Thus far, it seems like the much-vaunted Positive Case for the Union is nothing more than a bunch of platitudes and historical references. You know what I’m talking about – references to how we defeated fascism together, how we created the NHS and the welfare state together, how we’ve been in this union for over 300 years. This should come as no surprise really, as British identity (or what passes for it) is itself based entirely on history. Things like the idea of the Bulldog Spirit, which is meant to invoke images of Britain standing tall and proud against the forces of fascism in World War II (conveniently ignoring the role of other countries, in the same way that the USA conveniently forgets that it was actually the Russians marching on Berlin which brought Hitler’s demise, as this ruins the idea that “you would be talking German now if it wasn’t for us”); things like… Well, actually I can’t really think of anything else. The fact is, Britain has never quite come to terms with the fact that the British Empire no longer exists. The idea that Britain is this great nation is a throwback to the colonial era, when Britannia ruled the waves and presided over a large chunk of the world. Even if we ignore the realities of colonialism, and pretend for argument’s sake that this was indeed something to be proud of, the reality of Britain today is so far removed from this “golden age” that to believe this is the Britain we see today is nothing short of complete delusion.
Take immigration. Ed Miliband yesterday invoked images of a Britain that was a welcoming refuge to those who faced persecution, and allowed them to flourish. But today’s Britain is completely hostile to immigrants, looking upon them as spongers and benefits cheats, except those who have the gall to work hard for low wages, thus undermining those who are born here and therefore owed a living. It never fails to amaze me how people fail to see the irony of the situation: a Britain that once populated other regions with its people, harvesting their natural resources for themselves, now complaining about the people of those countries doing exactly the same back. Seriously, how do they do it with a straight face? It’s like complaining that someone has stolen your seat when that very seat was made from a tree you chopped down and removed from their garden in the first place. Oh, and you managed to destroy their house in the process of felling the tree.
Then there’s the NHS. We’re told this is a proud British institution, the insinuation being that independence puts this at risk. It completely ignores the reality of the current situation, where not only is NHS Scotland a completely separate entity which we’re already looking after ourselves, but the NHS which Britain is so proud of is at serious risk of being mortally wounded by the Tories, who are just looking for an excuse to then turn off the life support. This is after the Labour party beat the living snot out of it for 13 years, thus preventing it from being able to protect itself from the knife-wielding maniac going by the name of Andrew Lansley, hell bent on inflicting deep, gaping wounds on the NHS (for the avoidance of doubt, I have never witnessed Lansley actually brandishing a knife, so this is purely metaphorical. He is a maniac, though.)
What about the welfare state? Britain can rightly be proud of building this up to support those who were less fortunate, to prevent people falling into the levels of poverty and degradation experienced in the slums of Victorian England. However, that was then, and this is now. The welfare state is under attack – my old Modern Studies teacher (the late, great Dicky Ewen) told my class something which I’ve never forgotten: “as soon as you start working, get yourself a pension, because there’ll be no state pension when you’re retired”. To my shame (although not entirely through laziness), I’ve never properly done as he suggested, although at least I still have the best part of 40 years to make up for that. But what about those who are not fortunate enough to be a computer whizz-kid from a stable background? The Tories are not-quite-single-handedly trying to destroy the welfare state, seeing it as a crutch for the hoi palloi who should be getting off their arses and getting a job, just like they did (conveniently ignoring the wealth of opportunities a life of privilege provides, be it connections through daddy’s networks, or simply a financial safety net to fall back on if your PR consultation business doesn’t get off the ground, or your PPE degree from Oxbridge doesn’t somehow lead to a route into the worlds of politics or media.) Ed Miliband’s response? “We completely disagree with these reforms – the caps should be set locally” (not an actual quote). The clock is ticking for the welfare state which Britain is so proud of, and unlike the NHS, Scotland does not have the ability to protect itself from these “reforms” (obviously “reform” means the same as when a boxer “reforms” his opponent’s face, or when you “reform” your car by driving straight into a wall.)
When it comes to defence, British pride is not only misplaced in the 21st century, but it was never even accurate in the first place. Talk of us “fighting side by side against fascism” completely ignores the fact that Britain would have been on the losing side in both World Wars had it not been for the international alliances we formed. It also completely ignores the fact that those wars were fought while Britain still ruled half the world, making it a much bigger force than the tiny island of 60 million people left today. These are alliances that we’ve formed in each war or battle ever since – even the Falklands was not as straight-forward as Britain vs Argentina. To suggest that Scotland would not be capable of providing support to England on the few occasions it gets involved in just wars is completely disingenuous, and ignores the huge part played by our allies across Europe and elsewhere in various conflicts over the past 100 years. It’s quite clear that the only situation in which England would be left on its tod trying to fight a war would be if the war was illegal and was not, in any way, in the interests of global security. In such circumstances, how can one argue that Scottish troops should be getting involved? Besides which, the British attitude to these wars is completely abhorrent – Britain must surely be the only country in the world that get a chip on its shoulder because it didn’t lose to a country. How else to explain the on-going hatred/distrust of people such as “The French”, “The Germans” and “The Argies”, other than the fact each had the audacity to challenge Britain’s authority at some point or another many years/decades/centuries ago?
Britain, and the British identity, are anachronisms of the colonial era. Britain has long since suffered its mid-life crisis, and is now completely subsumed by delusions of grandeur, harking back to a history that only partially existed, and even then only for a fleeting moment. Those who use history to justify Scotland’s continuation in the union deem it acceptable to hark back hark back as far as 305 years (but only those who think Braveheart is an accurate document of history would even think of going back further – how ludicrous!), and seem to think history stopped in 1948 with the setup of the NHS. They conveniently ignore the decimation of Scottish industry throughout the 20th century, and even more ridiculously, they ignore the current changes in Britain which are leading to a massive schism between English and Scottish ways of life. How can Scotland continue to follow its desired path of social democracy while chained to a right-wing country that desperately needs to hold onto its nuclear weapons in order to justify its assumed role as an instigator of military action, rather than a mere participant in a democratic process? British hostility to the EU is down to a refusal to admit that Britain needs to co-operate just like everyone else, and this is not helped by the refusal to admit that they always have.
In effect, the “British identity” is the English identity, which is why their search for their own identity remains fruitless – it’s already there. Those Scots who adhere to that identity are every bit as delusional as those in England who drool in anticipation of another chance to “get it up” those Germans, French or Argies whenever it presents itself, be that in football, rugby or tiddlywinks. In an attic somewhere, there is a painting of “The British Identity”, which was painted in 1948 and ever since has been hidden from public view so they do not see that it bears the scars of the past 60 years where everything that made Britain “Great” has slowly been destroyed (although again, I would question to what extent you can even call the British Empire “great”.) It’s time the painting was taken out of the attic so that Britain can finally witness what it has really become.
Let’s stop living in a past that only half-existed. Let’s move into the 21st century and embrace the future – independence in an interdependent world. It’s the only chance we have for Scotland and England to stop dwelling in the past.