Brexit, Trident and the Death of Britain
Michael Fallon’s Department of Disinformation is doing a great job and the Supreme Court’s ruling has at the very least clarified the relationships of the nations that make up the ‘United Kingdom’. We are subordinate and we can dispense with the need for such childish phraseology as ‘partnership of equals’ or ‘family of nations’.
We are, if there were ever any doubt, subordinate.
The Supreme Court ruling – that Westminster has to ratify the triggering of Article 50, but that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have no role to play, no voice to hear is a denouement of sorts. Westminster will vote it through. The shambles that is the Labour Party has already keeled over on half of the substance, ‘principled positions’ rolling away in the face of electoral fear, political cowardice and confusion. No doubt the SNP bloc will raise objections and amendments but their own numerical weakness will result in this being washed aside, and no doubt, treated with contempt.
The two big stories of the week are actually one.
The Trident crisis is one that only a lumbering secretive failing power could conjure, riddled with all its inconsistencies, cover-up and comical inability to tell the truth. The Supreme Court ruling tell us the same story, of a state incapable of reforming itself and facing its new shape, its new politics its new identity. Brexit and Trident are two sides of the same story, of Britain clinging desperately to the past.
As the “UK” seeks independence from the EU it simultaneously denies sovereignty to its constituent parts. It has to. As Iain Macwhirter writes: “Forget federalism; Scotland is now a region again.” The entity can’t be England it must be Britain. To define and acknowledge England means to define and acknowledge Scotland and Ireland and Wales. That’s intolerable. This must not be allowed to happen. England is unthinkable even for English nationalists.
Britain is too big to fail.
So here we are hurtling backwards.
All the Pink Bits are Back
I remember being taught what they called “Geography” in the 1970s when you learnt that Argentina produced beef, Canada wheat and New Zealand butter. Then something about how rain clouds formed and hills were mapped. It’s all a bit blurry. The world map on the wall still had all the pink bits which they called the ‘Commonwealth’. To avoid confusion History and Geography were strictly segregated. India, Australia, Canada and large parts of Africa stood out.
As we hear Theresa May’s explanation of our post-Brexit future to include “a bold trade deal with New Zealand” the sense of despair and Britain/England re-creating itself in a sort of reverse evolution as a nation of the 1950s, or possibly the 1850s is palpable.
This extreme sense of dislocation is causing a crisis that is simultaneously cultural and economic and may lead to the end of Britain as a survivable, defendable entity.
The political ideology which propels this action is not backwards compatible with a practical economic state. They know they are creating this shambles but they don’t know what to do. They are propelled by forces they have created but can’t control. It’s sad – and for unionists and federalists its tragic – but at least has a dynamism.
Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce argue that Theresa May’s “excavation” of Chamberlain’s legacy is “a symptom of two larger historical dynamics that have been exposed by the vote for Brexit” (“The empire strikes back. How the Brexit vote has reopened deep wounds of empire and belonging, and challenged the future of the United Kingdom.”)
The first is the reopening on “the British body politic of deep wounds of race, citizenship and belonging” which affect all of us but specifically Ireland and Scotland constitutionally and goes to the heart of the concept of Britain and Britishness. This may not be defensible again by a second Better Together campaign lashed together by fear-mongering, celebrity schmaltz and a prevalence of a cultural self-hatred nurtured by “proud Scots”.
The second dynamic is, Kenny and Pearce argue “the renewal of patterns of disagreement over free trade and social reform that shaped profound divisions roughly a century ago”:
“Chamberlain is the junction between these two critical dynamics, where race and political economy interweave, because of his advocacy of “Greater Britain” – the late-Victorian idea that the white settler colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa should be joined with the mother country, in ties of “kith-and-kin” solidarity, or more ambitiously in a new imperial federation. Greater Britain owed much to the Anglo-Saxonism of Victorian historians and politicians, and was as much a Liberal as a Conservative idea. Greater Britain was a new way of imagining the English race – a ten-million-strong, worldwide realm dispersed across the “white” colonies. It was a global commonwealth, but emphatically not one composed of rootless cosmopolitans. Deep ties, fostered by trade and migration, held what the historian James Belich calls “the Anglo-world” together. It helped equip the English with an account of their place in the world that would survive at least until the 1956 Suez crisis, and it was plundered again by latter-day Eurosceptics as they developed a vision of the UK as an integral part, not of the EU, but of an “Anglosphere”, the liberal, free-market, parliamentary democracies of the English-speaking world.”
Empire State of Mind
This crisis of Britishness, this crisis in English identity or “collective mental breakdown”, whatever you want to call it, however you want to describe it, is more profound than is being acknowledged or understood. If the predictions for economic malfunction are even remotely accurate – then this is a dangerous space to be in, where are an un-articulated Nationalism is being fostered alongside a complete absence of political strategy in the midst of a cultural void. We are being propelled into constitutional chaos in a state of cultural alienation.
As Citizens of Nowhere we are merely Consumers and Subjects.
Colin Kidd explores this post-Brexit moment in the latest issue of the London Review of Books:
“Scottish nationalism, for all its faults, has matured politically, and the SNP barely resembles the clownish, Jocks-in-the-heather party of its early days. The leaders of Scotland’s civic nationalism have learned to curb ethnic excess; instead they embrace interdependence, sovereignty-pooling and the EU. England’s reborn nationalism, by contrast, has barely emerged from its swaddling clothes. Ukippers and hard Brexit fantasists have still to learn the basic ABC of a post-sovereignty world. However, the crassness of their response to its complexities makes it all the more difficult for nationalists north of the border to present a plausible vision of their own independent future.”
“Last June’s xenophobic campaign and the Brexit vote that followed have left Scots – even the most unionist – estranged from the idea of Britain. In the months before the independence referendum of 2014, a large body of undecided Scots, while alienated from the Englishness of Toryism, the Home Counties and the City, still felt torn between a sense of solidarity with ordinary working people in the North of England and a desire to create an independent Scandinavian-style state. Some of those voters stuck with the Union; others – though still nostalgically attached to British ideals of social democracy – took a chance on independence. But Brexit, ironically, has expunged the notion that a British nation with a common set of values exists north and south of the border. England now seems foreign, a country that espouses the anti-EU and anti-immigrant values once associated with Enoch Powell. The Anglo-Scottish Union survives, for the moment, because, with oil prices low, an independent Scotland divorced from the English economy would be unable to sustain much in the way of a welfare state. Nevertheless, Britishness is shrivelling. Enoch-land repels.”
That’s a brutal take with some truth.
It’s essential, but extremely difficult in these circumstances to foster solidarity both within the movement for Scottish self-determination and beyond to people in England, Wales and Ireland, across Europe and across the globe.
The task is to become Citizens of Somewhere and that somewhere is here.
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