The Union: A Journey into the Unknown
Politicians, commentators and posters have in recent months urged Unionists to make their positive case for the Union. Although some of us are rapidly coming to the conclusion there is no such case to be made, we nevertheless expect our Unionist friends to attempt to spin together crumbs to feed to the faithful.
It’s amazing what deliberations time off, or perhaps immobility due to over-indulgence on the food front, fuelled by a higher alcohol content in the blood, can give rise to. Anyway, over the festive season, I began to wonder about this Union we want defined, its benefits, its shared values. And after some late night research, it dawned on me that I was unclear on exactly what Union our Unionists want to preserve. Is this uncertainty why they too are having trouble defining it?
There has been much talk recently about the gap in political thinking and direction opening up between Scotland and England. How true is that, I wondered? Is it a fiction of Nationalist imagination, anxious to heap reason upon reason for independence? And if it is true, are the Unionists conniving to ensure Scotland remains hitched to England’s green and pleasant land as it was in the relatively near past, as it appears to be now, or as it threatens to be in the future?
Granted my research, such as it is, has been limited to comments on articles in the Guardian, which makes a welcome change from our local rags, but these have provided a surprise to someone who has been more wrapped of late in Scotland’s hopeful future than what is unfolding south of the border. If Scotland has changed since 2007, then so has England, and the signs are that further change is brewing in its cauldron, and not necessarily changes that will be brought about through the ballot box.
This may appear a fanciful remark, but deep unrest is simmering, thickening with bile, beneath the surface of English society. This is having the effect of rendering people more sympathetic to and understanding of aspirations in Scotland for independence. England is not a united country. The north feels deeply alienated from the south and from London, many posters asking if come independence the Scottish border can be moved a hundred or so miles south as many northerners feel a greater affinity with the Scots than the southern English.
Much of the remainder of England feels ignored by London and the knowledge of London receiving the lion’s share of public finance for infrastructure and prestige projects, such as the Olympics, rubs salt into the wounds of ordinary people struggling under Westminster government imposed cuts. London and the South East will do very nicely, most agree, out of both the Olympics and the Royal Diamond Jubilee, but an overwhelming feeling comes across that the rest of Britain (meaning England) will continue struggling, feeling ever more isolated from the seat of power.
“All in this together” cuts no ice. Further riots are predicted during the summer, perhaps even during the Games, with the military rolled out to deal with them, and I came across one ominous prediction of tragedy unfurling in London during the Games. A horrific thought, but it does provide some insight into the English situation.
Suggestions are being mooted that London should be floated offshore, that it should become a city state and leave the rest of the UK to get on with living, possibly under a federal system, unskewed by the City. Occasionally Scotland gets a mention, but the impression dribbling out is that most posters expect Scotland to go its own way and good luck to it.
An elected dictatorship gets numerous outings as a description of the Westminster government. Either that or it being described as a hopeless government propped up by a hopeless bunch of opportunists. Not a democracy, but a government run by a small but influential clique of Bullingdon Boys in hock to bankers and financiers.
The lack of democratic accountability irks. The coalition government pleases neither the Tories, who see Lib Dems as hampering the true blue direction they hanker after, nor the Lib Dems who cower at their leaders’ caving in on totemic issues, and wonder how much more they will require to ditch without even the hope of the end justifying the means. The Lib Dems know they are mince and come the next election they face annihilation both north and south of the border.
Then there’s the Labour Party floundering around in some hot spring, gushing aimlessly into the air. We need a return to good old right/left politics advocate some. Yet the knowledge that Labour has lost all its left wing credentials and bias, and ditched its candidates who didn’t support New Labour to ensure a generation of on-message Blairite MPs, prompts the question of what party would promote the radical leftward leaning policies wanted or needed.
Labour is still viewed, not as an opposition, but as part of the Neoliberal problem, owned by the top 1%, deaf and blind to the other 99% of the population. In England, a Labour recovery under Ed Miliband, who is regarded as having the wrong image and being ineffectual into the bargain, can only be glimpsed through a telescope, a wavering dot in the far distance.
There is much comment on the failure of Neoliberalism over the last 30 years, few believing this has produced more efficient government or improved the economic health of the nation. This frustration and disillusion is spawning an appetite for a change of direction, with the political system increasingly regarded as failing England badly. But there is little expectation of any change happening in the near future, or suggestions on how it could be brought about. So detestation of government, anger, disillusion, depression even hopelessness and despair rule.
Some are blaming the first past the post electoral system for their woes, advocating that if anything is going to change the democratic deficit must be addressed. Is guilt, too, lurking there? An unadmitted shame at being conned in the AV referendum by the very politicians many are now railing against?
Then there are the mentions of revolution, with more than the odd handful of posters certain that nothing short of this will save dear old England. Bring it on, they say.
Compare this situation with Scotland, which always retained deep reservations about the New Labour project, where we have a government with an overwhelming majority being seen as having the good of Scots at its heart, a recent opinion poll showing 51% support for the SNP and a First Minister highly regarded by Scots voters and lauded by institutions around the UK and the world. Cameron, on the other hand, threw a tantrum, showing himself as the difficult boy of the European class, and was relegated to the corner with the dunce’s cap.
We are test driving a number of PR systems which have brought about a radical shift in politics, an SNP government and councils, with the Labour Party having lost its hegemony in local government following the loss of its soul. Perhaps our systems aren’t perfect, but they do make an attempt to reflect the preferences and feelings of Scots. We have a government with ambition and vision driven by the desire to see all those living in Scotland fulfil their potential and everyone living here can feel they have a part to play in it, can feel proud and hopeful of the future.
So, back to the need for the Unionists to portray a positive case for the retention of the Union. My research was limited. Nevertheless it opened my eyes to a situation which has developed beneath my radar. Our dear friends in the BBC haven’t given it much airtime either. Scotland long ago dismissed the Tories. The Lib Dems signed their own death warrant when they went into coalition. Labour is either immersed in digging a hole to Australia, or else is floundering, unable to portray itself as a party with any stance worth voting for. If Labour in England is in deep shit, the likelihood of Labour in Scotland experiencing any kind of wondrous revival prior to a referendum is pretty close to zero. Though Labour activists are still capable of making a nuisance of themselves with their twisted nonsense.
Divergence between Scotland and England is not a Nationalist fantasy but a fact. The chasms are obvious, and growing. Against this background a positive case for the Union is no longer enough. We must now demand from the Unionists a definition of the Union they wish Scotland to belong to. Like Scotland, England too has changed, in its case moving further away into the isolationism of a Tory fiefdom where many feel disenfranchised and left to wither on the sidelines.
Come our referendum, Scots need to be aware their choice is not just between independence and the Union as it was pre 2007 in all its rosy nostalgia, the choice is now between independence and a union with a New England with which we have even less in common. The Unionists must be asked to define that new union and asked for a roadmap of where it might be headed.
It is possibly more of a leap of faith, a journey into the unknown, continuing with an England that is changing dramatically than it is opting to follow a well-trodden path of nations to independence.