2007 - 2022

Johnny and the Bishops

Here we go again. If some of the positioning and language and role-playing seems familiar from before, look more carefully everything has changed since 2014.

Much of the confidence of the Unionist side has gone. They have now just bypassed any case for the Union instead leading with “You’re not allowed to decide your own future”. Where once it was “Yeah but Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony of the Olympics was great!” now we’re left with Danny’s Disney Pistols. For Mo Farah you have Anson Boon. For artifice and ceremony you have fantasy and deception.

Roles have reversed. While 2014 showed the Yes side desperately trying to bolster the case for our financial security and resisting the accusation that independence was a retreat from the world, now it is the UK-side that has to do that. Like a constitutional equivalent of Sliding Doors the Unionist commentariat have to make the case for a progressive Britain on the very day the EHCR have to intervene to stop the UK government flying asylum seekers to Rwanda. 

The scribes and editors-in-chief know this. So there’s a new line: ‘Britain’s broken but we can fix it’ (‘The answer to a ‘broken Britain’ is to fix it, not leave it‘ & also ‘Every day Boris Johnson stays increases risk to UK‘). In reality the British state is indefensible, and they know it. So the line has to be either: repress the vote and stop democracy, or ‘we know this is all broken but we can fix it.’ Honest.

But here’s the problem. Not only can we see a country awash with a sort of desperate nostalgia and consumed by a neo-fascist foreign policy, there’s a join between these two realities.

Along Come the Bishops

Like with much of the Johnson’s regime’s playing with democracy, whether it’s proroguing parliament, ripping up international treaties or breaking the law, there’s little if anything anyone can do about it. The best we can do this week is a Clarence House spokesperson failing to deny that Prince Charles described the Rwanda policy as “appalling”. According to The Times it turns out he’s worried that the policy would overshadow his summit in Kigali next week.

Quite so.

Now we’re told that the entire senior leadership of the Church of England has denounced plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as an “immoral policy that shames Britain”. The archbishops of Canterbury and York and the other bishops that sit as lords spiritual in the House of Lords have written a strongly-worded letter to the Times.

This is what passes for opposition and constitutional checks in Britain; ‘lords spiritual’ from the world’s largest unelected chamber, in a secular society writing a letter. That’s it. Keir Starmer’s Labour party were spectacular in their terrified lukewarm response.

So when the commentariat are enlisted to explain how ‘Britain is broken, we know’ but everything will be fine, we need to look at the mechanisms and prospects for shift and reform, because you have been promised this for a very long time and there are structural systemic reasons why this is not going to happen. The very idea that core anti-democratic institutions such as – checks notes – the monarchy and the House of Lords would reform and protect democracy is British Gaslighting on an epic scale. No truer picture of this self-induced propaganda could be had by the juxtaposition of the kindly-Queen eating sandwiches with Paddington, while the Home Office was packing people onto a plane at Stanstead.

Lawbreakers and Wildcats

The media this morning was full of the Tories attack-line about ‘wildcat’ and illegal referendums. The First Minister is, if anything, uber-cautious and the referendum will be no such thing. Again, the roles are reversed. In reality on Monday, the UK government announced its intention to break international law. Today, Vice-President Maros Sefcovic will set out the EU Commission response in detail.

No doubt the Patel-Johnson regime will evoke the ‘lefty lawyers’ trope and be echoed to the rafters by the red-tops and the new British nationalist tv news stations. That the only thing preventing the Rwandan flight taking off was an organisation OUTSIDE the UK tells you everything about the State We’re In.

If – in the place of constitution or opposition – the Bishops and the Prince come running – and Britain 2022 seems like something penned by Lewis Carroll meets Aldous Huxley – it is also a place where celebrity has taken the place of actual dissent actual protest or actual opposition.

This week saw Sue Perkins tweeting about Rwanda: “Today, the govt pushed ahead with the most brutal, stupid and damaging responses to problems they created in the first place. This is where xenophobia and ‘sovereignty’ get you; breaking international law and sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Shameless, the lot of them.”

Gary Lineker and Tracey Emin signed a letter to the airlines known to have worked previously with the Home Office on deportation flights.

Between the Bishops and the Slebs we have Britain as a performative theatre: part relic, part cosplay chatroom, part emerging authoritarian regime, each aspect interplaying beautifully to keep everyone comatose.

Among all this we see the roles from 2014 being reversed. The (re) framing of the case for independence as being about Scottish stability versus British chaos and law-breaking is the starting-point of #ANewScotland.

It’s a strategic departure. The language and tone from Sturgeon is more conciliatory and less romantic than that of her predecessor. In so much as this strengthens the case for a new democracy it is to be welcomed. The language shift – something we have been arguing for for several years is also welcome, the emphasis is now on a democracy movement not a nationalist movement.

It is democracy that is a stake, not just in a Scottish context but in a wider British one too. In this sense the opportunity hereUK Government – whose party hasn’t won an election in Scotland for half a century – tell the Scottish Government – whose party haven’t lost an election for over a decade – that they don’t have a mandate from the Scottish people is for the rise of a Scottish democracy to be tied to the rise of democracy in other parts of the rUK too.

At heart this is the deep hypocrisy of the remnant Better Together campaign already re-grouping around the tired old themes and broken promises. As Robin McElvie points out, at its base there is a lie that can’t be resolved about the attempt to repress a democratic poll: “The UK Government – whose party hasn’t won an election in Scotland for half a century – tell the Scottish Government – whose party haven’t lost an election for over a decade – that they don’t have a mandate from the Scottish people.”

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Comments (10)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Cheer up! Go and watch the football fans Irish and Scottish singing ‘fuck the Jubilee’…the future looks a lot brighter…

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      I’m looking forward to “STUFF YER UNION JACKS UP YER ____”

    2. 220615 says:

      What’s the difference between football fans singing ‘f*ck the Jubilee’ and football fans singing ‘f*ck the Pope’, apart from the tribe they’re trying to offend?

      1. I think its funnier cos of the timing. Also the Monarchy – despite appearances – is not a religion.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Good piece Mike.

    The comments on Scotland related articles on MSN are awash with “once in a generation …” posts. I reply with the following.

    There was a majority in parliament for a second Brexit referendum prior to your glorious clown leader’s election win and a majority voted for pro-referendum2 parties at that election. Those majorities consisted of MPs and voters covering almost all parties. If referendums are only allowed “once in a generation” it would appear the consensus in Westminster and around the country is that a generation is only around 2 years.

    1. gavinochiltree says:

      Once in a generation——
      Theresa May, on two separate occasions in 2016 , stated “there will be no second EU referendum”.
      Then in parliamentary trouble, in 2019 she offered to run EUref2, as a minority government, and without seeking an electoral mandate.

      All the while she was telling Scots, repeatedly electing pro-independence politicians,—“now is not the time”.
      The gall of these people is incredible.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Hear! Hear!

  4. Gordon Benton says:

    Very interesting view on the new relationship between the Tory UK government and The Holyrood one. Not so much a Johnson vs Sturgeon punch-up but more a chaotic, unstable, illegal, panic-stricken, distant administration vs a calm and collected, solid and hard-working one, talking our language.
    YES it’s time.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    Yes, the paragraph section:
    “we need to look at the mechanisms and prospects for shift and reform, because you have been promised this for a very long time and there are structural systemic reasons why this is not going to happen. The very idea that core anti-democratic institutions such as – checks notes – the monarchy and the House of Lords would reform and protect democracy is British Gaslighting on an epic scale.”
    is a key description of the nature of the essential political problem. It is a political system designed and patched by an elite to prevent its improvement and modernisation to global standards (some of which, ironically, were co-created by British authorities). Some of these patches are disguised as hoary traditions but are comparatively recent (like Royal sealed wills). Secrecy, opaqueness, propaganda, lack of effective comparisons and censorship cloud the public’s ability to peer into the political system, separate out the levers of power, and understand the wide areas of policy outside of public and Parliamentary influence.

    A concern would be that the mask is slipping so fast that the British Empire appears ready to cast off its tatty, bloodstained velvet glove and drop the last pretence at public virtue; and what happens then?

    There is, though, a problem with how the (in my view, almost entirely preferable) alternative vision of an Independent Scotland is being presented, by people like the Greens’ Patrick Harvie. It is not the case of “decisions that affect Scotland would be made here in Scotland”. Many decisions made elsewhere, not least in the spheres of climate emergency, war, marine environment depletion and pollution, technology, agrobusiness and so on, will affect us (and those that come after here); just as many decision made in the UK and Scotland affect human and non-human life around the globe. There is no time for anything else than a grown-up discussion. This calls for something more than creating a familiar model of party-political electoralism in an Independent Scotland.

    I entirely agree that theocratic-monarchic-feudalistic-militaristic-elitist checks on democracy are repugnant and harmful. Yet we should have come to the conclusion that checks on democracy which are beneficial to the biosphere are to be welcomed and encoded in a new Constitution, which will give voice and authority to those outside of Scotland who are working towards such ends (global public health, biodiversity, environmental regeneration and so on).

  6. David+McCann says:

    Thanks Mike
    Another fine piece
    Keep them coming!

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