Gerry Hassan wrote recently: “Pro-independence forces cannot just imagine, as Welsh and Sturgeon did, that Britain is dead or beyond reinvention, and that we can seamlessly move on.”
There’s much that is redundant and dying about the British State, it’s corrupt institutions of power and it’s culture of managed decline and endless pageantry, its celebrity feudalism, its inherent drawn-out death-spiral. There’s a brutal emptiness to the flag-waving of lumpen Belfast. It has none of the joy of the Olympics or the street parties of the Jubilee. While the Jubilympics was all cutting edge styling and top-rate propaganda, there’s something almost 18th C about the Flegs protests. On Wednesday the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge was celebrated by an outing of the Union flag. Later this month they’ll celebrate the birthday of the Countess of Wessex. Trafalgar Day too will be noted. Not dead? In what sense not dead?
Why can’t we move on?
As the racist-homophobic UKIP emerge as a serious force in English politics – with a right wing One Nation Labour one side and an off-the-leash right-wing Tory party on the other – diverging political cultures north and south of the border seem a clearer reality, daily. In a ComRes poll out today they (UKIP) outranked the Tories.
But if the deadness of contemporary Britain is revealed daily in the papers like unwrapping a shroud, so too is the symmetry of choice we’re left with. Chance, risk, uncertainty is not all with the wild and whacky choice of deciding your own affairs like any other country.
Sometimes when the world’s unraveling the real risk is in doing nothing at all.
Take for example the often cited problem of banking. It’s often gleefully asked by Better Togetherites: ‘What would a poor wee country like ours do when the banks collapsed?’ Yet a glance at the news will tell you that the real risk lies within the Union, tied to a mesh of corporate interests and a City of London that is running amok.
Today was the day that Andrea Orcel, the oleaginous head of the investment bank at UBS, appeared before the Parliamentary Commission of Banking Standards at Westminster to explain what went wrong at UBS and how it happened that the Swiss bank became so severely implicated in Libor wrongdoings.
Orcel was one of the advisors who advised RBS to buy ABN AMRO. He was interviewed by the Bishop of Durham and Nigella Lawson’s dad. To refresh your memories RBS, which is 82% owned by us the taxpayer, is expecting a fine significantly higher than the $450 million (£290m) slapped on Barclays in June.
Speculation has suggested it could be in the region of £350m.No-one seems to talk about the ‘risks’ of this casino-capitalism and the ongoing scandal of unregulated mega-rich gambling.
Swiss-based UBS was fined $1.5 billion (£940m) for its part in the scandal. The Bishop and Nigella’s dad had about as much authority as an old Lord and and churchman could muster. Not very much. Did the bankers look overly worried by this scrutiny? They did not. Mr. Orcel, deemed a “deal junkie” by one committee member, was previously at Merrill Lynch, where he was criticized for taking a $34-million pay package in 2008 after advising on the disastrous RBS-led takeover of ABN AMRO. This is beyond comedy. This the reality of the current political Union.
The second major stick used to beat the independence movement is the notion of uncertainty about our role and place in Europe. Yet the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are creating a momentum of anti-European scepticism that is a beast they cannot control whilst the bizarre Nigel Farage and his Daily Mail coterie wag the dog of English xenophobic eccentricity.
Asked whether the UK would still be in the EU in ten years, Mr Osborne said: ‘I very much hope that Britain remains a member of the EU. But in order that we can remain in the European Union, the EU must change.’ The Scottish press are obsessed by the SNP who want to lead Scotland into Europe, but remain oddly silent on the fact we may be being led out of it.
Every day British – and by default extension (sadly) – Scottish interests are undermined and sullied by the ravings of the public schoolboy cabinet. This the reality of the current political Union.
In 1969 as a response to Government and Nationalism in Scotland, George Davie wrote:”It seems to me an evident proposition that one will not be able to think clearly about the prospects for Scotland within the Union, unless one can imaginatively at the same time bear in mind the prospects for Scotland outside the Union.”
It’s becoming clearer to imaginatively see the prospects for Scotland outside the Union as the political culture of British society is exposed.
Citing Bella and Irvine Welsh Gerry Hassan misunderstands (I think) and suggests a cartoon of this British failure:
“This perspective sees the British state as already dead, killed off by the end of Empire, decline of religion, economic decline, Thatcherism, and, maybe for Irvine Welsh, the demise of the British soap on TV.”
Actually the failure of the British State and its political class is much more profound than that. It’s its inability to move on from empire, to think beyond the values of Thatcherism, it’s about its deep-seated and growing social inequality and its hopeless lack of accountability and democracy. In an extraordinary statement, Hassan writes:
“What this doesn’t concede is the adaptability and ingenuity of the British state for all its undoubted problems. We can leave aside the hype and froth about the Jubilee and Olympics, but it is worth noting that the Team GB which took part in the games, as well as including members from Northern Ireland (who could choose between GB and Ireland), also had participants from the Isle of Man and Channel Isles. This made it a Team UK and Beyond UK.”
This is an example of Britain being able to reinvent itself?
I’m confused by Gerry’s argument. He says: “Perhaps the biggest contribution would be if pro-Union forces could, instead of living in a land of make believe, deal with the realities of a land increasingly turning its back on the poor and people struggling to keep their heads above water, and instead lauding the rich, the self-promoting and self-obsessed.”
But it is these very pro-Union forces – in various guises and parties – that are the driving force behind the attacks on universalism, the assault on the poor, the undermining of benefits and the imposition of poverty.
Let’s move on.