Authentic Nations

The question of authenticity is crucial for nations storyboarding. A hundred-thousand undergraduate essays must have quoted Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” (by the way in Anderson’s case an “imagined community” doesn’t mean that a national community is “fake”, but that any community so large that its members don’t know each another on a face-to-face basis must be “imagined” to some extent.) Facing the very real fear of self-induced economic carnage Anglo-Britain is now in convulsions over its identity and daily spouting huge hilarious whopping lies in a desperate effort to justify and re-invent itself. It’s Panic History, but it’s very difficult indeed to retrofit the past to the grand vision of Paul Nuttal and (Dr) Liam Fox.

Colonialism isn’t backwards compatible.

satiricalScotland is ‘guilty’ of this imagining, everywhere is, and the stories we tell about ourselves and who we want to be are important and useful.

We’ve been immersed on this for some time: from Walter Scott’s George IV, to Stephen Greenhorn’s Passing Places, from blocking minimum-pricing to our ‘other national drink’, from Gregg’s pies to Greig’s plays,  from We Hate Jimmy Hill to See You Jimmy Hats. We haven’t been very good at history (our own or other peoples) until quite recently, either being ignorant of our own past, denying it’s less creditable bits, or pitching ourselves as one-dimensional glorious losers and romantic failures. But we’ve got better at it and recent serious scholarly work has combined with curriculum improvements to smarten us all up (a bit).

It’s in this context – and the day after the comical Empire 2.0 announcement – that in steps Melanie Phillips, occasional writer for the Times, ex-Daily Mail columnist, climate change denier, defender of ‘family values’, saviour of ‘the West’ and permanent part of the far-right panel that inhabit the BBC’s (highly-suspicious) Moral Maze.

Her ramblings should be normally ignored but are interesting not for the wild inaccuracies, almost complete historical ignorance, but what they say about the shifting mind of English Nationalism. Her prose is dripping with contempt, for those not saved by the Times paywall, here are the ‘best bits’. It’s worth looking at the language used, line-by-toe-curling-line. Her pearls of wisdom are in bold:

“The most troublesome bits of the United Kingdom are once again showing signs of disuniting. In Scotland, the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is demanding a second independence referendum on the grounds that, contrary to the English, the Scots voted to remain in the EU by 62 per cent to 38 per cent.”

Democracy is ‘troublesome’ we’re told.

“In Northern Ireland, a surge by Sinn Fein to within one seat of the Democratic Unionists after a divisive assembly election has revived the spectre of a united Ireland, now given further rhetorical push by the jubilant nationalists on the grounds that the province also voted to remain.”

A united Ireland, a move that is being motivated by the British Government’s own extraordinary intransigence against all the odds, is we’re told ‘a spectre’.

“It is a curiosity that the SNP and Sinn Fein want to leave the UK in order to remain in Europe. In other words, they want to reclaim powers from Westminster in order to surrender them to Brussels. Of course they don’t see it like that. The EU, which concentrates power in Brussels while reducing nations to the status of provinces, is conversely regarded by weak nations and provinces as a way of boosting their status and income.”

Ireland and Scotland are ‘weak nations’ suffering from status anxiety. Someone call Dr Freud!

It gets better.

“Scottish nationalism and Irish republicanism are cultural phenomena rooted in romanticism and myth and hatred of the other in the form of the English or the Protestants. Nevertheless, the genie of national identity is now out of the bottle. Trans-nationalism, or the drive to erode the autonomy of nations, has been stopped in its tracks by British voters. This raises some complicated questions.”

Oh dear. Oh god, it’s back to all of this shit isn’t it? This is like Sadiq Khan on steroids.

“If national aspirations are now validated for the UK, what about the national aspirations of its constituent parts? Do all national identities have equal status? What happens when one is in direct competition with another? Scotland says it is a nation. Republicans in Northern Ireland say Britain dismembered their nation which they want to unify again. Are these claims to national identity valid? If so, where does that leave the UK?”

Where indeed Melanie?

As we’d feared she plunders into ‘imagined community’ territory with neither map or compass, sans Scoobie .

“The historians Linda Colley and Benedict Anderson famously declared the nation to be no more than an artificial construct or “imagined community.” In this post-modern formulation, the nation could therefore arbitrarily be either declared or dissolved. The nation is not, however, artificial or imagined. It is solidly rooted in a group of people united by different things at different times: geography, language, law, religion, ethnicity, history, institutions, culture.”

Are you following this so far? Irish and Scottish nationalists are bad and false (fake news?). Not real nations. Britain is a real nation, NOT imagined. Presumably by her definition Ireland and Scotland don’t have geography, language, law, religion, ethnicity, history, institutions, or culture?

It gets worse, far worse.

“The UK is an extraordinarily complex web of identities: civic, ethnic, cultural, national. As the historian Jonathan Clark wrote in his book Our Shadowed Present: “Britain was not invented; it developed.” The pattern of this development has been “the resilience of a diverse and plural system of identities”. Englishness, however, came to stand proxy for all the communities of the British Isles. Even Edmund Burke, although a loyal Irishman, wrote of himself as an Englishman rather than describing himself as British.”

Got it? Scotland and Ireland don’t really exist, but Britain does, but it’s really England. This is like thirty years of Tom Nairn regurgitated as if it was written in the medium of a Trump twitter stream.

“The Scots developed over time the characteristics of a nation: a distinct language, religion, legal system and so on. The UK was formed in 1707 by the union of two distinct kingdoms, England and Scotland.”

‘Characteristics.’

What about Wales, she forget about Wales I hear you splutter? Here you go:

“Kingship matters because monarchs unify tribes into a nation. Wales was subsumed into the English legal system by Henry VIII and so lost its separate identity except for residual ties to the Welsh language.”

Ah, okay, sorry Wales, you were a ‘tribe’ now you’re nothing because, er, Henry VIII or something.

But how will this constitutional giant deal with Northern Ireland you ask?

c6tygjvxqaec1-a-jpg-large“Northern Ireland is different again. The Unionists hate this being said but they are not British. They’re the bit that got tacked on to Great Britain to make the UK.”

Oh dear, that’s not going to go down very well.

“Does that mean Westminster should tear up the Good Friday agreement and bid farewell to Northern Ireland? No, because it has an obligation to the Unionists; and because the claim to unite Ireland is tenuous since Ireland itself has a tenuous claim to nationhood, having seceded from Britain as the Irish Free State only in 1922.

Britain, by contrast, is an authentic unitary nation. It didn’t begin with the union with Scotland but as the British Isles, an island nation defending itself (or not) against invaders from across the seas. Throughout its history, it was beset by attempts at secession by tribes across Hadrian’s Wall and across the Irish Sea.”

‘Tribes’ again.

She concludes:

“Britain is a nation with the right to rule itself. It is the EU which is the artificial construct, the imagined community that falsely claims for itself the hollow appurtenances of a nation. The EU therefore has no prior claim on its constituent nations which are under no obligation to remain. By contrast, the United Kingdom is a nation which is governed in accordance with its name. Scotland has no right to rip it asunder if it wants to secede from the Union (which in any event is highly doubtful). Faced with the contemporary resurgence of regional or tribal uprisings, it’s the ancient British Isles that must hold itself together to take its place once again as a sovereign nation in the wider world.”

In summary: you don’t really exist, but to the extent to which you do, we have consigned you to the status of a tribe and you have been captured. Any attempt to seek self-determination will be treated as an ‘uprising’.

There is nothing that can be said in response to this remarkable diatribe other than: God Save the Queen, Rule Britannia, break out the Pith helmets and let’s re-boot the Empire.

It is however remarkable that an actual newspaper published this, and for those reflecting on their status as ‘British’ or the ongoing assault on those seeking independence it might be worth thinking if you want to be associated with such blood and soil nationalism. Melanie Phillips is an outlier, a kind of posh Katie Hopkins, and maybe it’s a mistake to respond at all. But there is no way (thankfully) that a newspaper publishing from Scotland Wales or Ireland could publish anything remotely like this without being treated with complete contempt. The problem isn’t poor Melanie on her own, it’s the role of Anglo-Britain that is being conjured out of the smoke of Brexit, that’s explicitly a nation that has imperial conquest in its DNA, and they aren’t just thinking about a fantasy trading relation with “the Commonwealth” but a relationship with the rest of the UK’s ‘family of nations’ that is utterly toxic.

 

Comments (29)

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  1. bringiton says:

    Some of this nonsense wouldn’t have been out of place in 1930s Nazi Germany.
    Similar to the Nazi claim that Austria,Nederland,Czech Republic and so on were all part of the German Reich,whether they agree or not.
    The statement about the EU being an undemocratic political construct whereas the United Kingdom is not,is very definitely the pot calling the kettle black and in the case of the UK,very black.
    Since English voters decided to turn their backs on the EU,the EU has been demanding that they leave as soon as possible but for some reason,Westminster has been reluctant to do so.
    This is in complete contrast to London threats aimed at Scotland with regard to post independence arrangements and an unrelenting propaganda campaign aimed at stopping this process.
    They seem reluctant to part with a Scotland that they claim is such a drain on their resources as well.
    Being charitable,at best,this is muddled thinking and a complete failure to address the root of the problem which is English identity or rather the lack of.

  2. Kenny says:

    Thanks for picking out the “highlights”, Mike.
    Suppose we shouldn’t be surprised given the author, however every cloud and all that…
    I’ll be keeping this, filed under “to be widely shared and quoted during the next referendum campaign”.

  3. Jean says:

    My Irish ‘tribal’ blood is at boiling point with renewed life since the election results last Saturday. I didn’t not think that I would see unionism suffer such a humiliating defeat as they did from the hands of Republican, Nationalist voters.

    I was a young pup in the Battle of the Bog and I survived the ‘troubles’ in tact. But I never though I would witness the downfall of the likes the DUP suffered. We all knew, as did they, that this was something that was enevidable but not for another 8/10 years or so.

    While I’m an unapologetic Republican I supported the GFA. I supported it throughout the treatment handed out to people like me and nationalist as well, in fact anyone who wasn’t DUP.

    There were many times when I questioned Martin Mc Guinness’s ‘turning the other cheek’. I screamed at the television many times, shouting ‘ Jesus martin have you no fight left in ya’? But in the end his magnanimity towards unionism paid off and the election on March 2nd proved that.

    So this ‘tribe’ has no problem standing up to the brits. The ‘croppy’s’ are not for laying down again. I want my unionis, Protestant, neighbours to live in a peaceful, prosperous Ireland where we will all be thought of as a nation, no matter your ilk.

    As for our Melanie, well she’s more to be pitied than laughed at isn’t she?

  4. c rober says:

    Usual yoon shite really.

    Nationalism bad , unless its the God , Queen and country , of EMPIRE GOOD one – because , well , we say so – and we are the majority , the gaffer so resistance is futile , your identity irrelevant unless we call it division.

    Eu bad , Uk Good , for the same argument of ceeding control , but instead of that to a GROUP of equals cicra 27 and its vetoes , it is instead for UK post brexit pwer over its regional super councils via ceeding power to Wesminster – without vetoes.

    So the onus here is that the power of inequality over that of Wales , NI , and Scotland

    For England at least is best case scenario , and as we have seen so far , in long and short term history , it has always been that way… And now we see the same colonial outbursts that the commonwealth should be feart of , rather than embracing , replacing that foriegn EU one as the new markets…. like that worked with India and cotton.

    The only real yoon argument is still the EURO currency itself , which is proven , then unproven in their championing of EXPORTS based on the pound weakness itself.

    You would think we were still mining in the uk taking advantage of all that irony , but then again there is neither that industry or furnaces to turn it into steel anyway ready for export.

  5. Darren Stansfield says:

    I’m English (though northern), and believe me most of us see this bull for what it is. Its a 19th century viewpoint that somehow has managed to stagger into the 21st. The referendum has lifted the lid on a whole pile of nastiness most of us didn’t even know existed anymore…this is just one more example to add to the already very long list.

    1. MBC says:

      Thank you. There must be many English people, decent fair-minded English people, like yourself, who are repelled by this kind of Brit-Nat post-Brexit revisionism.

      This is just to say that we Scots are not fooled by that and know it doesn’t speak for you all, or even the majority. Whatever the media bile spews out.

      When is the English nation and identity going to reassert its true identity though?

      In my view there is a vein of schizophrenia running through English identity caused by Britishness and British imperialism. The bit that identifies with Anglo-Saxon egalitarianism and the bit that identifies with Brit-Nat ugly elitist imperialism. I see confused folk swing from one to the other like a pendulum and I wonder when it will stop. And I wonder when the former is going to articulate itself and free itself from the ugly face of British imperialism.

      1. MBC says:

        I guess I am concluding that Britishness is a toxic brand for the English too.

  6. Alf Baird says:

    We should not forget that this very same mind-set inhabits Downing St. and fully reflects the views of Scotland’s unelected Tory maisters, as reflected in their ongoing conceit and arrogance towards Scotland. The Empire is now down to its rump of ‘home nations’, and will do anything and invent any narrative to maintain that bankrupt rump at all costs. Scotland will not be given up easily, no matter whether via a referendum or other means. The one thing Scotland cannot do is trust them, or the thousands of ‘elite’ unionists they have installed to control Scotland’s institutions.

    1. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

      I agree with your sentiments.

      To state the obvious “Empire 2” also represents the UK’s latest propaganda guff in an attempt to take the heat away from the realities of Brexit. Unless they actually are planning to invade and control other countries.

      With regard to N Ireland, I get the impression that they (privately) want a United Ireland.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        You are probably right in that they would prefer to exit N. Ireland given there seems little strategic purpose to remain there. The strategy seems different for ‘mainland’ in that they may see an opportunity from that exit to rebrand what is currently ‘UKofGB&NI’ as simply ‘Britain’.

  7. Rob says:

    Good post, Mike.

    I spotted a contradiction in Phillips’ post earlier which I thought encapsulated her narrow perspective, when she describes Northern Ireland as being merely “tacked on” to Great Britain, and that unionists in NI were “not British”. (Ouch.)

    From this we can deduce that Phillips presumably doesn’t consider people from the Republic of Ireland to be British either, which begs the question: if they’re not British, then why is their claim to nationhood “tenuous”?

    Is it possible that she has an issue with Ireland’s ‘authenticity’?

    1. Very little of it makes any sense, its like arguing with a jellyfish.

    2. James Coleman says:

      To Rob
      “unionists in NI were “not British”.”

      So by simple projection their Scottish Orange brethren and Gers unionists are not British either.

    3. MBC says:

      Non-historians may not be aware of this, but what Philips is gabbling on about in suggesting that Ireland is not a nation is the English imperialist assertion from Tudor times (under Henry VIII) that Ireland was indeed a ‘kingdom’ – HIS. Prior to this Ireland consisted politically of The Pale (an area settled by Anglo-Norman knights around the Dublin area in the twelfth century and only loosely affiliated to the English crown) and the rest of the country which consisted of tribal Gaelic chieftainships, often in conflict with one another. There was no development of an Irish medieval state as there was in Scotland where most of the country was unified by Kenneth MacAlpin into a kingdom and then Malcom Canmore by the 11th century. Brian Boru briefly unified the island in order to expel the Vikings in the early eleventh century, but that unification effort was not sustained and the reason that the Anglo-Normans got a foothold in the twelfth century was because they were invited in by a dissident chieftain who wanted their help against a rival.

      In the 19th century Irish nationalists claimed that Ireland was however a nation despite never having gone through the political formation into Gaelic medieval kingdom under one king. They argued that Ireland was distinct as a nation for other reasons, notably its Gaelic language and culture and its Breton law. But this of course was dismissed by British imperialist historians as just so much myth and fluff.

      Philips is regurgitating that line.

  8. Redgauntlet says:

    Totally incredible, and Mike Small is right, that such complete garbage gets printed in a supposedly “quality” newspaper is absolutely unbelievable and tells you everything you need to know about how completely fckd up the British ruling class are…

    What a bunch of lunatics, illiterates and chancers they are….

  9. hamish says:

    How does Melanie fit all this into her Zionist interpretation of the Middle East ?

    1. James Coleman says:

      Simple. Palestine is part of Greater Israel and should thank Allahu and Javeh that they are allowed a small corner (albeit bombed to smithereens) to live in.

  10. Seumas MacDhòmhnaill says:

    The British Isles haes nivver been unitit poleetically ither than in the 19t hunneryeir an early 20t hunneryeir. The fowk comin tae the archipelago haes mibbes been different tribes, but the fowk in the archipelago wis different tribes an aw, til about the 9t hunneryeir.

    An some o thae incomin tribes wis the Angles, Saxons an Jutes sae there nae consistency there. There isnae ony consistency in the discourse an it is jist jistifeein whit she awready thocht. Acause itherwise she wad say that, seein as Anglo-Saxons wis invaders, an British identity is (accordin tae her) based on a auncient unity agin invaders, British identity is anti-Anglo-Saxon.

    An ye cannae descrive Scotland bein independent fur hunneryeirs as ‘attempts at secession’ whan it wis awready independent, an didnae hae union wi England fur several hunneryeirs.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      As well as political integration being quite late on, Scotland’s economic integration was arguably even more recent. Scotland’s trade was for centuries mostly transported by sea until the advent of motorways, the latter largely occurring only over the past 50 years or so. As recently as the 1970’s Scotland enjoyed direct shipping services connecting dozens of European ports, but by the 1980’s the shift of trade onto UK motorways led to all these services being shut down with Scottish trade thereafter routed via ports in England, and with much of it being lost for good in the process. This partly explains the dominance of England in terms of what is left of Scottish trade, whilst all our retail goods etc are imported via English distribution centres (after they are imported first into England). This dependence on costly long-distance road transport via ports in England effectively wiped out much of Scotland’s international trade, with Scotland today about as competitive as any landlocked country.

      1. Seumas MacDhòmhnaill says:

        Aye, an this sea trade can re-established efter independence.

    2. Ewan Macintyre says:

      “… it’s the ancient British Isles that must hold itself together to take its place once again as a sovereign nation in the wider world.”

      Ms Phillips wrote the above in The Times article.
      You are quite right. The Celts inhabited all of Britannia (including what is now called England) and spoke the British Celtic language before, during and after the Roman occupation.
      Therefore, every true Brit (like Ms Phillips) ought to learn to speak Welsh (Cymraeg), Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish (Gàidhlig), Cumbric, Manx or Cornish.
      At least one modern linguist tells us that the people living in the island now called Ireland were the last to receive the British Celtic language. Before then they spoke an unknown language.
      Let’s face it, modern English along with its dialects are Germanic including the so-called Scots tongue of Robbie Burns.

      1. Merlin Chesters says:

        “The Celts inhabited all of Britannia (including what is now called England) and spoke the British Celtic language before, during and after the Roman occupation.”

        There’s no academic and sound basis for this. For the simple fact that we know nothing, for example, of the language of the Picts (just a few suffixes in place-names). Possibly the Scots imported the Celtic root of the language from Ireland. Also, contrarily to many beliefs, Celts were all over Europe, down to Northern Italy (where they had several clashes with the Etruscans) and it’s impossible to trace if they spoke a common language, possibly not.
        So a ‘unification’ going back to the ancient languages spoken in the British Isles is actually impossible.

        1. Ewan Macintyre says:

          According to linguist Peter Schrijver the Proto-Indo-European mother tongue
          changed to become Proto-Celtic, and the Proto-Celtic language step by step broke up into its various daughter languages, one of which is British Celtic and the other is Irish.
          So, if “there is nothing to stop us from believing that it [Ireland] was by far the last piece of land in Europe that Celtic had conquered” does it not follow that British Celtic had already reached Pictland? An unknown language was also being spoken in both Ireland and Pictland, i.e. the folk who lived in both places were at some stage bilingual and perhaps some, at a later stage in Pictland at least, trilingual.
          Also, “… Welsh, Cornish and Breton can be reconstructed as a monolithic sixth-century AD dialect, which hides the fact that British Celtic had been widespread across all of Britain for probably a millennium or more.”

          Read for yourself Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages by Peter Schrijver (Routledge).

  11. SleepingDog says:

    Dr Freud? Sometimes a channel tunnel is simply a channel tunnel.

    Good critical piece, I think. A nation is what we (continue to) make of it, perhaps? Is Britishness something we gaze longingly upon through the eyepiece of a telescope trained on the future, or something we are imminently going to be dissecting the decaying remains of upon a mortuary slab?

  12. john mooney says:

    Complete and utter claptrap from what can only be described as a rabid right wing Zionist nutter,methinks the lady wanders in the “MAZE” without “MORALS”, between Fox and Phillips and the rest of the sclerotic britnats one can only stand back and hope they keep digging deeper into the hole they are incapable of noticing they have created for themselves!

  13. Lochside says:

    Melanie Phillips epitomises what passes for the right wing ‘intelligensia’ in London’s incestual and absurd media. Her grasp of the British Isles’ history is risible and D minus level. The ‘British’ were an assortment of ancient ‘tribes’ yes, but Welsh and Gaelic speakers not Anglo Saxons interlopers, who have spent the last 1000 years trying to claim their ascendancy over these original ‘British’ residents.

    A hateful individual, full of hate ,unregenerate in her contempt for lesser ‘tribes’ or ‘foreigners’ why any paper should publish her bile flecked distorted beliefs is beyond understanding.

  14. Merlin Chesters says:

    “Britain, by contrast, is an authentic unitary nation. It didn’t begin with the union with Scotland but as the British Isles, an island nation defending itself (or not) against invaders from across the seas. Throughout its history, it was beset by attempts at secession by tribes across Hadrian’s Wall and across the Irish Sea.”

    As an historian and archaeologist (both Classical and Scottish), this was the bit that sent me mad. Hadrian’s Wall contained the ‘future-to-be’ English tribes. No Ireland, no Scotland. I think it unmasks quite clearly what sort of ‘weed’ she’s on… she considers Britain an equivalence of a leading England without even considering that Ireland and Scotland were actually conquered ‘less’ than England itself from 1st century AD to the Norman conquest.
    If anything, history of the British Isles proves her wrong. It has been England that was, for many centuries, a battle ground for the other nations.
    Appalling how someone so incredibly ignorant in terms of history was allowed to publish an article in The Times; maybe it’s becoming the posh version of the Daily Mail.

    To the admins of this site, well done for the article! 🙂
    Merlin

  15. Neilyn says:

    “The most troublesome bits of the United Kingdom are once again showing signs of disuniting.”

    Anyone else recall the awful English Riots of a few years back? Not Mrs Phillips, evidently!

    “Kingship matters because monarchs unify tribes into a nation. Wales was subsumed into the English legal system by Henry VIII and so lost its separate identity except for residual ties to the Welsh language.”

    …..and the National Assembly for Wales / Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru, The Welsh Government / Llywodraeth Cymru, contemporary Welsh Law / Cyfraith Cymru, The Welsh National Eisteddfod / Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru etc etc etc, and, er, reaching the semi-final of Euro 16 (where England lost to Iceland in the last 16)……

    Joking apart, this article is actually downright creepy. I hope to God it’s not the beginning of something much worse.

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