Climbdown? What climbdown? Little more than 18 months after he said “the country hitherto known as Scotland should go into liquidation” and the myth of Scottish nationhood should be forgotten the controversial historian Niall Ferguson has acknowledged the independence is inevitable – whether Scots like it or not.
Making a rare trip to his home country Ferguson told an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival that constitutional separation would come at the gift of the English, who would tire of subsidising government north of the Border and finally realise that they had allowed themsevles to be ruled by “a bunch of chippy Scots” for so long.
Ferguson who is professor History at Harvard University in the US said: "My sense of this is that independencce will come, but it is a good example of that old adage 'Be careful what you wish for – you may get it'.
"I am always struck when I come back here how very English the popular culture is, and in that sense how bogus the claim to a distinct national identity is. This is not a foreign country: this is north Britain. That is the great irony. We are in fact more culturally homogenous in the British Isles than at any time in our history. And just at that moment there is going to be political fragmentation.
Ferguson, 43 was in Edinburgh to promote his book The War of the World: History's Age of Hatred, which in part calls attention to the bloody consequences of ethnic disintegration in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But he said that he was not apprehensive about future conflict between England and Scotland because national hatreds had burnt out in struggles along the border centuries ago.
After having scornfully compared Scotland last year to Belarus "when it comes to just about everything", Ferguson unveiled a new but duller model for the country's independent future.
"I don't think it will end in tears – it will end in yawns. Suddenly the Scots will discover what it's like to be Denmark," he said. Ferguson argued that the impetus for constitutional change in Britain would be provided by English nationalism. which so far had been the "great absentee" in the independence story. The English were still not as chippy as nationalists tended to be, he said.
"My sense is that sooner or later probably rather against their own wishes the Scots will find themselves truly independent. And that will be beause English nationalism finally takes on a concrete form.
"The Scots, who have mastered chippiness and turned it into a source of power so that they have governed the English while at the same time being chippy – finally have their bluff called and the English say, 'Actually come to think of it, this is rather expensive. Goodbye'," he said.
He did however acknowledge that thre were signs of economic green shoots in Scotland. Entrepeneurial activity was rising, while the belief that it was the state's job to shore up failing industries was crumbling.
He even praised Alex Salmond, the first minister,, for "trying to learn intelligently" from other samll countries in Europe.
"Independence is a wonderful thing to sing about at Murrayfield after a few pints but is a much harder thing to deliver in practice on Monday morning when suddenly you have a yawning fiscal deficit. I sense a rather advisable caution on his part as they frantically try to work out how on earth they could balance the books."
But Ferguson added: "I speak with caution here, there is nothing more odious than the expatriate who comes back and starts to lecture those who stayed at home about how they should live."