2007 - 2022


Are you worried about the Bongs? The Daily Mail’s Deputy Political Editor John Stevens (‘Always looking for stories’) is. While some of you may be worried about the catastrophic impact of Brexit on the economy, loss of jobs, human rights, freedom of movement or the potentially disastrous effect on our food security (for instance), the Tories are worried about what sound will be used to symbolise our departure:

As attention has turned from re-launching Britannia, digging up old Kings, retro-canonisation of the Peoples Princess, or mourning the Bake-Off, Big Ben has become the symbol of everything holy and sacred.

If the Bongs are a goner other suggestions could be the revival of the Prillar Horn, the ancient Anglo-Saxon cow horn trumpet (pictured), to pump out the national anthem on all frequencies, or a medley of all the winning British Eurovision entries sung by Sir Cliff Richard (starting with Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet on a String”, Lulu’s  “Boom Bang-a-Bang” and ending with a re-formed Bucks Fizz joining him on stage to bang out “Making Your Mind Up”). Alternative suggestions could include: Ed Sheren doing Jerusalem, or a revival of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s classic Three Lions may also be contenders. These are just my own initial ideas, surely a national poll by the Super Soaraway Sun should decide the matter?

If the Bongs issue is Brexitannia on cultural steroids, this Nostalgiafest is nothing new.

From John Major’s slightly creepy evocation of ‘warm beer and long shadows, dog lovers and old maids cycling to holy communion’, to the more ancient idea of Merrie Old England, the idea of reverence of the past is hard-wired into Conservatism and Deep England culture recently revived and revisited by Paul Kingsnorth and others.

Merry England“, or in more jocular, archaic spelling “Merrie England” (also styled as “Merrie Olde England“), refers to an English autostereotype, a utopian conception of English society and culture based on an idyllic pastoral way of life that was allegedly prevalent at some time between the Middle Ages and the onset of the Industrial Revolution. More broadly, it connotes a putative essential Englishness with nostalgic overtones, incorporating such cultural symbols as the thatched cottage, the country inn and the Sunday roast. “Merry England” is not a wholly consistent vision but rather a revisited England which Oxford folklorist Roy Judge described as “a world that has never actually existed, a visionary, mythical landscape, where it is difficult to take normal historical bearings.”[1] It may be treated both as a product of the sentimental nostalgic imagination and as an ideological or political construct, often underwriting various sorts of conservative world-views. Favourable perceptions of Merry England reveal a nostalgia for aspects of an earlier society that are missing in modern times.”

One manifestation of this hyper-nostalgia is some very strange utterances about Ireland. Some senior Tories have even suggested that Ireland will somehow want to re-set history and re-join Britain. Leading the way into a fantasy yesteryear is an absurdist re-writing of very recent history, here the Tories and Telegraph combine to pretend that it was somehow the EU which voted for Brexit and decided to leave the customs union.

In this notion England/Britain returns as saviour:






This is remarkable.

Scottish nationalism has many of its own problems.

But this level of unconscious un-reflective madness isn’t one of them.

Digital Republic

While this week has seen the pooterish Douglas Alexander given a run-out to lecture people about ‘nationalism’, a diatribe that he seems to have kicked off after bleach-cleaning his own party’s recent history of foreign adventurism, ruthless cultural packaging, flag-waving and naked nationalism, and another intervention by one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Andrew O Hagan at the Book Festival.

He cites James Baldwin, Norman McCaig and Alexander Solzenitzyn and reflects:

“I noticed something beginning to happen that didn’t happen when I was a younger writer: I began not so much to build defences around my own arguments, as to awaken to their weaknesses. It’s often a failure of intellectual curiosity that causes us to learn nothing form our own experience: we merely defend what we’ve said before, make a god of what we are known to believe, regardless of changes in the circumstances before us, because that makes us feel better, and feel that we were right all along. But what happens if you try to understand the look in the eyes of my opponents?”

The interesting thing abut O Hagan’s speech is it is explicitly forward-facing.

He writes:

“I speak for no political movement, but must say, that no party will do for this country that is not in touch with the growth of ideas. In the national song, it is proud Edward that is sent homewards to think again, but what if — all along — it was us who must think again, as our native philosophers taught us to do?”

“Increasingly the experience of life in Scotland is not one of feeling bordered by old constitutional abstractions, of sentimental attachments, of fattening prejudice and deflated pomp, but of being open to a sense of energetic existence beyond the fetters of geography.”

Perhaps acknowledging the reality of a country home to MAKlab, tech-incubator Codebase (who have raised over half a billion dollars in investment), the burgeoning games industry, Rock Star and a thousand others tech start-ups, O Hagan writes:

“In my view, in the Internet of Things, Scotland is due to become one of the world’s strongest digital republics, a place whose institutions are daily enhanced and purified not only by the life of the country but by the life of all countries. We could one day be part of a neural network whose strongest boundaries are decency and goodness. The laws of Scotland will one day be both discreet and universal; right for the people of Leith, augmented by brilliance, and right for the people of Calcutta, restored and revised every minute in according to what we know and decide. After that, our political institutions may not lie to us because their lies will immediately be obvious, and our churches will be colourful and wise, offering a sense of the magical and the sacred beyond the bounds of reason. Scotland, your Scotland, is in the earliest days of a digital renaissance…”

Some of this has the passion of an emigre Scot returned home, but it’s also telling how negativity becomes hard-wired into those of us who never move. It’s insidious. It’s inside us.

But if English nationalism is turbo-charged by Brexitannia (or is it the other way round), and if Merrie Old England revels in the glorious past, an odd thing happens with Scottish unionist nostalgia. O Hagan’s lecture sent some commentators into a tailspin. David Torrance vented his spleen in the Guardian pleading that O’Hagan return to a previous more negative view of the country.

Like an inverse Conservative Nostalgia, Torrance yearns for the day when things were worse. If only literary fools like O’Hagan could recognise how bad things are, as they have always been, and, presumably, always will be.

Torrance pleads for a return to 1992 when he (O’Hagan) had believed Scotland was “a mean-minded carnival of easy resentments … a proud country mired up to the fiery eyes in blame and nostalgia”. His heart pumping Torrance channels his own long-shadowed John Major sighing:

“In truth, the Scotland of 2017 still resembles that O’Hagan described in 2002, a place of ‘paralysis, nullity and boredom; a nation of conservatives’.”

The hallmark of Conservative Nostalgism is the faith in the ability to recreate the past simply by willing it. This is what we are seeing with the Brexiteers faithful regurgitation of the cultural tropes and symbols of English Greatness, from Bongs to Jam to Rule Britannia and their bizarre statements about Ireland. Dreaming of the past allows you to ignore inconvenient truths.

If Torrance – now in full cringe – moans about O’Hagan’s use of Burns, he should counter the Book Festival talks with a visit to Adrian Sherwod and Sally Beamish’s  Slave’s Lament at the National Portrait Gallery or Douglas Gordon’s Black Burns, what  Kate Molleson calls  “a mangled sculpture, a dystopian shadow, a truth we’d prefer to ignore.”

There’s a symmetry to the sort of miserabilism Torrance espouses and the fantasy world of the Brexiteers.One is fixed by a ‘nothing can change’ world vision based on constantly repressing agency and aspiration, the other is based on just dreaming away nasty reality and floating off wrapped in a red white and blue shroud.


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Comments (7)

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  1. David Robinson says:

    Brucies death gave us a break …less reign of terror …more old clips from their archives

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I had thought that the Mail was seeking to defend the rights of dope smokers fro these evil Eurocrats, but it was just an article about campanology from some bell-end.

  3. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Personally I wouldn’t give ‘A BONG’ if Lizzie’s Tower toppled into the Thames!!! As for Alexander, who resuscitated him???

    PS I never liked BF.

  4. Donnie MacPhee says:

    England (those that run it as distinct from the majority who live in it), does not know what it is. We have mrs may this week, posing in front of an aircraft carrier that won’t have planes for another 7 years if ever. Did no one tell her she looks stupid and highlights the lack of thinking, integration and planning her goverment exudes?

    On the other hand, there has obviously been a lot of thinking, integration and planning for quite some time to stopping Scotland from moving forward. uk ogoverment, bbc, press and unionist parties banding together and working as one has been apparent for some time. labour look for stories, bbc follow up with FOI requests and broadcast dubious findings, generally without rebuff, the pares than run with the story, Scotland in crisis.

    In parallel to Scotland in crisis, we have britain blooming and basking in grandeur in remberence of things past, the list is endless.

    Last week they tried to pull off the partition of India as some how the fault of those in modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That the blood was on England’s elites hands was glossed over. Why? Because the past is viewed through rose tinted glasses and can be used to manipulate the present

    Michael Forsyth got it right, you can not unscramble an egg. Devolution was not meant to work, the SNP made it work and worse still for the union, gave Scots confidence, pride and direction. This must now all be undone, subtly or otherwise. This undoing work is the period we are now in.

    Ultimately this fight will be between the peoples of Scotland with hope and vision versus a project fear that never went away run by England’s elite and their place men and women.

    The fight is now on for Scotland’s future!

    1. Craig P says:

      My mother told me about the partition recently. About how there was no ill feeling between Muslim and Hindu before 1947. Everyone lived in peace together. She knows because Madhur Jaffrey said so on the BBC. Where do you start.

  5. Jim O'Rourke says:

    ‘But if English nationalism is turbo-charged by Brexitannia (or is it the other way round)……’

    English Nationalism was always there and was/is an essential part of allegiance to the Westminster / English Parliament. I experienced it from the perspective of a child born in the 1950s where I was cocooned in near total anglo-centric / anglophile culture peppered with quaint, couthy ‘local’ stuff like the Broons and Oor Wullie. The dominant context and message for a growing boy however was what I recognise in adulthood was highly militaristic English Nationalism and extremely racist. The education system may have been distinctly Scottish in some ways but the basis of the curriculum was solidly based on an English colonial perspective where the Empire was in the process of becoming the Commonwealth. Much of what we were taught was inherently racist and effectively played by the dominant themes of patriarchal Greater England.

    Andrew O’Hagan was and is quite right to pinpoint the numbing, dulling effect all of this had. I’m sure others can recall the point in time quite specifically when the reality broke the anaesthetic and the realisation that the whole inter-connected edifice of unionism simply doesn’t work, other than for a tiny, predictable and even more inter-connected minority.

    Deep rooted English Nationalism was first aroused then emboldened by tory hubris and/or incompetence and UKIP leading to the EU referendum campaign. We all remember how that referendum was conducted. The result further inflamed already over-heated English Nationalist sentiment.

    For some people, the sequence of events that preceded the decision to hold the EU referendum strongly suggest a kind of cause and effect relationship between the collapse of TTIP and the decision to hold a referendum on EU membership. The determined focus of Liam Fox, David Davis et al on securing a ‘great trade deal’ with the US suggests a TTIP between the US and the UK instead. Discussion around the clearly negative issues is ongoing. That it has not been closed down by the MSM, suggests it is acceptable the tories and their backers to have this dialogue take place now. This will help to sanitise to an extent the issues by March 2019 and in any case other issues around Brexit itself and the looming lack of trade deals at the point of leaving will emerge to push toxic US chicken and beef down the agenda.

    Meanwhile, there are some interesting other aspects to this whole thing. Oil related issues has had an inflammatory effect on debate about our independence. It’s worth considering the fact that the actions of successive unionist governments in relation to NS oil. From getting rid of Britoil, concealing reports and altering a line on the map to transfer some NS oil production to English territorial jurisdiction to decisions on taxation and the true value and overall cost of extracting oil and gas, the unionists have been consistently mendacious and duplicitous in their dealings with Scots. The attitudes and actions of all the unionist parties since NS oil was discovered do nothing at all to suggest they will ever treat Scotland and its people with any kind of respect. More the opposite by a long way.

  6. David McCann says:

    “from Bongs to Jam to Rule Britannia and their bizarre statements about Ireland.”

    Like this one from Sir Winston
    “WE have always found the Irish to be odd. They refuse to be English”

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