Remember when Scottish nationalists were laughed at for their crude historical references, and the very idea of self-determination was mocked as surely just a stepping-stone to Blood and Soil nationalism, itself only a nudge away from full-blown fascism? Do you remember how Better Together and a host of Unionist Fifth Columnists reveled in the Braveheart gags and splenetic semi-racist anti-Scottish rhetoric went mainstream?
Setting aside the permanent embarrassment that is our Foreign Secretary, it’s useful to reflect on how these tropes of nationalism, that we apologised for, avoided, and agonisingly talked-over, are now just meat and drink to much of the fervid Brexit Celebrations.
There are three key drivers to this phenomenon.
First, it simply doesn’t exist and to point it out is to be racist yourself. So an English or a British nationalism just can’t exist, because, well just because. It can’t and doesn’t partly because they are so anglocentric as to think that they, like any other countries and cultures might have A worldview. Their’s is THE worldview.That’s the end of it and John McTernan will explain it in detail if you’re not convinced. “I’m No 1 so why try harder?” as Fat Boy Slim had it – meets “Nobody likes us we don’t care” as our friends on the southside sing.
On Radio 4’s Today programme, the commentators tumbled over themselves to prove the point. Cursing the foolish Foreign Secretary they scrabbled about for more appropriate historical metaphors. One plum lady offered up the Second World War ‘when we all felt better about ourselves’ and then the ”1966 when Britain won the World Cup’. ‘No no no’ interrupted Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins, the 100 Years’ War is a much better example he explained.Eh?
Scotland and England were actually on different sides in the 100 Years War, but never mind Global Britain is amnesiac England. In fact as Simon Brooke’s pointed out: “Archibald Earl of Douglas LED THE FRENCH ARMY.!”
Second a terrible grievance culture has to be imagined and nurtured – from Boris Johnson’s pathetic ‘punishment beatings’ to a line-up of hostile cabinet voices mewing about a ‘terrible deal’, we must pretend that this is all somehow Europe’s fault and not just the inevitable result of a fantastic exceptionalism.
Thirdly there’s a desperate need to conflate England and Britain as if the other ‘equal partners’ (sic) simply don’t exist, which, for all intents and purposes, they don’t. This third element has two functions, It serves to bolster ‘Britain’ into an entity forged in history, unique and brilliant, and it also serves to avoid the terrible moment England looks at itself afresh, just as itself, just as a country, not global, not great, just a country like any other. That is an intolerable, unfathomable taboo. That must never happen.
The conflation of England / Britain is so routine in newscasts, dialogue and commentary it has been embedded as a sort of permanent irritant, but also we have become so inured to it we barely bother. But now it’s more serious. All of this was predicted some time ago.
Reviewing Tom Nairn’s After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland (Granta) back in 2000, Neal Ascherson wrote:
“The emergence of England is inevitable (‘beyond Blair’s parody of Britain, a renovated England is certain’), perhaps guided by the growing movement for an English parliament, but Nairn has misgivings about what English nationalism will be like. If the English question is too much for the old British system to accommodate, then ‘England will return on the street corner, rather than via a maternity room with appropriate care and facilities.’”
It’s a passage that foresees the Farage NHS bus lies sixteen years in advance.
Ascherson continues that: “he (Nairn) shares the worry of many English observers that reviving nationalism could take the form of a rabid, xenophobic Euroscepticism, a ‘weird hippogriff’ monster which would barricade England against the only transformative force which can rescue and modernise it – the influence of the European Union.”
And so it was.
Thatcher is a moderate next to what is being proposed, a positive Eurocrat.
And here we are hurtling backwards. We didn’t just lose the referendum, we lost the second referendum. Our devolved powers are at risk, at risk of being made meaningless by the roll-back effects of having no control over our Foreign policy, and the knock-on effects of this disastrous anti-European crisis, and our own identity is at risk by the emerging Anglo-British Nationalism, that has none of the qualms and qualifications that the Yes movement cherished.
This Hippogriff has shown by its actions that it couldn’t care a less about its Northern provinces and as it shrouds itself in the comfort blanket of unspoken nationalism and an imagined grievance culture. In this context it is fantastical to imagine Theresa May & Co offering Scotland a legal-route to referendum. We are essential to their imagined Greatness and their strategic (nuclear) importance, but we are entirely redundant electorally and offer no threat to their power base.
While it’s essential to re-examine and BUILD the case to win a second referendum, it’s also crucial to imagine a route-map that doesn’t involve a legal sanctioned vote.