Postcard from London
Scotland is SUCH a foreign country here now. Folk here are INTERESTED in Scottish poilitics, getting vague echoes of “something going on with Nicola Sturgeon” but in the same way as they might quiz a Hungarian visitor for their views about Victor Orban. As something happening somewhere else.
The Union is already dissolved…but like the death of God, this has yet to be announced officially in Church.
For Scotland, the consequence is, paradoxically, that now, for the FIRST time, it is ONLY possible for London to rule us as a colony. For our institutions and cultures to be politically neutered and rendered harmless to the imperial centre by means of collaborators at home and threats from elsewhere…or, alternatively, for our relationship as EQUALS occupying areas of these islands to finally be recognised. (But given the way twerps like Toby Young still think about Ireland, let alone Kenya, I wouldn’t hold your breath, my people.)
The strange thing is that what was once a self-serving caricature of the Union from 1707 to 2019, of the Scots as “the oppressed” rather than as “salaried employees of the oppressors” has become, accidentally, a valid description. There is NO WAY for the Brexit Britain I am visiting to accommodate a Scotland with any degree, however limited, of political self-determination. One need only think of what a UK-EU trade deal will mean, if one is even possible at the same time as a UK-US deal with contradictory terms. Is Boris Johnson really going to undermine his precious “hostile” points based immigration system to help out hotels in Invernessshire or potato farmers in Fife? Or fish processors in Fraserburgh? Don’t be silly!
You can have Brexit or you can have Devolution. There is no way to have them both.
Brexit Britain means that the cartoon version of Scotland as an erased and colonised culture…which was bullshit till now (apart from the Gaels up till about thirty years ago)…is now going to come true for everyone who thinks of Scotland as distinct. It may be that it was only while we were part of a Britain as an externally facing PROJECT of first, resistance to “Catholic Europe” and then an Empire and finally a Welfare State paid for out of the surplus value of international exploitation, that a Britain as an inward looking COUNTRY, as a “community” and a “culture” was coherent at all.
The latest draft of “British” self-definition, a strange brew of John of Gaunt’s “Sceptr’d Isle” and George Orwell’s “Airstrip One” so deliberately chosen when Johnson got his eighty seat majority in December, feels like entirely someone else’s business. Except that, with no reference to our distinct identity whatsoever, it is about to be imposed on us too.
The alternative, however we engineer it, is going to be some form of Independence. Indeed, I think we will DEFINE what independence MEANS in the 21st Century (as opposed to the 19th Century version of sovereignty we blurred over in the dress rehearsal of 2014) exactly by the degree from which we can make our own path in 21st century Europe “independently” of whatever England chooses for itself in the meantime. If there has been no other achievement of the Sturgeon “era” of the SNP, (Indyref 2 before 2021 always having been a pipe dream for the birds) , then re-defining the Independence MOVEMENT as an avowedly pro-European outward facing one, then that (hopefully!) lasting achievement is, all by itself, an enormous cultural advance. What it means to be Scottish NOW as opposed to the White Only Heather Club of my youth, is, all by itself, a transformation we should be profoundly grateful for.
We will define our independence, I think now, unlike in 2014, NOT with reference to “Britain” or “England” primarily, but with reference to Europe and the world, as world citizens with a distinct Scottish profile which may never get acknowledged by the Toby Young’s of this world, but which may well be marked and appreciated in the much wider world beyond the London media village.
Which APPEARS, to this visitor anyway, to be being run by an anonymous cabal of refugees from mummy’s basement with a part time and possibly alcoholic clown haired front man occasionally dragged out as a distraction. Which is INTERESTING of course, but in the same way Victor Orban is interesting. As the chap who is unfortunately in charge of another country’s capital city I’ve had great times in, where I know some great people…but whose dilemmas…about Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer, for example … I no longer feel I share.