The problem for Theresa May’s constant commands and pleas for ‘Unity” and togetherness is that we live in a state of radical incoherence with multiple splits and division. Britain doesn’t really exist in any meaningful sense beyond the increasingly strained cultural voices repeating it till they’re hoarse.


Colin Kidd and Malcolm Petrie explore these themes in a brilliant essay in the London Review of Books:

“Despite Theresa May’s calls during the election campaign for national unity, Britons don’t really live in a nation-state but in a multinational composite state, whose lineaments were set in the period between the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, and the Hanoverian accession in 1714. With the defeat of Catholic supporters of the deposed James II in Ireland – then a subordinate kingdom belonging to England – in 1690, sectarian divisions, which foreshadow the differences between today’s Ulster unionists and Irish nationalists, became more deeply entrenched. Gibraltar was acquired in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession, with British possession confirmed in the Peace of Utrecht (1713). In the interim, the Treaty of Union (1707) brought together under a single crown-in-parliament the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland. For 250 years the shared enterprises of empire and warfare tended to obfuscate the fictive character of British ‘nationhood’, though not of course to Irish Catholics. But Brexit has opened up major fissures between the Westminster state and the component parts of this Greater England. Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted decisively against Brexit, and it still seems likely to prove controversial in both territories, despite the Tory revival in Scotland and the success of the anti-EU Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. In Gibraltar – the only British Overseas Territory in the EU – a near unanimous 95.9 per cent of the population supported Remain. Can Gibraltarians – any more than the Scots or Northern Irish – have confidence that an anglocentric, tabloid-tethered UK government will negotiate on behalf of their real interests?”

They go on to explore the tensions of Brexit meeting Devolution head-on:

“Twenty years ago New Labour thought devolution would reinvigorate Britishness. As George Robertson, one of Blair’s Scottish lieutenants, put it, devolution was meant to ‘kill nationalism stone dead’. It didn’t quite work out like that in Scotland, and south of the border voters proved uninterested in the regional assemblies floated as the English component of this agenda.”

“Now Brexit threatens to shed a similarly unwelcome daylight on other anomalous features of the multinational state.

Here English and Scottish nationalists part company. While Scottish nationalists hope – quite properly – to repatriate Brussels-based powers in devolved matters such as agriculture to Edinburgh, May’s government has – whether out of ignorance or Middle English nationalism or both – signalled an intention to roll back devolution. The 1998 Scotland Act is explicit that all matters – unless expressly reserved to Westminster – belong to the remit of what is, significantly, a Scottish Parliament, not a mere assembly. May, however, has appeared intent on creating a very centralised post-Brexit UK single market, with London replacing Brussels as the regulatory enforcer of common standards.

In her speech to the Scottish Conservative conference in March, May issued what sounded to some Scots like a threat: ‘We must take this opportunity to bring our United Kingdom closer together.’ She stressed the need for measures that would maintain ‘the coherence and integrity’ of the UK. New Labour’s ‘devolution settlements’, she warned, ‘were designed in 1998 without any thought of a potential Brexit’.”

This is a very real threat and it’s one which the independence movement needs to understand.

Beyond the constitutional flux and incoherence, movements and parties are divided within themselves.

Nations and parties within nations are divided and confused.

The Conservatives are divided between ‘libertarians’ and old-school ‘values’, between Ruth Davidson and Anne Marie Morris. The uneasy peace between the Europhiles and Sceptics is creaking as the “will of the people” mantra fades and the actual existing reality of Brexit becomes clear.  Labour was divided (but is now united) behind the parlous idea of a Corbyn victory, either that’s one we pretend has just happened or one we hope for in an imagined future.  In Scotland it remains stalled and still-divided between Labour voters who can accommodate and associate constitutional change with social justice and those who see the real enemy as the SNP and the wider independence movement. The independence movement itself is divided by those who see the movement as driven by social justice and the need to transform Scotland, and those who are allergic to social change and proclaim the movement to be ‘beyond ideology’, preferring for such issues to be resolved at some point after. Such people are unconscious of their own position on the left-right spectrum and demand / require only that others do so.

Brexit has thrown these divisions into sharp-relief, exposing fault lines and national questions that are unresolvable by pleading for a false national unity and papering over the cracks of difference and the demand for change.


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Comments (8)

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  1. Redgauntlet says:

    I think you’ll find that the Irish do not like their country being referred to as part of the British Isles one little bit….to say the least.

    The quote you mention is drenched in an imperialistic outlook…liberal imperialism, but still imperialism.

    When are they finally going to work out in London that the Empire ended a long time ago?

  2. Redgauntlet says:

    Gibraltar was “acquired” say Kidd and Petrie…what a joke. As Craig Murray puts it:

    “Gibraltar was occupied by England (yes, England) in 1704 when it was sacked by the Hessian Prince George (wry smile Hessian – sacked) and 90% of the Spanish population fled after being subjected to mass rape….”


  3. Edward Andrews says:

    Wee bit unhappy with the statement …
    “The independence movement itself is divided by those who see the movement as driven by social justice and the need to transform Scotland, and those who are allergic to social change and proclaim the movement to be ‘beyond ideology’, preferring for such issues to be resolved at some point after. Such people are unconscious of their own position on the left-right spectrum and demand / require only that others do so.”
    These are those of us who believe that independence is the natural state of a nation and that the affairs of that nation should be decided by the people who live there. Now I have an agenda, which I am very aware of and I know where it sits on the Left -Right spectrum. However, I am aware that the attainment of independence in the near future will be a two stage event. There will be the decision of the people of Scotland to become independent, which is the one issue. They there will be other decisions which we have to make, what our relationship is with the EU, are we a monarchy or a republic, do we exclude our possession, or the stationing of atomic weapons on our land, fundamental areas of Land Reform, and the care and support of the people both socially and medically, are issues which I can think of we will need to cover. These however will be thought out and discussed among the people after the vote, but essentially before the attainment of Independence (or there will be an interim constitution). For me no issue is more important than independence and no threat of a subsequent development which I may not approve of justifies a no vote. We can fight to get our way in an Independent Scotland, which is one of the reasons to want it.
    It means that there will be no white paper the next time, just the simplistic demand that the People of Scotland have to right to decide their own government.
    To put it crudely get us out of your multidimensional state into one where we can really care for the people of the nation and not for the 1%

    1. Richard Wickenden (ex Tory from the mid-ninetys) says:

      I agree 100%. We must attain our independence first – then sort out other things such as: EU membership, the monarchy, land reform etc, etc. If you believe in independence for Scotland then vote for independence. All other things can be argued over after we are free of the Wastemonster “Lead Weight” that is dragging our country down and holding us back.

    2. Ive heard this before. I can guarantee you that if there is just a ‘simplistic demand that the People of Scotland have to right to decide their own government’ it will fail. That’s guaranteed.

      1. Edward Andrews says:

        Yes, it is tempting to give a white paper style answer with all the answers. However, i suspect that the White Paper only gave the Unionists a target. It also made the SNP the lead organisation for the Referendum rather than just one of the parties involved. I remember discussing if the basis of independence was the White Paper or the desire of the Scottish people.
        Remember that after an indiref there will probably be a realignment of Scottish Politics, and that any promises or suggestions made by the Government will be null and void.
        Given that we failed the last time a magisterial (or even editorial) statement like yours is really meaningless as you can’t guarantee anything. What you will note is that both Better Together and the Brexit people promised very little (which is just as well, as they have delivered less.).
        There is of course a lot to be said for much of the Common Weal stuff, but again we can’t give it as a manifesto for an independent country as you have people like Michael Fry who while seeking independence has a dream of a very different Scotland.
        As someone who was an early advocate of a Referendum I’m no longer sure that is the way to go, and I think that all who advocate Independence are going to have to have a very long and hard think about how we do it.
        Basically if the people of Scotland don’t believe that Scotland should be independent and then go on from there I don’t see how setting out what there will be is going to help in the establishment of a national will. If that includes bagpipes and tartans OK, if that is what is necessary to get a majority of the people in Scotland on board, then so be it.

      2. john rae says:

        Yes, but Kez,Ruthie and him are looking after our interests!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. montfleury says:

    The map’s not bad, but of course the Isle of Man isn’t part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so even more complicated than it looks….especially if you add the Common Travel Area.

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