The Magical Kingdom
As the Prime Minister tours her United Kingdom the level of estrangement, disaffection and political bad feeling is unparalleled. In banning a newspaper they didn’t like, the No 10’s press team is operating like a Sarah Huckabee Sanders tribute act. It provoked statements of solidarity from journalists including Paul Mason, Paul Hutcheon, David Leask, and Stephen Daisley, and MPS including the LibDems Christine Jardine who compared it to both Donald Trump revoking the White House press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta, and Alex Salmond’s decision to ban journalists from The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Daily Express from his resignation press conference after the 2014 referendum on independence.
The media ban even provoked this exchange on Sky News:
You know Theresa May has done something pretty shady when these two agree on something! | #Scotref #Indyref2 #Brexit #Scotland @ScotNational | Also @Skynews – The national is a pro-independence supporting newspaper, not just SNP! pic.twitter.com/0Bzb8A5ukL
— Martin J Keatings (@MJKIndependent) November 29, 2018
Two things are worth noting. The first is the idea that The National reporters were going to “protest” is both laughable and insulting to the professionalism of the National team and shows the chasm in understanding between some sectors of Scottish and English political journalism, and second the idea that this story will be “all over” the Scottish media shows a very feeble understanding of the media landscape in Scotland. But that’s no surprise.
From Troon to Bridge of Weir
What the action does tell us is that certain areas of our supposed United Kingdom are considered so other, so alien, that normal principles of democracy and media are suspended. This in a state where Scottish Government modelling shows even a free trade agreement will mean by 2030, Scottish GDP £1,600 less per head compared with EU membership. This in a state where 62% of people voted against cultural exclusion and economic breakdown. This in a state where at least half the population want to exercise their right to self-determination.
What the press ban tells us is more than the No 10 Press Office being “feart” or “incompetent”, it tells us a deeper story about British politics and the profoundly damaging impact of the nationalist fervour that has created the Brexit crisis, a crisis which is partly the culmination of a deep and long-running crisis of English identity and partly the impact of forces wanting to create a different model of economic policy, for whom even the captured and hollowed-out British system was inadequate for their extractive aims.
Way back in 2012 Theresa May (then Home Secretary peddling hate vans around London) visited Troon and produced a typically sclerotic speech mouthing nonsense. She started off with the observation that: “It’s a real privilege to be here in Troon today. What a beautiful town it is. So typically Scottish: the stunning coast line, friendly people and of course the famous golf course.”
She continued: “I want Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom. Because ladies and gentleman, I believe in the Union. A shared past. Centuries of being together. The Union, for all its history of ups and downs, is to be cherished. I have no doubt that Scotland could survive outside the United Kingdom. But together we are stronger. Stronger on the world stage. Stronger in protecting our sovereignty in Europe.”
The idea of the union as a sort of sacred, quasi-mystical thing to be “cherished” despite its “ups and downs” isn’t something your hear much about these days. It’s almost quaint to recall the framing used in the past.
It’s a vision of unity and our place in Europe that is darkly comic know as we stand on the brink of economic uncertainty and potential catastrophe wrought by English nationalism and xenophobia and the power plays within the Conservative party of a handful of public schoolboys.
That vision of Britain as an outward-looking entity through which we stepped into the world in a strengthened state is completely shattered by the Brexit phenomenon and it’s a political argument that can’t be re-invented or restored.
So too is the notion of equal partners with which May ended her speech in 2012:
“I’m pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you about a future in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side-by-side as equal partners. Different and proud to be so.”
That fantasy from the Magical Kingdom is gone now.