2007 - 2022

Britain in Ruins, the Dark Irony of Brexit Nationalism

Everyone’s confused and disoriented at this difficult time, I know, but Alex Massie’s latest article for The Times is breathtaking (‘Union’s success contains seeds of destruction’). As the good ship slips below the very waves it’s ruled for so long more of this can be expected, a sort of death-rattle for the Union as scribes and oracles become more and more contorted in their output.

On the day that the head of the UK government’s legal department has quit over Boris Johnson’s proposal to renege on last year’s Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland (the sixth senior Whitehall official to resign this year), on the day when the day when it was announced that (six months after the WHO declared a global pandemic) No 10 have failed to set up a credible testing system, on the day when former Tory Nick Boles described “Leaving the transition without a free trade deal with the EU would represent the biggest failure of statecraft by a British PM since Suez”, on the day when it was revealed that the British military supplies ‘mercenary’ forces to the dictatorship of Oman – yeah on this day – Massie writes: “Scotland has retained its nationhood because Britain is so essentially liberal and decent” and “Ms Sturgeon’s political ambitions are made possible by the success of the Union she has devoted her life to destroying.”

As we witness a state disintegrating under the weight of its own venal incompetence, hubris and hypocrisy this is an astonishing late-stage analysis from someone who had been perceived as a credible observer. It may be a form of delirium. Even as Brandon Lewis admits that the Government will break international law on EU Withdrawal Deal (with the plaintive: “We are only breaking the law in a specific and limited way”) Massie continues with his vision of Britain as a source of all that is tolerant and liberal:

Independence is possible precisely because the idea of Scotland is so potent. It remains so largely because of the efforts of Scottish unionism. In like fashion, the essential, liberal decency of the British state — still evident, despite everything — is revealed by its tolerance of those who seek to destroy it.

He continues:

The argument against independence is not that it would be a disaster but that it is not necessary. Scotland is still Scotland after all — and still so after more than 300 years of Union


Hence Scotland enjoys all the trappings of nationhood without the inconvenience of statehood.”

That Massie and his colleagues currently smearing ink across the public world fail to recognise is that their vision of “nationalism” is one skewed by their own privilege and distorted by their own positions. At one point this becomes comically off-kilter as Massie announces:

“Bannockburn was a victory for unionists to celebrate since it allowed for future Union, rather than immediate incorporation.”

As Unionism becomes a matter of morbidity and further decay sets in to the Johnson regime seemingly rushing towards No Deal with the new found glee of a cult member for the Kool-Aid, you wonder if there is any threshold for these folks? Perhaps not. Perhaps they are so engulfed with like-minded men of supreme confidence that nothing will break their belief in Britain’s innate superiority and benevolence across all time.

I do however agree with one line in Massie’s article:

“One of the better arguments for independence is it would force Scotland to own its own inadequacies.

I genuinely agree with this and this is true across social, political, cultural and economic realities where mistakes and deficiencies will be ours and ours alone to face and resolve.

But the biggest inadequacy we face is our deference with putting up with this state of affairs for so long.

The author is confused about the drivers and motivations behind the Yes movement.

This is not about being ‘distinct’ – this is not – in the highly patronising charicature of the Times columnist – about Gaelic road signs or John Buchan novels, this is not about battles of the past or a culture and land held in aspic by landed power over centuries. This is about the power to govern ourselves and create a better society because the one that we’ve inherited from his elite is one that is disfigured with inequality and scarred by multiple crises across housing, environment, health and many more. People do not want the “trappings of statehood”, they want the power to affect change in society. The problem is that “Scotland being Scotland” isn’t enough any more. This complete incomprehension is now faced with a movement that is only nominally “nationalist”.

What the Unionist media elite is faced with now is a movement made up of people who had never voted Yes, never supported independence, people from all walks of life and parts of Scotland and people who are members of all parties and none.

What they don’t yet realise is this isn’t a nationalist movement any more, this is a movement for democracy.




Comments (21)

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  1. Bill says:

    Another member of the English media who just does not get it. My desire for an independent Scotland was created by the government of Margaret Thatcher and the economic policies that she endorsed. Over the years that desire has intensified as the succeeding Westminster governments deteriorated in terms of morality, integrity and competence. It was further fuelled by the realisation that the English must not only hate the rest of us but even themselves as they voted in and encouraged the likes of Cameron, Clegg, May, Farage and finally the execrable Johnson. Brexit also showed just how stupid some of them are. The workers at Nissan Sunderland who will be out of work if as expected ‘No Deal’ means a 10% tariff on the export of the cars they make.

    I would like to see an independent Scottish republic, in which we could address our own inadequacies and more significantly if we wish to be governed by corrupt stupid bastards, then at least they would be our own corrupt stupid bastards


  2. john Wakenshaw says:

    I do not believe such as him can grasp the concept of Scotland . All he see’s is add on’s tp little England?

  3. Dave Valentine says:

    Yes it is about democracy. Many of us who want independence are not necessarily SNP supporters but want the opportunity to address inequality and social justice to an extent that the British state had never supported. And now we can add addressing the climate crisis to those aims.

    1. Yes Dave, agreed, thanks for the comment

    2. shaun macdonald says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, I’m not a natural SNP supporter although I am currently a member as like most people I see them as Scotland’s only route to self determination, I’d like to see the SNP drop the “N” and replace it with an “I” or even a “n” . SIP (Scottish Independence Party) or (Scottish national Party) would sit much better with me and negate the arguments I seem to keep having with my far flung friends who detest the idea of any kind of Nationalism. Even if I try to justify it as a softer nationalism curtailed from the normal extremes by a Parliament that is supposed to return stable power sharing instead of majority rule or as a reactive one in response to the much harder English Nationalism that has led us to this point. As Scots living outside of Scotland for many years they don’t fully appreciate the sense of both anguish and hope that I think most people living in Scotland are currently burdened with .

  4. James Mills says:

    Alex Massie ( today ) and Will Hutton ( yesterday … in these Covid -depressing days , I would like to be on whatever substance is driving their delusions . It must be so stress-free in their alternative universe !

  5. Alan says:

    “One of the better arguments for independence is it would force Scotland to own its own inadequacies.”

    And force England to own its own inadequacies. I suspect the task will be a lot more painful south of the border.

    1. Gary says:

      As an Englishman in Scotland, one of my only genuine concerns about independence has always been that it would leave the left & centre ground in England really struggling with an even more dominant right in total domination. But the more I’ve thought about it, I suspect that actually, England is in total denial of what it is facing in the years to come and that once an independent Scotland does flourish, it would be a wake up call to English voters that Westminster is a broken system in need of vital reform. My feeling is that whilst I would like to see that reform happen, it simply won’t happen until voters feel the shock of both a no deal Brexit and then the divorce of the UK.

  6. Daniel Raphael says:

    I’ve been holding off dropping by to say “Wonderful!” in response to so many of the articles that continue blossoming from this site.
    But excuse me–I must say of this one: “wonderful!”

  7. James Coleman says:

    Excellent piece of comment. Much better than the dross that emanates from rhe YOON rags. Puir wee Alec, one minute he supports Indy the next he’s back with his YOON mates slagging it off. He doesn’t know if his arse is his elbow anymore.

  8. Ros says:

    Good article Mike. Your final paragraph hits the bullseye. Thank you.

  9. Wul says:

    “….the essential, liberal decency of the British state — still evident, despite everything — is revealed by its tolerance of those who seek to destroy it.”

    Wow! Is Alex Massie that deluded?

    There is a long history of anyone approaching a successful threat to the British state ( or even it’s income stream) ending up smeared, isolated, jailed, transported, tortured, assassinated, cut into wee bits etc.

  10. norm says:

    As you elude to, democracy is the absolute crux of independence, and unionists have no answers for it. To quote one part of what Massie wrote was essentially:
    ‘Hence Scotland enjoys all the trappings of nationhood without the inconvenience of democracy.’

  11. Duncan Sutherland says:

    A movement for democracy where “the apparatus of the state has discredited itself” is a reasonable characterization of the Scottish independence movement faced with a UK government which seeks to confine the people of Scotland within the British state as if it were a prison and which defies the rule of law by announcing its intention to be in breach of International law by unilaterally rewriting a part of an international treaty which it does not care for.

    The words which I have quoted, however, actually refer to another country where the state is discredited and patience is running out, Belarus:


    When the rule of law is not respected by the state, the state does not deserve to be respected, and it is time to reject it.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    The Suez Crisis, or Tripartite Aggression, wasn’t a failure of statecraft, it was a conspiracy to invade Egypt that inflicted numerous casualties (thousands of military and civilian dead, more wounded), constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for which the British Prime Minister, Queen and Foreign Secretary should have been tried in front of an international criminal court, convicted on the evidence, and locked up for life. The UN called aggressive war the worst of all crimes, containing all others, but Suez was worse, since it was a conspiracy to wage aggressive war but blame the aggression on others.
    There’s a chapter in John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (2nd edition, 2013) which unearths some of the British skulduggery (apparently MI6 kept trying to convince the CIA of communist takeovers in the Middle East) and world-beating lying. As historians like Mark Curtis (in Web of Deceit) and David Olusoga (in Black and British) have pointed out, British media have been complicit in crimes even to the point of misnaming these conflicts. Has anyone read of the British Invasion of X in UK history books? Other nations have not been so relentlessly deceitful (what do the Spanish call The War of Jenkins’ Ear?).

    So, these British state mercenaries in Oman. Only there because we have an unaccountable Queen as head of armed forces, who retains a small mountain of royal prerogatives, including treaties and agreements with foreign states (whatever David Owen lies, it’s easier to deal with vile autocracies than democracies). Who is the enemy? Their own people. So what are these British mercenaries, really? Those British mercenaries are state terrorists. The latest in a long line of British state terrorists. Again, something you’ll not frequently encounter accurately named in UK history books. I’m currently working my way through Ruth Blakeley’s State Terrorism and Neoliberalism: The North in the South, which is by an academic for academics and a little tough going, but there is an unrelenting logic to it.

  13. Ed Lauw says:

    Brilliant article, thanks.
    I thought Massie was beginning to see sense at one time. How naive of me.

  14. Richard Easson says:

    Excellent article. As one older lady in Ambridge Dornoch said to me ” but what will happen to OUR flag.” (priorities)

  15. Ewen A. Morrison says:

    “What they don’t yet realise is this isn’t a nationalist movement any more, this is a movement for democracy”… good enough to echo! (if I may? ; )

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