2007 - 2021

John Major, Heirloom Unionism and Parody Britain

As Robert Peston tells us that the latest No 10 intrigue of back-stabbing SPADS is the “defining moment in the history of this government”, we commemorate the fallen not just of the First World War with annual Poppy Wars but being the first country in Europe to mark 50,000 dead from covid-19.  Welcome to the Sunny Uplands.

As Parody Britain feigns solemnity Lee Cain and Carrie Symonds battle it out for your attention as unelected advisors and fixers slog it out, their dark arts slavishly transcribed by leaked memos and whisperings through Laura Kuenssberg and other media vassals and outlets. Two spectacles jostle for our eyeballs: one in which the ideological cabal of Leave eats itself as the futility and desperation of the Brexit fiasco reaches crescendo, the other in which the Duchesses of Cornwall and Gloucester and Cambridge, the Countess of Wessex and “Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence joins The Queen on the balcony”.

One half is recounted with glee through broadcast rolling news, and reeled out through spasms of social media: “Dominic Cummings is NOT following Lee Cain out Number 10 door – PM’s most senior advisor is staying on …” we’re told, as insider journalists lift the skirts of government just high enough for a frisson that masquerades as accountability; the other half is spilled-out through faithful tabloids and spread through Daily Mail Britain, a subculture sustained through a drip feed of twitchy-curtains and quietly nurtured suburban xenophobia which venerates the remnants of the Windsor dynasty like a cult. As death and disease dominate our lives our media is saturated with gossip about people we didn’t elect and we can’t control but who draw huge salaries to entertain us.

As people face mass unemployment and redundancy, as people cling desperately on to the last fragments of their mental health, the media class spews tittle-tattle about their pals in high places.

As if to reflect this predicament what seemed like weeks of media output were taken up yesterday boring us with the “Word of the Year” as if the inanity and tedium of 2020 need codified by broadcasters too tired by their own output to care. “Lockdown” jostled with “Megxit” (defined as “the withdrawal of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from royal duties, announced in January 2020”) we were told.  Presumably “cronyism”, “kleptocracy”,  and “food banks” didn’t make the cut.

Lee Cain in more serious times

If bunting and confetti were important to Declining Britain they are essential to Parody Britain but now are boosted by Poppies, churnalism and doublespeak.

As Britain soars towards our No Deal future the Home Office boasts:Today, the #ImmigrationBill has received Royal Assent. This will end free movement and pave the way for the new points-based immigration system.” The Independent reported: “Arms sales set to soar after Whitehall clears backlog of export applications.”

Occasionally the elements of this dysfunctional Family of Nations collide for unintended comic effect. A giant poppy is projected onto Drax, the media dutifully tells us without a second glance. Bruce Heppenstall, plant director explains: “By projecting the symbol of remembrance onto one of our cooling towers we show our armed forces personnel throughout the generations the gratitude we feel for the sacrifices they’ve made” (- and we’re going to make, he didn’t add). This has got a strong Death Cult vibe about it. It’s like something out of late-70s Dr Who in which an alien force lands and trolls the population with strange imagery before UNIT are dispatched.



This orgy of stupidity just rolls on through melancholy delirium punctured only by the joy of watching Britain disintegrate. We are experiencing (still) late or terminal Britishness. As Tom Nairn puts it in Pariah:

“Decline was the older, more genteel form of putrefaction which prevailed until the close of the 1970s. But from then on, a qualitatively distinct phase has taken over – the brazen simulacrum endured by all subjects of the Crown today.”


John Major’s intervention in the constitutional debate has been treated with much seriousness this week. It follows similar ruses and ploys by Daniel Finkelstein, George Galloway and others to evade or distort the inevitable polling in advance. It shows two things, a growing section of the more Alert Tories have realised that their own position is untenable, and are getting visibly anxious, viscerally desperate; and second that many of them still believe they have the vested right to spout forth on these subjects and it will have some impact.

This isn’t really working.

The idea that democracy doesn’t matter, or that it’s viable to shut-off all means of democratic expression that is being put out there by Alister Jack and Boris Johnson is the very caricature of a crumbling ancien régime.

When Tom Nairn wrote of the UK as a “changeling Kingdom of Thatcher, Major and Blair — a parody of Britain which strives to rejuvenate itself by will-power, charisma, histrionics, cascades of “new ideas” and ingenious policies from cones to domes — anything except a new political constitution. Within this non-stop, non-revolution from above, what we see are features of revered tradition reinvented as farce, and sometimes transformed into their opposites.”

What is Brexit if it’s not a “non-stop, non-revolution from above”?

The “cones and domes” have been replaced now with bridges to Ireland and Johnson’s techno-gibberish.

Bells for Victory and Spitfire Britain

But Parody Britain has a new element, a new element of self-deceit, even as Lee Cain exits No 10.

Scattered among the poppies is a recurring meme carefully cultivated by the Leave leadership, that of conflating Brexit – and specifically No Deal Brexit – with “our finest hour”.


This strand neatly brings together a quasi-religious vibe with a retro-British militarism. Leave.EU here somehow managing to equate Brexit with defeating Nazism in 1945, mixing LEAVING Europe with LIBERATING Europe. A campaign run by forces allied with some of Europe’s far-right now channeling the defeat of fascism, a political force intent on de-regulation and selling off of public / collective areas of the economy celebrating the moment that heralded a Labour government and the modern welfare state.

This is what Scott Hames has dubbed ‘Spitfire Britain’ as he recounts in an important long-form essay in The Drouth (Spitfire Britain and the Zombie Union’).

Hames is mesmerised by the ‘stuck’ and AWOL qualities of unionist political thought, which he says “has made almost no response to constitutional changes designed in its image over 4 decades. And now, I argue, it’s probably too late for it to adapt and evolve.”

“Brexit-as-English-awakening torpedoes the British high politics that gave us devolution, and turns ‘the Union’ against unionism” he argues “because Brexit nationalism mutates what Union and its avatars now mean, especially in England.”

The predicament for Brexit Britain is a dark one as Hames outlines: “The waning energies of really-existing unionism are now antithetical to ‘the Union’, & seem to have no future as an ideology of belonging”.

This artifice of nationhood is both potent and empty he argues: “But ‘the Union’ as a reified position and heirloom can potentially go on forever, whether or not there’s any living unionism to animate it; and this tells us something about the nature of Britishness/Englishness and its ‘popular inventories’ – he argues.


Squinting out from all this chaos is John Major – a throwback to a different era.

The media reports: “Refusing to sanction a fresh poll – even if the SNP triumphs in Holyrood elections next year – is likely to “help the separatist case” by fuelling anger, the former prime minister warned.”

Instead, he called for two referendums, the first on the principle of independence, but with a second ‘yes’ vote – on the outcome of the negotiations – required for Scotland to leave the Union. Sir John suggested it was the way to defeat nationalism, saying: “Scottish electors would know what they were voting for, and be able to compare it to what they now have.

This kind of wide-eyed announcement is treated with a grave seriousness by an English political culture that doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t know what’s going on as its convulsed by the Corona-Brexit experience. Anybody with any ideas is treated a reverence and earnestly discussed, especially if it has a “way to defeat nationalism”. Routinely regurgitated Federalism is a favourite trope, though even its adherents are now bored with its return.

As Hames reports, devolution was supposed to work very differently:

“It was meant to work by dispersing and spreading UK power at once, planting new cuttings of British governance in Edinburgh and Cardiff. Over time, the spreading roots of these sapling assemblies — their local power and responsiveness — would strengthen the larger UK canopy by choking out the SNP and Plaid (invasive species, as viewed from London). This approach would renew the vows of traditional unionism, a compact seen to protect national distinctiveness within British structures of dual identity and shared rule. While devolution appeared to dilute centralised power, UK sovereignty remained untouched at the centre; indeed, it was legally and symbolically fortified, boasting fresh shoots and modern flexibilities.”

Instead of “fresh shoots and modern flexibilities” we have Bells for Victory and Poppies projected on Drax towers. Instead of diluting centralised power we have “Beefy” Ian Botham and Baroness Fox elevated to the feudal remnants. Instead of Blair’s Britain we have Cumming’s Conservative Party. Instead of Donald Dewar we have Richard Leonard. Instead of “planting new cuttings” we have Brexit spread like weedkiller on democracy. Responsiveness is replaced with repression; Jack’s jocular “forty years” quip.

The wonderful aspect of John Major’s intervention (‘Hold two referendums to defeat Scottish independence, John Major urges Boris Johnson’) is the self-belief that it displays, despite everything. It’s definitely just making things up as they go along but the idea that a two-part referendum would somehow salvage the situation is a quaint one.

“Many Scottish voices – and especially business – may support the logic of this: it may focus minds away from a short-term reflex opposition to a perceived English government, and back to the mutual and long-term virtues of the Union” he said in his speech.

This is a throwback to the anti-devolution tactics of 1997, if you recall. The idea to split the vote between ‘the principle’ and having tax-raising powers was a wrecking tool that failed (74% voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament and 63% voting for the Parliament to have powers to vary the basic rate of income tax).

What united the Alert Tories and the Dozy Ones is the failure to recognise that they need to actually articulate the “virtues of the Union”. It’s not that we will suddenly awaken from our slumbers and have a collective revelation. The level of denial at the state of the union is mind-blowing. This absence of a “living Unionism” can continue as an heirloom, a culture dead in every sense and meaningless to a generation that has no sense of Britishness but also no sense of what it can possibly mean. This is the true “defining moment in the history of this government”.



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  1. Welsh Sion says:

    And then there’s this to contemplate for next year:

    The Guardian

    Extra bank holiday announced for Queen’s 2022 platinum jubilee

    12 November 2020


    Giving a hint of what more to expect this time, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – which is organising the celebrations alongside the royal household – said “spectacular moments” in the capital and other major cities will be complemented by community events across the UK and the Commonwealth. The holiday will run for four days from Thursday 2 June 2022, with further details due to be released in the coming months.

    (And didn’t the Maybot say there was some sort of ‘Festival of Britain’ planned, too? Or is this the last gasp of Empire?)

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Yes, as long as there’s a Britain there will always be spectacles of Britishness. That’s how identities survive: they celebrate and affirm themselves. Scotland’s no better in this respect; we too like to assert and transmit our Scottish identity through patriotic spectacle.

      1. We do, and some of our spectacles are daft too. But we don’t run the British State, affirm the hereditary principle or preside over covid chaos or economic catastrophe.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          True, but that’s another matter. Also, I think you downplay the influence we Scots have had in the shaping of the British state (as well as in the design of its spectacles).

          1. I’m sure you can regale me with details Scots helping shape the British State, and I’m pretty sure I’d agree with you. I’m less sure what that’s got to do with anything though?

  2. Urbangril says:

    This year has reached new heights of absurdity over poppies with multiple posts on Twitter showing cats and dogs wearing poppy collars and neckerchiefs, opining solemnly in Lolspeak. The nadir was eight lines of doggerel from a teddy bear in infantile language complete with cute misspellings which are fine and appropriate for daily fluff, but jarring to say the least when they deal with bloody and sordid death. I suppose a poppy projected onto a cooling tower is no more crass.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Yep, even the commemoration of the dead has descended into tat. Now that Remembrance Fest is out of the way and Children in Need will reach its crescendo tomorrow evening, it will be full-steam ahead to Christmas.

      Nothing like a good old pluck at the heartstrings. Its cathartic; keeps up morale.


    I’m a fan of John Major’s 2 referendum thing. Indyref2 is our opportunity to make a judgement on the current deal which is nothing like what was promised and asserted in 2014. There’s no need for a 3rd since the IMB makes it obvious that we are going to get much less than we have even now and that’s a long way short of the Better Together fantasy.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Yes, I argued this back in the run up to the 2014 pseudorendum. A commitment by the Scottish government to refer any subsequent Scexit deal (Treaty of Disincorporation) to the Scottish electorate might have swung it for me. As it was, no such commitment was forthcoming. The Scottish government was trying to sell us a pig in a poke.

    2. Yes – not necessarily against it. I think actually some careful coaxing of the British Govt into thinking they are being tremendously clever might be a good idea. My point was that like in 1997 it would backfire.

      1. Iffish says:

        Seems to me there are some unsolvable problems with the idea of a 2 part Indy ref. If it’s a straight Yes/No Indy ref with the second part the divorce settlement versus status quo then there’s a very strong incentive for BritGov to negotiate in bad faith (particularly if BritGov still Tory) . End result might be ScotGov walking out and declaring UDI leaving poisoned relationship with rUK and uncertain status with rest of world.

        Other option might be ref on SQ versus Indy or Federal (to be negotiated and put to second ref) but Fed option has huge democracy problem – how can Scotland alone vote federalism for the whole UK?

        1. Yeah, I think that becomes a shambles. Federalism isn’t happening.

        2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Yes, I don’t think you can ‘devolve’ federalism; though you can’t rule out an independent Scotland entering into some sort of federal arrangement with its British or European partners sometime in the future.

          But the matter of the second referendum needn’t be a choice between the terms on which would we leave the UK and ‘the status quo’. In fact, a can’t see how it could be given that a positive vote on the principle of independence in the first referendum would seem to rule out ‘the status quo’ as an option. It would be a choice between, on the one hand, accepting the ‘independence’ proposed by the Scottish government and, on the other, rejecting it and sending the government back to Holyrood to think again.

          However, given that ‘independence’ is being engineered as a Holyrood power-grab from Westminster, that’s not going to happen.

          1. Iffish says:

            Even in that scenario I don’t see the point of a second ref. What other state taking its independence has gone back and had a referendum on the future relationship with the parent state? Unless, like Ireland, independence was achieved by non-democratic means in the first place.

            I agree status quo couldn’t be an option on second ballot so only outcome of a no vote would be a possibly interminable transition period which would delay establishing relations with other states and bodies. And relations between states are a constantly ongoing process anyway, not likely to be fully settled in one round of negotiations.

            As regards it being a power grab to Holyrood, well yes by definition that’s what independence is, a permanent transfer of powers. Doesn’t mean it’s the SNP that are going to be wielding those powers in perpetuity. Post Indy politics in Scotland likely to be very different.

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            SNP or whoever; it would be the Scottish government that would be exercising those powers in perpetuity.

            I’d much rather see a settlement that dispersed those powers more widely throughout the polity, making us less dependent on central government for the decisions that shape our lives. That would be real independence.

            What’s the point in just having our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh? I couldn’t vote for that.

  4. MacNaughton says:

    England is by far the most right wing country in Europe, and by far the most nationalist. It’s a country which has become sick and blind with its own nationalism… The whole mainstream discourse is contaminated with English nationalism…. It’s frightening….

    1. mince'n'tatties says:

      ”England is by far the most right wing country in Europe”. That is hyperbolic nonsense. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party means that since 2010, Hungary has become an authoritarian state where democratic institutions exist in theory, but the rule of law and civil liberties are a joke.
      Virulently anti-muslim immigration, to the point where there are so few they don’t bother to count them.
      Poland, where the Law and Justice party (PiS) have introduced anti-abortion laws that take womens rights back 60 years. It has attacked the independence of the judiciary and decimated Polands NGO’s, they’re seen as subversive left wing destructive organisms.
      I could go on, but that’s enough.
      Both countries in the EU, so go figure. There are many valid reasons for indie, but your opening sentence isn’t one of them.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Depends how you want to measure what it means to be right-wing.
        Britain has an unelected second chamber and unelected Head of State.
        It is actively breaking international law with the Internal Market Paper.
        It has a hostile immigration policy and a racist police force.
        Its democracy has become totally corrupted by dark money.
        It invades foreign countries and ignores democratic conventions in Scotland.
        The current govt tried to close down Parliament…
        I could go on too…

        1. MacNaughton says:

          But that an extra public holiday is granted to the plebs in order to celebrate the monarch ‘s jubilee, is just totally and utterly unbelievable.

          It’s like something out of the 19th century! What the fck is that? We’re in the 21st century for Christ sake!. A totally rancid, imperialistic and nationalist backward way of thinking (to credit it with thinking) which leads you to the conclusion that England these days is the most reactionary country in the West…

          Get me out of here. (No need, I already left…)

          1. MacNaughton says:

            I increasingly find myself glancing my watch and asking myself the question, “What century are we in? Which historical epoch? The feudal age? The Middle Ages? Wasn’t this supposed to be the post modern epoch or is my timepiece playing up again?”…

            Give those rancid, inbred, pseudo aristocratic / aristocratic monarchy grovelling English Tories enough time, and they’ll take us back to hunting and gathering and reading the entrails of sacrificial lambs to divine the future…

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    Great article Mike. It could be worse. If the Oxford vaccine had won the race we’d have had to listen to how England saved the world and put up with ‘VW’ day celebrations.

    1. True – I hadn’t thought of that

  6. SleepingDog says:

    I suppose the uncanny resemblance between Giant Poppy and Eye of Sauron is entirely intentional.

    I guess we are not going to be commemorating the millions killed and otherwise abominably treated in British slavery or imperial conquests, which is a pity, since royalty really shone in those endeavours. While recent public debate has rightly focused on Henry Dundas, who as Secretary for War was responsible for sending tens of thousands of British soldiers to attempt (unsuccessfully and at great cost) to suppress the Haitian/St-Domingue revolution which threw off the chains of slavery, there has been less scrutiny of effective royal defence of slavery, including a ‘vitriolic’ speech against abolitionists by Prince William (later King):

  7. Wul says:

    “Remember that one time when we were the good guys?….must be…what…? three quarters of a century ago?” “Yeah, lets do that one…”

  8. WT says:

    An excellent article Mike – well put and nicely written.

    Just a wee word to Anndrais mac Chaluim. Hello Anndrais, I am a bit puzzled by your comment about not being able to vote for “our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh”. I see that you want powers “more widely dispersed throughout the polity” but in reality who doesn’t? You must realise that we are certainly not going to get that from Westminster whether under Labour or Conservative government. Those two parties have had a century to make constitutional change in the UK but have failed to do so. We still have an unelected head of state. We have a second chamber of appointees, bishops and 92 hereditary peers. We have a class system where wealth is protected for the rich whilst efforts to reduce child poverty fail (Surestart). Surely, you must agree that there is a better chance of shaping a new nation that can start afresh, without the vestiges of privilege by birth, class based vested interests and negative historical baggage, than making the changes you wish for inside the UK? This is the UK. What you see is what it is. It is Farage, Johnston, Patel and others, and yet you seem to suggest that you would rather stick with this abhorrent status quo. I simply do not understand that position. I hope this query does not seem rude or impertinent – I really would like to know .

    1. Iffish says:

      Yes, I was going to say the same to Anndrais regarding dispersing power to the local level. I’m absolutely in favour of much more devolution than exists at present. That you need to persuade the central power to do so is a problem that exists whether that’s held in Westminster or Holyrood. To me the chances of success seem more likely with the latter.

    2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      No, the UK government is never going to disempower itself in favour of neighbourhoods. And I’m under no illusion that an independent Scottish government would ever so disempower itself either.

      But that’s a condition of my voting for its independence, and it’s non-negotiable.

      I don’t share the faith that a wee Westminster in Edinburgh represents ‘a better chance of shaping a new nation that can start afresh’. Like all ‘nationalised’ government, it would concentrate power and make it more ‘capturable’ and, therefore, hostage to our own privileged elites, class-based vested interests, and other historical baggage.

      That’s why we need to make the power we take back from the UK government constituionally less capturable from the start. Once that power is in the hands of the Scottish government, we won’t get a second chance.

      1. Iffish says:

        That’s an ultra-pessimistic, bordering on defeatist attitude you’ve got there Anndrais. I take the view that in the life of nations, like people, nothing is certain. Things change, they always have. Power has been wrested from the centre repeatedly in our history.

        I also assume that in the wake of a Yes vote for independence, in parallel with negotiations on our future relationship with rUK, we will be forming a constitutional convention to map out the future shape of a Scottish polity. And that is the point where you and I and all others who share the same desire for more dispersed powers or any other constitutional changes will press those claims and with any luck get some at least built into the bones of the new settlement. I certainly don’t intend to leave it up to the SNP government to be the sole shapers of a newly independent Scotland. And I suspect that will be the attitude of the majority of us whether we’re supporters of the party or not.

        What’s that hoary old saying?: ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          I’d say ‘sceptical’ rather than ‘pessimistic’ or ‘defeatist’.

          I can’t think of many times when the powerful have voluntarily given up power. And if we’re going to ‘wrest’ it from our own privileged elites, class-based vested interests, and other historical baggage, then surely the best time to do it would be when the institutions of power are being formed and before they can become established de facto.

          I’ve no doubt that, in the wake of a positive vote for the principle of independence, the Scottish government would, among other things, convene a constitutional convention of the great and the good of civil society. And if we were consulted by the great and the good, we could certainly contribute our two penneths, for what it would be worth.

          But why not make the constitution which that convention came up with, along with the treaty of disincorporation the government’s negotiators come up with, the matter of a second referendum? It wouldn’t bode well our chances of ‘shaping a new nation that can start afresh’ if it wasn’t.

  9. MacNaughton says:

    That shape-shifting creep, Boris Johnson, already getting rid of ultra Brexiters (the nerd Cummings et al) and realigning in line with the new times brought about by the defeat of Trump…I can’t say those words often enough…. “shape-shifting creep, Boris Johnson”….and also “the defeat of Trump”….that LOSER Trump….

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a spring in my step today….


    Yes sir, I can boogie, all night looooong…”

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      In the midst of our chauvinistic triumphalism, though, I can’t help empathising with Serbia. Why does sport always bring out the worst in us?

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Empathise with Serbia all you like, and no one is laughing at Serbia, of course not….
        Why do you consider celebrating a fantastic Scotland performance and win “bringing out the worst in us”‘?
        I don’t follow you at all…
        But I don’t follow you on anything else on this thread, or the thread on Kerevan’s piece either…
        I think the national team proved last night that mentally they are very strong and very professional and that Scotland will be a very hard team to beat…

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Sorry, I thought I said. Triumphalism and undue partiality to any group or cause to which one belongs. We get enough of that nonsense from south of the border.

          1. MacNaughton says:

            What? You’re saying we should have watched the match as neutrals or something like that? I take it you’re not really a football fan?

            Your own oft repeated denunciation of nations, identities, cultural nationalism on these pages is of course couched itself in a language which belongs to an imperial project several centuries old now?
            There is no neutral ground to even discuss these issues which is culture free, nation free, history free.
            It’s one thing to denounce cultural nationalism, or just nationalism,in imperial English, quite another to do so in Quechua or Gaelic.
            It literally can’t mean the same thing…
            In any case, there is no neutral space, apart maybe from mathematics, for human to communicate.

            You can watch and enjoy football as a neutral, but it is much more exciting and satisfying as a fan to support one of the teams taking part in my view. And it gives people positive way of venting nationalist sentiment which, according to Ernst Gellner, is simple the natural outcome of modernity, that is, nationalism is normal, inevitable, something to be widely managed rather than suppressed…

          2. MacNaughton says:

            Wisely managed, not widly!

          3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            I have to admit, I’ve never quite ‘got’ fandom and all that ‘herd mentality’ thing, with its associated warfare metaphors. I’ve always suspected it as a surrogate for something much nastier.

            And, yes, of course, our discourse is constituted by the language that mediates it. I’ve been banging on about this since I first happened on the site. All our talk of ‘cultural nationalism’, ‘nationalism’, ‘identities’, etc. is culture-bound, as is ‘culture-bound’ itself; they’re linguistic artefacts that European imperialism has exported globally. Gellner was wrong: ‘nationalism’ is an imperial project and, as such, is no more normal or natural than racialism or genderism is.

            So, ‘F*ck it!’, along with all other forms of ‘identity politics’, is what I say.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, so you boldly reject identity politics in one comment whilst brazenly backing pro-aristocracy astroturfing in another (see Troll Hunter comments). Aristocratic politics stands, of course, in the elite ranks of identity politics, topped only by that most exclusive form of identity politics, royalism.

          5. MacNaughton says:

            You can’t escape language, Anndrais, we are all in the matrix. It is not something supplementary to human beings, it is constitutional of human beings. Each language, and there are tens of thousands of them, has its blind spots, it’s biases, it’s history and nation (in our times) behind it. It isn’t value free or neutral. Which is why a non nationalist culture is an illusion unless it is multilingual.

            One of the questions that George Steiner asks in “After Babel” is: why are there so many languages? What is the evolutionary explanation for the seminal or foundational languages, like Sanskrit for the European language family tree, to continuously subdivide throughout history, into hundreds of languages, and then, within these languages into so many dialects. Why would there not just be four or five languages, one for each continent say?

            The conclusion that Steiner comes to is the principal language drive is inward, not outward. That it’s main thrust is not to communicate with the outside world, but for the tribe to erect a barrier between itself and the outside world. To not be understood by other tribes.

            All the evidence suggests that most of us are tribal animals (social animals as per the Scottish Enlightenment). Football and sport in general is a healthy way to express that drive…

          6. MacNaughton says:

            As for Gellner, an exiled Czech who spent most of his life in England, he is not an apologist for nationalism, he is a political scientist and tried to dissect it and understand it and explain it.

            Maybe to say, as I do above, that he found it “natural” to modern societies is too much. He thought it probable or most likely to occur. His very slender “On Nationalism” basically sums up a lifetimes study of the subject….

          7. MacNaughton says:

            Fantastic choice for Euro 2020 Scotland song… whoever came up with the idea is a genius…


          8. MacNaughton says:

          9. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Aye, I’m with you on language; at least since Hume, it’s been fundamental, insofar as it’s provided us with the conceptual structures by which we appropriate the world to our understanding and make it a coherent ‘world’ rather than just ‘one damned thing after another’, so that different ‘language-games’ produce different and incommensurable ‘worlds’. We are, indeed, as you put it, ‘in its matrix’. I’m just saying that the discourse of ‘nationalism’ is a product of the ‘world’ of our imperial past, which is what I took you to be saying when you said there’s no neutral ground on which a discussion of such matters can take place.

            And, yes, I know Gellner; my own views on nationalism have been informed by (among other things) a critical reading of his theory. In fact, it’s from Gellner that I’ve for a long time now taken my definition of ‘nationalism’: the political principle that states and nations should be congruent (or should ‘coincide’, as I put it); a principle for which I see no good reason at all.

            Gellner theorised that nationalism is a functional product of modernity, that it emerged in response to capitalism’s need for homogeneity; that is, for impersonal, context-free communication between interchangeable units of production within a rigidly structured division of labour, on the one hand, and a high degree of cultural standardisation to facilitate commodification on the other. Thus national institutions of governance, education, culture and identity, and security emerged in response to the sociological requirements of capitalism. “F*ck that!” I say, when I’ve my anti-capitalist mask on.

            Like I say, I think there’s a lot that’s right in Gellner’s theory of nationalism. Where he erred, however, was in his attack on ordinary language philosophy and its theory of what you call ‘the matrix’ or the ultimacy of linguistic communities in the construction of our ‘worlds’.

            Finally, do you not find it significant that Steiner’s book is entitled ‘AFTER Babel’? It’s a work of philosophical hermeneutics, which became my specialism as an apprentice philosopher back on the ‘80s, the task of which is (according to Steiner) to overcome the tribalism of natural languages through ‘translation’ (in Steiner’s special sense of the term) from within our given ‘matrices’.

            I share Steiner’s conviction that the tribalism of language is a misfortune that needs to be overcome through ongoing ‘translation’. My doctoral thesis was on whether or not such ‘translations’ can ever be ‘decidable’. (They’re not, I reckoned back then! Haven’t really thought much about it since. Too busy earning an honest crust.)

          10. MacNaughton says:

            Well, I certainly know what you mean about the dangers of some forms of nationalism – ethnic nationalism – and Steiner refers to “the catastrophe at Babel” or the “disaster at Babel”, so you’re right when you say his view is somewhat pessimistic or at least wary about the reality which is that we live in these largely self-contained cultural worlds which, without translators, are incomprehensible to each other.

            For anyone who doesn’t recall the Babel myth, humans try to build a tower to heaven and are punished by God for their pride by being scattered around the world into different language tribes and condemned to live in the hell of permanent incomprehension. And there is something a bit despairing in the fact that, even if you spent your whole life learning languages and nothing else, you’d die only having scratched the surface – there are countries like the Philippines or Papa New Guinea which have hundreds of different languages alone.

            I am a translator myself and it’s a practice or skill or job which never fails to fascinate me, but even with a good translation there are losses or gaps at the most basic level which are unavoidable. There are really not that many words which match exactly even between languages as close as English and Spanish. And even when they do, they evoke different things to different people. and even in the same language. As Stephen Dedalus says in “Ulysses” about the Englishman Haines, “How different those words sound on his lips to mine: Christ, bread, ale…”

            The problem with the world which you want, Anndreas, is that it doesn’t exist. So, for example, the Nation State. You’d like to see the end of the Nation State and a redistribution of power (so would I), but the fact is that, since the French Revolution, the Nation State is the guarantor of our rights as citizens. Its through the State that we get a vote, and health care and are allowed to freely express our opinions for example. No one has come up with a system which would guarantee those rights under any other arrangement. I tend to associate the modern Nation State more with the French Revolution than with Empire, they were born at the same time.

            The problem is that we are at a historical moment in which people seem to have forgotten the lessons of the 20t h century all too easily. Given it appears we humans have this tribal tendency , given that we do live in largely self-contained cultural worlds, given the modern State is all powerful and armed to the teeth, you must form part of multilateral organizations like the EU as a principle. It’s really not about whether it’s better for business or not. These are our European neighbours and we must work with them closely and cooperate with them, rather than fall into the social Darwinism of the 1930’s, which basically saw the main European nation States engage in a fight on Darwinian lines of the survival of the fittest, which led to catastrophe…

            Tthat’s what happened back in the 30s, and what Brexit does is move us back to that way of thinking about “Europe” (I can’t believe the way they talk about Europe in Britain as if it were a country, as opposed to 27 countries), that is to say, we exchange a relationship of cooperation for one of competition. And this is something that even the best willed Brexiters never take into account…

          11. MacNaughton says:

            In terms of the fitba, well it’s true some people might think about last night’s win in a chauvinist way, but I really don’t think very many.
            When you’re young, you just want to be one of the players on the pitch. They’re living out your boyhood dream, at least mine.
            When you get older, you maybe think about different things.
            You think of a guy like Stevie Clarke and all the hard work he’s put in over a whole career without really that much to show for it, and you think he’s one of the good guys, and he really deserves it.
            Or you think of the players and their amazing professionalism and bravery to dust themselves down after losing a last minute goal and grinding out a result against a really good team – tremendous attitude, in any job, in any walk of life, that’s very important.
            And then you think of young Scottish kids growing up who now get to see Scotland at a major tournament and will be really excited about it.
            I think you look at the fitba in a very narrow and hostile way to be honest…
            You’re a bit of a killjoy, man…

          12. SleepingDog says:

            @ MacNaughton, the Scottish Women have reached their last two major finals, the Euros in 2017 and the World Cup in 2019:
            to be less chauvinistic about things. By some objective measures, they are much the more impressive footballing side than the Men’s A team, who scraped through against an inexplicably poor Serbian performance.

          13. MacNaughton says:

            If I was growing up now, I’m sure I’d follow women’s football, because I was fitba daft as a kid.
            But it didn’t exist back then, so I never formed that habit, and I’m too old to start watching it now.
            It’s a simple question of maths: there’s no time past a certain age for all the things you might want to do. You have to start choosing.
            I can´t understand the need to be so negative all the time which so many Scottish people seem to be.
            You can see it on this thread.
            The men´s national team do the job, and people start saying last night “brings out the worst in us” – with zero evidence – and that the men’s team, who dominated a very tricky game, “scraped through”…
            It’s all so negative…
            Just enjoying a terrific result and qualifying for a major tournament, even for 24 hours, seems impossible for some of our gloomier fellow Scots…
            Well, I’m not interested in that…if there’s one thing I would change about Scotland if I could, it’s the negativity… it’s a killer, literally…

          14. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            “The problem with the world which you want… is that it doesn’t exist.”

            I bet folk said that about the nationalised world before it existed.

            I don’t have a problem with nations. Just as they’re the sublation of preceding political forms, our future political forms will be a sublation of the nation. Also sprach Hegel (und Marx).

            Civic nationalism is perhaps indicative of the direction of historical travel: polities defined in terms of citizenship rather than in terms of ethnicity, language, culture, and/or history; polities, the function of which isn’t to create and maintain a homogeneity of ‘identity’ but to accommodate heterogeneity within their civic jurisdictions.

            Perhaps civic nationalism is a sign that nations are on their dialectical way to becoming ‘cosmopoles’ (as the French call them), and our task is to help them along that way.

          15. MacNaughton says:

            Yes, well, the “historic direction of travel” in which identities are fluid and rights are the same for everyone has a name and it is called the European Union. According to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, all European citizens have the same fundamental rights, and those rights are enforceable by European Justice.

            You cannot set up an ethnic nationalist State in the European Union, the various Treaties do not allow that to happen. The Treaties do not allow for economic nationalism, and they do not allow for any European State or private company to discriminate against Europeans on the grounds of whether they are French or Spanish or Dutch…And they ensure freedom of movement as an end in itself, to dilute the populations of the Nation States of Europe and further European diversity….

            So, what you are describing isn’t an idea, or a tendency or a historical project for the future, it’s a reality in the here and now called the EU, and Britain is leaving it because England has become a solipsistic country, a one-eyed giant in a permanent rage, addicted to the past, fed by a moronic media interested only in profit…

            The EU was set up specifically as an antidote to ethnic nationalism, and so long as an independent Scotland rejoins the EU, there is no possibility of it lapsing into anything like ethnic nationalism… England, by contrast, is well on its way there…

          16. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Ah, so the world I want does exist, at least in nascent form; it’s the EU; a sort of transnational state of which we are citizens in virtue not of our withering ‘nationalities’ but in virtue rather of our participation in the civic life of that state. A life in which ‘Scotland’ has become the ‘Queens Park’ and ‘Serbia’ the ‘Cowdenbeith’ of European football, sourcing each its support accordingly.

            Now you’re talking!

          17. MacNaughton says:

            Despite what the mendacious Brexiters say, there is no appetite in Europe for a federal European State any time soon, that is just not on the horizon. Some people are sympathetic to the idea many years from now, but we’re talking 50 years or 100 years, not in my lifetime. I personally think it highly unlikely the French or the Spanish or the Dutch will ever vote for a federal Europe. I just can’t see it. For reasons explained above. National identities are very strong in Europe.

            So The Nation State is still the only show in town, that’s not in doubt. Sovereignty continues to reside in the member States, albeit monetary policy no longer does in the eurozone – but monetary policy too is subject to national sovereignty in the final instance.

            So Scotland should be looking to set itself up as an independent Nation State and then join either the EU or EFTA, as soon as possible. England’s attempts to block a referendum can work for a few years, but when 79% of Scots under the age of 30 want independence, they’re not going to be able to stop it.

            Johnson is finished I think, he won’t make it to next spring. He’s just a chancer and an opportunist and these guys don’t last long, they don’t need to, they just move on to the next gig. He’s toast…he just lost the identity of his government. Who is left to appoint now? He sacked all the Tories who opposed his Brexit policy. He has no one left to turn to…

          18. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Well, maybe not a federal Europe but a cosmopolitan one, the nature of which state won’t be politically engineered but will emerge ‘organically’ from the deconstruction of our heritage nation-states under the overwhelming weight of mass migration; from what the far-right decries as ‘mongrelisation’, in other words.

  10. Richard Easson says:

    If you pick up any modern atlas you will find under the heading and lists of countries Great Britain (or the UK) with its capital of London. Says it all really. Don’t know when the editors were ordered to change it from the older atlasses which gave the four Countries of thr UK with their capital cities.
    Nothing wrankles more than hearing any politician (I was going to say Tory, buy Starmer is just as bad) talking about The Country or Our Country or This Country, … can’t the Speaker correct them (of course he won’t not even for clarification).

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      I think you should buy a better atlas. I’ve perused several now on the websites of various educational publishers, and none has omitted Scotland or its capital from its political maps of the British Isles.

      And why shouldn’t members of the UK parliament refer to its jurisdiction as ‘the country’?

      1. Richard Easson says:

        Try the new Collins atlas. Britain is not a country.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Well, it is from a geopolitical point of view; in terms of international relations, ‘England’, ‘Northern Ireland’, Scotland’, and ‘Wales’ are subdivisions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Remember: international relations is an agency of the UK government; it is not devolved to any of the national administrations. In purely geopolitical terms, ‘UK of GB & NI’ (sometimes ‘Britain’ for short – it’s just a wee archipelago; it would be hard to inscribe the full moniker across it and leave it legible) is the proper unit.

          I’ve had a gander at the new Collins World Atlas: Complete Edition; the above situation is indeed reflected in its geopolitical maps. Also, in the section in which each geopolitical unit is profiled, the present constitutional situation within the UK is accurately represented as comprising ‘England’, Northern Ireland’, ‘Scotland’, and ‘Wales’.

          Maybe you should contact Harper-Collins in Bishopsbriggs and suggest it publishes a less accurate but more ideologically sound ‘post-independence’ edition, in which ‘Scotland’ is misrepresented as an existing geopolitical unit. I’m sure it will rush to correct the error.

          1. Richard Easson says:

            Hi Anndrais, I have just been through my hard copy of the Collins atlas. Under European countries in the index it only mentions the UK, capital London, and on the European map the UK is all the same hospital green. On the larger map of the UK I can not even see any borders between what I call separate countries. In the index Scotland is mentioned as an administrative area. I do find this a bit queer for instance, another Union (the EU) is not all the one colour with no countries marked and capital Berlin.

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            That’s maybe because there are no borders between the constituent nations of the UK; this is perhaps because the UK is an incorporating union, unlike the EU, in which the constituent nations retain each their own sovereignty.

            Tell you what: why don’t you get a pen and mark in your atlas the administrative boundaries between the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway on the one hand and Northumbria and Cumbria on the other? That would work.

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