regiments of the British army that defeated the French in "The Seven Years War."
The Fraser Highlanders fought in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and at the capture of Montreal in 1760.
Many Fraser Highlanders soldiers remained here after the wars, injecting their culture and traditions into the community.
The Scots created many of Canada's universities. James McGill's endowment of £10,000 founded McGill University in 1821. Scots created Dalhousie College in Halifax, St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, and Queens College in Kingston — created in 1841, by the Church of Scotland.
Scots built the railways across Canada — the most crucial link between provinces that united the country. Another great Canadian cause I'm proud to be building is the Trans Canada Trail. This is the third great trail across Canada after CN and CP. The TCT is now connected — part river, mostly pathway, it goes from coast to coast to coast, 24,000 km long, enabling walkers, cyclists and skiers to cross Canada, without going on a major road. It's the longest connected trail in the world. I was on the Board for 10 years, and the team is led by Valerie Pringle, another Scot.
Scots also built the banks and other institutions in Canada but more important than the hardware (the institutions), Scots also built the software (the culture) that makes Canada great. Scots brought widespread literacy and a culture of open debate, freedom, and pluralism, produced by the Scottish Enlightenment in the late 18th and early 19th century. Their vision of a classless society differed dramatically with England's hierarchical aristocracy. The Scottish Enlightenment Movement has been described by the Financial Times just last week as one of modern history's most remarkable intellectual and cultural movements. Scots brought that here.
Ken McGoogan identifies five foundational Scottish values which now make up Canada's culture: independence, pluralism, democracy, audacity, and perseverance. Scots feel at home in Canada. Scots and Canadians have not been brought up with the serf culture of the English. Scots still adhere to the Clan system — a family culture of kith and kin, subservient to no-one.
Traditionally, the rural Scot was a crofter. He had no boss. He fended for himself and farmed a piece of land that was HIS. He was the original "entrepreneur." And he brought these values to Canada.
My great uncle Sir James Young Simpson was one of the leaders of the Enlightenment Movement and an early pioneer in the use of anesthetics. He never moved to Canada, but a lesser medic in my family did: Murray O'Brian, a cousin of my mother's, born in 1848. He was a renowned "saddlebag surgeon" in Saskatchewan. Having failed his final medical exams in the UK, he emigrated and travelled throughout the prairies on horseback to carry out surgeries on kitchen tables using coal oil lamps for light and J.Y. Simpson's anesthetics for pain. There is an island on Nistowiak Lake in Saskatchewan's north named after him
The Enlightenment Movement advanced the cause for women in Canada. I'm a founding board member of Catalyst in Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women, and diversity, in business. In the struggle for women's rights Scottish Canadians stepped up a lot in the past. Nellie McClung, Agnes McPhail to name a couple.
In literature we needn't look further than Farley Mowat, Alistair MacLeod, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Doug Gibson, Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro (last three are past Scots of the Year). Alice also won the Nobel Prize for literature. A credit to our Scottish literary roots can be shown by the fact that the historical figure with the most statues in Canada is Robert Burns — the celebrated Scottish poet. And this was true even before we started tearing down statues of Sir John A Macdonald, and other politicians from the past.
Scots played a crucial role building this country, and millions of them are here already. Combining the nations could be seen as a logical extension.
There are more Scots in Canada than in Scotland. The 2011 Canadian census showed that people claiming Scottish descent accounted for 15 percent of Canada's total population, or 5.4 million, a wee bit more than the population of Scotland. Prince Edward Island has the highest population of Scottish descendants at 41 percent. Other sources suggest that up to nine million Canadians claim Scottish or Irish heritage.
If Scotland and Canada combined, how would Scotland be governed? In 1982 Pierre Trudeau gave Canada a constitution recognizing both individual rights and multiculturalism. Trudeau, a Scottish Canadian, finished the job begun in 1867 by Scottish immigrant Sir John A Macdonald. Constitutionally, Canada emerged as the world's first postmodern nation, a pluralist entity designed politically for a highly devolved government. "Maximum Devolution" is exactly what the majority of Scots want too — so Scotland can easily be governed from here. Furthermore, the Canadian constitution can easily fit Scotland in.
Canada's constitution is a subtle balance of power between the federal government in Ottawa and 10 mostly incompatible provinces which are given a high level of control over regional issues. One could argue Scotland is not more different to any province than, for example, Quebec to Saskatchewan, or the relationship between any province and Nunavut. Furthermore, Scotland already has its own parliament and lives in a highly devolved structure in the UK. And its legal and educational systems, as well as universal healthcare, are all similar to that of Canada.
Hawaii is part of the USA and it is 650km further from California than Scotland is from Newfoundland; and technology, history and shared values trump geographic separation.
What would Canada get? Scotland would be Canada's 11th province and its third largest one and bring a strong culture of innovation to the table. American author Arthur Herman argues in his book "How the Scots invented the Modern Morld" that it is hard to imagine an ordinary day without using a Scottish invention.
From Macintosh raincoats, tarmac roads, trains, telephones, postage stamps, anesthetics or whisky.
Canada needs a stronger European entry point. The current Canada EU trade deal is a very poor alternative to direct access to the EU single market. Europe is messy, but it is still the largest market in the world. Canada is too heavily dependent on the US with 75 percent of our exports going there. Anything Canada can do to enhance its links to Europe is beneficial. Look at what happened with NAFTA. The US is making trade a bilateral issue and then acts as a bully in a two-way deal. Canada needs to be part of a bigger ensemble in order to win in today's vitriolic trade wars.
Could it be that the merger is already happening quietly?
A thousand Canadian students are studying at Scotland's universities. 100,000 Canadians visit Scotland every year while 115,000 Scots visit Canada.
Canadian visitors inject around £100m into the Scottish economy every year. Furthermore, 6,000 jobs are provided by 50 Canadian companies in Scotland. And Canada is a top 20 export partner for Scotland with exports totaling £580m in 2017.
Scotland's exports to Canada feature whisky and haggis strongly. In 2017 Macsween of Edinburgh reconfigured its haggis recipe to meet Canadian food standards. Since then, the company has exported more than 8 tons of haggis to Canada, shifting 25,000 lbs in January alone to meet the demand from Burns suppers. If any proof was needed for the strong link between our nations it is the fact that these are Scotland's primary exports to Canada!
The Scottish parliament is developing policies that mirror Canada's. Scottish immigration policy towards refugees borrows directly from the Canadian concepts of "New Canadians" rooted in our immigration policy. This contrasts sharply with the rhetoric in England. Scotland took in more than a third of all UK's Syrian refugees. Furthermore, like Ontario, Scotland is experimenting with the progressive policy on universal basic income. Last year the Scottish government hosted the Arctic Circle Forum and opened an office in Ottawa, increasing links to Canada.
Scots and Canadians travel well. Are we the people most proud to wear our national flags on our backpacks? Perhaps by joining up we have more chance to change the world? Perhaps the world needs this combined nation also — as a role model of how people of multiple cultures can live together and actually get along? Combined we form a bridge across Asia, North America and Europe — most of the world. And the international standing of both means that like every great merger, one plus one can make three!
Furthermore, we would have the Olympic curling medals completely sewn up through the combination. We already have Nova Scotia so why not now add the original Scotia?
At the present time Britain is seemingly devoid of leadership able to unify the people: Brexit is the first referendum where the electorate disagreed with MPs.
Electorate voted to leave (52%) while MPs voted to stay (75%). As the Financial Times reported..."Parliamentary democracy and direct democracy became incompatible." Theresa May's Government recorded the worst ever Commons defeat on her Brexit deal, and the first ever to be found in contempt of parliament over refusing to publish a legal opinion on its Brexit deal. The Daily Mail calls Parliament the "House of Fools." Only six percent of voters say Parliament is emerging from Brexit in a good light and a log-jam still exists one thousand days after the initial referendum. In response to all this May has manipulated the situation through offering no alternative: it's either Brexit her way or a no-deal Brexit which is worse.
Scotland voted 'remain' unlike England. It has stronger links to Europe than England does. Remember the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France? The Scots and the French had strong links for hundreds of years, strengthened through the fact that they had a common enemy. Scotland cannot join Europe alone — this would legitimize independence movements in Catalonia and elsewhere so Spain isn't keen to let an independent Scotland in. Scotland needs a plan B so a combined Scotland/Canada would provide stronger weight to Scotland's claim to having some kind of special relationship with the EU, independent from England's. The same goes for Canada.
What about the queen? My brother is a brigadier in the British army and says Scotland joining Canada means leaving the queen and country behind. I would say not necessarily. I'm a big fan of the queen and I would argue she is more popular in Canada than parts of the UK. We are already in the Commonwealth in Canada. Arguably the Canada Scotland combination brings her even closer, enhancing her role.
In conclusion: perhaps it's not just a silly idea. Perhaps the time is right, the gains for both countries are real? Our common roots are solid, and the combination is workable. After a pint today, I might actually recommend we go off and do it!
Bruce Simpson was the recipient of the Scottish Studies Society's 2017 Scot of the Year Award.
Originally from Scotland, Bruce is a Senior Partner of McKinsey & Company, the leading consulting firm, where he has worked for more than 30 years. He moved to Canada from Paris with his wife Tracy and three sons in 2000. He is a business leader deeply committed to innovation and Canadian competitiveness, and a community leader engaged in the arts, human rights, healthcare, the environment, women's advancement, and other social causes.
Prior to moving to Canada, Bruce held various leadership roles at McKinsey in New York and Paris. He is active on the Business Council of Canada, and is a keen advocate for Canadian competitiveness in global markets, as well as increased corporate engagement in social causes. He co-authored a chapter on this in the 2016 book Reimagining Capitalism.
He currently serves on the Canadian boards of Catalyst, and the Trans-Canada Trail, where he and his wife Tracy co-chair the Governor's Program. Bruce is also on the global board of Human Rights Watch.
He holds an MA and an LLM in Law from Cambridge University, and an MBA and MA in International Studies from Wharton Business School and the Joseph H. Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.