The Peoples Temple

As the Brexit crisis stalks the Conservative Party and this weeks developments make a No Deal settlement seem more and more likely, the full extent of the looming national disaster becomes clear.

David Mundell increasingly looks like a latter-day Jim Jones, leading his Peoples Temple to drink the Kool Aid while worshipping the precious, if malleable ‘Union’.

On Monday it was reported that both Mundell and the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson had told the prime minister that they could not support any different arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“Sources had told the BBC that Ms Davidson and Mr Mundell have made it clear they would resign if Northern Ireland faces new controls that separate it from the rest of the UK – because that could fuel the case for Scottish independence.”

A source close to Mr Mundell told the BBC: “If you find yourself not agreeing with government policy” resigning would be the “logical outcome”. A source close to Ms Davidson said the issue was a “red line”.

As one commentator wrote: “Essentially Scotland’s two leading Conservatives are trying to stop Remain-voting Scotland getting a deal that protects it from the worst extremes of Brexit and will threaten to resign to ensure that Scotland gets as bad a deal as possible from Brexit.”

It was a remarkable position to take and one which they both quickly retreated from. By midweek they were desperately denying they had made any such claims.

The Kool Aid was for now, back under lock and key.

As Theresa May ventured back to Brussels for a desultory dinner she both came and returned with … nothing at all.

The only thing that Michel Barnier can offer her is “more time”, like saying to someone suffering a migraine attack “We can’t make it stop but we can make it go on for another year?”

Our Prime Minister arrived at yet another EU summit and, if in a fugue state, repeated that “considerable progress” has been made since Salzburg but – wait for it – “problems remain on the Northern Ireland backstop”.

So what solutions do Mundell and Davidson’s colleagues have to get out of this unholy mess?

Stanley Johnson’s solution to the Irish border question was “Just let the Irish shoot themselves.”

Helpfully Andrew Bridgen of the European Research Group member explained on Radio 5 Live that “as an Englishman, I understand I’m entitled to an Irish passport.” On this basis, he believes that solving the Irish border will be no problem at all.

Maybe Karen Bradley could illuminate things?

Others suggested that somehow replacing Theresa May with David Davis would resolve the Brexit crisis.

Yes, really, that happened.

Davis is being talks up by some Conservatives as an ‘interim leader’, which is a pretendy thing.

They are too scared to vote for Boris or Jacob Rees-Mogg and are now inventing traditions.

The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope chimed: “Ministers have asked in recent weeks for MPs to put the ‘national interest’ ahead of party priorities in the considering Mrs May’s Brexit proposal. Mr Davis – who is admired by Labour MPs – would be the perfect MP to unite Parliament, they say.”

Letters of No Confidence in the PM to the 1922 Committee’s Sir Graham Brady are thought to be in the ‘low 40s’.

Forty eight are required to trigger a vote to eject her.

The Tories, under extreme pressure, are teetering between the promised land of Britannia Unchained and the prospect of the Bolshevik Corbyn – the nightmarish creation of of their own worst fantasies. All of the time – stage right – Trump’s transatlantic trade deals are waiting in the wings.

There’s a sort of sick symmetry to Ireland being the entity which leads to the ultimate British crisis. The Tory MPs queuing up to outdo each other by displaying new deaths of ignorance is entertaining but undermining too.

They seem equally confused about the role of the Irish and the Europeans in this whole process and ‘more time’ won’t really help any.

The prominent Brexiter Priti Patel said an extension would not “in any way” solve ongoing concerns about the Irish border. “If the EU is refusing to help us to solve the border issue now, why will it take another three years to resolve it?”

There’s an amusing tension between the grandiose chatter about Britain’s glorious global future and the slightly desperate pleas for the EU to solve Britain’s self-inflicted problems. In a sense Britain is just doing what it has always done to the EU, pleading for exceptionalism, special status, opt-outs and deliverance, only this time there is absolutely no incentive for the other countries to capitulate to the British Government’s ridiculous demands.


The feeling that Britain is falling apart – driven by the Brexit crisis – is palpable. English nationalism is driving worsening relations between ourselves and our nearest neighbours.

Writing in the New York Times the Irish writer Megan Nolan reported:

“Last month, some video footage went viral in Ireland of a group of English men verbally abusing young women at a Dublin housing crisis protest. The men, it turned out, were part of a bachelor party who had come from Bristol and seemed to be dressed intentionally to look like a cartoon of landed gentry, in tweeds and the loudly colored trousers widely beloved by braying men of a certain kind.

It would have been a strange incident in any case, these English men who look like relics of the landlord class shouting at young Irish people rendered desperate because of skyrocketing rents, but it was to become more absurd still. After calling the women “scroungers” and demanding to know whether they had jobs, one of the men took the decapitated head of a pigeon out of his pocket and threw it at them.

That particular fact won’t make any more sense the longer you look at it, and yet it goes on being true. I watched the video footage over and over, looked at earnest news headlines that simply read, “The footage shows a man verbally abusing protesters, before the head of a decapitated pigeon is thrown,” but no explanation was forthcoming. Why did the man throw a pigeon head at the protesters? More important, why was he carrying one in his pocket, ready, seemingly, to be launched as soon as a worthy adversary appeared?”

So here’s how it ends, with Englishmen stupeified by self-conceit throwing a pigeon-head at people in Dublin.

England has gone Gazza-weird.

But where does all this leave our beleaguered Mundell and Davidson?

The duo have paired up with brave Bertie Armstrong and according to The Times: “… have threatened to lead a revolt against an extension to the Brexit transition period amid fears that it would scupper the party’s chances of victory in the 2021 Scottish parliament elections.”

The Kool Aid is back out of the cupboard.

This is a threat they can’t deliver on. They might be rightly scared of an extension or a Northern Irish fudge but bringing down the government would deliver either a Corbyn or a Conservative government without Theresa May.  Neither could survive either scenario.

As Mike Russell commented: “What is most striking is what Brexit has done to Scottish Conservatism – reduced it to a visceral, hard line, irreconcilable DUP style unionism with no policies and no plans for our country save shouting ‘no surrender’ at the SNP.”

Some people love that – but its not a platform for survival never mind governance, even standing next to the ridiculous Leonard Labour Party -because there’s a paradox at the heart of all of this. On the one hand the Union is held up as The Thing, the One Thing that must be defended and revered at all costs. Yet last week we learned that actually “losing Scotland”, and peace in Nothern Ireland is seen as a price worth paying for Brexit (esp for Leave voters and Conservative voters).

That would suggest that Anthony Barnett is wrong and Fintan O’Toole is right.

As O’Toole writes: “At every stage of the Brexit process we have seen complete indifference to the fate of Northern Ireland. The “precious union” stuff is a gaudy orange garment borrowed from the DUP to cover the most nakedly obvious attitude: this Irish border stuff concerns a faraway people of whom we know nothing and care less. It is not our concern but merely a distraction being used by the EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to deny us the perfect Brexit we deserve and demand.”

It’s frowned on to state it, but Brexit is an English crisis to an English problem, the rest of us are just friendly fire being burnt in the self-immolation of a country consumed by its own self-deception:

Brexit has always had a large dose of phoney populism – it is an elite project for extreme globalisation wrapped up as a popular revolt against globalisation. But it also has an equally large dose of phoney unionism – it is an English national rebellion wrapped in the union flag. Among its many contradictions, perhaps the one in which the gap between rhetoric and reality yawns most widely is this one.”

This isn’t really about Britain or the Union, this is about power and lack of it and confused bitter ego.



Comments (12)

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  1. Redgauntlet says:

    I’m sick and tired of so much analysis.

    I want to see some action.

    A cabal of fanatical lunatics have seized power of my country and are acting most grievously against its interests…

    Yet all we get are fine words, fancy footwork…

    Me, personally, I want to see mass action, mass civil disobedience in Scotland against a Brexit we never voted for.

    As for Mundell and co, and not to put too fine a point on it, fuck them…

  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Just about spot on. Problem is that our main stream media continue to pump out the nonsense that it is all the fault of the EU. “We just want a sensible deal where we can cherry pick the best bits, leave the rest and pull up the drawbridge against these nasty Johnnie Foreigners and they wont agree to it”.

    Little England, with the bandmaster Farage and led by the Mail, the Express, the BBC believe all this stuff. Unfortunately a significant number, here in Scotland, believe it too.

  3. MBC says:

    You write so brilliantly Mike. I don’t know how you can bear to see so clearly.

  4. davie Laing says:

    Your writer prefers O’Toole to Barnett. In his support he quotes the former but disallows the latter the same privilege . This seems to me a bit unballanced and in need of remedy.

    1. Hi David, we have quoted extracts from Anthony Barnett’s excellent book on Brexit over and over, see his most recent lecture here: – and you can read all his article here:

      But you’re right – I will add in a link to the piece to make it clearer.

  5. John McGowan says:

    Mike, a good article but I have to take you up on the statement that English nationalism is worsening relations between ourselves and our nearest neighbours. First, what exactly is meant by “ourselves”? Do you mean to implying that there is a homogenous entity here in the U.K. which can be identified as “ourselves”? Are British workers and their exploiters one and the same? Are the poor and marginalised in the same category as the super-rich elite ? What kind of supra-historical abstraction can this entity of “ourselves” be? Like all nationalists you elevate the idea of the nation above all other concrete social and economic considerations and posit an identity of interests between the possessing class and those it exploits. You don’t need to be a Marxist to have some notion of what I mean. Second, who are our “nearest neighbours”? The same points apply here. Your sentimental attachment to the EU makes you view the capitalist states that make up the EU through the same nationalist prism and you present them as the same homogenous mass as the UK. What a gross error, but one which lies at the heart of bourgeois nationalism. But even if I were to take you up on your own terms, you have to be pretty blind in one eye if you can see the poison of English nationalism but ignore the even more rabid nationalism stalking the mainland. Or are you going to suggest that Britain has a bigger problem with right wing xenophobia than Germany? AfD anyone? Or Italy? Or Austria? Or Poland? Or Hungary? Shall I continue? It’s all very laudable to be in favour of the unity of the European peoples but it is dangerous to equate this with attachment to the institution of the EU. After all, the EU represents the interests of the business elite, it has monetarist economic theory built into its very foundation document, the Treaty of Maastricht, it has inflicted austerity across the Eurozone and under Merkel’s brutal economic leadership has squeezed Greece until the pips squeaked. Is that the institution we are all to cry in our beer over?

    1. Hi John – I dont consider myself a nationalist, Im a republican and part of a democracy movement. Nor do I have a sentimental attachment to the EU.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Sorry for the lack of clarity in my writing.

      You are quite right – there is no homogenous entity of ‘ourselves’- and workers and other people have common identity and cause across national boundaries, absolutely.

      As for the rabid nationalism across Europe we have and will continue to monitor and report on this. This particular article was about the relationship between English nationalism, Ireland and Brexit.

      1. Mungo Armstrong says:

        You’re a republican? Is a republican not someone who believes in a state without a monarchy? If you’re not also a Nationalist, where does you’re republic operate?

        1. Hi Mungo – yes I believe in a Scottish Republic. What bit confuses you?

  6. Richard Easson says:

    The Uk to me is The United Kingdom of Great Britain, formed in 1707, i.e. The Union. Northern Ireland was added to the name after partition hence the description on our passports “The United Kingdom of Great Britain (i.e. the Union of 1707) and Northern Ireland”. Wales does not seem to get a mention. what is on our passport is the official and legal title . What was on the referendum to leave worded by The Electoral Commision was not the legal and official title , it merely said the UK. Some people seem to think this is fine but I do not otherwise our passports would just read The United Kingdom of Great Britain, but they do not. Splitting hairs? I do not think so, Northern Ireland was not even included on the Referendum Ballot Paper.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      There are only two ‘Kingdoms’ in the ‘United Kingdom’. That is why if Scotland dissolves/ends the ‘union’ the ‘UK’ ceases to exist. A majority of Scotland’s MP’s could do it now, if they had the bottle. A majority of England’s MP’s wouldn’t hesitate if they were minded so.

      1. Richard Easson says:

        That was my point ,that the UK of GB is Scotland and England with NI tacked on later seperately in the title.
        I still have a photo of my polling slip and it only refers to the UK which is not the legal title (there was an Act of Parliament in about 1923) of The United Kingdom of Great Britain (Scotland and England) and Northern Ireland, as per passport.

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