2007 - 2021

Nebulous Britain

Two short video clips summed up the weird world we inhabit, the swirling mess of lies and political failure that seem to engulf us.

The first was the cinematic glory of a film-maker being ushered out of a building in Brussels where Theresa May harangued Jean-Claude Juncker for calling her nebulous was the star moment of the week. Apart from the thought that this was an extremely generous, even kind description of her, you couldn’t help think that it is Britain itself that is nebulous. It is not so much breaking apart in some kind of distinct defined rupture, as just drifting apart, becoming unidentifiable, as if its individual parts just became irrelevant, unusable, incoherent.

Scotland won’t leave Britain. Britain will just drift away. Brexit means dispersal.

adjective: nebulous
in the form of a cloud or haze; hazy.
“a giant nebulous glow”
indistinct, indefinite, unclear, vague, hazy, cloudy, fuzzy, misty, lacking definition, blurred, blurry, out of focus, foggy, faint, shadowy, dim, obscure, shapeless, formless, unformed, amorphous;
“the figure was still nebulous—she couldn’t quite see it”

(of a concept) vague or ill-defined.
“nebulous concepts like quality of life”
vague, ill-defined, unclear, hazy, uncertain, indefinite, indeterminate, imprecise, unformed, muddled, confused, ambiguous, inchoate, opaque, muddy
“his nebulous ideas about salvation”

2018 was the year everyone realised Britain was broken.

Many of us had known this for some time but this was the year that it became a generally acknowledged and widely understood fact. This is not just in a constitutional sense as nationalists and democrats might understand it, but socially, politically, economically, culturally, psychologically.

Many of us had understood for a long time that the idea of a ‘partnership of equals’ was a mockery, but the process of interacting with England’s collective nervous breakdown (also referred to as Brexit) has confirmed this.

Brexit has accelerated the process, but Brexit wouldn’t and couldn’t have happened if Britain wasn’t already irreparably broken. Broken by years of austerity, broken by the stupidity of institutionalised hierarchy, broken by disfiguring inequality, broken by inter-generational contempt, broken by a crisis of housing that has been the source of great profiteeering, broken by a form of disaster capitalism laid upon a culture of casual racism and a superiority complex that has festered for years on the pages of our tabloids and now in their online equivalents.

Culturally Britain is a parody of itself filled with endless nostalgia and reflux films and tv from Mary Poppins to Bake Off. But whilst the Prime Minister’s Hostile Environment and the undercurrent of racism that flows with all of the Brexit rhetoric harks to a 1950s and echoes with a silent Make Britain White Again tune, it is much further back that we appear to be heading.

The divisions between the deserving and the undeserving poor, as decided by TV executives, and the normalisation of Foodbanks as a permanent part of the social landscape point us back to the Victorian era.

Don’t believe me, believe Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that levels of child poverty were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”, even though the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy.

Alston reported that an estimated 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7 percentage points between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the postwar social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

In an excoriating 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year, the eminent human rights lawyer said that in the UK “poverty is a political choice”.

Alston said the government was in a state of denial and there was a “striking disconnect” between what ministers said and the testimonies he heard from ordinary people.

He stated: “Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the government’s benefits policy, ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”

After Brexit there will still be poverty. In fact there will be a great deal more. The difference is we won’t be able to blame it on the Romanians, the Bulgarians or any other foreigners from Farage’s infamous poster.

This state of advanced decay, of living in a country of broken dreams, ruled by not just a selfish elite but a selfish elite supported by a baying mob, is a palpable sideshow to contemporary Britain.

But Alston’s comment about the devolved authorities should not be ignored. Britain’s economic decline – accelerated by and a motor to Brexit – has deeper consequences.

In 2014, one of the strongest motivators to older voters was a sense of continuity and security. This was a reasonable and understandable emotion for a generation of people who had experienced the war, and the subsequent post-war social rebuilding though the NHS and a sense of shared solidarity. Defeating Nazism – and surviving – were feats of social and cultural cohesion that a younger generation couldn’t conceive of. Britain as something to be proud of, is, for most people under 50 in Scotland just inconceivable.

But aside from a historical shared experience, Britain in 2014 was presented not just as rock of economic security but a place that was internationally held in high regard. ‘What currency are you going to be use?’ and ‘Are you going to have embassies?’ were used not just as logistical challenges by Unionists, but as messages of contempt. Poor silly little parochial Scotland with its anti-English racists was put next to massive, stable, solid Britain with its multiculturalism and its culture of openness and generosity.

It goes without saying that any attempts to resurrect the pillars of the Better Together campaign along these lines in any future Scottish referendum will be met with derision.

I said that there were two short films that summed up the strange state of Britain today. The second was a broadcast for Sky News by Faisal Islam, with his colleague Kay Burley. As he spoke from outside Westminster you could hear him being drowned out by Brexit supporters in Yellow- Jackets chanting: “You’re not British any more, you’re not British any more” along with abuse that he was a rapist.

Brexit Britain, driven by this putrid English nationalism isn’t just nebulous it’s toxically racist too.

Comments (19)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    One of the best commentaries of Brexit UK. Where’s that starting pistol?

  2. Jean Martin says:

    Very good but also frightening. I live in Derry on the Derry/Donegal border and I’m in real fear of what is going to happen here, especially if there is a hard Brexit. I haven’t been this frightened since the early70’s! I have three brothers who live on the east coast of theUS, they have their own fears for the near future over there. The ultra right and undisguised bigotry and hate are becoming part of everyday life, everywhere, or so it seems.

    It’s Christmas Eve so I’m going to open a bottle of pink gin and drown my sorrows and try to forget that the new year might bring. I’m off to my son’s home for dinner tomorrow where anything ‘brexit’ is banned from the conversations! Proper order too!

    1. Dougie Blackwood says:

      We have racism and bigotry in Scotland but nowhere near as bad as is endemic in parts of England and Northern Ireland.

      We complain about the Rangers, Celtic divide but, in truth, it’s really only a minority, most take the rivalry in good part.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Arguably the main racism issue in Scotland is primarily internalised racism. However IR is by no means less damaging to a society. IR may take many forms. For example, it results in far fewer Scots being invited to take senior positions within Scotland’s social institutions. It diminishes and indeed pours scorn on the Scots language (and hence culture). It feeds the Scottish cultural cringe and diminishes self-confidence. And it results in half the population rejecting being ‘Scottish’ in any meaningful sense (i.e. blocking the offer of Scottish citizenship and Scottish nationality) and refusing Scottish self-government.

  3. Fay Kennedy says:

    It’s a bleak picture. Not so different in Australia where there is more division than what has always been a racist country in denial along with a greedy political class that destroy everything that’s beneficial for the people. Nebulous doesn’t come near what may come.

  4. Christopher White says:

    1. Have to admit that the whole Brexit fiasco has gone too far. It’s like wading through raw sewage.
    2. In 1970, as a 17 year old, one of my ‘A’ level Economics questions was …. SHOULD BRITAIN JOIN THE COMMON MARKET ? GIVE YOUR REASONS FOR AND AGAINST.
    Britain had years to prepare for that particular vote. The 2016 vote was a rush job forced on us by a desperate David Cameron, the campaign was ill informed and largely based on lies and panic mongering, Theresa May is scapegoat turned dictator.
    3. Yes, Scotland must be independent.
    4. And, Mike, please answer my bloody emails.
    5. Oh, and happy Xmas.

  5. Gashty McGonnard says:

    Zoologists claim that the stress response is like evolution in reverse. If you attack a social mammal, it first seeks support and reassurance from its group. If the attacked animal is socially isolated too, blood drains from the brain cortex – it will fight with reptilian rage or flee like a panicked amphibian. When attacked, isolated, and also overwhelmed, it freezes and besoils itself, using the same neural circuits that make hagfish and lampreys emit defensive, nebulous filth.

    I know people are more than their biology, but I can’t help seeing a similar stress-based trajectory in current politics and culture. There’s no way onwards and upwards, so we flail about for a secure branch of the past to grab on the way down. This is clear among the most privileged: the structures they built can’t support them now. Jordan Peterson often praises the 1890s, a time when the paternal voice of white, protestant academia was sacrosanct. Any pre-suffrage epoch would suit Theresa May, when a lady could be led by the hand and enjoy the stupefying endorphin buzz of social humiliation, without having to be PM. Liam Fox thinks it’s 1850. Jacob Rees-Mogg: 1740: obvs. Jezza and John McD think they can use the tactics of a time in their youth when capital indulged organised labour to lessen the risk of Soviet-backed revolution. (Trump’s an exception to all of this – he’s an ahistorical goldfish with Nucky Johnson’s playbook)

    As for the English poor, their doubly screwed. They’re impoverished by the system, but the system’s apparatus is central to their communal identity. What’s left of English self-consciousness without the monarchy, the imperial past, and the industrial past of flat caps doffed to bowlers and top hats? Not enough to ensure solidarity, anyway. Direct defensive aggression against the elites is taboo. So the choice is either to create cohesion and relief by transferring the aggression – against immigrants, outsiders, scroungers – or to go full reptile and bring back Cromwell and the 1640s. The elites know this too, which is why they look so bloodless as they aim the mob at the aliens. It’s their final gambit. If this doesn’t work, they’ll have to bring back social justice and lose face at Davos, just to survive. If it works too well, it’ll end like Downfall, with the establishment shitting like lampreys in a bunker, with their country destroyed.

    England: bonne chance. Scotland: let’s build a wall. And a Happy Chrimbo to everyone.

    1. Colm B says:

      Not a wall, a beacon. Independent Scotland built on foundations of equality and radical democracy could be an inspiration to English people, exposing the imperial delusions and racist diversions of their ruling class.

      1. Gashty McGonnard says:

        True. I was actually picturing a low and metaphorical ‘welcome wall’ to demarcate the beacon zone 😉

  6. Swiss Toni says:

    So it is “a generally acknowledged and widely understood fact” that “Britain is broken” ?

    Can I assume then that you will be relocating to some utopian state such as Venezuela, Greece, North Korea or Zimbabwe?

    I would more than happy to contribute to your relocation expenses.

    1. Jean Martin says:

      You may not like what is being said but that is the prevailing opinion, if you read outside the tabloids version of Britain these days. Britain is a laughingstock these days, on a par with trumps America. Read the New York Times and you will see how even the Americans use the two as equally broken. The Europeans just shake their collective heads in utter disbelief at the antics of the Brits.

      It may not be very comfortable for you to hear this Swiss Toni but it is a fact none the less. I suggest you move outside your comfort zone and wake up.

      1. Swiss Toni says:

        I rarely read the tabloids Jean.

        So “Britain is a laughing stock” with “undisguised bigotry and hate”.

        Why has there been net migration to the UK of 273,000 if it is such an awful place?

    2. Brilliant Tony – send used notes. Greece is nice this time of year.

      1. Swiss Toni says:


        You don’t really think that Scotland is beautiful- you just have a bigoted hatred of the UK.

        Post up your ticket ofwhich proves that you are leaving the UK for Greece or any other socialist utopia and I will reimburse the cost of your flight.

        I really can’t understand why you choose to remain in the British state when you clearly hate it. Although some people make a conscious choice to be unhappy and you could well be one of them.

        1. I’m not leaving Scotland no Swiss Toni – it was a joke.

          You say “I really can’t understand why you choose to remain in the British state when you clearly hate it”. I do, many many elements of it, you are quite correct. But it will be over soon.

          1. Swiss Toni says:

            Are you related to Lennie Small from “Of Mice And Men” ?

            He displayed a naive belief that he could soon escape from the economic reality of having to work as a ranchhand by living off the fat of the land and tending to rabbits.

            Spoiler Alert – Lennie’s story did not have a happy ending which is par for the course for countries which pursue a utopian vision of a “fairer society”.

  7. Lorna Campbell says:

    “…2018 was the year everyone realised Britain was broken…”

    Well, yes, indeed, but never before have so many been kept in a state of delusion by so few. The British/English Nationalists up here differ little from the English/British Nationalists down there, and the 2014 NO vote, followed swiftly by the bulk of that NO vote also voting Leave (the reason why Brexit has not scared the bejesus out of them) has left us with a dilemma not even the SNP leadership or the wider independence movement’s leadership know how to manage, except to insist that we have to humour them on both sides of the Tweed because, up here, we are told that we will need them to change their colours to vote YES in a second referendum, and, down there, we know, if we are too bolshy, they’ll institute Perfidious Albion, as if they are not doing so already. As a strategy, it sucks, and will see the SNP lose support, not just voters staying at home because independence is off the agenda, but long-term, loyal support that has been to hell and back with the party.

    It should have been foreseen that many rUK residents in Scotland would never support independence, for the very simple reason that they are colonial in outlook and see Scotland as an inferior part of a Greater England. Yes, I know, we are prohibited from telling the truth. These elements (around three-quarters of the group) will never vote for independence, and many of them actually hold very similar views to those Brexiteers south of the border. I realized that well before the first indyref, but I was caught up in the excitement of the event in 2014, and hoped against hope that this group would see that their future lay in an independent Scotland, even though I had been talking to many who were hostile to the very idea. Native Scots who were British Nationalists appeared to have a kind of dormant Stockholm Syndrome that revitalized at any mention of independence. They reminded me then, and still do, of the Vichy French collaborators who did not think beyond the war years.

    Brexit is not just the catalyst for the break-up of the UK, it is an imposition too far in a long line of impositions that have kept Scotland in a condition of stasis, trapped in political aspic. Many of us are very angry that kow-towing to those elements within Scotland that quite openly have no desire for her betterment appears to be the order of the day and the loyalty shown to both the SNP and to the wider political movement is deliberately placed on a lower scale. The truth is that we do not need to do this because there are other, democratic and legitimate ways of gaining independence, but these ways demand courage, ingenuity and chutzpah (smeddum, in Scots). They involve challenging Westminster’s hegemony, a hegemony backed by the UKSC in its rulings, but a hegemony no one else has ever agreed to because, at its most basic level, it is England’s hegemony we are talking about. Scotland and the Scots are going nowhere if we Brexit with rUK. Again the reasons are very evident: the post-Brexit Tory Nirvana that has been promised cannot exist, but what can exist are the final death throes of a state that has outlived its raison d’être, whereby, in order to secure, so its ruling elites believe, its future as an independent state that matters in the world order, it must throw off any semblance of being a social-democratic one and rid itself of anything that might hinder its ‘race to the bottom’ and its future as a right-wing, neoliberal, free market economy with minimal welfare obligations and state control – except in the military and defence stakes. No form of Brexit can possibly be good for Scotland, given our subservience to England’s economy, and the Tory One Nation State will be utterly toxic. That has been evident for the past two + years. So, what are we waiting for?

    1. Jean Martin says:

      Well said.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      An excellent synopsis, Lorna. Mr. Blackford and his colleagues still seem unsure of their sovereign powers in regard to Scotland and should therefore be seeking a ruling from a Scottish court as to the legality of a majority of Scotland’s MP’s unilaterally withdrawing Scotland from the UK ‘union’ charade in the same way it was constituted under the Treaty of Union.

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