The Ambience of Empire

George OrwellA remarkably coherent piece by Andrew O’Hagan appeared in the Guardian at the weekend. He writes about assimilation and sedation: “The Gordon Brown who wrote a biography of the Scottish socialist politician James Maxton would not be electable as British prime minister. He has transformed himself, like Blair, into a simulacrum of Margaret Thatcher.”
Here is a short extract of his piece which is itself an edited version of the author’s recent George Orwell Memorial Lecture:

“There was, and is, an English arrogance which resides in the view that they are naturally dominant within the British Isles. This notion was virulent in 18th-century Britain, when the Scots and the Irish were lampooned in the journals and pictorials of the day. The British Museum holds a great and hot-making archive of English caricatures that show the Scots and the Irish as drunken, hopeless, arse-kissing louts. Dr Johnson baited his friend James Boswell along similar lines, and the Scots got their own back in ways briskly intellectual and industrial. Yet the resentment lasted. My grandparents would bristle at the idea of any supposed English superiority – I remember reading a line of Milton’s, “Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live”, finding it intolerable and wondering whether or not reading it aloud would give my granny a heart attack.

What drove my forebears to drink wasn’t Dr Johnson, but the Edwardian imperial snobbery of the English that hurt the Irish and undervalued the Scots contribution to the making of the United Kingdom. My people weren’t nationalists, they were socialists, and they disliked the English habit of superiority in what they otherwise considered to be a perfectly sensible union.

The historian Perry Anderson has drawn attention to the “lasting imprint of imperialism on English life, of how deeply acclimatised English culture became to the ambience of empire”. It is an ambience that made a curiously small imprint on modern Scotland, despite the Scots’ energetic cooperation and sometimes aggressive lead in foreign adventures. The Scottish nationalists of today are able to exploit a ridiculous pretension: that their country is an occupied territory, occupied by a devilish England bent on colonisation. Anyone who knows anything about tobacco and cotton will need no convincing about Scotland’s part in exploiting the empire, but England carries the can, and the English seem perfectly willing to do so.

In the winter of 1941, while bombers sped through the dark overhead, George Orwell explored the strange compendium of strictness and laxity that goes towards making up the English character. His essay “England Your England” summons a nation on the brink of its own destruction. Orwell’s England was a place of passionate moralists and inveterate gamblers. The English were a practical people with no worldview: a more or less temperate collection of Blimps and hypocrites, foul speakers and pointless intellectuals, horny-handed sons of toil and blind lovers of legality. He showed a nation of people with no artistic temper and bad teeth; he spoke of an upper class that would easily opt for fascism. He wrote of the clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns and queues outside the Labour Exchanges. It was a world of graded snobberies, each to his own, but where a certain unmistakable gentleness infused the day.

As we have seen in the banking crisis, the English people call for sedation not sedition, and the spirit of the post-empire age has long been one of declinism. The English people today are addicted to the rhythms of their own industrial and imperial valediction: they like saying goodbye to the past, and saying goodbye to the past is the single biggest thing they can’t say goodbye to.” Read the full article here.

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  1. Wyrdtimes says:

    Coherent? Just the same old, same old from this professional Anglophobe. Probably lives in England though eh?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Anglophobe?

  2. Ard Righ says:

    Good article, bar this grossly over simpified anti-scottish paragraph “The Scottish nationalists of today are able to exploit a ridiculous pretension: that their country is an occupied territory, occupied by a devilish England bent on colonisation. Anyone who knows anything about tobacco and cotton will need no convincing about Scotland’s part in exploiting the empire, but England carries the can, and the English seem perfectly willing to do so.”

    In the former sentence, when it comes to the heads of colonial government institutions in Scotland, the top strata,98% of the time are english. 98% of all television programs are very english in their propaganda, history and culturally ignorant, especially those masquerading under the guise of “BBC Scotland” . All sorts of institutions which are based in the environmental sectors e.g. RSPB have the moral guise, settling english in the remote regions throught Scotland, additionally, a number of institutions like these take the right to stop any native use of the land. Edinburgh castle is still in english /british military control, the royal police also. Don’t forget the asset stripping and the recent theft of our oil.
    These are a few very obvious examples of occupation, the difference being that this is not the first 50 or 100 years of an occupation it is the latter part of a 300 year, 400 year occupation, so obviously charcterised by deception and ridicule of all that is Scottish.
    Check you-tube “Preserve the Union – a guide for unionists” this is a very accurate breakdown of methods used in the english media.
    Scotland currently is an occupied territory by the english.
    This intrusion has never been welcomed.

    The latter sentence is bizarre in connection with the first, yes the scots were involved in the english empire, there were differences though, the Scots and Irish were ensured to be pushed to the front line in war. The english colonies were about territorial gain, the subduing and enslavement of natives, making sure they pledged allegiance to an alien crown and settlement. The colonies that were predominantly Scottish were focused on one of our oldest pastimes, trade and the maintenance thereof more in the spirt of cooperation than dominion.

    To finish up with “England carries the can, and the English seem perfectly willing to do so” You will find that that the colinisation of the entire of Britain has always been the primary english objective.

    Love independence.
    Ard Righ.

  3. Wyrdtimes says:

    “Scotland currently is an occupied territory by the english.”

    Utter cockwaffle. England is currently an occupied territory by the Scotch.

    There are more here than there are in Scotland.

  4. Ard Righ says:

    Britain is occupied by the english( the teutonic). The Cornish, Welsh, Manx and Scottish have been here for thousands of years, yet not with these titles. We will move as we please in our isles, especially inside of the Romano-anglosaxon system currently in operation in Westminster.

  5. michael says:

    You can only be called jock or scotch or sweaty, or be told theres too many jocks in england, or that hadrians wall should be rebuilt or that you should go back to your own country, or be told that a scot can’t be PM or be stereotyped as drunken, violent, cheap, scrounging, lazy etc. before you realise…

    …. these people hate us.

    300 years of this.

    £50,000 in oil money PER PERSON down the drain and thousands of sq miles of our coastal water stolen (why? to see if they could get away with it? the knowledge that they can will be useful for hydroelectricity ). How long do we live like this? Our best grads have to leave – because they have kept all the best govt, BBC, NHS etc jobs in London and then pay their taxes “to” England.

    The problem is this: any Scot with self respect leaves because he chooses not to be a second class citizen. We are left with snivelling anti-Scottish, New Labour types running the place into the ground.

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