Border Crossing

Dark ironies abound. In the week when Priti Patel boasted about stopping freedom of movement Jacob Rees-Mogg declared the United Kingdom “one country” and championed the right of people to move freely within it. But his unitary patriotism doesn’t stretch to his private affairs. His own company accounts show profit in excess of £103 million over the last five years, but it paid zero corporation tax to the UK as the ultimate ownership is in the Cayman Islands. Global capital is borderless.

The elite glide smoothly through the world, born with silver spoons they develop silver tongues and act as internationalists for their private finance whilst manipulating popular nationalism for their public persona. The Brexiteer frenzy to declare those advocating self-determination for Scotland as ‘separatists’ is one of the most grotesque of the hypocrisies being imposed on us.

This week Jacob ReesMogg told the Commons: “There are no internal borders within the United Kingdom. It is one country” and Scotland is just a “district or area”. We’ve been here before: Scotland as North Britain. The unedified sub-text is not subtle: you do not exist.
Those who have made a short career from putting up borders declare others non-existent.
But as Johnson’s regime stumbles these crude propaganda attempts seem increasingly desperate and the belief in a sort of gross English exceptionalism seems all the more absurd in the pandemic. That exceptionalism is mirrored in the degeneracy of Prince Andrew, and in the movements of Stanley Johnson and Dominic Cummings.
In the government’s chaotic mishandling of the virus there lies the parallel of its Brexit fiasco, one infects the other with the triumph of rhetoric over reality. At its heart is a mythology about Anglo superiority and difference, a sort of hazy self-belief rooted in insecurity. This is the source of the obsession with the war symbolism which England must constantly return to. It’s like a childhood memory turned over and over in delirium.
As Fintan O’Toole has written:
“The Brexit mindset is a binary of greatness and nothingness. Britain must be either triumphant or sunk in humiliation. Mirroring this crazy dualism, the alternative to “world-beating” efforts to rout the virus is total failure. There is no middle way, no possibility of being like everybody else, ­doing one’s best, following best international practice, learning from mistakes, paying attention to the obvious, saving as many lives as possible. In the demented logic of the ruling caste, that which is not greatness – competence, functionality, patient and honest effort – is of no account. It is all or nothing, and time and again in the tragic mismanagement of the pandemic, the first has collapsed into the second.”
And here’s the irony. Many people are critical of Nicola Sturgeon for her political caution. Yet this week, taunted by journalists at her Thursday media briefing she stopped before answering a question and criticised the framing of it in constitutional terms. The issue at stake was the possibility of closing the border. This is she said plainly was “a matter of public health in a pandemic”. I am experiencing a huge swathes of support for her in the handling of this crisis; specifically for her pragmatic and non-dogmatic handling of the situation. Some of this is being manifested in repeated opinion polls (see today’s in the Sunday Times) and surveys but I have seen it with friends who have previously been hostile to the idea of independence and are now willing it on.
The game-changing polls makes a large pro-indy SNP/Green majority virtually certain and puts added pressure on the elements within the movement threatening to dis-rail that. It also puts paid to the claims of imminent collapse of either the Green or the SNP vote, which increasingly seems to be a reality only in the fervid imagination of a tiny fraction of the movement.
So here’s the twist. Independence is the new normal not out of exceptionalism bombast or triumph but out of competence functionality and pragmatism. Scotland should be independent not because we are better than anyone – but because we are the same as everyone. What the pandemic is informing us of – at quite a deep level – is that having control over our borders, our physical space – is a prerequisite for self-management: it is the basis for democracy. What the pandemic is revealing is the need for full powers to cope with the oncoming economic tsunami of unemployment (already predicted to be six million by Christmas). Tommy Sheppard raised the issue of dealing with Scotland’s “financial straightjacket” in the House of Commons this week and was treated with complete disdain by the Leader of the House, the aforementioned tax-avoiding Mogg. But in the flurry of recovery plans from think-tanks across the country – the Fraser of Allander Institute, the IPPR, Commonweal and more – all point to the same need, the need for new powers and more agency. In the new world the idea of powers to act independently becomes a matter of survival, not a matter of nationalist rhetoric, and the fact that our nearest neighbour is ruled with such casual incompetence is only fuel to that reality.
As the tragedy of the pandemic unfolds the next stage in the unraveling of the United Kingdom arrives, the inevitable outcome of the manufactured process of non-negotiation, a No Deal Brexit.
This is Disaster Nationalism which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared as a moment of “national renewal,” after which the UK would be “a great European power, and truly global in our range and ambitions.”
Indeed this week Johnson said that a no-deal Brexit would be “a very good option” during a radio interview with LBC, a day after trade talks collapsed.
Amid the trauma of the corona virus experience and the fear for the coming economic misery we are missing the other mounting problems of our chaotic exit from the European Union. In the mayhem this week the legal deadline to seek an extension to negotiations passed barely unnoticed. A No Deal Brexit was widely believed to be a financial nightmare for Britain, imposing massive job losses. Now its inevitable and will land on a society ravaged by the pandemic. We are on a collision course for an economic downturn the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetime, and the tragedy is most of it was avoidable.
Our government, the one we didn’t elect, has not only manufactured this situation it relishes it, it embraces it and it glories in it.
This week Nicola Sturgeon described the announcement of air corridors by Downing Street as “shambolic” and was echoed by her Welsh counterpart.
Over the past months, the Scottish government has made substantively different decisions in the devolved areas of health and education in response to the crisis. As Helen Thompson (Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University) points out: “But asserting its autonomy has turned the UK government into a de facto government of England too, without any constitutional change having taken place to authorise there being such a government.”
Thompson, writing in the New Statesman is greatly exercised by this dilemma, as if it has struck her like a constitutional covid thunderbolt: “Imagine the uproar if Labour had won the last general election and was now supported in office by the SNP while the Conservatives held the majority of English seats, and this Labour-led coalition was England’s government.”
Imagine indeed Helen.
It’s almost as if one of the nations of the Union holding rule over the other would be completely unacceptable, an affront to democracy, a disgrace even? You do remember how the DUP propped up Theresa May’s shambolic government with the help of a hefty dose of dark money and back-handers? That was fine.
In an academic spasm of quasi-enlightenment, Thompson concludes: “For the foreseeable future, there is quite probably no alternative UK government that, with any democratic legitimacy, could also serve as the English government. Without one, England’s governance under the present constitutional arrangements risks becoming a serious political crisis.”
England is self-isolating through Brexit. It’s suffering from underlying conditions of deference and self-delusion, it suffers visions of a glorious future rooted in the past. Scotland must socially distance itself from these values and find ways to re-build a society disfigured by poverty and inequality, but we will have to do this in the context of economic chaos.
Back in 2019 an explosive 14-page briefing sent to every cabinet minister about what a no Deal Brexit would look like was leaked to the media. This was in the dog days of Theresa May’s chaotic reign. The warning came just ten days before Britain was due to leave the EU with no deal after Theresa May’s exit plan was rejected three times and MPs voted down various alternatives.
In the briefing Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, told ministers that leaving the EU without an agreement would result in food prices rising by ten per cent, the police being unable to protect people and the economy suffering the worst recession in a decade.

Cabinet ministers had commissioned Sir Mark to brief them on the risks of No Deal in “order to ensure they were meeting their duty to govern in the national interest.”

In his response, the cabinet secretary, who also acted as Ms May’s National Security Adviser, said: “We believe there would be significant disruption in the short term. Food prices would increase by up to 10 per cent, with steeper rises in fresh product prices.”

The briefing warned of constitutional as well as economic repercussions.

He said the consequences of No Deal would be “more severe” in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, stating: “The current powers granted to the Northern Irish Secretary would not be adequate for the pace, breadth or controversy of the decisions needed to be taken through a no-deal exit. Therefore we would have to introduce direct rule.”

And raising the prospect of law and order breaking down, he continued: “Our national security would be disrupted….The stability of the union would be dislocated.”

Sedwill said the economy would suffer the worst recession since 2008, with the subsequent fall in the value of the pound likely to be “more harmful” than in 2008 because it would affect only the UK and not other countries.

This was before the coronavirus.

Over a private lunch in his Downing Street flat three weeks ago, Boris Johnson persuaded Sir Mark that it was time to stand down. This week he did just that after months of being smeared by Conservative sources. This is part of the No Deal set-up and what is euphemistically referred to as “government reform” but what is widely believed to be Dominic Cummings smashing up the civil service to plow through the changes he envisages for his own project.

The world around us is changing very rapidly. The constitutional crisis is coming to a new stage. Back in 2014 the idea of “border posts” was weaponised by Better Together as a key argument against independence, now it seems a pragmatic necessity for the protection of public health. Without a border we are a ‘district’ unprotected from the ideological mayhem of Conservatism and the economic tragedy of No Deal Brexit Britain.


Comments (29)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Thoughtful article I think. Our FM’s handling of the pandemic is both non party political and deeply political in its hegemony. This is what will build support for independence, calm and steady work rather than fiddling with quick fixes. I think we need to think of this approach, founded in building democratic support for our self determination as much more radical than those trying to game the political system. I heard the editor of the Scottish Farmer say that the ‘auld alliance’ between the farming community and the Tories has been broken irrevocably. Building broad alliances requires some forbearance given past political decisions, but we need to think of the prize. We have a country to win.

    1. aayawa says:

      I liked the article too.

      Current polling suggests a referendum tomorrow would result in a YES vote. We need to see this repeated and ideally above 60% before jumping but the trend is in the right direction. Slow and steady will win the race. If the trend continues even cancelling Brexit will not get the YES-Because-Of-Brexit voters switching back to NO.

      Slow and steady is the way to go. I have to recognise this despite my impatience.

      1. This is confirmation of polling since March.

        See previous here:

  2. Jim Stamper says:

    If such tax dodging isn’t or can’t be made illegal, people who take advantage of tax havens to avoid paying tax to the UK should be banned from public office.

  3. Mark Bevis says:

    I was thinking about this the other day, after a recent poll of Little Englander Tories reported in The Canary showed that 49% of them wanted an independent England. Whatever that is.

    Well, okay nearer 40%. But if the biggest minority in our pathetic FPTP system got an 80 seat majority in parliament for the proto-fascists, then the biggest majority of English wanting English independence could be a game changer for those that want Scottish independence.

    All you have to do is change the rhetoric. Rather than demanding something that is inherently good for Scotland, change the tone and work out how it would be good for English nationalists. I am sure advertising executives would be able to advise you on selling the idea. Afterall, advertising conned us all into the neo-liberal farce that is destroying the planet since 1979. With the right TV advertising campaign, newspaper and magazine adverts it could be a done deal in a few years.
    Commonly refered to as using the enemy’s weapon against them. Or, confirmation bias with a bigot is far easier than getting a consensus of common sense.

    So, you never mention Scottish Independence, but promote English independence, and let matters follow their natural course. I would be minded though, to start raising your own Scottish and Welsh constabularies/border militia/fencibles (whatever you want to call it, paramilitaries with environmental, engineer & combat training) that are independent of existing national police and armed forces. Hell, you should be doing that anyway for disaster management reasons alone.

    Appealing to the Little Englander’s inherent racism and exceptionalism could get Scottish and Welsh independence passed in Westminster within a couple of years. seeing as such types of people are running the shitshow here right now. Scots and Welsh might have to pretend they are second class citizens for a short while, or worse, pretend to like something English that is based on appalling rhetoric, but the end result would be worth it.

  4. Jacob Bonnari says:

    This is on the money. The Covid-19 situation has meant that Johnson administration’s incompetence and corruption is visible for all. Perhaps the most important consequences are that the lives of many Scottish Tory voters, normally protected by devolution policies, are now directly threatened by the WM Tory govt.

    In these circumstances, the mis-steps by the Scottish Govt early in this crisis fade as the open and clear briefings provided by the FM continues in contrast to those at WM.

    A point which seems to have been missed in the border discussion is that the SG asked Calmac to limit people travelling to the Islands to essential trips only. In that context, stopling camper and and other non-essential travel at the border isn’t a gross imposition of liberty, it’s a reaction to a public health emergency and one which appears to be supported by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish people., including around half of Tory voters.

  5. Mark Bevis says:

    As regards Westmonster mismanagement, Nafeez Ahmed has analysed the minutes of the SAGE meetings:

  6. Alistair Robertson says:

    A fine bit of analysis and writing. There’s a wheen o’ stuff here to consider, to be rightly optimistic upon and even more to be significantly concerned about.

  7. john w shaw says:

    There will be a border all right in the near future!

  8. sandy says:

    “Scotland should be independent not because we are better than anyone – but because we are the same as everyone”. (Read we are a deeply unequal capitalist country based on the exploitation of the working class where nationalism is used to keep the working class subservient to the powers that be). “What the pandemic is informing us of – at quite a deep level – is that having control over our borders, our physical space – is a prerequisite for self-management: it is the basis for democracy”. (The deep level is the poison of nationalism and it will be used to help crush any move towards freedom by the wage slaves by dividing workers on the grounds of nationality and turning them against each other in order to benefit the capitalist class )

    1. aayawa says:

      Sounds to me as if you are against independence because it will not change anything. I think it will give the change to change things without ending up in a socialist dictatorship like the USSR, Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

    2. Kenny says:

      How exactly is continued solidarity with England helping anyone right now? England voted to strip workers of their rights. England voted for a government engaged in aggressive class war against the oiks. Solidarity does not mean tying yourself to the mast of a scuttled ship. And anyway, what of our solidarity with French, German, Danish, Spanish, Estonian and Greek workers? Does that matter less because they’re foreign?

    3. Thanks for your comment Sandy, I don’t really fully understand what you mean. Can you explain? Thanks.

      1. sandy says:

        I oppose the scottish independence project because it is anti working class and is based on nationalist delusion. It is an attempted con job by a section of the Scottish establishment. Socialists should reject both scottish nationalism and british nationalism. However the scottish people should have the right to hold an indy ref 2 if the scottish parliament decides to hold one. If westminster tries to block such a referendum socialists through out britain should oppose such an anti democratic action and campaign for the right of the Scots to decide on the matter.. Here is an article from 6 years ago outlining my reasons for opposing scottish independence and an independent capitalist scotland.

        1. Mark Bevis says:

          Interesting point.
          “The SNP has a difficult balancing act to perform. It must try to win Scottish workers to vote for independence while reassuring its big business backers and sponsors that independence will be “business friendly” and that the working class will thus be kept firmly quiescent. It must make promises to workers that it knows it can’t keep so it keeps the promises vague and non specific. ”

          Is this true? I don’t know enough about living under the SNP to decide.
          My argument for Scottish independence (as a sassenach in the NW of England in the so-called “red wall”, ) is that you have the right to try, afterall, those currently running the show are doing a rubbish job of it, especially for the working classes. If it all goes pear-shaped then at least you had a go at something different. That to me, is reason enough. Because the current system fails 97% of the Scots, as well as the English. It gives you a chance, whereas we’ve no chance, independence for the NW of England is much further down the radar.

          Socialists have to answer the question, is there really a working class anymore? Is there a coherent English working class that can be united with a Scottish working class. It’s a genuine question, I don’t know anymore. Because when those so-called working classes are voting for populists at the fascist end of the Tory party, does that left-right distinction apply anymore?

          I don’t disagree, the SNP do smack of neo-liberal establishment far too much, so the SNP may well not be an independence party after all. That economic report that recently came out was a classic example. But it may be a case of choosing the least worst bastard to stiff you over. Surely under an independent Scottish government, it will be less brutal to those on the margins of the economy?

          A bigger, more emerging reason for Scottish (and Welsh) independence, is the ongoing collapse of global industrial civilisation. In effect, as climate catastrophe, biodiversity loss and resource depletion expand exponentially, independence will be thrust upon you (and us here) as degrowth forces everyone to mobilise their economies down to local levels. In essence, control from the centre, Westminster then Holyrood will fade by default (admittedly with a lot of death) and independence will come to those communities that survive.

          In the interim the control, the directives, the rules, emenating from the centre will become more onorous, more shrill, more demanding, and more ineffective, as their demands cannot become realised. I’ve seen this before in studing the history of the Ottoman Empire. So the current campaign for Scottish independence, whether through the pretend-not-neoliberalism of the SNP, or another truer socialist movement, is only ever going to be an interim project. But, not necessarily a waste of time either. Collapse is a process, not an event. Having more local control during that process will help make that degrowth less painful.

          If you like, it may be case of dividing the elites to reduce their powerbase a little. Remember corporate elites are actually in competition with each other. If the Scots only have Holyrood to answer to, and not Holyrood and Westminster together, is that a lesser evil? 16 people own half the world’s wealth, but it hasn’t got to 1 owning it all yet.

          I do like SleepingDog’s comment below, “As these pyramids of privilege start to topple, deserted by their base, it would be well advised to get out from under their shadow.”

          1. Legerwood says:

            Does the SNP have ‘big business backers and sponsors’? The Weirs donated £3 million around the time of the referendum. Brian Souter has not donated since 2014. Who are these backers and sponsors?

        2. aayawa says:

          So you are saying because your picture of an insufficiently socialist version of independence we should stay bound to a state where any form of progress towards compassion. let alone socialism, has just been proven impossible, rather than taking a chance on being able to change things?

        3. Ally says:

          I agree, Sandy, that independence for Scotland does not necessarily, in and of itself, mean a step forward for socialism. But we know for damned certain that the continued existence of the UK, I mean just its being there, is a massive obstacle for socialism. So as socialists let’s dismantle it.

          The disappearance of the UK would dislodge from power the likes of Johnson, Rees Mogg and their neo-liberal establishment. It’d create a vacuum in England into which socialists and anyone with fresh ideas could move with huge imaginitive potential. Let’s dismantle it.

          The UK’s raison d’être from the start was empire & exploitation. And it still is – it’s still enormously useful for neoliberals, those who would diminish human rights & worker rights, those who promote competition & unilateralism over international cooperation, etc. etc.

          Its disappearance from the world stage would materially set back the projects of neoliberals everywhere. It would give space to the leaders of other countries who are socialists, social democrats, democrats and multi-lateralists. It would amplify their voices. It would amplify yours.

          The UK is incompatible with socialism.

  9. Robbie says:

    Just publish the spectator poem again to show what they REALLY think of US.instead of all this fu**** g about

  10. SleepingDog says:

    Pretty much, I think, although the emergence of a separate and distinctive social contract in Scotland may be more significant than polling. Signs of the appearance of a natural contract (beyond the single-species social contract) would herald the decisive break from the UK, I expect.

    The letters written to local press by Conservative councillors give the impression that their priority is to re-establish a pyramid of privilege as soon as possible (sooner than pandemically-feasible); not only that, but to suppress the bottom layer of the pyramid until it submerges beneath a quality of life surface, inducing lack (they oppose even trialling a guaranteed basic income locally). It is all quite like the boundary zones of Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics. Exponential excess for the narrow top; want and suffering for the broad base. This is not simply a vision of exceptionalism or double standards, but a model of a caste system with stratified standards (the law crushing the broad base while propping up the narrow top), the ladders up through portals of blood sacrifice proved in cash or demanded in print, while security snakes devour whistleblowers and conscience-followers on their way bowel-ward.

    Yes, the human world faces towards self-made destruction or planetary-realistic ideologies. As these pyramids of privilege start to topple, deserted by their base, it would be well advised to get out from under their shadow.

    1. aayawa says:

      “This is not simply a vision of exceptionalism or double standards, but a model of a caste system with stratified standards (the law crushing the broad base while propping up the narrow top), the ladders up through portals of blood sacrifice proved in cash or demanded in print, while security snakes devour whistleblowers and conscience-followers on their way bowel-ward.”

      Caste systems are nothing new, but the UK has disguised it better than most and not based it on religion. The police seem to have been upholders of the lawmakers not the law for a long time.

      The UK seems to be turning into a mixture of USSR, the Third Reich and Pinochet’s Argentina. So far, luckily, we have not had the disappearances and death squads.

      1. Mark Bevis says:

        Yes, one of my labour activist friends made the point that the only difference between Hitler’s regime and our’s is that Hitler made the mistake of trying to export his genocide to other nations. If all he had done was exterminate more Germans, the world would have probably just left him to get on with it for a lot longer. Cummings so far has shown no intention of exporting his eugenics to the rest of the world, but is happy to merely experimenting on British peoples first.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          There is a recent German-made computer game called Through the Darkest Times (available to play in English) where you play the role of a resistance group leader. Here is a review:

          I have only played a few turns on the easier Story Mode, but early themes look at the potentially vast (but fragmented and cowed) resistance to the Nazi regime from early 1933, specifically the profiles of people who oppose the Party, and the groups not ideologically equivalent but supporting the Party. Weekly historical news stories set the agenda. I am not aware of a British-made game which looks at comparable segments of British history in a similar manner. I think the German version omits the historical symbols to comply with their laws.

          One advantage of computer games is that you may feel some moral responsibility for your actions (or inactions, if you want your resistance group to keep a low profile). By the time the Nazis crack down on mass communications like critical newspapers, it becomes difficult to arrange or gauge collective action or dissent. It does make me wonder how many state-critical (as opposed to party-critical) newspapers we have in the UK at the moment. I have just ejected a monarchist from the resistance group on the insistence of a (racist) social democrat member. It’s difficult to get the staff those days. Interestingly enough, it also makes me think about all the things those polls are not telling us.

  11. Richard Easson says:

    The easiest way to prove there is a border is to close it.

  12. Ally says:

    “Scotland should be independent not because we are better than anyone – but because we are the same as everyone.”

    Spot on.

  13. Carol says:

    Literally sick to the stomach of Wastemonger politics. Alba go braith and hurry up.

  14. Wul says:

    ” Scotland should be independent not because we are better than anyone – but because we are the same as everyone.”


    “Wha’s like us”? Everybody else. It’s just that they get to run their own country.

  15. Graeme McAllan says:

    Fantastic article, I am impressed Fintan O’Toole nails it – the Northern Irish are the tail that wags the UK Dog – in Scotland we can decide it we want to remain in this fantasy union, still cannae work out why all the supposed “benefits” go to England-Shire 😉

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