2007 - 2022

Shy Imperial Bombast

Was it arrogance or lunacy that made Boris Johnson think that arriving north the day after announcing he had presided over 100,000 deaths to declare he “believed in the power of doing things together” would be a popular move? It’s difficult to tell. The hubris and exceptionalism of the UK government and the governing class that Johnson personifies knows no bounds. Johnson’s visit was conducted like a covert operation, and his only comments were babbling incoherence: “If [the vaccine is] approved then we will have 60m doses of it by the end of this year for the whole of the British people. And so it’s a success for Scotland. Uh, it’s a success for, uh, Britain and, uh, it’s a success for Britain because it is a success for Scotland. It’s a success for Scotland because it’s a success for Britain. So, uh, I’m, uh, you know, it was very, very encouraging to see …”.

The unaccountable and the un-electable don’t need to make sense.

This was Shy Imperial Bombast. For all the arrogance and self-entitlement Johnson isn’t sure enough of himself to make an appearance in public. The optics might not be so good.  As John Crace put it: “The prime minister’s unusual mission was to go to Scotland to avoid meeting as many Scots as possible.”

The Conservative messaging is this: you are too impoverished to survive without our benevolence; we have been generous in gifting you our vaccine; your democratic expression is meaningless. Be grateful.

Unsurprisingly this is going down like a cup of cold sick. Only a self-deluded man surrounded by a team high on the wonderful success of Brexit would operate like this. Thankfully the Prime Minister is just such a man. After the Sunday Times polling we now know that the Union is imperiled on all four fronts. If the British government lied to the Welsh, they have also created the circumstances which, as Nicola Sturgeon said in an interview to the Irish Times this week: ‘Brexit makes a united Ireland more likely’.

But if Johnson’s swagger reeks of class privilege, it also stems from the very structure and character of British political rule. As Anthony Barnett has written (‘Why Brexit? It’s the English, stupid’):

“We are not looking at a response to ‘decline’, but at a failure of renewal. A two-part renewal, first Thatcher’s then New Labour’s.

The failure lies in our defining institutions. They have not changed their spirit while the rest of our society has. Enter the routines of Britain’s Westminster politics and you enter a parallel universe. One in which ‘absolute sovereignty’ generates the logic of legitimacy. This may seem ‘abstract’, such is the impoverished nature of public discourse in Anglo-Britain. In fact it is a lived reality. (in Scotland or Ireland, what I say is blindingly obvious.)

Absolute sovereignty is an imperial form of rule. It generates an immensely strong structure of feeling within the parliamentary universe of Westminster politics. So strong, it has been able to resist the contemporary world despite all the change around it. Aided by the way – and this is an important part of my argument – its bellicose winner-takes-all culture feeds and is fed by the media values of Murdoch and the Daily Mail.

The consequence is dire. The United Kingdom is an old, multi-national uncodified entity. An arrangement that cannot but feel threatened within a larger, younger, constitutionalising entity. The latter, the EU, is about sharing sovereignty. The core principle of the former, the UK, is absolute sovereignty.”

So Johnson’s reckless arrogance emanates not only from a rarefied upbringing but from a consciousness of absolute sovereignty. This outlook has been boosted and amplified by the rhetoric of ‘Global Britain’ and ‘Britannia Unleashed’ even as fish lie rotting, 100,000 people die, endemic corruption is exposed and industries collapse. The idea of cleaving to this madness is untenable and indefensible. You would have to be pathological to do so in these circumstances.

Despite the framing from some factions within the independence movement that we are impotent and powerless in the face of such a leader, I really don’t think we are at all – and the situation and the dynamic is fast-changing. In an article on Political.Betting the Editor, Alastair Meeks makes a compelling case. He argues first that “If the Scottish government acts in accordance with a non-binding instruction of the Scottish Parliament and does not break any other laws along the way, it is not obvious to see how its actions can properly be challenged.”

“Which leads me onto the next question: what laws do you need to have in place to set up a referendum? There is a lot of electoral law in place, but that’s already there and will automatically cover any vote that comes within its scope. Much of the rest is declaratory rather than breaking new ground. Most of the machinery of holding a referendum is administrative. On this occasion, even the question to be asked is oven-ready.”

Secondly he argues that: ” …such a referendum would be advisory only.  But so was the referendum in 2014.  For that matter, so was the Brexit referendum in 2016. So the SNP’s plan looks likely to me to work.  If the British government wants to challenge the SNP’s plans, it will do so with a substantial chance of ending up with the SNP having their referendum validated by the courts, and having alienated the Scottish public in the process.  If it doesn’t challenge the SNP’s plans, it will look timid and powerless.  So perhaps the safest approach for the British government would be to agree to a referendum after all.”

Johnson, with his innate sense of superiority is used to being in control has a choice. He either watches as the political situation in Scotland unfolds out of control and support for the Union collapses further until it is irredeemable, or he has a chance to shape some of the terms under which the process is made. He will choose the latter.

But the Conservatives current strategy relies on getting people in Scotland to trust them and to be grateful for the way the coronavirus has been handled. Here’s where Vaccine Nationalism meets Spitfire Nationalism. Here’s Michael Gove in The Sun (with accompanying soldier): “Eighty vaccine centres across Scotland are being set up by the Armed Forces, ensuring every part of our country feels the benefit of the Oxford AstraZeneca treatment.”


Anthony Barnett’s observation that the United Kingdom as an old, multi-national uncodified entity “cannot but feel threatened by a younger, constitutionalising entity” is as true of its relationship to Europe as it is to its relationship with Scotland.

The Union will be ended as much by these dynamics and the delusion of the elite as anything else. The sense of success even in the face of such abject failure is unremitting. Ewen Stewart is just one example of this blinding British exceptionalism (‘The separatists cannot be appeased’). He writes:

“The Union has had overwhelming popular support throughout the UK for almost its entire history. Initial Scottish scepticism soon receded as Scotland flourished with free trade, peace and a much larger market for its ideas and products. Challenges to the throne in 1715 and 1745 were just that, the Old and Young Pretenders’ intentions were to change the monarch of Great Britain – not to break with the Union of parliaments of 1707 and establish political independence for Scotland. It was a very British civil war.

Today some polls suggest the separatists are gaining in strength. Some argue they have a majority. That is highly debatable but a nation that has endured so much in peace and war does not give up simply because the Sunday Times says so.”

He reaches a magnificent crescendo declaring: “The United Kingdom will prevail because we are ultimately one people, with one language, a long, rich and shared culture and family history. But the greatest risk to its future is so called Unionist politicians panicking and throwing fuel on the fire. More Europe was the ‘solution’ that led to Brexit – more devo is a ‘solution’ that will lead to Scexit. There is no crisis as there will be no Scottish referendum.”

This sort of delirium will be their end.





Comments (38)

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  1. Blair says:


    Another great piece, but remember Tony Blair ‘s 3rd Way? The links I provided for Bella are interlinked through ‘i’ in my wee Crag, digitally emailed through Cern Proton links looped through R2D2 for you to follow me and get real feel for things before they are unveiled.


    It’s Scotlands secret, a technological digital master key.

    RISI H Link Live.

  2. Kenny Smith says:

    I’m sure Bonnie Prince Charlie promised he would restore the Scots parliament in Edinburgh and have a sort of relationship before 1707. I could be wrong but that was the way I read about it then.

    On the article itself another good piece. I read an article in the Sunday mail that came up on my Google feed and its basically a piece about admitting Scotland is on its way even though they thought we were wrong and ungrateful to do so. Maybe they are coming to terms with the fact that they pissing against the wind saying no and denying our vote but I’m not so sure they will be in anyway shape or form amicable about anything. I do disagree with you about the SNP approach I still think they could be a bit more active in forcing the issue

      1. Kenny Smith says:

        Aye that’s the very one. If I remember correctly he made a comment like even though it was economically stupid and a bit rude we ( as in England) should let them leave.

  3. MBC says:

    Very informative, Mike, thanks.

    Have to challenge Stewart though. We have never been ‘one people’ and the union has always been questioned. Even at the height of empire, when satisfaction with empire was arguably at its greatest. In fact, the high noon of empire from the 1880s to WW1 saw the greatest agitation for home rule in Scotland. What has made the union tolerable was the explicit preservation of ancient rights and the fact that beyond political control of Scotland, England made no claim on our resources. Not a lot changed on 1st May 1707. Life continued in its normal tracks in Scotland. But this changed after WW2 with Faslane, Labour’s nationalisation of Scottish industry, then Thatcher’s sell of of it, including North Sea oil.

    1. Oh yes of course Stewart’s entire piece is absolute drivel.

    2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      What made the Union tolerable was that it gave Scottish merchants access to English colonial markets while removing a potential threat to the security of the Revolution.

  4. norm says:

    It’s an oft-trotted meme to see one independence supporter to accuse another of being an MI5 plant.

    But having seen a clip of Alister Jack on the BBC this morning describing Johnson’s visit as “morale boosting” I’m beginning to think the indy movement has a plant of its own at the heart of Westminster.

    1. John B Dick says:

      Surely the SNP agent that drafted The Sermon on the Mount must have retired by now?

  5. MacNaughton says:

    MBC is right.

    Scotland was pretty much left to run itself within the parameters of the Union until the late 19th century.

    The presence of the State in the lives of citizens in the West dramatically increased in the 20th century and so English governance of Scotland increased in due proportion.

    This led to the demand for devolution or home rule which took almost a century to achieve but was finally successful.This achievement has been abolished at the stroke of Boris Johnson’s pen with the Internal Market Bill….

    We have been told our parliament has no real power, that our views regarding Europe are an irrelevance and should not be heard, and when we raise our voices,we are derided as anglophobes or whingers….

    Arguably, Scotland has never been so badly treated by London rule in three centuries of union than it has over the last five or six years….

    1. MacNaughton says:

      I mean, is there single person among the whole of the English press and cultural elite who has ever bothered to read even a generalist history of modern Scotland, such as Tom Devine’s book of the same name?

      We have all these people like Louis de Bernieres and the person Mike Small quotes above and they simply do not know what they are talking about. They are ignorant people.

      We were never “one country”, we were always partners,unequal partners maybe, but still partners.

      That is clearly no longer the case, which explains why so many Scots want out of the Union….We are being treated like a colony, and if Johnson says no to another referendum, we effectively are a colony…..

      1. I think he’s Scottish. Its completely ahistorical gibberish, I should have stated that, thought it was obvious.

        1. MacNaughton says:

          Total gibberish and not even the slightest awareness of 1820 and the radical movement, a time when Scots were imprisoned and deported in droves by another Tory govt for daring to want to live in a democratic republic…

      2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Scotland and England were never partners. It was an incorporating union. Both kingdoms were dissolved and a new corporate entity was formed: the United Kingdom of Great Britain. After 1707, ‘Scotland’ and ‘England’ were kingdoms no more; both became at best historic divisions within the new kingdom of Great Britain, in much the same sense that our old burghs and shires were more recently abolished to become historic divisions within larger local government authorities.

        The question of ‘Scottish Independence’ is the question of whether this entity – the UK – should now be dissolved.

        Personally, I don’t think Scottish independence goes far enough. To mitigate the ever-present risk of tyranny in government, ‘Scotland’ needs to be dissolved into much more local autonomous republics and ad hoc syndicates thereof.

        1. MacNaughton says:

          It was an incorporating Union but Scotland maintained its own legal system,its own education system and its own religious institutions.

          Those three things might seem of not much substance to us today, but they were hardly insignificant at the time. In fact, in the daily life of a Scot in the 18th century, most of life would go on as it has done for centuries….

          And nations as we know are not just made of institutions, and such a thing as a national feeling or identity plainly exists. Any reading of Scottish cultural history since 1707 shows all too clearly that the sense of Scottish nationhood was never seriously under threat.

          The literati of the Scottish Enlightenment liked to think of themselves as North Britons, but they were a tiny elite with a huge influence in the world in terms of their ideas, but little or none in terms of their vision of Scotland as just a northern part of a new country which,in any case, was not a matter of any special interest to them.

          That idea simply never took root in Scotland, and it fell to Burns and Scott to reflect each in their own way the two sides of the nationalist / unionist divide, not Hume and Smith…

          So, while it was indeed an incorporating union, it never did fully incorporate its two constituent parts… Maybe because it’s chief focus lay overseas rather than at home: empire….

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            That’s right: both parts of the new kingdom retained many of its own historic institutions; and these, together with the new ‘imperial’ institutions developed by the Edinburgh Tories, became expressions of ‘Scottish’ national identity within the UK.

            ‘National feeling’ and identity’ do certainly exist, but not (unless you’re an idealist in such matters) apart from their material expression. Nationality thus substantially consists (contra Herder and his successors in the Romantic movement) in its institutions and nowhere else; not in any ‘spirit’ or ‘genius’ or other quasi-natural quality. Nationality a purely social construct, and ours was largely constructed by the Tories in the 19th century in the service of industrial capitalism (if Gellner’s to be believed).

            One of the most exciting cultural developments in recent decades has been the gradual deconstruction of traditional Scottish nationality (and ethnic nationalism generally) and its equally gradual reconstruction along more global, cosmopolitan lines, whereby we’re now increasingly defining ourselves civically, in terms of shared citizenship, rather than ethnically in terms of an exclusive biological or cultural heritage.

            Corries no more…!

        2. BSA says:

          Interesting ! Have you told the English ?

          1. MacNaughton says:

            Well, it’s maybe worth adding that the English were even more reluctant to give up their own national identity than the Scots were, except when overseas and in respect of the Empire of course, which was always called the British Empire…

            But nobody considers or has ever considered Shakespeare a British playwright any more they would consider Burns a British poet. They are always considered English and Scottish respectively.

            I’m not, by the way, trying to argue a sense of Britishness doesn’t exist in Scotland today or in the past. I’m merely saying it was and is almost always complementary to a sense of Scottishness, and that brightness has never seriously threatened to replace the latter…

          2. MacNaughton says:

            Brightness in the above sentence should read Britishness of course….

          3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Linda Colley widely cited study, Britons (Yale, 1992), is a good read on the corresponding 19th-century construction of modern English nationality within the UK.

    2. MBC says:

      And the UK government was conciliatory and pragmatic, as when the imposition of the malt tax was introduced in 1725, they responded by the setting up of the Board of Manufactures and Fisheries,


      and later on, the British Linen Bank, which, despite its name, was a Scottish-run institution.


      Plus, and I’m not proud of this, for many Scots, the opportunities opened up by the nascent British Empire made up for whatever the union might have held back by a lack of a Scottish Parliament. The Scots built and ran a lot of the British Empire, it was compensation. But with the Empire gone, why would we want to be linked to England when we could be linked to Europe? To the extent that there was willing agreement to enter into a union, it was the opportunity for overseas trade that was attractive to the Scottish parliamentarians who voted through the Acts and Treaty of Union.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        I believe it is Tom Devine who explains the mindset of the 19th century Scot so well in one of his books when he touches on all of the statues of William Wallace and Robert Burns which began to sprout up all over Scotland, paid for by public subscription, in that century.

        Those Scots were very proud of Scotland’s status as an equal partner in the Union with England, and hailed Wallace and Bruce as national heros for having fought England to a stalemate, contrasting especially with the case of Ireland which had been subjugated. Their distinct Presbyterian identity was often very important too them too obviously.

        So, this sense of being a partner in a Union with a distinct identity and even a rivalry with England was the mindset of the Unionist Scot back in the day.

        It is hard to see anything like that mindset in Unionist Scotland today. Brown and Darling I suppose might claim to be heirs of that tradition, but ultimately, Unionist Scotland these days prefers all kinds of impositions and humiliations to independence, and I think many of those 19th Scots would be for independence today given the English govt has completely disrespected Scotland in the Brexit process and refused to allow Sturgeon any input at all in the matter.

        The manner Brexit was conducted spells the end of the Union as far as I can see…

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          Yes, the distinctive ‘Scottish’ identity, which, until the advent of a more civic/less ethnic nationalism, we used to celebrate totemically in cultural and sporting rituals in lieu of political citizenship, was largely a 19th-century Tory invention.

          Sir Walter Scott et al have a lot to answer for.

          1. MacNaughton says:

            I have no political citizenship, Fog, like all UK immigrants in the EU I have no vote anywhere, a ridiculous predicament for a European in the 21st century.

            And say what you like about Scott, and looked at in a certain way you are right, but he was a literary phenomenon of his time, with an output which is staggering in its magnitude. In a normal country, many of his novels would have been adapted for film/tv by now, not least Heart of Midlothian with its brilliant Jenny Deans. And the Tale of Wandering Willie is the best Scottish short story bar none for me.

            But just reflect on the idea of Scottish unionists building statues to Wallace and Burns, and ask yourself would any Scottish unionist do that today? It shows the crisis of unionism that they would rubbish any such statue as being nationalist and divisive. The point is that Scottish unionism of the past fought Scotland’s corner in London without any hesitation, but today Scottish Unionism merely bashes the SNP and parrots what their leadership in London says…..

            A spectacular decline of a once proud tradition,that of the patriotic Unionist Scot….

          2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            There is a charitable argument for Walter Scott’s invention of Scotland and particularly the ‘Highlanders’. He was born shortly after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745/46 and saw the depredations being visited on Scotland by the victorious Hanoverians, including the banning of the name ‘Scotland’. So, he set out in his literature to create a myth of Scotland (and, incidentally, a myth of England, too, in novels like ‘Ivanhoe’.) In so doing he hoped – and was pretty successful – in creating a myth that captured the imaginations of many, not least, Queen Victoria.

            Scott was certainly a ‘Tory’, but Tory meant something different from now. He was, undoubtedly, proud to be Scottish and of much of Scotland’s history and he wished to present an image of Scotland which the murderous Hanoverians might find palatable and lay off Scotland and accept it as a full part of the UK.

            It was not until 1815 following the Battle of Waterloo that the name ‘Scotland’ was restored and, a few years later, George IV paid a visit to Scotland choreographed by Scott. When Victoria came to the throne she went a bundle for the myth Scott created.

            Of course, many in Scotland since 1707, had done well out of the union. And, in the imperialist wars of the 19th century, Scottish soldiers formed a disproportionate amount of the armed forces. Many Scots, partly because of the education system, formed the administrative and professional classes in the overseas empire.

          3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Yes, the ideological struggle between the Whigs and the Tories over political and legal reform in the aftermath of the American and French revolutions is crucial to an understanding of the construction of Scottish nationality in modern bourgeois society.

  6. I.Crichton says:

    I think Boris is so enamoured by himself he has probably has gone back to London thinking what a great job he has done on his one day visit that he is sure all the Scots will now be voting for the incredible Union he is making such a success of!!

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      His visit was not aimed at us in Scotland. It was designed for the media in England to present as the great Bozza, the modern Churchill, defending this precious union, this sceptr’d aisle.

      The contrition and the photos were a rebranding stunt. He takes NO RESPONSIBILITY for the deaths due to COVID19. He just said words and he tells lies. None of the media nor the Starmer Labour Party will really take him to task on his ‘responsibility’.

        1. MBC says:

          Yip. He came to get his photies taken to show the English media he had dared to step north of the Border. Not aimed at us at all. His back benchers maybe.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        This problem, though, Alasdair, is that Boris has no talent and is ill-fitted for such presidential-style politics. His whole body-language during these staged public appearances suggest that he finds them an imposition and a complete waste of time, the motions of which he’s obliged to go through for appearance’s sake. He looks like a reluctant and slightly resentful wedding-guest, who’d much rather be doing something else and can’t wait until he can leave. He suffers, like his hair, from a complete lack of smarm.

        Nicola, on the other hand, is the consummate performer, styled to within an inch of her life.

  7. Nigel Beynon says:

    Watch Boris and the Russian Mountain on YouTube.

  8. Wul says:

    ” “Eighty vaccine centres across Scotland are being set up by the Armed Forces,””

    Rather than celebrate the fact that the Army are delivering our health care, maybe we should be asking why we do not have a public health service capable of setting up these eighty vaccine centres?

    Just an idea: The Army could get “added value” from this stunt by operating a recruitment tent next to the vaccine tent in poorer areas of Scotland.
    Young, Scots from poverty stricken families (always a rich seam for Army recruiting) could get their jag and discharge their debt of gratitude to Our Precious Union by offering up their life to defend British interests abroad.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      ‘…maybe we should be asking why we do not have a public health service capable of setting up these eighty vaccine centres…’

      Because our public health services are overly centralised and aren’t agile enough to respond timeously to major incidents of such a global scale…?

      Maybe the army – another public service agency – is just better and more practised at managing the logistics involved in such an extraordinary operation. It would be remiss of us not to employ it in this auxiliary role.

      1. Wul says:

        I say “potato”, you say “potatto”. Let’s call the whole thing off.

        ( You know the wee ned in Still Game who, every time someone speaks, says: “Naw it isnae!” ? That’s you Rooster)

  9. Robbie says:

    Yes Foghorn ,Boris has no talent but our problem seems to be the English voters who have just given a13point public approval on the Govs handling of the virus 47%to 60% ,and a jump from34% to38% personal approval, you could,not make it up could you. LaLa Land did you say.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Why’s that a problem?

  10. Robbie says:

    The point I was making is that if we don’t go Indy next opportunity , this is what to expect ,look at how many firms shouting about soverienty the promptly move into Ireland and other eu country’s under the English voters noses, then they give Boris a thumbs up, ( should have been clearer)

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