English Nationalism is the Elephant in the Room

“Brexit is about England. It’s an English nationalist movie,” claimed Fintan O’Toole in his part-outsider diagnosis of current constitutional disorders.

At the Edinburgh Book Festival the Irish journalist and author of ‘Heroic Failure: Brexit and Politics of Pain’ spoke of English nationalism as the “undoubted emotional driver” behind Brexit. It’s a now familiar story. Post-imperial fantasy. Europhobic wartime hangovers. Delusions of grandeur. Self-imposed victim status. O’Toole listed the Tory high heidyins who’ve compared the EU to Hitler, Stalin, and various forms of tyranny. Wild. Yet are we, in Scotland and Ireland, ready for the consequences?

For O’Toole nationalism is a nightmare from which Ireland was just trying to awake. He spoke of slow-burn civic-cooperation under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), North and South, that was developing shared-spaces beyond religious and national divides. An emergent English nationalism – discarding its GFA obligations – threatens this, reigniting a ‘them and us’ culture over Brexit and the border.

It’s something that made him angry – the nonchalance of Tory politicians over the partition that has been a source of so much acrimony and bloodshed. Brexit is possibly just the first consequence of an ascendent English nationalism.

“Something is dying with Brexit,” he says. For Leave voters in England there is no appetite to ‘pool and share’ resources with Scotland or Northern Ireland. “Evidence shows Leave voters in England don’t care about the Union. It’s over as far as they’re concerned.”

What now, then, for those in Scotland and Ireland that wished to muddle-along, maintaining or tweaking the current settlement, avoiding any rupture with the UK state? Oblivious to the rise of Ukip. Shocked by Brexit. Many were stuck in a liberal, cool Britannia malaise. Some think another EU referendum would quell English nationalism – when in fact it would embolden it further.

Independence and a United Ireland? “Lord make me chaste—but not yet,” O’Toole appraised his own tentative outlook.

For O’Toole Ireland was only just beginning to feel comfortable with the various and often conflicting identities and traditions across its 32 counties. Constitutional change without cross-community consent could prove just as divisive as the Brexit project Ireland would be trying to escape from.

But the harsh reality – that rightly angers O’Toole and should worry us all – is there is no avoiding an escalation of chaos and friction in the years ahead. The reactionary forces galvanised by Brexit – who have adherents in Downing Street and the White House – will not dissipate irrespective of constitutional structures. They are set on a collision course with the so-called Celtic Fringe.

Those of us, like myself, who still hope for a Czech-Slovak style ‘Velvet Divorce’ will have to keep up to speed with the direction of English nationalism. It’s now firmly driving the Union – and will similarly be a potent force in setting the terms of any future break-up.

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  1. Lorna Campbell says:

    “…Those of us, like myself, who still hope for a Czech-Slovak style ‘Velvet Divorce’ will have to keep up to speed with the direction of English nationalism. It’s now firmly driving the Union – and will similarly be a potent force in setting the terms of any future break-up…”

    It always drove the Union. It was, largely, the reason for the Union. It had driven an aggressive, potential merger between England and Scotland for almost a thousand years. It drove Irish nationalism and the desire for independence. It drove Welsh opposition to its takeover in Edward I’s time, and has revived that opposition in Wales. It is rarely benign and always aggressive, and reeks of superiority and entitlement. I said that I would not post again, but I hope you will allow this one because that was the very point I was making in my last post when a certain person decided that I was being anti English for saying so. Now that Finton O’Toole says it, it cannot be anti English? Such is the quite ridiculous double speak that passes for debate in Scotland where even the most rampant English ethnic nationalists must never be challenged. I, too, hoped for a ‘Velvet Divorce’, but that became impossible long since. I now hope for a relatively comfortable co-existence, post independence, on these Isles that we share. Will that, too, be blighted by aggressive English nationalism?

    1. Chisa says:

      Westminster will cling on to every sinew of control it can muster in its death throes as the imperial capital. Extracting Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be velvet in any manner whatsoever , and every statistic and account will be manipulated to preserve the status quo. As an Anglo Scot, born and raised in England , it goes without saying that most of my compatriots regard Scotland as an appendage, to be eulogised when convenient but in reality subordinate to the desires and aspirations of the Home Counties. The proof is in the complete exclusion of a Scottish voice in the Brexit negotiations, proving with no shred of doubt that Scottish opinion counts for nothing in the administration of the UK. It will ever be thus and the only true and sensible path for Scotland and it sense of self worth is self determination as a proud and sovereign nation.

      1. Lorna Campbell says:

        I really believe, Chisa, that the Scots have never understood the English in any way. They are eternal optimists as far as that country is concerned, always thinking that, maybe, perhaps, one day soon, they’ll start treating us like equals. They never will until we start thinking of ourselves as equals, and, as long as we are willing to just concede everything and go along with them, nothing will change – and I include the SNP hierarchy in that. If we all want to live together amicably on these Isles, we need to start laying down some ground rules about what we all expect from either the Union or independence – and it ain’t being eternally under the heel of our big neighbour or, through them, under the neoliberal yoke of America.

    2. alasdair galloway says:

      Lorna, if you examine the Velvet Divorce, its importance for us was not that just that it was seen through with little trouble. The significance for us is that the politicians in Czech Republic and Slovakia came to the conclusion that they could not make the country (Czechoslovakia) work any more. There had been issues between the two parts of the country for a good many years – the Czechs thought the Slovaks lazy and cossetted, running a deficit, while the Slovaks thought the Czechs too big for their boots (ringing any bells?), but among the populace there was no real demand for a split – a poll suggested this stood at around 38% in Czechoslovakia as a whole. But both had elected their own nationalist politicians (bells ringing now). The Czechs demands still closer union, while the Slovaks threatened to declare independence, and the two sides agreed to go their separate ways.
      Now all of that said there are also differences – different languages, separate media – but, particularly in the context of Brexit which at least parts of England are set on and Scotland doesn’t want, the election of Johnson and the growth of English nationalism as Michael argues are influential and remind me at least of the division of Czechoslovakia. When visions of the future become dramatically different it’s hard to make things stick together

      1. Lorna Campbell says:

        First of all, might I correct my misspelling of Fintan O’Toole’s name – a mistake? Yes, indeed, Mr Galloway, I know the history of the Velvet Divorce and I commend the Czech-Slovak politicians’ pragmatism and realism in the face of insurmountable problems. I have always touted the resiling of the Treaty of Union as the least contentious, most democratic and most legal way of ending what has become an intolerable situation in the UK. That would avoid another equally contentious and fractious second indyref, which I just do not believe most independistas realize, we could lose again. I believe that resiling the Treaty, by an action brought in the International Court of Justice, by our politicians, would be, by far, the best way forward. As we have seen from Brexit, democracy does not take into account the foolish, the venal and the downright wicked, and I feel that the SG shot itself in the foot when it refused to challenge that NO vote for fear of upsetting some not very nice people whose sense of entitlement is quite appallingly naked in its ambition. People are entitled to use their vote and use it how they decide, but they do not have any right whatsoever to prevent challenge to that vote or to encase it in political cement forever and a day.

        I just no longer believe that it is possible for us in Scotland and the UK to follow the Velvet Divorce route now because of the animosity and lack of political will to do so. I think that our own politicians in the independence parties might be quite willing, but I also think that the opposition parties in Scotland, backed to the hilt by the British Nationalist parties at Westminster would not countenance it. I, personally, would like to see a peaceful, amicable transition to independence now, taking all of our people with us, whatever their origins. That has always been my stance, but I am not a stupid person, and I fully realize that there are those whose agenda precludes any such amicable parting of the ways. Because I am very cognizant of the threat from English nationalism, and choose to articulate it, does not make me either a racist or anti English in any shape or form. Equally, I am very aware of the Scots’ participation in slavery and I abhor it and say so. I also understand the potential for any nationalism to become a ravening beast, and I abhor that, too. It is those who refuse to see the potential for evil in their own philosophy, and those who refuse to point out the potential for evil inherent in that philosophy, who are culpable by commission, in the first instance, and by omission, in the second.

  2. MBC says:

    I don’t agree that English nationalism drove the Union. England pursued aggressively expansionist policies in the Middle Ages under the Plantagenet kings. Yes. That certainly was imperialism and chauvinism. Likewise the Tudor and Cromwellian conquests of Ireland.

    But by 1700 the English were hostile to a Union with Scotland. What drove the Union then was not actually ‘the English’ but rather the Crown. Peace and neutrality had been secured by the dual monarchy in 1603. Scotland could be safely ignored. After the union of the crowns the English had no wish for the Scots to have any share in their commonwealth but the Crown needed to secure the Hanoverian succession in Scotland as it feared the return of the exiled and deposed Stewarts after Queen Anne died as she had no heirs. That was the reason for the Union of 1707.

    English nationalism was very much alive in 1707. But it was not minded towards a union with Scotland, quite the opposite. It wanted to keep Scots out of its colonial markets and ideally out of England altogether.

    1. MBC says:

      What I mean is that there are two different and opposing forces here. English nationalism and English imperialism. One belongs to the common people and the other to the ruling elite. English nationalism is inward looking, narrow, chauvinistic and xenophobic. It wants to keep foreigners out and keep England for the English. It is the reaction of the common people. English imperialism is (obviously) outward looking and expansionist, but you can’t expand without having some kind of dealings with Johnny Foreigner. Those who follow Brexit are nationalists but those who are driving Brexit are globalists. There is an inherent contradiction.

      1. Lorna Campbell says:

        The one feeds off the other, MBC, in that English nationalism is the food of imperialism. As always, the elite (the imperialistists who are also English nationalists) use the nationalism of the common people to achieve their own ends, and their own ends are to use and exploit others weaker than themselves, for their own gain and enrichment and for the perpetuation of their stratum of society.

    2. Kenny Smith says:

      I’m not sure you can say that with 100% certainty. Yes there was English nobles needing convinced a union was in their interest but even from the earliest of days of both kingdoms birth from Athelstan on England has tried to claim over lordship of Scotland and pretty much since then there has been snakes on this side willing do English bidding. They saw the opportunity to finally subsume Scotland once and for all. The fact they had the Royal army ready at the border gives the indication that if it was a no vote in Holyrood Scotland was to pacified. Within weeks of the union taxes rocketed and the Scottish treasury emptied so they knew what they were up to.

    3. Alasdair Galloway says:

      First I think you underestimate the importance of the succession to the elite in London. Scotland was passing legislation which – given the fact the chances of Queen Anne producing a live heir were about nil – might lead to them inviting another foreign prince, other than a Hanovarian to be King in Scotland. Who could say what the implications of that might be?
      Just as borders are important in Brexit, they were important in the run up to 1707 as well, because of the possibility that the French could use Scotland as a route into Northern England. Much better to have them facing you across the Channel at Dover!
      So, while you are absolutely right that the monarchy was pushing for Union – Queen Anne, according to Tom Devine, was wont to ask about “progress toward our Union” – the first mistake you make is to underestimate the concern at Whitehall about there not being a common successor to Queen Anne – who would of course be chosen there. You also totally ignore Scotland’s strategic significance, which is something else that London has tried to do , though not completely successfully. Scotland’s strategic importance is not only about Faslane, but about control of the North Atlantic gap which has Iceland at one side and Scotland at the other.

      1. Lorna Campbell says:

        Precisely, Mr Galloway, which is also why I have always said that the reasons for the Union remain the same now as they were in 1707, and as Edward I invaded us for all those centuries ago.

    4. Lorna Campbell says:

      Both the Scots and English common people were opposed to Union, and I agree, MBC, that it was driven by the Crown, and its adherents. That is why I have always said that Queen Anne wanted the Union, but she did not envisage – and all the evidence supports that view – that it should be other than a Union of partners, maybe one partner, us, a bit junior to the other. Yes, it would always have been an incorporating Union, finally bringing the parliament and the Crown together in one political system, but I do not believe, on the evidence, that it was ever intended to be an English takeover because it was – and again, there is a wealth of evidence to show this, Crawford and Boyle notwithstanding – a Treaty under international law and rules. What happened after 1707 was driven by English nationalism and imperialism at one and the same time, and actually fulfilled, up to a large degree, the Britain envisaged by Edward I. It was always in the ruling elite’s interest to have Scotland under control, just as it is today, just as Brexit will be under the elite’s control, as the common people are going to discover. The answer lies in our own hands, but, for reasons unfathomable, we must do everything the hard way. That should be the Scottish motto for everything. English nationalism both drove and has continued to drive, the Union, and we acceded in our own subservience and continue to do so in the face of a Treaty that is our ‘open sesame’.

      1. MBC says:

        An incorporating union is a take over! The clue is in the word ‘incorporate’. Federal unions were known about – the Swiss cantons and the Dutch republic – but that model was rejected by Anne’s negotiating team, meeting separately in the Cockpit in London whilst her Scots commissioners met in Edinburgh. Defoe argued that federations rarely made for happy unions as they did little to equalise different economic conditions, creating instability. An incorporating union would be a single commonwealth. A spurious argument! After the passage of 300 years of incorporating union, how did that one work out?

        Hard to discern if Anne had a view different from her negotiating team and ministers on the matter of Scotland and an incorporating union, the policy which her ministers pushed – but I am not aware of any particular love or interest she had for Scotland that would suggest she was pushing for a better deal for Scotland. She was raised an Englishwoman, never visited Scotland or knew the country, was Tory and Episcopalian. Scotland was Whig and Presbyterian, (the bit that was in power) whilst the bit that was not in power, was Jacobite and Catholic and in the arms of France. Both parties were abhorrent to Anne’s natural sympathies. The last thing Anne or any of her ministers would want would be a Scotland sufficiently powerful either as a voting block in an incorporating union or as a federal block resident elsewhere able to pursue semi-independence, and the Jacobite threat only heightened that.

        I would be interested to know of the copious evidence you refer to that suggests Anne did not want an incorporating union. Scotland’s population was then about 20% that of the UK and her landmass, 30%. This might suggest a 25% weighting in terms of political influence in a United Kingdom – a sizeable influence, if forming a united front. But in those days political representation was based on the land tax, the principle tax in both countries, and as Scotland was the weaker economy, even pro rata, and a low tax regime, political representation was calculated on the estimated revenue based on the land tax, so we got 45 MPs in the Commons and 30 lords in the upper house. This meant that our political weight was well below the 25% that might have been the case if a fairer weight had been given to land mass and population. To be fair though, no census information was available until Rev Webster’s census of Scotland in the mid-18th century. (Official census returns of either part of the UK did not begin until later). But even without this data, it was very evident to contemporaries that 45 MPs in an incorporating union sitting in London completely marginalised any national influence that Scotland might ever exert within a United Kingdom. To all intents and purposes Scotland as a political force was annihilated by this arrangement and that was the whole end point that Anne’s ministers aimed at.

        This was totally clear to Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, one of the most passionate opponents of the Union, who famously stated after the conclusion of the treaty, ‘And so shall we dance round and round forever, in this trap of our own making’.

        1. Lorna Cambell says:

          “… but I am not aware of any particular love or interest she had for Scotland that would suggest she was pushing for a better deal for Scotland…”

          I did not say that. What I meant was that she intended the Treaty of Union to be an international treaty between two sovereign states. She invited several European and other ambassadors to her court to witness the conclusion of the negotiations, something that was done, and is still done when international agreements are being made. I would never accuse Anne or any of the Stuart dynasty of any sentimental feeling towards Scotland and, personally, I’d have sent the Bonnie Prince off at the beginning with a boot in his posterior. The Stuarts were a disaster for Scotland. An incorporating union is one where all aspects of the two states were incorporated, meaning that they were pooled and shared, not that it was an English takeover, which it certainly became. It was intended to be a partnership between two states, making them one, with one head of state, the monarch. Nowhere is it suggested that Scotland would be inferior or that England should ever deny Scotland a voice; indeed, the Treaty Articles lay out very clearly that that was not the intention of the Union. Had it been a takeover in legal terms – and these are the important ones, not the political and/or economic factors – it would not have been a Treaty. Even the eminent Dicey, father of English constitutional law, admitted that the Treaty was intended to preserve Scotland. You give no credence to Scotland’s viewpoint. I rather think that Fletcher of Saltoun knew the English very well, and that was the reason for his cynicism. I understand his feelings completely and share them, more so since 2014 and that massive rUK NO vote. The Scottish jurists who drafted the Treaty did their level best to protect us, as did our own Commissioners. You take the Crawford and Boyle Report stance: take the premise that Scotland was subsumed then make it fit the argument and the conclusion. C&B was blown out of the water by very eminent Scottish jurists.

  3. Welsh Sion says:

    59. (of 60.)

    Four men in a nightclub

    George, Dai, Jock and Mick/Mike were work colleagues at Yookay Ltd. and shared the same building. George and Dai tended to work close together (despite Dai not really enjoying such a set up), whilst Jock and Mick/Mike had a little more autonomy within their own offices. George tended to think of himself as being the most important member of their group – the Team Leader or the David Brent, if you like. Consequently, and in the nature of office politics at Yookay Ltd., he tried to control the work practices of Dai, Jock and Mick/Mike; a habit the other three had long grown tired of. Well, although I say the other three had long grown tired of
    George’s domineering persona, they had not however, as yet, taken the final step of breaking up their partnership with him.

    George then considered himself the leader of their section and tended to exert his influence even outside the offices of Yookay Ltd. Dai was of the type not to upset the apple cart and tended to keep moody silences; keeping his head down and getting on with his projects. Jock however was rather more vocal and would often raise his voice against George’s “unwarranted meddling.” Mick/Mike’s was a more special case. You see, he suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder. On some days, the Mick personality was dominant and, after having had a bitter row with George, he would seek reassurances from his half-brother, Paddy; an ex-employee of Yookay Ltd., but who was now working successfully for himself. At other times, the Mike personality would pledge undying loyalty to George and the set up at Yookay Ltd., and not a cross word would be exchanged between him and his colleague. In such a way, the colleagues of Yookay Ltd. rubbed along, and the company itself limped on from financial quarter to financial quarter.

    Now, one evening, the four colleagues had gone to the Europa nightclub together. What George had seen in going there in the first place was rather a mystery. You will have already have gathered that George was not very much a team player or a social animal. His attitude at the nightclub confirmed all this. The music was too loud. Or it was not to his taste. The lights were too bright. The guests were performing ‘obscene’ movements as they gyrated on the dance floor. The drinks from the bar were some imported, fancy stuff – not like the warm beer he preferred in the Farage Arms pub back home. And the cost of entry! Goodness gracious! It was so exorbitant – and that for facilities he didn’t like one bit: he was minded to ask for a personal rebate.

    It was then that George announced, “We’re going home.”

    Now, it’s one thing to say that you don’t like a party and that you’re leaving. But, don’t you think it was a bit presumptuous of George to actually say “we” and including Dai, Jock and Mick/Mike in the equation and without making sure with them first? That wasn’t George’s way though. At work, as we have seen, he was known for throwing his weight about and getting his own way. In a similar fashion, he thought he could bully his colleagues into his ways of thinking outside Yookay Ltd.’s offices, too.

    “We’re going home?” Jock retorted scornfully, emphasising the “we.” “And who do you think you are telling us that “we” are the ones going home from this great nightclub?”

    “I saw you flirting with that dark-haired girl over there in the corner,” said George. “Positively unseemly. Not the conduct we’d expect from an employee of Yookay Ltd.”

    “You mean Frances,” Jock replied. He grinned. “Frances was an ex of mine and we lost touch when I started working for Yookay Ltd. We were very close. We even had an alliance to be married. I was getting re-acquainted.” The grin disappeared and was replaced by a grimace. “Until your ham-fisted approach broke up our relationship,” Jock added bitterly.

    “Why you ungrateful little creep! I’ve given you more than enough support at Yookay Ltd.! What more could you ask for?” George was shouting.

    “What more could I ask for?” Jock repeated. “Why, you could let me make up my own decisions on projects at work. You could stop looking down on me and telling me what to do all the time. And you’re not telling me that just because this Europa nightclub is not doing the things you want, that we have to leave.” Jock’s resentments over the years were boiling over. “In fact, George, I’ve had enough of you and your bullying over the years – I’m leaving you!” he shouted.

    “He’s right, you know,” mumbled Dai. But people rarely listened to him on account of his soft voice and his lack of self-confidence. It would have taken much more of an effort on his part to sound off in the same way as Jock had done.

    “Shut it!” George roared at Dai, in typical Eastenders fashion. “You told me before you wanted to leave. You’re in this with me! You know your future lies under my stewardship at Yookay Ltd. Think how stupid Jock would be throwing in his lot with this bunch of strangers, and an ex he hasn’t spoken to in years. He wouldn’t last a year with any of them – and away from us at Yookay Ltd.”

    Dai said nothing and looked down at his shoes.

    “You’re wrong, George,” Mick said softly. “My half-brother, Paddy has been coming to this Europa nightclub now for years. And he’s enjoyed the internationalism of it immensely. No more ructions with you at Yookay Ltd. He’s now free to do his own thing and make his own friends. He has a place in the world – he knows it and his friends know it. He’s a happy man. And I want to join him in that happiness.”

    “Another traitor!” George bawled. “Such ingratitude! To be honest with you, when you were in your Mike phases, I tended to over-indulge you. And this is how you repay me! Well, good riddance! I can do without the lot of you! I’m going home – and to hell with this poxy nightclub. I never wanted to come here in the first place. Come on, Dai!”

    “See you,” chorused Jock and Mick, grinning at George.

    “We should have left you and Yookay Ltd. long ago. We’re going to stay and enjoy the party atmosphere here at the Europa,” Jock added defiantly. “Too bad you can’t stay!”

    George stormed out, muttering threats against Jock and Mick under his breath. Dai stood on the threshold, a confused look on his face. He was less sure of where his destiny lay.

    Parables for the New Politics

  4. Graham Ennis says:

    Agreed. Conflict between Celtic states, (Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland) with the Saxon core. Its going to be based on racial identity, as far as the English are concerned.

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