2007 - 2022

The Hauntology of British Unionism

Renewing the Social Union through Saint and Greavsie with Eddie Barnes.

Writing on his Substack and in the Scottish Daily Mail Eddie Barnes laments the dissolution of the British ‘social union’. Eddie is a former political journalist with the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday and previous head of Strategy and Communications for the Scottish Tories – who now works for ScotlandCan (a pet project of Gordon Brown’s Our Scottish Future think-tank) and also advises Anas Sarwar.

The piece is a beautiful insight into one-man’s worldview and the wider Unionist landscape it represents. This is a political topography marked by fear and loss and shadows of the past. Early on Barnes sets out his stall: “What might be termed the ‘social union’ of the UK – the common bonds and experiences we share on this island – has rarely felt as frail. I’d guess that the average family living in Scotland is more familiar with parts of Spain than with London or other parts of the UK. When it comes to Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK, we look like ships passing in the night. Whether Scotland is in the Union or becomes an independent nation, this cannot be allowed to hold.”

There’s much to behold here. I love the confused very Brexity ex-pat notion that there’s something terribly wrong with knowing parts of Spain. It’s the Inward-Outwardness of the British paradox which quietly murmurs … “But remember the opening ceremony of the London Olympics?” … as Priti Patel unveils her Rwanda solutions. We’ll return to the hypocrisy of the Unionism which promised the world and gave you Michael Fabricant in a moment. The other lovely tension between the glowing description of yesterday is the underlying threat which is also posed: “Whether Scotland is in the Union or becomes an independent nation, this cannot be allowed to hold.”

For Barnes the idea that he is living in a country which has some distinct political features or institutions or that he might witness cultural aspects that don’t fit the Britgeist is just intolerable. He describes his experience as a ‘lived separateness’, and longs for the days when nothing had changed: “Thirty years ago, the social interaction between Scotland and England was best embodied by Saint and Greavsie on a Saturday morning making each other laugh harmlessly over football. Today it is characterised by Boris Johnson and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford fighting it out over Brexit and Scotland’s right to self-determination at Prime Minister’s Questions.”

I guess the choice being put here is between “laughing harmlessly” or self-determination?

But what has caused this terrible parting of ways?

Sighing over his keyboard Barnes writes: “Partly, it’s because of big long-term changes to the nature of Britain, which no longer provides as strong a common bond. The end of Empire, no more National Service, a smaller army and navy – all can be picked out as evidence of a changing state. The Queen’s forthcoming Platinum Anniversary in June will provide a glimmer of those former days but the Imperial nation has gone and a shared sense of Britishness no longer superglues the country together as before. A common “demos” has withered.”

Larger Nations We Live In

I mean, sure the Empire was great, and who doesn’t miss National Service? But like much of the narrative about Our Common Future it’s not the most contemporary prospectus you’ve ever heard.

This isn’t an accident.

This isn’t a failure of Unionist messaging or of their collective imagination, this IS their collective imagination. Britain is by-definition a backwards place, it is what’s so great about it. It’s the very stuckness, quaintness, and slight brokeness that makes it all so wonderful: it is the pageantry; the faux-gothic Mother of Parliaments; Big Ben; the Bongs; the Gongs; the Goons; Eton and Oxbridge; they are wrapped-up in a glorious artifice imbued with endless tradition, hierarchy and clandestine networks (class power).

This is a paradox that the Unionists can’t really fathom. Barnes starts his piece with a description of a recent family trip to London. He explains: “The trip was a reminder of this larger nation we live in, right here on our doorstep.”

I don’t know whether he was conscious of what that spills. I think he means Britain is a nation.

In a paragraph that’s redolent of those Enid Blyton’s updated for a modern audience he writes: “…an Easter break down to the Big Smoke with the family reminded my why I love the place so much. For my bookish 14-year old, it was the country’s biggest Waterstone’s in Bloomsbury. For my football mad 16-year old, it was the Spurs game he managed to get tickets for. For me, as always, it’s the variety, the size, the boundlessness; the feeling that all around you, life always has, and always will, take place with an urgency and a vibrancy enough to power battleships.”


But again this gnawing Inward-Outwardness rises again. Barnes moans with excitement about how “London somehow connects you back into history, and pushes you into the future, and beyond our shores.” Beyond our shores?! I hope not to Spain.

This excitement, this sense of history and a future could only be experienced in a city with agency. It’s difficult to imagine Barnes writing of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen in such terms. Why would he?

Asymmetric Unionism

If Barnes and his colleagues across the media are concerned with the tragedy of ‘lived separateness’ (translation: difference is not tolerated), their solutions seem comically implausible.

While he’s pinning his hopes on ‘The Queen’s forthcoming Platinum Anniversary in June will provide a glimmer of those former days’ … other policy trinkets are on offer, he writes: “Government could help here: imaginative policies aimed at improving social and business connections and incentivising exchanges would be welcome. For example, if exchange programmes for University and College students abroad are a good idea – and they are – why not have a similar programme here in Britain? Better still, civic organisations and institutions including the Royal Family could get involved too by, for example, sponsoring schools to twin up as environmental champions in their respective communities.”

This is so insipid it clashes wildly with the ‘Muscular Unionism’ which holds it. If the Union needs to create a vision of a future Britain it may need to be a tiny bit bolder than ‘imaginative policies aimed at improving social and business connections’. The vision of ” the Royal Family sponsoring schools to twin up as environmental champions” is writing as if you’d woken up from a self-induced coma from the 1950s.

Then in a final flourish of Blytonian Imagination: “Doubtless there would be complaints from Nationalists that this was all a plot designed to save the Union [the Rotters! – Ed]. To demonstrate that the aim is to boost a sense of solidarity and joint working, Britain should invite Ireland to join up too. The British Isles will always be a family, no matter the politics of the moment.”

Of course we will.

The problem with a post-Brexit return to the Family of Nations stuff ]s that it sort of misses out All of Recent History. It’s a wonderful wee reverie he’s in but it misses out the fact that the Irish left the family in 1916 and half of Scotland wants to go.

The other problem is with general argument of compulsory Britishness as an antidote to ‘lived separateness’ is how asymmetric it all is. This is a constant feature of living in the ‘periphery’ and redolent of James Robertson’s ‘The News from Where You Are‘.

This week the Guardian tells us that the “National Theatre (sic)” is “to stage The Odyssey in ‘epic, episodic’ retelling around UK”. We’re told that “Parts to be staged in Stoke, Doncaster, Trowbridge and Sunderland in 2023 using local writers and amateur casts before finale in London.”

As the Queen celebrates her 96th birthday and becomes the hauntological centrepiece of British media obsession, this sort of Anglo-Britain conflation or erasure of the Celtic Fringe continues ad nauseam.

But the problem for Barnes and his colleagues is that the Utopian Britain he evokes, with it’s benevolent relations and cultural homogeneity contrasts wildly with reality.

In 2013 Boris Johnson gave us a taste of what was to come delivering the Margaret Thatcher Lecture and boasted that what had made Britain great in the past, and what Thatcher had recovered for today, was that we had conquered or invaded fully 90% of the world’s countries.  A few months later Michael Deacon writing in the Telegraph sketched ‘5 Alternative currencies for an independent Scotland’.

Scotland, he suggested might call its national currency “the radge, the ned, the bampot, the boabie, the smackheid, the schemie, the scaff, the scunner, and the English numpty.” At the end of the day he concluded, we could resort to barter where, “for example, if a Scotsman meets an Englishman who has some food, the Scotsman can suggest exchanging the food for the right not to be punched repeatedly in the mouth.”

This sort of oscillation between the misty-eyed Blytonian vision of Scotland’s orphaned columnists (“the British Isles will always be a family”) and the reality of how Scotland and the Scots are portrayed is a brutal one. It’s a difficulty the assorted scribes are finding difficult to process and so we are indulged in an endless stream of nostalgia and soft-focused dreamy pieces about future harmonious constitutional change (normally involving the ascent of Gordon Brown).

You can’t be othered, peripheralised, ridiculed and then chastised for not visiting Madame Tussauds often enough.

Buyers Remorse

Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever got what you wished for then realised it was all a terrible mistake? Chris did.

Like someone who has bought a house only to find it riddled with wet-rot. Or in his case sold one and is experiencing disorienting and fleeting spasms of constitutional guilt.

They promised you Mo Farah and gave you Priti Patel.

Now the collective powers of the Unionist commentariat are stretching their journalistic sinews to make sense of the world they willed into life. They are often caught between a misty-eyed vision of Britain’s future (‘civic organisations and institutions including the Royal Family could get involved too’) and the sort of hysterical dystopian ramblings of, The Thunderer who warns us darkly …


Without a hint of irony those who suppress a democratic vote on Scotland’s future simultaneously question it’s function as a democracy. The danger with this level of absurdism is it renders the author a captive of an increasingly small and marginalised sub-culture within Anglo-Scottish society.

The Unionist framing is still a combination of spooking Scots with wild-eyed economic catastrophism, fantasising about a progressive British political culture and pretending that the political values and conduct of the governing party on show daily are somehow irrelevant to our debate. These tropes are maintained while juggling the Hauntology of a broken Britain – the degenerate relics of the House of Windsor, and the constant confusion of England/Britain and the ‘larger nation we live in.’

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Comments (46)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    What a brilliant article!
    Now UDI…that’ll frighten the shite oot o’ them. Wee England standing alone…OOOOOO! Scary.( still got the ever faithful Welsh and the nut jobs in N Ireland..so not so bad)
    I feel if I keep saying UDI…it will happen before I die…

    A thought before bedtime..Betty Windsor might not make it tae the big party….then what?
    UDIUDIUDIUDI…now listen to me…..

    1. Margaret Brogan says:

      I think you will find that the Welsh are not far behind us. Also, your description of the people in Northern Ireland is absolutely shocking.

  2. Joe Killman says:

    Excellent article Mike. Very thought provoking. Thanks.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    “… previous head of Strategy and Communications for the Scottish Tories – who now works for ScotlandCan (a pet project of Gordon Brown’s Our Scottish Future think-tank) and also advises Anas Sarwar.” Nuff said!!!

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      This also explains why the ‘labour party’ is dead in Scotland.

  4. Paddy Farrington says:

    Really interesting piece, Mike. In a sense the diagnosis made by Barnes is absolutely correct: “A common ‘demos’ has withered.” For independence supporters, the logical consequence is that, since the political choices Scotland and England are now making are so different, it makes sense to go our separate ways. For unionists, though, this fact is often profoundly disorientating , and in my experience (at stalls, canvassing, or with family members) this alienation is often expressed as anger. How we deal with that, constructively rather than dismissively, is a major challenge for the Yes movement.

    1. “How we deal with that, constructively rather than dismissively, is a major challenge for the Yes movement” – aye that’s true I think Paddy. Its quite difficult when – as in this example and others – that group is led into an abyss of ridiculous analysis, but I take your point.

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        It’s an important and beautifully expressed point that Paddy makes, because how Scotland deals with this, especially how we relate to difference, will shape the kind of independent nation thar I dearly hope we soon become. But within that framing: and for all that, “Let friendship and honour unite / And flourish on both sides of the Tweed.”

        1. MBC says:

          I don’t hate those who oppose independence. I feel their trauma and I pity them. They need to stop believing in the Titanic and jump into the lifeboat.

          1. Paddy Farrington says:

            When I meet someone opposed to independence, I try to think back to how I thought about it, back in the days (not that long ago) when I myself did not support independence. I’m not sure that pity, any more than hate, would have helped me work my way through through it. Indeed, some of my previous political colouring remains to this day: I would not, for example, call myself a nationalist. I find the notion of self determination far more capacious, and far more liberating: one that opens doors rather than closes them.

            By the way, Mike, I intended no criticism of your piece. I think there is a big difference between how one engages with a written analysis (which does require a degree of logic and evidence), and how one relates to an actual person in conversation (where logic and evidence may perhaps be less salient).

  5. Jacob Bonnari says:

    The years since 2016 have led me to the conclusion where I think hopes for Scottish independence are not driven by thinking the SNP have the right answers but more by a recognition that Britain isn’t working (to coin a phrase) for anyone other than English Tory voters.

    I suspect that most Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish (regardless of affiliation) would answer that the governance of the UK is very poor and not fit for purpose.

    The challenge is to design a new Union settlement which addresses this content, but I suspect thatbthis won’t happen because (1) the Tories benefit from it, (2) it would require facing up to the reality of mediocre politicians and services for top-dollar prices, (3) Britain would need to face up to its imperial past, something which English Labour won’t do under FPTP because it is shit scared of the white working class deserting them.

    For the independence movement, in particular the SNP, to make progress it needs to attack the myths of benign Britishness. This will be difficult as long as the Queen is alive, but will be easier after that.

  6. 220422 says:

    And here’s me thinking that Blackford and Boris were the new Saint and Greavsie.

  7. James Mills says:

    The UK ”Social Union ”…. Jesus wept !

  8. 220422 says:

    ‘…that the average family living in Scotland is more familiar with parts of Spain than with London or other parts of the UK.’

    This will depend surely on whether or not that average family has migrated to Scotland from London or other parts of the UK. I presume that citizens of Scotland (i.e. Scots) who originated in London or other parts of the UK will be more familiar with those places and their people than those who didn’t or who haven’t spent significant time there.

    The EU defines a social union as the integration of social policy among several nations or states. This is part of what the EU aspires to and what the British nationalists don’t want to be part of. It remains to be seen whether Scottish nationalists would want us to have anything to do with such a union with the other nations in the UK.

    Canada defines it as equality of opportunity, health and social care programmes, migration rights, and other rights in all provinces and territories across its continent. Again, it remains to be seen whether Scottish nationalists would want us to have anything to do with such cross-Britain initiatives or whether they would want complete separation.

    Eddie Barnes defines it as the common bonds and experiences we share on this island. Well, f*ck that! We should be embracing the diversity of lived experience on these islands rather than some notional unity.

    God is dead. Any grand unifying principle with which we might once have identified – a common ancestry, a common language, a common history, a common heritage – has long since withered away with the increased mobility of the global population. Even as Scots, all we have by which we can now distinguish ourselves as ‘Scots’ is a shared civic life. Maybe it’s this ‘death of God’ in relation to our Britishness that Barnes is regretting.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      How can you say “God is dead” when the post just above yours says “Jesus wept”?


  9. Simon Taylor says:

    Barnes signally fails in understanding that London is not England, as Edinburgh is not Scotland.
    As an internal tourist to the UKs capital he is clearly seduced by the Disneyland experience of royalty, empire and history. Trying desperately to belong to sonetjong he’s not really part of. Its all for the tourists. Its not real. A facade and tattered backdrop to the notion of Britishness.
    Does he empathise with the Brexit voting Midlands or North East of England. Equally British.Strongly English Nationalist. But unfortunately not fitting into his one nation narrative.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Will the ‘English’ ever be given a vote on whether they choose to stay in the UK?
      If they were I suspect it would soon result in Scottish Independence whether we like it or not.

      1. Simon Taylor says:

        Agreed John although the ” English ” identity crisis suggests they are comfortable with hybrid Britishness. Britain is England so why change things ?

        1. 220423 says:

          I travel throughout England quite a lot, exclusively by public transport. Most of the public I meet are quite happy in their own skins and *know *(even if they can’t always put into words) what it means to be ‘English’, at least as well as we each *know* what it means to be ‘Scottish’. Whence this English ‘identity crisis’ you’re talking about?

          1. Simon Taylor says:

            I too have travelled extensively through England with work and liesure. British or English. Union Jack or flag of St. George point to a confusion of identity.
            The general consensus from most informed pundits is that Brexit is defacto English Independence .An English exceptionalism. A ya boo sucks to the established world order. And an exposure of the failings of a unilateral United Kingdom. Its completely understandable . 300 years of empire. The mother of all parliament and so on. England is going through a period of loss. Loss of empire and influence. The 5 stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Which stage do you think England is at ? Anger ? Bargaining ? Because they sure as he’ll haven’t got to acceptance. This is where their confusion lies.

          2. 220424 says:

            There’s certainly a confusion of flags. I’m not so confident as you are that this bespeaks an identity crisis among the people who live in England. As I say, the vast majority of those I’ve met during my sojourns among them seem perfectly happy in their own skins.

            Nor have I seen much wailing and gnashing their teeth over the loss of empire. Most of the discontent I’ve met within people stems rather from an unhappiness with the general sh*tt*ness of their lives. And most folk, whose lives are fair-to-middlingly comfortable, seem mostly happy.

            I suspect the whole ‘identity crisis’ narrative is a political phantasy, a spectre that’s haunting Europe.

          3. Niemand says:

            There is no more an identity crisis in England than there is in Scotland. It is all baloney dreamed up by media hacks and nationalists in both countries to serve their own agendas. England is a mongrel nation and has been for very long time if not forever and is of course a far more diverse nation than Scotland. It has always had a pretty fluid sense of what ‘English’ is and no-one is unclear about the political difference between England and Britain, though some English nationalists love to deliberately mix them up. Some English will waive the Union Jack at English events but it could just be that is because they support the Union, an English event is a British one, as is a Scottish or Welsh event. I know this is hard for nationalists to get their head round and they always assume it is a kind of imperial statement – England is Britain and only Britain, the two are synonymous etc., but if you are happy with Britain and the Union why would you not see England as part of Britain and waive the flag for England as part of it by raising the Union Jack – the English flag is actually part of the UJ?

            One thing does puzzle me is this idea that the social relationship between England and Scotland is no different between the US and UK, or NZ and Australia. Given the several thousand miles of water between these nations, the wildly different historical developments within each country and the thousand or more years of deep interrelations between England and Scotland, this is an untenable suggestion. The relations between Scandinavian countries is perhaps more pertinent but don’t know enough of their history to be sure. It strikes me that nationalists want relations between Scotland and England to be weak, cursory and characterised by great difference with little in common that matters, because it suits the nationalist cause (‘we are nothing like them!’), not because it is true. The reality is that England and Scotland, English and Scots are, heaven forfend, very similar in very many ways, far more similar than different overall and have an intertwined history that makes us socially inextricably linked.

            The football sporting commentary example given is interesting because if you watch the snooker, long dominated by players from all ‘home’ nations and Ireland, the spirit of friendly, individual rivalry regardless of nationhood and marked by clear deep connections across the these islands is very plain to see. Commentators come from all nations too and frequently work together commenting on players from all the nations. Nationality is displayed and sometimes discussed but it is very secondary to individual talent. Tournaments are held in each nation and called as such (the Scottish Open etc) but the place is mostly nominal in any nationalistic sense though offers local fans a chance to see events live and yes, for some players to win ‘at home’ and feel a certain satisfaction in that. The point is that if Britain broke up and all nations became independent this would unlikely change and the connections, camaraderie, familiar friendship between snooker peoples would still be there. They exist, they are real, no matter how much it is denied. So Barnes mourning the loss of all this is wrong because he is basing what he says on a fantasy in the first place and also fails to look around him today, stuck in the past as he is.

            The potential dissolution of the the UK (so including NI) is a political matter and there are many who support it across the UK, but the idea that this is because we have no social relations that matter (call it a social union if you will but clearly the union bit is a political message), flies in the face of reality and that reality will be very important and unavoidable if independence happens and is to be a success.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    This description of Barnesian unionism reminded me of the Dalek ‘losing control’ meme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxXSU-KHS-A
    Of course the Daleks are Doctor Who’s most polished representation of British imperialism. Yes, quasi-constitutionally backward-by-design. What would happen to the rest if the Supreme Dalek was led away in cuffs on Empire Celebration Day, conveyed to some intergalactic colonial crime tribunal, as past-conquered planets refuse entry to its underlings and demand reparations from Skaro?

    1. Wul says:

      As scary as the Daleks are, if I remember correctly, they can be defeated by something as simple as a travel rug thrown on the floor. Or conducting any battle with them on a grassy slope. “Brexterminate!”

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Wul, that is no doubt why Daleks preferred picking on small, unarmed, pacifist types: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/15/boris-johnson-knocks-over-10-year-old-boy-during-rugby-game-in-japan
        Their equivalent of the MoD was always overpromising. Impenetrable armour, indeed. Why were the Daleks always shouting? Probably deafened by the rattling in their Mark III Travel Machines.

  11. Wul says:

    Scotland Can: –

    “Go take a flying f***k to itself”
    “-nae huv a referendum”
    “Sit nice and quiet”
    “Be a lovely place for a holiday home”
    “Not be allowed to run it’s own affairs”
    “Never get the government it votes for”

    It’s a catchy strap-line, right enough.

  12. James Morton says:

    There has always been a “Grand Duchy of Fenwick” feel about Britishness and Union these days. A longing for a Pathe News Albion, chintz china with the queens face on it. Airfix TV masturbating over the Empire and Spitfires. Its no surprise that he reached for National Service and the Monarchy. It really is all they have left. Its destruction has nothing to do with Sturgeon or independence. The rot has always been there. Brexit didn’t start it, it merely accelerated it and covid exacerbated it. Johnson is also nothing more than a symptom of the deeper malaise. The damage he does is real but the damage he is doing is to the very fabric of the authors “Social Union”.

    Its almost as if he looked at the destruction and then confronted with the truth decided to look back to the Neverwas. Old Union blues, pining for a Blighty were Scots and English got on like Saint and Greavsie. A confection of whimsy that never existed and unable to see the past for what it was let alone comphrehend the future and what it promises.

    When that cost of living crisis starts to bite, when people start losing thousands of pounds from their yearly household budgets – England will come to see it as reckless Tory incompetence. Scots will increasingly see it as the unacceptable price of union and that Britishness is the worst participation trophy in history.

    1. 220423 says:

      The British social union, represented here in the metaphysical conceit of ‘Saint and Greavsie’ (and the inter-chauvinistic banter thereof), is premised on a rivalry between the so-called ‘Home Nations’, as conceived in the 19th-century Unionist narratives of the Scottish Wars of Independence, Jacobitism, and Home International sporting competitions. Scottish nationalism today preserves (in at least some of its variants) this rivalrous union of ‘Scots-vs-English’.

      We need to outgrow this. It smacks of codependency, which inhibits independence.

      1. Simon Taylor says:

        The British Social Union is notional. Yes there is strong links between the home nations. This is used extensively as an argument against Independence by those against it. Yet it is no stronger a social union than that between the UK and US or the Scandinavian countries or New Zealand and Australia.
        The nonsense of passport checks at a Scotland England border or not being able to watch the BBC.
        So how do you break down co dependency?

        1. 220424 says:

          Hauntologically speaking, Barnes’ ‘social union’ is indeed a notional phantasy, a spectre. As I’ve said, ‘Any grand unifying principle with which we might once have identified – a common ancestry, a common language, a common history, a common heritage – has long since withered away with the increased mobility of the global population. Even as Scots, all we have by which we can now distinguish ourselves as ‘Scots’ is a shared civic life.’

          Codependency is a circular ‘master-slave’ relationship in which each party to that relationship defines itself in terms of the other. In codependent relationships, the identity of each party to becomes contingent or dependent on the other, whereby both lose their autonomy as self-creative entities.

          How we break our codependencies and become mutually independent is the $64k question. But one thing is certain: we need to stop defining ourselves and measuring our worth in contradistinction to the other.

          For example, we’re constantly defining ourselves as ‘Scots’ in terms of how much more or less successful than ‘the Auld Enemy’ we are in our artistic, economic, moral, and sporting performance. In response to their own failings, Scottish government ministers are continually trotting out how better they’re doing than their UK counterparts, who are more morally bankrupt and/or fiscally incompetent than they are. However bad things are in Scotland, they’re ‘no sae bad’ as they are in England, and they’d be less bad still if we voted to give the Scottish government greater power.

          To break our codependency, we need to stop defining ourselves ‘slavishly’ in terms of how well we can emulate the ‘master’. We need to aim at having more than just our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh and ‘bettering the English’ (or anyone else for that matter) in our collective cultural, economic, and moral lives. Above all, we need to avoid simply replicating in a ‘new Scotland’ the existing matrix of official and social relations within which power is currently exercised in the state.

          1. Simon Taylor says:

            Your comments are uncomfortably close to the truth.
            We Scots define ourselves by comparisons with England. The 90 minute Patriots who rejoice at Scottish success on the football ( or rugby pitch ) particularly against England yet balk at the challenges of real autonomy need to be weaned off this pseudo self identification and self gratification. 350 years of being a junior partner in a political union has created an environment of self deprication, lack of ambition and fear of change. We are England’s court jester. And we still play to that role particularly amongst Unionists. Yes many English are comfortable in their split identities but as senior partners in the Union, essentially calling the shots , why wouldn’t they be ? It doesn’t make it right for us.

          2. 220425 says:

            Only those who are codependent on ‘the English’ so define themselves. Those of a more independent mind define their ‘Scottishness’ in terms of their nativity or their ethnicity (which brings its own problems); some of us even define ourselves (less problematically?) as ‘Scots’ politically – that is, purely in terms of the civic life in which we participate, irrespective of where we were born and irrespective of our biological or cultural heritage. And some of us can quite happily, without any sense of crisis, identify as ‘Dumgallowegian’ when we’re participating in the civic life of the imagined community we call ‘Dumgal’, as ‘Scottish’ when we’re participating in the civic life of the imagined community we call ‘Scotland, as ‘British’ when we’re participating in the civic life of the imagined community we call ‘Britain’, and ‘European’ when (pre-Brexit) we participated in the civic life of the imagined community we call ‘Europe’. With regard to nationality, it is possible to f*rt and chew gum at the same time; it needn’t be exclusive – one thing or the other – as nationalists would have you believe.

  13. Alastair McIntosh says:

    The nod to Enid Blyton hauntology made me think how nostalgia for Empire & Union can be hard to unpack, because it carries a mood of something ragged and unfinished left over from childhood; royalty as parental surrogates.

    1. 220423 says:

      Hauntology is perhaps the most important political-philosophical tool we have right now. So, let’s liberate it from the bargain basement of trendy journalistic accessories, where it’s been rendered ‘safe’, and put it back to work.

      Hauntology was conceived and deployed as a ‘puncept’ by Jacques Derrida in his book, Spectres of Marx, which was originally a series of lectures he gave in 1993 in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the death of communism, and the end of history. His purpose in those lectures was to deconstruct the narrative that, with the triumph of the USA over the Soviet Union, the former could now get on with the business of spreading peace and prosperity by freeing up global markets and installing liberal democracy in every corner of the world. It was in pursuit of this purpose that Derrida deployed his hauntology.

      Derrida was fond of deploying puncepts. (Vide ‘différance’/’différence’.) Imagine someone saying ‘hauntology’ in a French accent. It would sound almost indistinguishably like ‘ontology’, which names the science of being or our knowledge of ‘what is’. Derrida’s pun is intended to name his antidote to ontology: the science of what isn’t. Hauntology is the study of things that don’t exist, of things like counterfactuals, utopias and dystopias, futures, and pasts; of ‘spectres’ or ‘ghosts’, in other words.

      How can we have knowledge of what isn’t? The answer is: through its effects. For although counterfactuals, utopias, futures, and pasts don’t exist, they do nevertheless have effects. They orient our behaviour. They provide that behaviour with the ends it aims for.

      The example Derrida gave is the opening assertion of The Communist Manifesto that ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’. This ‘spectre’ – communism – didn’t exist in 1848, when the Manifesto was written. But its end – the liberation and return of man to herself as a self-creative being; that’s to say, a being who develops the capacities peculiar to her species as she lives and works with her neighbours and who, in and through that self-creative process, acquires her ideas of the world and of herself – did exist as a ‘threat’ or ‘promise’, which mobilised ‘all the powers of old Europe’ into a ‘holy alliance’ to ‘exorcise’ it, and which had the potential at least to mobilise the utterly dispossessed – the dregs of humanity – into an unholy alliance to bring it about.

      Spectres such as that of communism were for Derrida a sign that the present is ‘non-contemporaneous’, that it’s ‘taken out of itself’ by ghostlike pasts and futures. Some of these spectres we’d like to conjure into existence by magical thinking (the belief that, by their mere performance, our ritual actions, words, or other uses of symbols can influence the course of events); others we’d like to exorcise by exterminating the beliefs and activism that, by the same magical thinking, we believe could conjure them into existence. In the broken, crisis-stricken perimillennial world that Derrida saw around him, political discourse has become the ‘manic, jubilatory, and incantatory’ preaching of one ‘new gospel’ or another, a cacophonous babble of magical thinking.

      The puncept of hauntology is very much a political one. It’s a critical tool, a way of exposing the agonistic and evangelical nature of our contemporary political discourse. A hauntology of this article, for example, might expose the spectre of an independent Scotland on the one side and Barnes’ equally spectral social union on the other shouting at each other more or less incomprehensibly from within their respective hermeneutic bunkers.

  14. Ottomanboi says:

    The British social union has never, ever been anything other than England’s establishment stamping on the bothersome differences to even out, i.e. anglicize, the terrain.
    Once a colony, always a colony, until the begetting of wisdom.
    Why are Scots so thick? It can’t just be blamed on Calvinism.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      Ottomanboi, your knowledge of history is lacking. Scotland has NEVER been a colony. True, our nationhood was sold to the English in 1707 to enable ‘our traders’ access to profit from English slave-colonies. But that didn’t make us a colony pal. Get your facts right.

  15. MBC says:

    The failure of the Hanoverian succession and the Whig account of history is writ large.

  16. Philip Maughan says:

    I enjoyed an article in the Times recently (Queen ‘will accept’ Union outcome, 23.4.2022) which featured some quotes from the Queens biographer Robert Hardman, who asserted that, ‘… the Queen and senior royals are passionate about Scotland’ and the royal family do not merely love Scotland ‘they feel liberated there’ By ‘there’ I assume they mean Balmoral, so there view/love of Scotland seems to be circumscribed by the boundaries of the Balmoral estate. Actually you can probably include Braemar which they visit for the Highland games and where they encounter the locals doing quaint Scottish things such as playing martial music in massed pipe bands and throwing large pieces of timber here and there. They will meet other locals I expect, such as Lords Lieutenants and the like, ladies in waiting wearing tartan skirts and heather brooches (in season). Then there are the stalkers and ghillies, mustn’t forget them. It’s all redolent of someone from the Raj era speaking wistfully of their love of India and how much they missed the regular tiger hunts in Bengal and the local customs. Commenting on how anti-royal prejudice in Scotland often manifests itself in jibes about their German heritage, Harman says ‘I think one thing that often gets lost is how the royal family feels. The Queen and Prince Charles feel viscerally Scottish, especially when they are in Scotland’ So they feel Scottish even when they are not in Scotland? He rounds his analysis off by opining that the Princess Royal feels this sense of identity most of all. ‘She keeps her boat in Argyllshire. Her idea of heaven is sailing in a force five through the Western Isles in the rain. She loves all that’

    To summarize, it seems the royal family’s deep love of Scotland is all about the landscape. Of the troublesome inhabitants with their different values and aspirations than the more biddable English, not so much.

    1. 220425 says:

      On what do you base your claim that the values and aspirations of the people who live in Scotland are different from those of the people who live in England. Since 1983, successive social attitude surveys show very little difference at all.

      1. Philip Maughan says:

        Well, voting records for starters. The Tories are the Party of preference for English voters. Nowhere else in the UK votes in a majority of Tory MPs and certainly not in Scotland since 1955, which was an altogether different era (numerous Tory MPs being aristocrats). I leave you to decide why the Scottish electorate would vote for such people back then given the gulf in lived experience.

        1. 220426 says:

          I hardly think that the voting preference of 47.3% of the electorate in the last general election is a relevant measure of the values and aspirations of everyone who lives in England. That’s a bit like saying that Emmanuel Macron represents the values and aspirations of everyone who lives in France or that the SNP represents the values and aspirations of everyone who lives in Scotland, which would be nonsense.

          Don’t you think that the findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey, which show very little difference between the respective attitudes of the people who live in each of the four nations, provide a more trustworthy comparative measure of the values and aspirations of people who live in different parts of the British Isles?

          1. Philip Maughan says:

            I didn’t mention the last general election, rather I referred to GEs going back decades in which the English electorate have shown a preference for the Tories not shared by Scotland. We could bandy percentages around for ever but it’s a worthless argument, no ideology has an absolute majority however the substantial differences tell their own story. And no I don’t think social attitude surveys are a more accurate guide . They use a relatively small sample to draw their conclusions, unlike GEs which ask the entire electorate how they wish to be governed on a regular basis. I could also have mentioned Scottish elections which have always preferred left of centre parties. Then there is the EU vote where the Scottish electorate took a very different view to England. My final example is UKIP, which thrived in England but was despised in Scotland, Nigel Farage being run out of town. If all those examples doesn’t indicate a different set of values and aspirations for you then I give up. To me they are all social attitude surveys writ large.

          2. Niemand says:

            You have a point – voting records do indicate a difference of politics and it is no secret that England tends to elect right of centre parties more often than not, i.e the Tories because there is no other relevant right wing party. But there’s the rub. If you actually look at the popular vote going back many decades, centrist and leftist parties (Labour, LibDems and Greens) have gained more votes combined in England than the Tories in every GE (apart I think from the one where UKIP did well in terms of vote share) but given the first past the post, constituency system and the fact the Tories have no opposition on the right, the explanation for all these Tory governments is looking a lot more complex than you make out since more people vote for the centre and left than right in England on a very regular basis. Also worth pointing out that at the EU elections in 2014 Scotland did return one UKIP MEP (David Coburn).

            I think there is a more civic-minded mentality in Scotland compared to England but the differences are exaggerated. And when it comes to the idea of being socially conservative (as opposed to politically), I am not convinced there is any difference at all much.

          3. 220426 says:

            But the British Attitudes Survey is world-renowned as such, and the samples it uses are by-and-large representative. Among other things, they are ‘weighted’ to minimise the risk of voter-preference bias.

            But do you really think that voting trends in General Elections are a good indicator of a community’s values and aspirations? Do you really think that everyone who votes Conservative even shares the same values and aspirations? Do you really think that the values and aspirations of the people who live in England and values and aspirations of the people who live in Scotland are all that different, even given the difference in voting patterns in those two parts of the UK, when the available evidence from scientific surveys suggests they’re not?

            And Niemand: what makes you think that the people who live in Scotland are any more civic-minded than those who live in England? Where’s the evidence of that? Can it be shown that the people who live in England tend to participate less in the civic lives of their communities than we in Scotland do… or something?

          4. Niemand says:

            It is just a hunch based on my own perceptions and observations. I have no other evidence.

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