2007 - 2022

Global Britain, Levelling Up, Strengthening the Union

Boris Johnson chooses a new Chief of the Defence Staff 

On 8th November, Sir Tony Radakin, KCB, ADC, First Sea Lord, was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff.  This appointment was a personal decision by Boris Johnson.  It overrode the Ministry of Defence’s first choice, General Nick Carter, GCB, CBE, DSO.

On 7th December, Radakin gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute.  He is politically aware enough not to behave and speak in Johnson’s usual couldn’t-care-less manner.  With Johnson’s own political future now far from sure, Radakin wants his thinking to be taken up by any possible successor.  Thus, he does not use Johnson’s type of language.

Radakin looks to a UK striving to do better…  That includes reflecting the diverse nation we serve…  This is not about wokefulness.  It is about woefulness.  The woefulness of too few women.  The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation.  And the woefulness of not following our own values, whether respect for each other or the simple integrity of claiming expenses.”  Certainly not Johnson talk, even if he was Johnson’s first choice.

Radakin’s use of the term ‘Global Britain’ shows he is savvy enough to avoid the language of the Hard Right – ‘Empire2’.  He is careful not to directly invoke any democratic mandate for the actions of “Global Britain”.  He merely points out that “more people live in democracies now”.  This sleight-of-hand formulation means he can ignore the historical role of “Global Britain” in holding back national self-determination in its Empire and Union; and its alliance with the US, with its long and continuing record of toppling or attempting to overthrow democratically elected governments, (including Chile, and more recently Honduras, Haiti and Venezuela).

And when it comes to democracy, we can remember Johnson’s attempt to prorogue parliament on 28th August 2019 (and the UK Supreme Court’s mildest of rebukes). Whilst Johnson’s key ally, Donald Trump’s attempted Capitol Hill coup on 6th January 2020, still hasn’t seen him brought to trial, never mind being sentenced.  (In Weimar Germany’s already strongly contested parliamentary democracy, after Adolf Hitler attempted his Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on 8-9th November 1923, a trial was initiated within three months and Hitler was sentenced to 5 years in jail).

Instead of a direct appeal to a defence of democracy, Radakin justifies an increased role for British armed forces, by conjuring up a familiar list of threats.  These include imperial competitors – Xi Jinping’s rising China and Vladimir Putin’s declining, but still nuclear-armed Russia.  It includes ‘rogue states’ – Iran and North Korea.  But the brutal actions of Russia in eastern Ukraine and Syria, and China in Xinjiang and Hong Kong can be matched by those two major recipients of US and UK military ‘aid’ – apartheid Israel and autocratic Saudi Arabia, as the Palestinians and people of Yemen know only too well.

Radakin outlines his preferred justification for an increased role for the armed forces in a section of his speech, entitled, The Pursuit of British Interests.  In today’s “Global {or Brexit} Britain”, this amounts to the promotion of the British ruling class’s new authoritarian order.  And to counter the shrinking basis for popular Britishness and the Union, the Tories are planning to remove existing citizenship (read subjecthood) rights for many long-term residents.  They also hope to reduce the Westminster electoral franchise.  Such measures were first trialled in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 EU elections.  

But this is of no concern to Radakin.  He worries instead about the threats posed to “Global Britain” and the Union by “climate change, population pressure and resource competition.”  “Our security outlook is far more complex and dangerous than at any time over the past 30 years.”  In the face of all of these challenges, Radakin looks eagerly to a British military response.

Mapping out a ruling class full-spectrum state response to the challenges facing ‘Global Britain’ 

Radakin can see a British ruling class political continuity beyond Johnson.  If they no longer require Johnson to front their “British Interests”, his replacement, whether it be Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, or even Sir Keir Starmer, all accept the following three key features outlined in Radakin’s speech.  “It must be recognised that our {and “our” always means ‘their’} interests at home and abroad are linked. – Global Britain. Levelling Up. Strengthening the Union.  They are the policy of the Government” and the official ‘opposition’ too.

The majority of the British ruling class now adheres to a shared post-Brexit strategy.  The role of other UK state functionaries – police and immigration officials – in ‘Brexit Britain’ has already been laid out in the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts, and the Nationality and Border bills.  But clearly, with Radakin’s appointment, the British armed forces also have a central role to play.  So Radakin has stepped in to highlight their role in buttressing “Global Britain”, “Levelling Up” and “Strengthening the Union”.  “The state is back with a vengeance.”  His call to recognise the role of the British armed forces contributes to a full spectrum state response to any challenges the British ruling class faces. 

Radakin begins with the Tories’ proclaimed commitment to “Levelling Up”.  For those of us in Scotland and Wales, this was always a dubious proposition.  Instead of more money for national (and EU)-flagged, devolved Holyrood and Cardiff Bay initiatives, Westminster has pushed ahead with Union Jack-flagged, Tory backed private projects.  But Johnson’s suggested North Channel bridge/tunnel link between Scotland and Northern Ireland was always a fantasy.

But even the promises made to the Tory-targeted, former Labour-held, ‘Red Belt’ seats in England, are beginning to look a bit hollow.  The much-hyped HS2 railway to Leeds has been shelved.  Labour’s own US style, city mayor-led links with corporate business, particularly in Andy Burnham’s Manchester City Council, were meant to be side-lined by direct Tory supporting private businesses.  But many of those companies, which offered bribes to the Tories before the 2019 Westminster election, have revealed themselves to be incompetent.  They have been little concerned about their ability to deliver, provided they can pocket government largesse.  This has been shown over Covid.  Far from “Levelling Up”, the gap between the richest and poorest has grown ever wider. 

So how does Radakin see the military’s role in “Levelling Up”?  “Our air stations and garrisons, our dockyards and training schools, are the life blood of so many communities.  We invest billions into aviation, shipbuilding and other high-tech industries, in every region and every community across all of these islands.  We’re the experts at levelling up.  We’ve been doing it for centuries and we’ll be doing it long into the future.”

Yes, there is a lot that can be done with such “billions”.  But in a world threatened by pandemics, global warming and ever more severe environmental degradation, then military spending, leading to more wars with their many deaths, destruction and possible nuclear annihilation, is not the best use of such spending.

But to associate the armed forces of “Global Britain” with “Levelling Up”, Radakin points to Barrow-in-Furness. This is “a community whose very identity is rooted in a sense of purpose that comes from building nuclear submarines – and the feelings of pride and accomplishment are palpable inside and outside the factory gates.”  Barrow became linked with the UK’s armaments industry, and Vickers, in the1890s – the heyday of ‘Empire1’.  Barrow had the highest Scottish-born population of any urban area in England.  Vickers built the Royal Navy’s first submarine in 1901.  Radakin wants this imperial legacy to carry over to a wider ruling class backed “Global Britain” today, although it is  not incompatible with the Hard Right’s ‘Empire2’ should any of their number follow Johnson as PM.

Levelling down and ‘defence’ hypocrisy

However, Radakin’s feelings about Barrow’s “pride and accomplishment” go along with the denial of other intimately associated features of its military economy.  Barrow’s submarine yard lies only a few miles from another nuclear institution, Windscale.  This was originally built to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, including those found on Barrow’s nuclear submarines.  But after an earlier major accident, a renamed Windscale later became the controversial Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant.  It has had its own litany of ‘accidents’, and it will take a further 100 years to decommission and 10,000 years for the radioactive waste material to degrade.  Thus, any “Levelling Up’ has to be weighed against such ‘levelling down.’

And Radakin also has to disconnect his “Levelling Up”, brought about through better paid skilled jobs in the arms industry, from the ‘levelling down’ associated with the arms deployment by British armed forces – e.g. the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq and the 459 in Afghanistan.  And this of course also ignores British armed forces’ contribution to the much wider ‘levelling down’ in both countries.  This has left an estimated 200,000 direct civilian deaths in Iraq and over 46,000 direct civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

The last war, in which it could persuasively be argued that British armed forces were involved in the defence of UK territory, was with Nazi Germany.  All wars since then have been waged upon other countries or peoples, none of whom posed any immediate threat to people living in the UK.  However, Radakin’s job description, the Chief of the Defence Staff, uses the notion of ‘defence’ to disguise the overriding imperial purpose of the UK’s armed forces.  ‘Defence’ was also invoked in the carefully contrived lie of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction”.  And there is every reason to believe that the neo-Blairite, Starmer would resort to such duplicity if the British ruling class felt that his time had come.

Radakin got his initial officer training at the time of the Iraq War.  His speech recalls the influence of Tony Blair and his “Chicago Speech {advocating} the moral and intellectual rationales for liberal interventionism.”  Neither Blair nor his children were anywhere near the frontline.  Nor too were many senior British military officers.  Within the armed forces, it is mainly those drawn from the working class, who bear the brunt of the actual fighting.  This was highlighted by Rose Gentle, from Pollok, a founder member of Military Families Against the War, following the death of her 19years old son Gordon in Iraq.

Despite the failure of the Iraq and then the Afghanistan wars, even on their initial supporters’ own terms, the relatively safely placed Radakin still wants to press ahead.  “Our withdrawal from Afghanistan is grist to the mill for those who subscribe to a narrative around the decline of the West”.  He chillingly concludes, though, by saying, “We have the opportunity… to be more lethal… And to become Global Forces for Global Britain.”  Clearly his vision for “Global Britain” involves even more deaths and destruction, albeit not for the British ruling class.  

But with their new Armed Forces Bill (2021-22) the Tories are offering some protection to the ranks of British armed forces, which, under such circumstances, will inevitably become involved in further war crimes. Senior officers and their political masters have always been exempted from any such scrutiny.  This was shown by the outcome of the 2010 Saville Enquiry into Bloody Sunday in Derry, when 14 people were killed by the Parachute Regiment in January 1971  The enquiry  confining its  blame to the most junior officers and ranks.

Radakin’s move from “Global Britain” to “Strengthening the Union”

The 2016 Brexit referendum, led to the majority of the British ruling class ditching neo-liberal for authoritarian populist politics.  And Brexit’s ‘Bring back control’ to the British ruling class, has seen the Tories pursuing a reactionary unionist offensive throughout these islands.  This is designed to roll back the very limited national self-determination associated with the post-1998 ‘Devolution-all-round’ and its associated “Union of Equals” and “Parity of Esteem”.  These were the earlier buzzwords, promoted by Gordon Brown and David Cameron, up until the shock of ‘IndyRef1’.

For those of us living in Scotland (and in Wales and Ireland too), the prospect of Radakin’s military “Strengthening the Union” is disturbing.  So far, the Tories have only used some of the anti-democratic powers of the Crown-in-Westminster set-up, to curtail the post-1998 liberal unionist institutions at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay (in Stormont though, they are mainly challenged by the even more reactionary unionist DUP).  In this they have had the overwhelming backing of the media.  The British Broadcasting Corporation has taken the lead, falling back on the defence of the ‘British’ in its title.  Thus, in Scotland many have come to understand the BBC’s British unionist bias.  This was shown by one banner on All Under One Banner’s demonstration in Edinburgh on 25th September – BBC = Boris’s Bullshitting Corporation.

But the BBC’s unionist partisanship was taken considerably further in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’.  As yet though, in Scotland, the role of other state agencies, e.g. MI5, although no doubt active, has not drawn the opprobrium generated by the BBC amongst Scottish independence supporters.  MI5 have no such visible presence in Scotland as they do in their Palace Barracks HQ in Holywood, County Down, just outside Belfast.

In 2016, at the height of Jeremy Corbyn’s political challenge, The Times quoted an unnamed, acting British general, who had “served Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s.”  “If Corbyn proved as militarily radical a premier as promised, ‘the army just wouldn’t stand for it.  The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that.  The Ministry of Defence took no action, describing the “general’s remarks as ‘not helpful’”  Or to put it another way, it would be better if senior military officers did not reveal their possible intentions in public.

However, Corbyn, although an advocate of radical policies, which have been strongly opposed by the British ruling class, is also deeply moulded in a very British Labourism.  This does not challenge the institutions of the UK state but sees them as an adequate vehicle for pursuing social democratic polices.  Thus, Corbyn just ignored the threats coming from an “an unnamed, acting British general”.  And this constitutional conservatism was also underscored by Corbyn’s 2017 and 2019 general election manifestoes, emphasising Labour’s role in defending the Union.  This followed Gordon Brown’s defence of the Union in ‘Better Together’ during `IndyRef1’, and preceded Sir Keir Starmer’s recent appeals to British patriotism.

Radakin’s appointment has made it quite clear that the ruling class intends to mobilise the full panoply of UK state forces to “Strengthen the Union”.  Without mentioning Scotland, Radakin highlights his first two priorities.  “The rest of the world see us for who we are.  A permanent member of the UN Security Council.  A nuclear power.”  Scotland’s secession from the Union could see the removal of the UK from the Security Council, whilst the closure of Faslane could end the UK as a nuclear power.  Scotland is in the frontline of “Strengthening the Union.” and ”Global Britain.”

Radakin was already Director of Force Development in November 2012 and was further promoted to Rear Admiral in November 2014.  This was the time of ‘IndyRef1’.  He was no doubt fully aware of, if not a key advocate for, the MOD’s secret plan for Faslane to secede from Scotland in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.  But notice that, at the time, despite their preparations for a British extra-territorial ‘Guantanomac Bay’, a still liberal unionist supporting British ruling class could live with the SNP’s ‘IndyLite’ Scotland – under NATO, the Crown, the City of London and the British High Command.  With reactionary unionism in the ascendency today, this is no longer the case

If Corbyn could ignore some unnamed military source, then the failure of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership (and just as revealingly Alex Salmond and Alba) to challenge Radakin’s much more public threat to anti-Unionists shows that they also have no effective strategy to deal with the British ruling class today.  SNP opposition to the BBC and the House of Lords leaves unquestioned far too many of the UK state’s other agencies which can be mobilised against Scottish independence.  And Joanna Cherry’s belief in the British Supreme Court is every bit as naïve.

The history of British armed forces and “Strengthening the Union”

In Scotland, most people associate the role of British armed forces in “Strengthening the Union” with distant history – the Redcoats and their adversaries, the Jacobites, particularly in the 1715 and 1745 Rebellions.  Strictly speaking though, this was a clash between two unionist forces – those supporting the 1707 Union of Parliaments and the Williamite and Hanoverian dynasties, and those who supported the 1603 Union of the Crowns and the Stuart dynasty.  And both championed Empire.

Since the triumph of the Hanoverians, British armed forces (with considerable Scottish regimental backing) have served “Global Britain” or ‘Empire1’ and also Strengthening the Union” in Ireland.  It was only in 2007, when the last non-local, British troops were removed from the streets of Northern Ireland and the frontline of defending the Union there was handed over to MI5 at Palace Barracks.   British troops (with Scottish regiments enjoying particular notoriety) had been stationed in Northern Ireland for 38 years.  During this period they lost around 500 men and killed 156 civilians (as well as 128 Irish Republican forces, plus others).  And the most brutal repression from 1969 to 1997 was overseen by both Labour and Conservative governments.

So, the use of armed forces to “Strengthen the Union” is not confined to some long bygone historical events.  The MOD’s own preferred choice for Chief of Staff, General Nick Carter (praised in Radakin’s speech) began his officer’s job in Northern Ireland.  The thinking of senior military officers in Northern Ireland from 1969 was moulded by their recent experience in defending the British Empire.  They transferred their racism and contempt to the “bogwogs” in Northern Ireland.  The more recent senior activities of  military officers in Northern Ireland will also colour their current thinking as they try to “Strengthen the Union.”  Maybe Johnson’s own term for Scots, “tartan dwarves” is already floating around senior officers’ messes.  Although Radakin is smart enough not to use such offensive language.

SNP official policy is continued support for the Union of the Crowns. Alex Salmond has long been one of the most vociferous supporters of Queen Elizabrit, and he decides what is acceptable or not in Alba.  So, Scotland’s constitutional nationalists wish to end the 1707 Act of Union but defend the 1603 Union of the Crowns!  However, a united British Crown no longer plays the same role today in buttressing monarchical power.  The Crown merely acts as a (very privileged) front for use of the UK state’s Crown Powers.  These are usually wielded behind-the-scenes in the interests of the wider British ruling class.  The UK constitution is unwritten, so this class can make it up as they go along, using their non-elected senior judges and the Privy Council.  They can bypass Westminster, never mind Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont.

The ranks of Scottish independence supporters probably contain an anti-monarchist majority.  They look forward to the possibility of abolishing the monarchy after Scottish independence has been won.  But Scottish independence is unlikely ever to be won without challenging the Crown Powers, in the here and now.  This understanding marks the difference between sentimental anti-monarchism (a bit like Labour’s sentimental Clause 4 ‘socialism’) and democratic republicanism. 

Radakin’s speech was wrapped in non-Johnsonite packaging, designed to reassure the more nervous sections of the British ruling class and the dwindling liberal sections of the media.  Scottish independence supporters should not be so easily taken in by the seriously anti-democratic intent behind Radakin’s “Strengthen the Union”.

This is why the ‘Break-up of the Union’ movement throughout these islands needs to develop its own ‘Internationalism from Below’ strategy and tactics to deal with the ‘Brexit Britain’s reactionary unionism.  At the moment, Scotland is in the frontline of this challenge, so we have a special responsibility.  With Radakin hiding his real aims behind the UK’s anti-democratic mask of the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster, our political starting point needs to uphold the democratic republican principle of the sovereignty of the people and its associated right of national self-determination.  Or as Scottish internationalist, Hamish Henderson pithily put it – “Freedom Come All Ye”.

 

 

Comments (7)

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  1. Welsh_Siôn says:

    Note also:

    Ministry of Defence appoints Welsh Language Champion ‘as part of the commitment to a united nation’

    27 Dec 2021 2 minute Read

    https://nation.cymru/news/ministry-of-defence-appoints-welsh-language-champion-as-part-of-the-commitment-to-a-united-nation/

    All part of their cunning plan to strengthen their so-called ‘union’.

  2. James Mills says:

    I just don’t understand why they changed their nomenclature from ”Ministry of War ” to ”Ministry of Defence ” – it fooled nobody !

  3. SleepingDog says:

    My understanding was that Radakin’s involvement in information warfare at the Royal Navy (which presumably liaised regularly with USAmerican military counterparts) was a key factor in getting the new appointment.
    https://defencedigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/11/21/nelson-royal-navys-data-digital-programme/
    Although given how hopelessly incompetent the MoD generally is, perhaps success is a low bar, and the prime desirable is a track record in shovelling taxpayers’ cash into corporate wheelbarrows and kissing up to the minions of the overlord Empire. With UK official secrecy as it is, we might get a better idea of how the (essentially royalist in many parts, just like the ‘impartial’ BBC has a royal charter) British military is conducting psyops through the USAmerican declassifications (or public-spirited whistleblowers).

    But there are signs that once-smoothed Cold War cracks could be showing under the paper when it comes to state-managed culture wars. It is difficult to package royalism as democracy in the USA (although they’ve managed to merge Christ and Capitalism), and many professionals (historians, archaeologists, artists) of generations who have never bought into a ‘special relationship’ may be increasingly outspoken against the royalist-tinged works of past British imperialism. British diplomacy, if anything even more stuffed with the ruling elite than the officer corps or BBC/Channel4 or high court judges, has proved incompetent, complacent, lazy and out of touch on many key issues. It remains to be seen how the British state can prosecute culture wars from a position of patrician self-delusion where it is always struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.

  4. Tom Ultuous says:

    Great article Allan.

    The film ’71 summed it up well. “Posh cunts paying thick cunts to kill poor cunts.”

  5. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    And, what ARE your proposals for such a strategy Mr Armstrong?

  6. Mons Meg says:

    According to his speech https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/chief-of-the-defence-staff-speech-to-the-royal-united-services-institute, Sir Anthony is proposing to reconfigure our armed forces in such a way as to make them fit for purpose in the new world order. He perceives that order as being marked by:

    a global resurgence of nationalism and of competition for resources (‘power’) between nation-states;
    a global rehabilitation of ‘the national interest’ as a legitimate pursuit.

    He infers from this that his job as Chief of the Defence Staff is to support us in the pursuit of our national interest as this is democratically defined through our political institutions. He identifies this interest as being currently defined by the duly elected government’s policy of ‘Global Britain. Levelling Up. Strengthening the Union’.

    In the remainder of his speech, he outlines five priorities he intends to pursue in carrying out his job. These priorities can be summed up as ‘making efficiencies’.

    The trouble with Sir Anthony’s proposal doesn’t lie with his analysis of the new world order. Fukuyama’s completion of mankind’s socio-cultural evolution in the globalisation of liberal democracy has deconstructed into Huntington’s clash of civilisations. The global resurgence of nationalism and the competition between nations for resources/power is part of the decadence of late capitalism. Sir Anthony’s proposal is only to do what he can to ensure that the UK has what it takes to survive and prosper in an increasingly competitive international environment.

    The trouble with Sir Anthony’s proposal is that it’s too ‘short-term’; the reconfiguration it proposes is tied to our national interest only as it’s currently defined. This definition could change at the next general election. What he should be proposing is a reconfiguration that will make out armed forces more responsible to the shifting patterns of the general will as expressed through our political institutions; he shouldn’t be seeking to lock the configuration of those forces into what the current expression of our national interest happens to be.

    The deeper trouble is that Sir Anthony’s was a political appointment and is symptomatic of the increased politicisation of the civil service. He was appointed not for his competence as a civil servant (one of the competencies of which role is impartiality), but because he is ideologically aligned with the party that currently holds power. This is deeply troublesome because such appointments render our civil service unfit for democratic purpose.

  7. gavinochiltree says:

    In my lifetime (born in ’49) the ruling class always had a substantial smattering of Scots—Tory or Labour Cabinets, the media/BBC. The military is never noticed.
    No longer. The ruling elites are increasingly English, born, bred and narrowly educated.
    This may not be spoken, but is obvious, and it’s difficult to see either a future Tory or Labour government, if wiped out in Scotland, in portraying themselves as a “representative” government.
    This may be why Adam Tomkins is the latest Tory to suggest Brit Nat election pacts in Scotland–to get a Token Jock in Cabinet.
    We desperately need a more vigorous, assertive Independence Party to portray self-government as the normal condition for a country, and to show up our Bantu status for what it is.

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