A Profound Moment

The week saw the passing of Ian Hamilton at the grand age of 97 years old. A ‘life well lived’ as the saying goes. He was responsible for the return of the Stone of Destiny to its rightful place. It was not, as some Scottish media had it ‘stolen’ by him and his colleagues.

For some the story is a couthy romantic tale of a bygone era of 1950s Britain complete with pea-soup fogs and Pathe News Footage of the Old Bill. But it can also be seen as a more contemporary light, as an act of direct action or sabotage. In an era in which political life is triangulated into non-existence and calculations balance on the outcome of focus groups, this was an act of instinct and bravery. It was not Hamilton told me, particularly difficult to do, once he’d decided to do it.

‘Politics cannot live by politics alone’ – he once said. People need some ‘theatre’ too. If we may be exhausted by the pantomime of Boris Johnson’s regime and the freak show of Liz Truss’s, and the ‘spectacle’ of much of public discourse, he is right. We need less ‘performance’ and more live action. This wasn’t a meme, a hashtag or a media ‘moment’ it was what we now call ‘irl’.

This week saw the (under-reported) live action of thousands of people taking to the streets in Cardiff and Edinburgh in favour of independence and in Glasgow and right across the country – in fifty cities – calling for a general election, an end to austerity and for workers rights and decent pay. The latter was organised by Enough is Enough – a campaign group opposing Tory austerity and the social crisis. It felt like an up-swelling of pent-up anger brought into life by the horror of the new Tory government. If Johnson’s government provoked shock and laughter – Truss’s evokes more disgust and disdain. Post-covid as well it feels like people have just had enough.

It’s not just on mainland Britain that revolt is being organised. Over in Dublin thousands gathered for a mass meeting on ‘Irish Unity’ with a keynote address by the actor  actor James Nesbitt, a Northern Irish Protestant from a unionist background, declared it was time for a “new union of Ireland”, one that accommodated all identities and allegiances.

“We’re standing at a profound moment here in the history of the islands,” he said.

Indeed we are.

The new census reported that for the very first time Catholics outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland. As Rory Carroll reported:

“Perhaps even more significant in the census was a loosening of British identity. Some 32% identified as British only, 29% identified as Irish only and 20% as Northern Irish only. In 2011, the figures were 40% British only, 25% Irish only and 21% Northern Irish only. Brexit’s fingerprints are all over this waning Britishness. Most people in Northern Ireland, as in Scotland, voted in 2016 to remain in the EU and resented being forced out of it by the English.”

“It wasn’t just about markets and travel. The Good Friday agreement’s success hinged on blurring identities – in Northern Ireland you could feel British or Irish or both. By resurrecting the debate over borders, Brexit revived an existential question – which side are you on?”

That is the shining and dark irony of the Truss government as manifest at their conference: when the Prime Minister talks about ‘standing up to the separatists’ and denouncing ‘nationalism’ they have no consciousness, no self-reflection, on the nationalism they represent and the separation they have forced.

The idea of Sinn Féin being ascendant (North and South) or of Welsh independence even really being taken seriously was not something that anyone would have really considered even a few years ago. But it is the unspoken rise of a new English nationalism, both shielded (and propelled) by Brexit that makes much of this possible. English Nationalism remains (mostly) Unchained, to use the current lingo.

But instead we have a forced British Nationalism, resplendent with Suella Braverman caustic racism and Liz Truss who is gearing up for a almighty clash with striking workers – the ‘anti-growth’ coalition – vile separatists – and other  imagined enemies that crowd her beleaguered brain.

That much of this seems psychotic and absurd even by the standards of the Tory Party is notable, and the shift even further to the right has provoked (finally) some astonishing polling numbers for the Labour Party. But two things prevent unmitigated celebrations.

First the fantastic new polls are not evenly spread through the UK. Stermerism does not wash away the constitutional crisis, it just adds a new dimension to it.

Support for independence has risen again and accelerated up the priority list for Scottish voters, according to a new poll.  According to YouGov Forty-three per cent of people back independence, an increase of five points since the last poll in May, while 45 per cent want to remain in the Union, down one point, and seven per cent were undecided, a fall of four points.

Tory wipeout in Scotland would largely be at the hands of the SNP not Labour.

The instant joy for Orphaned Centrists that Labour’s revival would wipe-away the nasty Nats is premature.

But the second reason for a pause on the celebrations at Labour’s new-found popularity is a different one.

Some of this feels like familiar territory.

In the 80s and 90s when we were reeling from horrific Tory governments we didn’t elect the economic damage and social chaos wore people down. The experience of state violence and the repression of workers rights was an appalling attack on civil society. Eventually people became so sick and scared of it that they (we) defaulted to a new political task. The object became ‘Get Thatcher out’, the political project became ‘get rid of the Tories’ and the endgame became: a Labour government.

So sick and tired of the Conservatives were people that they stopped having a critical take on what the alternative was. So when you watch Rachel Reeve talk about immigration and asylum seekers in language that would not be out of sync coming out of Priti Patel’s autocue, you should stop and think.

If Starmer is doing well he is doing well because he has sanitised the Labour Party to a point of acceptability by Britain’s right-wing press. They have sung the National Anthem and cleaved to British nationalism, they have studiously avoided supporting striking workers and joined the chorus of racism that they deem necessary for electoral success.

They have also strapped themselves manfully to the Brexit Mast.

But here’s a problem because there’s a direct line between the Unleashed Tories and te Brexit phenomenon which propelled Johnson into office and his improbable successor.

As Will Huton has put it: “Whisper it – this is where Brexit has inexorably led …A democratic vote has transmuted into a rightwing coup, culminating in a destructive libertarian programme, an attempt to shrink a state the right considers bloated, to eliminate the last remnants of regulation, to try to drive taxes down, however vital to sustain public services. All in the name of “liberating enterprise” and forcing “self-reliance” on what the Brexit right consider a lazy, cushioned workforce. The line from Brexit to last week’s debacle is straight and obvious.”

It’s an unpopular view – even – or especially among some of the pro-Brexit left, but it’s entirely true.

If Brexit is the midwife of the new British nationalism, a simulacra of the English nationalism that is its true beating heart, it is also fuelling the causes of self-determination among England’s Celtic neighbours.

Scottish nationalism is not going away, despite the many failings and faults of its incumbent party. Welsh nationalism is on the rise and Sinn Féin, once a political outcast, is now ascendant. Rory Carroll again has written: “In May’s assembly election, it overtook the DUP as Northern Ireland’s biggest party, a milestone that makes Michelle O’Neill eligible to be first minister. In the republic it leads the opposition, is surging in popularity and appears poised to lead the next government, a once unthinkable proposition.”

As we watch the Truss government take form in all its ugliness and stupidity – we can also watch new forces take form – the movements for democracy in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and the renewed militancy of workers fighting for a decent living wage. The real breakthrough will be if these forces can make common cause and unite against this reckless government and all the dark forces they represent.

Comments (13)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Finally FM got them mad..how dare she hate Tory policies! ( sob)….at last Sturgeon you got under their skin…MORE!
    Always keen to criticise Scotland and her clan but when the tables are turned ..why the Toleys get upset!…. a red letter/tartan day!
    But all this tempered by the loss of one of the clan… Ian Hamilton…. he left his mark…took back oor Stone of Destiny…braw lad.
    Scotland has no’ far to go now Ian..we’ll no’ forget ye.
    For Scotland!
    PS Lovely to hear Lulu (posh English accent) telling us to ‘play nice’ cos Liverpool won the right to host the Eurovision Competition. We don’t need tae be told by you how tae ‘play nice’…..(keep working oan yer sassenach accent hen.)

    1. dave says:

      Unfortunately, Squigglypen getting to hate the English Tory policies by the British F.M. NU-S.N.P. Leader Sturgeon will do nothing for independence. Getting under their skin? The same result = Zero. The NU-S.N.P.s 9 years of working to get rid of Boris (while begging to him for permission to hold a referendum which we don’t need) resulted as Neal Hanvey of ALBA said it would, another of the same will take his place.
      Here are just a few things among the many which ALBA is doing in comparison with the NU-S.N.P. for our independence.

      ALBA NU-S.N.P.
      1) Standing up for Scotland’s Independence at Westminster. 2 ALBA MPs thrown out. ZERO (begging for a referendum)
      2) Advising Scots of how rich a country we Economically are, Resources, Culture, Wealth. ZERO
      3) Leadership: True, proud Scots from Alex Salmond down. All declared independistas. Proud British from Ms. Sturgeon down. Unionist.

      I left the NU-S.N.P. like many others, due to Ms. Sturgeon’s KICK the CAN approach to Indy. Since 2014 She has done absolutely ZERO.
      LED by ALBA, ISP and all other Indy groups, independence will be achieved, and it won’t take another 9 years.

      1. dave says:

        Re: the comparisons:

        Oh, oh, I see that the NU-S.N.P. Header moved over beside ALBA. The first two NU=S.N.P. LINES start at ZERO. The 3rd at Proud British from.

  2. Gavinochiltree says:

    Independence cannot be such a big deal, as Reporting Scotland has downgraded the SNP conference to the third or fourth item on its show, when it has covered it at all.
    The BBC also omit the internationally recognised “right of self-determination of people”, in their reporting of this issue. I suspect the Judges will need to confront this, though they may be afraid the Tories will sideline the Supreme Court if they don’t play ball.

  3. Alex McCulloch says:

    And what an opportunity for us today to now invoke our sense of ” theatre”…..invite our fellow citizens to participate in the greatest reality show ever!….

    …. involve, inform and inspire everyone to contribute to improving their own daily realities and own areas. They need to know their views are sought, valid and will be included in identifying new solutions for an even better society within the context of an ever changing world. It is of no consequence what political persuasion they have favoured previously – it is a whole new ball game and everyone is invited

    Let’s start with talking with those activists you referred to ….persuade them that Independence is the means to the beginning! The start of their aims actually becoming reality in an Independent Scotland first and subsequently inspiring change further afield.

    With that cohort on board we can then reach everybody in all communities to hear what they want , and propose some positive change and solutions to make it reality!

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Pantomime is still theatre. Prime Minister Johnson was full of stunts without substance, just like the Stone of Destiny caper. And why would we want Scottish kings anyway? It all seems very old hat, a world away from today’s concerns in less backward places around the world, like Iran.

    British nationalism is not some kind of sum of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish nationalism, mainly because the British Empire still contains many other territories. Empires may decay from the centre, but they often fall apart from the fringes. We should be paying much more attention to parts of the Empire outwith the British Isles, if we want to understand the tensions between English and British Nationalisms, and indeed their incoherence. Why should the English lay claim to Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Chagos Archipelago, and Pitcairn? They may have British union symbols in their flags, but how are they British? Why don’t we enquire what the people there think?

    What is being ‘unchained’ by the Conservative government under Prime Minister Truss is Corruption. These ‘dark forces’ will indeed rob ordinary Britons as well as anyone else, and the proceeds of their crimes will flow through the corrupt extensions of the British Empire, which is a good reason to focus attention on these offshore tax havens and undemocratic jurisdictions, at the very least to staunch the flows of imperial criminality.

    Apparently a lot of commentators on Russian reluctance to criticise President Putin, criticising instead his subordinates, refer to the old Tsarist-era maxim of “Tsar good, Boyars bad”. That is exactly the position favour here during the reign of Elizabeth Windsor, untouchable for her decisions expressed through her royal prerogatives and instruments like the Privy Council and weekly meetings with Prime Ministers, which have ruled a contemporary Empire. Perhaps after her death, the mystique of unnaccountability will be harder to maintain for her successor, who is still head of state for more countries than the British territories, though a declining number. And what is the Commonwealth but a sick joke? What good was the Commonwealth to flood-stricken Pakistan? What if the next hurricane-on-steroids wiped out the infrastructure on British Caribbean islands and the reconstruction cost became a source of political contention in Westminster?

  5. Bill Low says:

    Yes, Nicola has done it!!! Using intemperate language. What about the hate speech from the Tories? Such as Suella and Priti, stimulating hate for immigrants. What about the speech of the bampot Johnson on a range of fronts. The hypocrisy of Dross and Davidson beggars belief.

    But we have been here before with the nasty right wing press. I refer you to the speech by Aneurin Bevan to the Manchester labour rally 4 July 1948. The never to be forgotten “Bevan lower than vermin” speech. People were appalled at that speech, but what about the context in which it was delivered? A Tory party voting against the creation of the Health Service. Bevan recalled the bitter experience of his early life in poverty and having been told to emigrate. That was the contributing factor to ‘the deep burning hatred of the Tory party” And thus to the remarks on vermin. In addition he stated”they condemned millions of first class people to semi-starvation.” He also asked what was Toryism? But organised spivery.

    How reminiscent of our recent history and of the corruption over all to do with protective materials during the pandemic. Nicola was correct. Nothing has changed. We should detest the Tories as they are eminently detestable. We should call them out over all of the issues, especially the fact that after having opposed the creation of the NHS, they have now effectively destroyed it.

    “lower than vermin” They are not that good


    1. 221011 says:

      Some historians (and Hugh Gaitskell) reckon that Nye Bevan’s impolitic outburst almost lost Labour the 1950 election.

    2. dave says:

      Hullo Bill Low. Running down the Tories will NOT get independence. As ALBA’s Neale Hanvey said months ago ” once Boris goes, we’ll get another of the same”.
      He and ALBA was right. We don’t need to waste another 9 years be told how useless the Tories are as we already know that. So, the BRITISH (by her own admission) F.M. Sturgeon is again in the process of doing the same again with the current AIRHEID P.M. instead of declaring the independence of Scotland which she was elected to do.
      It’s just another delay As Ms. Sturgeon has never, ever said she wants independence. Nor did she say there would be another referendum. Her words were. ‘ I WILL DO MY BEST TO HOLD ANOTHER REFERENDUM’ Her best in not enough.

      1. Bill says:

        The point that I was making was that bad and all as the Tories are, as well as historically, their command of power is not diminished. They destroyed Ed Miliband by right wing publicity – Brown and Darling had rekindled economic growth after 2008, Osbourne with austerity killed growth and we now see more of the same.

        We do not need a referendum, we need independence and since we joined England in a treaty of union, we could just end the treaty. We would however have to tackle some of the issues that spoiled the last referendum, such as currency, central bank, constitution. All of that will be difficult enough without the right wing press attacking all the time


        1. dave says:

          Hullo Bill, I agree with your post 100%. The alliance between English owned National Media, (same owners of the Glasgow Herald with the same office building in Glasgow) Business in Scotland Blog and the NU-S.N.P. just serves the unionists.

          The National Media and NU-S.N.P. both BLACKOUT the most important and critical economic, Cultural and Historical Scottish facts in conjunction with our colonial masters in London. This alliance of the 3 delivered 2 million pamphlets to Scottish homes several months ago. All critical facts were BLACKED OUT of course, with the result of NO increase in the yes vote.

          As F.M. Sturgeon knows the YES vote would shoot up to around 70-75 % once the NO voters know the true facts. That will never happen with the Murrells controlling the NU-S.N.P.

  6. David+B says:

    For the record there were also Enough is Enough protests in Dundee and Aberdeen, a related cost of living protest in Elgin, and the Inverness EiE protest is this Saturday (15th).

    I don’t like Rachel Reeves’ comments, but she was talking about deporting people whose asylum claims have been rejected – not turning boats around in the channel or deporting people to Rwanda for processing. The comments are not equivalent to Patel-era policy.

    1. Mr E says:

      Hopefully the turnout will be more than for the freedom square yestival (it’s been dubbed ‘looserfest’). Even stall-holders didn’t bother. I think the Proclaimers haven’t played before so few punters for decades.

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