British Realism and a Scottish Republic
The Prince Andrew scandal is the perfect time to make the case for a Scottish republic.
The writer Mark Fisher fostered the idea of ‘capitalist realism’, from his book of that title in 2009 he argued that “capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology‘ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business”. His idea refers to a perceived “widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”
Alongside this idea we can see British Realism, a condition in which the very strange and exceptional state of British structures cultures and institutions are assumed to be not only normal and universal but primary and exceptional. The most fervent British Realists believe Britain to be the very best in the world, and have essentially formed a sort of cult, the existence of which they are completely unaware. This movement is ahistorical and seemingly unaware (often literally) of the rest of the world. The condition can only be sustained by practicing an advanced state of hyper-parochialism and studied avoidance of ideas and examples beyond These Islands. This ends with a state in which for some British people there is a widespread sense that not only is Britain the only viable political entity to exist in, but also that it is impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.
This can be seen from the way we structure our education to the way we retain power in the hands of a few. Evidence from Upstart shows that the best way to allow our children to flourish is through play-based-learning. International evidence shows that children under the age of seven benefit from an educational approach that supports their all-round physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, rather than pushing them towards early academic achievement.
Upstart explains: “We’re trapped by history and tradition. In 1870, the English parliament chose an early school starting age so children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories. Scotland followed suit, and ever since we’ve taken it for granted that formal education must start at five. (Only 12% of countries worldwide start children at school so early – and all bar one are ex-members of the British Empire.)”
We’re continuing this practice in the face of overwhelming evidence from around the world, because of British exceptionalism.
The House of Lords now has over 800 unelected peers, at a cost of £1.1m a year based on the average expenses claim, according to the Electoral Reform Society.
British exceptionalism is a debilitating condition.
At its heart tradition and deference act as a stranglehold, a cloying quietism that befuddles people into a pliant cosy nostalgia. Even when these habits structures and institutions are proven failures they are clung on to out of desperation and blind ignorance.
Nowhere is this more true than in the continued allegiance to the monarchy. Now, sensing real crisis, liberal commentators are panicking. Martin Kettle writes: “The latest Ipsos Mori survey on the subject, in November 2021, showed 60% for Britain remaining a monarchy, with 21% favouring a republic and 19% don’t knows. That is still a strong position, but it is a notable decline. It has come, moreover, at a time when the Queen’s own popularity remains undiminished. In a YouGov survey last week, Elizabeth II’s favourability ratings were 84% positive against 11% negative. When the Queen eventually goes, however, things could be very different.”
Well, yeah, and without wanting to be morbid, that can’t be too far away.
But a lot (a lot) has happened between November 2021 and today and would love to see those survey figures updated. I’d also like to see them disaggregated for Scotland.
Kettle is thinking hard about the future. He writes “It is not hard to see what will start to happen after the Queen’s death, and perhaps even before it … The monarchy will find itself sliding into becoming the object of controversy from which Elizabeth has, by and large, insulated it. Its vulnerability will be exposed and tested, not least among younger people.”
“If you want to make that prospect a little spicier, imagine it happening at about the same time that the future unity of the new monarch’s kingdom is itself under challenge. Suppose Northern Ireland is facing a referendum on unification, or Scotland a vote on whether to go independent. Neither is at all unthinkable within the next decade.”
But if there’s an open door for real change here and an abandonment of the suffocation of British Realism, it’s a door that needs a good shove.
As the Yes Movement is attempting a re-launch it should do the right thing and put a Scottish Republic at the heart of its vision. We need to completely revise the case for independence and ditching the British monarchy must be a key element of a completely overhauled outlook. This could be at centre of a contemporary constitution worthy of the 21 C and future focused for the times ahead.
It would likely be unpopular with a small fragment of the population already unlikely to be persuadable and enrage a portion of lumpen loyalists.
But more importantly it would galvanise an idea of this being a democracy movement as much and far more than a nationalist one. Tactically too introducing completely new ideas disorients the opposition who are frothing at the mouth in panic at the state of British politics.
Let’s change the ground, change the debate. Posit a contemporary modernising Scotland with an archaic broken Britain. Let Barons Foulkes and McConnell and Baroness Lundin Links argue against it all they like.
We can either be British subject or Scottish citizens, it’s time to decide.
The argument for a long time has been that the sweet spot is to make sure that the case for Scottish independence must not be too radical so it puts people off supporting it. This was always completely wrong but it’s more obviously wrong as you see the British state slide into further disgrace and dysfunctionality. For the case for Yes to be compelling it must offer the prospect of real change.