From the time he acquired the Daily Express in 1916 and subsequently throughout the 1930’s, the tycoon turned politician, William Maxwell Aitken of Ontario, or Lord Beaverbrook as he became in 1917, proclaimed the best policy for Britain was one of “splendid isolation” from Europe and that the real “free” trading zone was within the Empire. This was also, at the time, the popular position or view of a great number of people in the British establishment: politicians, bankers, financiers, industrialists and aristocrats – especially huge landowners such as the Dukes of Buccleuch and Westminster. The same basic idea, or mind-set, is held by the present dismal crop of Tories who currently rule over us. See the Daily Telegraph of October 28th – “Brexit has reversed the post-imperial decline of Britain.” The only problem they face in holding such a cherished belief is that there is no Empire and yet they act as if there is. They behave in a similar fashion to King George III, driven mad by longing for the lost colonies of America in the 18th century. To be fair to his Georgeness he did suffer from porphyria, which is a rare hereditary disease in which there is abnormal metabolism of the blood pigment haemoglobin which can lead to fevers, confusion and seizures – amongst other things. The present London Government does not have such a clinical medical diagnosis, but they do long for a world that never existed – except in the romantic imagination of the British establishment, where England and her Empire has always existed. This mania, too, is proving to be hereditary.
Beaverbrook was also fiercely anti-American. He believed that “England should keep out of European affairs” – the rise of Hitler and the coming war – and that the best economic interests for the “realm Imperial” lay in exploiting the resources of the colonies and limiting monetary ties with Europe. A European war, he feared, would quickly spread to a world war and necessitate the entry of the USA who would, as a condition of support, insist that England dismantle her Empire and allow her colonies to become independent nations. This, for great swatches of the upper class, was unthinkable. But there are many instances from history that are unthinkable and some have uncanny echoes for us in the present day.
When Rudolph Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich, crash-landed in Scotland on May 10th 1941 he had with him what now seems a fantastic proposal: an armistice between Germany and Britain. The physical facts of his mission to see the then Duke of Hamilton are well known. The full extent of what Rudolph Hess had in mind and what happened after his capture has been suppressed for years. The gist of his offer (as reported by the Duke of Hamilton in 1941 and in subsequent interviews with the British military) was that Britain and Germany should never go to war again and this could only be achieved if “England would give up her traditional policy of always opposing the strongest power in Europe.” The idea was to give Germany a free hand to launch “Operation Barbarossa”, which was the invasion of Russia in late June 1941. What would emerge thereafter would be a United States of Europe with Germany at its centre. Britain would be free to keep her colonies and Germany would pull out of Denmark and France. Hess informed the British that if they allied with the Americans they would certainly lose their Empire. There is a lot more to relate about this extraordinary episode of wartime history but space does not allow, for this is the conspiracy theory to beat all conspiracy theories. One thing that does emerge however is that there was great support for such a proposal in Britain, ever since war was declared in September 1939, and not only from the Black Shirts and other fascists, but right through the establishment all the way up to the royal family. Hess did not fly in blind and there is ample evidence that he was far from insane, as Hitler later claimed and Churchill subsequently told Stalin.
“That there was a significant number of the British ruling elite who were willing to betray the British people in their most desperate hour simply to retain power, wealth and influence should come as no great surprise to any Scot.”
That there was a significant number of the British ruling elite who were willing to betray the British people in their most desperate hour simply to retain power, wealth and influence should come as no great surprise to any Scot. Have our own aristocracy and en-nobled families not sold us down the river in the past to secure a dubious political union and for financial gain? “Splendid isolation” comes in many forms. I write this on Samhain, the first day of Winter in the old Gaelic calendar: a day when the spirits of the dead walk with the living; like the world between the pre-Brexit referendum and the post-Brexit reality: a liminal time when democracy can be tasted but cannot be seen, if you are Scottish. It is the time when “the clocks go back” and we prepare for the darkness. Is that what happened on June 23rd 2014: was it the day the political and constitutional clocks were turned back?
The behaviour of the of the Conservative and Unionist Party since the mid-Summer does have a feel of “back to the future” about it. Nostalgia for a lost world is never a good place from which to fashion a plan for the development of a nation state, even one as dysfunctional as the United Kingdom. Using a popular vote against the British establishment, fuelled by the fire of anti-immigration, to embrace the Imperial fantasies of the Daily Telegraph to eschew Europe, is a dangerous programme for any modern government. Especially when Europe is again full of stateless people wandering the narrow roads to nowhere, only to find that when they get somewhere that no-one is in charge, there is no welcome or sanctuary and every border is closed as they approach. When they do find refuge, temporarily and imperfectly, as in Calais, what they see is that refuge burned about their heads and hordes of armed police violently dispersing them to who knows where.
To cement, permanently, their relationship to power our leaders have become fantasists, gamblers and play-actors and when they have finished their performance they depend upon the class-facility that they can depart the casino and the stage to return to the grateful bosom of their peers. In the end, for the British establishment, betrayal in the natural endgame, for this is a caste who have historically abandoned principle for profit, cynically and without a shred of guilt. Their tragedy is that in the beginning, through arrogance and entitlement, is the protection of the project; in the end, through a lack of belief, is the projects destruction. Betrayal, whether it be in 1707, 1941 or 2016, is inevitable. It floods across the floor of history like blood. The end can never justify the means because the end (and here’s the comedy) has evaporated. To expect more or better from the British ruling class is to misunderstand them. The only question they ask of themselves is: what do we want and how can we get it?
Ultimately what the Tories want is power and they have manoeuvred themselves into a position in England where they will be in power for the foreseeable future. Those who say, as if it is solace, that they do not know what they are doing are guilty of misunderstanding history. The Tories know exactly what they are doing. The best way out of this morass for the Scots is obvious: independence. The best way to achieve that may be through the careful and reasonable calculations of Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues; or it could be to summon our MP’s from Westminster where they can do little and make them the second chamber of the Scottish Parliament where at least they can do something. There is much babble in the media about “uncertainty”, whether that be in the financial markets or industry, and it is usually reported as being the result of those who aspire to action, change and progress, much in the way that Seneca wrote of Socrates, “that he carried himself clear of slavery”. “Uncertainty” is never the result of political positivity, but it is a political strategy used by those who seek to prevent change. Achieving a majority in an independence referendum is hard for the Scots at present not because we lose confidence, it is hard because we lack the confidence.
“Those who say, as if it is solace, that they do not know what they are doing are guilty of misunderstanding history. The Tories know exactly what they are doing. The best way out of this morass for the Scots is obvious: independence. The best way to achieve that may be through the careful and reasonable calculations of Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues; or it could be to summon our MP’s from Westminster where they can do little and make them the second chamber of the Scottish Parliament where at least they can do something.”
What would it take to believe in ourselves? Do we not aspire, as all people and all creatures in nature aspire? Nature provides some with ferocity, some with timidity; some with cunning and some with simplicity. Do the people of Scotland want to continually play safe in a union that increasingly isn’t? It may be the beginning of November and the time of the coming of the long Winter nights, but we were not as a species given eyes for the sake of the darkness. So, we must seek a way out and look further than our own borders. “Splendid isolation” is not an option for Scotland, not when the state we are locked into is embracing it, when that state also begins to resemble the authoritarian, anti-democratic thing we are told we must guard against and are being protected from. It is ironic that in 1941 the unrepentant Nazi, Rudolph Hess, told his British interrogators that “England” had become the very mirror of the totalitarian enemy they were supposed to be fighting and that, in his opinion, the way the British were conducting the war “was a bad advert for democracy”.
On the afternoon of August 23rd 1942 a Sunderland flying boat crashed into a Caithness hillside killing everyone on board, including the Duke of Kent, the Kings brother. Everyone that is except the tail gunner, Andy Jack, who was thrown clear on impact. When he was found, alive and concussed a day later, that made one body too many. Who was the extra body? There is a substantial body of opinion that it was none other than Rudolph Hess, on his way along with the Duke to Sweden to broker a peace deal with the Nazi’s. The “Hess” in Spandau, it is claimed, was a double. Now, you can believe that if you like. What is fact is that when the local policeman from Dunbeath came up to the scene of the wreck the first thing he reported seeing was hundreds and hundreds of kroner bank notes blowing across the heather. Whether they were Icelandic (where the Sunderland was supposed to be headed) or Swedish he never said. It is a suitably sad image for treachery, actual or imagined. Will Brexit – if or when it happens – reduce the British state to a wrecked aircraft on a lonely hillside with useless money blowing in the wind?
The poor lack much, the greedy everything.
©George Gunn 2016