2007 - 2021

Aafrug Brexit

“aafrug” – the back-surge of a wave after it has broken on the shore; a spent wave drawing down a strand; “the streaming-back of the water after the breaking of the billows”; also an off-shore ebb-tide.
(Scots, esp. Northern Isles; cf Old Norse reka, “to drift”)

There seems to be a back-surge as the Brexit wave crashes and streams back, sluicing constitutional change up the beach. If people in England have been bamboozled by a stream of disinformation and populist self-deception, people in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland have, in the aftermath, been treated with contempt: devolved institutions abandoned or ignored, popular votes cast aside, endlessly patient elected leaders overlooked.

Signs of neglect and abandonment of ‘normal practices’  are everywhere: the unprecedented crammed Tuesday night vote, where the entire fifteen Lords votes will be cast aside in a single session, is more like some Tudor despot having a tantrum than a modern democracy; Dominic Cummings hiding from even the slightest pretence at accountability; the disgraceful neo-colonial language about Ireland which just weeps ignorance; the intransigence of the unfortunate David Mundell acting-out his re-named office representing nobody of sound mind under sixty.

The Foreign Secretary’s frightening lack of understanding of the Irish border issue almost two years after Britain voted to leave the EU would be genuinely terrifying if it wasn’t presented as all a jolly wheeze. Boris Johnson ridiculed the concerns about disruption at the Irish borders as “pure millennium bug stuff” saying it’s “beyond belief” that the Northern Irish border is proving to be an obstacle in Brexit negotiations.

This is a State of Exception.


This level of political ignorance could only be possible and permissible in an era of enormous all-consuming English nationalism.

As Tommy Robinson’s Freedom Patriots attack the police, it may be time to get a little less polite about this. There’s only so long you can tip-toe around this issue because of conditioned nicety.

You don’t get a Tommy without a Boris feeling the way.

And Boris, (badly) acting as a sort of Foreign Secretary character is now comparing a (non-existent computer bug)  to a 30-year conflict that claimed an estimated 3,600 lives in the process. This is beyond insulting, and hasn’t gone unnoticed. But if British politicians talk of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ they might just come be in for a surprise. The rest of Europe doesn’t think like this and Ireland has a well of goodwill and respect throughout Europe that the Brexiteers may find is rather deep.

The signs of a broken country are everywhere too.

The astonishing polling coming out of Northern Ireland showing fewer people feel ‘British’ than any other region in the UK. Ireland (north and south) is changing rapidly and it manifests itself in multiple ways, from attitudes to homosexuality, human rights and abortion: this is a generational wave crashing which also has constitutional and cultural implications.

Nor, despite the best attempts of the Unionist community in Scotland, are there signs of the independence movement or the SNP vote subsidising and going away.

Far from it.

After a year or more of atrophy several elements of the movement are resurgent. The SNP have taken a 14 point lead over the Scottish Conservatives in the latest Holyrood poll, showing Ruth Davidson’s one-woman brand is running out of energy just as she prepares to give birth. The Jackson Carlaw maternity cover will be entertaining.

Other signs of a renewed self-confidence and optimism are apparent too, which is remarkable given the endless negativity that seems to engulf Scotland like a haar. This week we heard that: “Scots are more confident in the economic prospects of independence than ever before, according to the latest survey for the National Centre for Social Research has revealed. Pollsters found that 41% of people viewed independence as a positive for Scotland’s economy, up from 26% in 2014.”

The now daily Brexit omnishambles can only be sustained if we assume a number of patently untrue myths about ‘populism’, the ‘elites’, political geography and Europe.

As Heinrich Haine writes in Mute in his “Notes from the Non-Existent” nod to William Morris:

“What cries out louder for correction right now is the myth that the ‘leave’ vote is a victory for THE working class over ‘metropolitan elites’ and incorrigibly Scottish Scots. This matters a lot, because the metropolitan, multinational working class is being told by all sides, and at the worst possible moment, that actually we don’t exist. Worse still, myths like this tend to become self-fulfilling. Which is not to say they come true, but they become trusims to the point that they start having real effects. Like that old chestnut, ‘immigrants are to blame for other workers’ immiseration’, which we’ve just witnessed in action.”

And so the waves keep crashing despite the myth-making and propaganda

It used to be thought that independence would be won in a moment like ‘the revolution’ led by a heroic figure (previously Tommy Sheridan nowadays Andrew Wilson). We’re learning it’s not a moment, or a single event. Britain is being crushed into sand by wave after wave of Etonian ineptitude, sense of entitlement, Anglo-centrism, unchanging institutions, structures incapable of developing, enshrined power, centralisation and self-deception acting as a tidal force to destroy itself. Generational change is massively at play. No voters and Brexit voters clinging to ossified notions of Britain and Britishness that are just being swept away. Attitudes of deference and power relations, gender and assumed freedoms are being dissolved as the tide comes in.

And then, just as David Cameron (remember him humming away?) misread the Day After of the independence referendum as a need for reasserting English rights, here, on the brink of massive political change we have Martin Kettle whining (“Don’t let the right have its way. The left must speak for England”): 

“English identity is a cultural issue that requires more than just a constitutional answer. Nevertheless, England is the largest nation in Europe without its own parliament and it has become difficult to argue against one, with powers similar to those in the rest of the UK.”

Mansplaining nationalism to at least six million people astonished by Boris Johnson’s stupidity is quite phenomenal. To get to the place where Brexit – which removes Scotland out of Europe against our will and potentially destroys the Good Friday Agreement – as a problem of asymmetry in British devolution is just fantastical. There is nothing stopping an English Parliament apart from mass disinterest, populist-imperialism and self-delusion about place and politics that has no other equivalent other than Johnson’s parroting of MAGA across the pond.

Britain is falling apart because of its inability to recreate itself as the waves of time and change crash against its fragility. The things that Britain thought was its strength is in fact its supreme weakness – and hubris and Bubble-World British exceptionalism will mean it won’t realise this until it’s too late (which is now).





Comments (13)

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  1. Ann Rayner says:

    Not sure if it still applies but when DCMS stood for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, it was pronounced in some circles as Duck-mess. Seems appropriate.

  2. Ray Visino says:

    From Corbyn’s point of view he must know that he could only form a government after the next GE with SNP support or agreement, so once Scotland goes England will be forever a serf-land under firm class control of a one party Conservative state. Maybe the LP and SNP have looked at possibilities but can Scotland wait for Corbyn to win before it is given a form of independence that also allows them seats in parliament.

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Ray, sorry if you think that Corbyn, an arch ‘Metro Man’ would ever offer this, which I think you’re talking of Federalism, correct me if I’m reading you wrong, then dream on. Anyway we don’t want any representation in Wastemonster, we want a Sovereign Independent Scotland and get shot of that sewer that is Wastemonster.

  3. SquirrelTowers says:

    Great article Mike. I’m English living in Scotland and I watch what’s happening down south, however I am not at all surprised by events. Brexit was not a surprise to me. In the deepest West Country where I grew up there is an inherent suspicion of ‘foreigners’, a startling lack of understanding of the reality of Empire (it’s believed to be a civilianising influence) and no knowledge (apart from it’s ‘up there’) and even less concern with what’s happening in Scotland and NI.

    This myopia has led my fellow English folks to the path they are following now. For my friends and family down there who do hate the direction of travel, there is also a feeling of helplessness and no belief they can actually influence things for the better (55 million is a large number to operate in)…so maybe these good folks are closing their eyes and just trying to focus on other things.

    So my long winded answer is I agree this paroxysm around English Nationalism and what it means will just have to play out. Scotland just needs to get out whilst it can……

  4. William says:

    Let me briefly and profoundly disagree with your telegraphed comments on the Millennium Bug. This was a real and significant challenge faced down through years of hard work by many thousands of people in the IT industry. We spent millions, hundreds of millions, on smart and effective solutions: assessing, planning and mitigating its effects. It sublimated to nothing in the face of a colossal effort.

    We didn’t appoint a trio of chippy blowhards and hoped that it might go away (cf Brexit)

    1. It wasn’t to suggest that it wasn’t a real problem, it was to suggest that its still inappropriate to compare it to the death of over 3000 people.

      1. Interpolar says:

        Actually, William makes an important point that actually strengthens the article‘s thrust. Y2K would have easily killed 3,000 people if policy makers at the time had adopted the same jovial and willfully ignorant attitudes as BoJo currently does about Bexit.

    2. Alasdair Macdonald says:


      I think you ought to re-read the paragraph in which Mr Small quotes Mr Johnson’s line about the Millennium Bug. It was Mr Johnson who made the comment. Mr Small had earlier commented on the fact that the media and others present Mr Johnson as a ‘card’, to use a somewhat antiquated phrase. This is a man holding one of the great offices of state and yet behaves in a crassly impertinent way, demonstrating very little insight into the serious concerns which have arisen as a result of Brexit. Mr Small was illustrating how little people like Mr Johnson, the members of the government of which he is a member and representatives of the metropolitan media, not least the bombastic and self-important Guardian do not appear to comprehend that Brexit has created severe cracks in the myth of ‘Britain’ and that things are changing. WB Yeats’ poem ‘Easter 1916’, bears re-reading.

      1. William says:

        Thanks all, no argument from me about the wider context. y2k was a serious problem handled by serious people. His use of the analogy just undelines my sense that Boris didn’t understand the scale of the problem then nor the complexity he is negotiating now. Or does and pretends otherwise. And (Alastair) one is tempted to add that a terrible beauty is born…

  5. Alin Scot says:

    “like ‘the revolution’ led by a heroic figure (previously Tommy Sheridan) …..”. The only way Tommy Sheridan would lead anyone is “uo the garden path”.

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