Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Celebrating Britishness before it's too late

My keyboard is misbehaving today - when I try to type i I get ik7, - but I can cut and paste. So hear is some great comment on the referendum debate.

First, Ian Jack (one of my favourite journalists) mourns the possible end of Britishness:
In the SNP’s big-change but no-change version of independence, nobody’s identity is at risk. If people want to think of themselves as British as well as Scottish, then they can keep calm and carry on. 
As Salmond wrote, soothingly, in the same document: “Much of what Scotland will be like the day after independence will be similar to the day before: people will go to work, pensions and benefits will be collected, children will go out to play and life will be as normal.” 
And of course it will. But gradually British identity will wither. If it survives at all, it will become narrow, eccentric, strident and romantic, like so many other national identities that have been deprived of their states and institutions. I value it too much to want that. 
Gordon Brown erred when, as prime minister, he attempted to enunciate his list of “British values” – which turned out to be the values of most civilised nations. He would have been wiser to have written, as Orwell did, about its characteristics rather than what he imagined to be its longstanding moral beliefs. 
The markers of Britishness for me include empiricism, irony, the ad hoc approach, pluralism, and a critical awareness of its own rich and sometimes appalling history. It’s sceptical, too: it has seen a thing or two and knows nothing lasts. 
But perhaps what recommends it most is the frail senescence that makes it an undemanding kind of belonging, and unexpectedly fits it for the modern world. 
The untangling of the institutions – military, administrative, academic, ambassadorial, commercial, cultural – that have sustained this identity can’t but be painfully destructive. The past 300 years have not been about nothing.
Next, Paul Mason attends #LetsStayTogether in Trafalgar Square:
I’ve been thinking about what was different to the vibe last night and, say, the Olympic opening ceremony designed by Danny Boyle. Boyle’s spectacle was brash, drew on a Brits-via-Hollywood meme, and placed heavy stress on working class culture (Abide With Me) and the folk traditions of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 
The Dan Snow/Bob Geldof version drew much more on poetry, the non-national and even laid claim to internationalism (The Night Mail, by gay, communist conscientious objector WH Auden was read out.) 
So maybe, if you want a Britishness that exists at a higher level than medleys of regional folk songs, this is what you have to accept. 
There was no mention of royalty, or Dunkirk. Nobody shouted “British jobs for British workers”, as Gordon Brown did to the Labour party conference once. You can have strident English nationalism of the EDL and generations of far right football hooligans. 
You can have the progressive English nationalism we saw around Euro 96. You can have the sturm und drang available to both sides in Northern Ireland, or the soaring, class-based patriotism that transports rugby crowds at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
But maybe you can’t have a strident *British* nationalism. Maybe that’s the subtextual mistake all those lectern-banging politicians have been making. Maybe it has to be something quiet.
Then Isabel Hardman dissects "The Vow" made by the three party leaders:
It doesn’t matter how many front pages you sign next to your new promise to Scottish voters, you’ve still only unveiled this offer in the last two weeks. If you had it planned for ages, then why wait until the point that it’s so late you appear desperate? Or if you’ve only cobbled together this promise in the last few weeks, then is it really a good idea.
Finally, Nick Cohen shows that Scottish nationalism is as pernicious as any other variety:
Nationalists build walls to keep their people in and the rest out. They create ‘us’ and ‘them’. Friends and enemies. If you disagree, if you say they have no right to speak for you because not all Scots/Serbs/Germans/Russians/Israelis think the same or recognise their lines of the map, you become a traitor to the collective. The fashionable phrase ‘the other’ is one of the few pieces of sociological jargon that enriches thought. All enforcers of political, religious and nationalist taboos need an ‘other’ to define themselves against, and keep the tribe in line. 
The process of separation and vilification is depressing to watch but familiar enough. Scottish nationalists are preparing a rarer trick, last seen in the dying days of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. They are trying to break up an existing multi-national state and turn neighbours into foreigners. They want people, who have lived together, worked together, loved each other, had children together, moved into each other countries and out again, to be packaged and bound up in hermetically sealed boxes labelled ‘Scots’ and ‘English’.
The notion that Scottish nationalism is always cosy and ‘civic’ has flourished without challenge. Alex Salmond’s greatest propaganda success has been to limit debate. If you are outside Scotland, and disagree with him, you have no right to comment on its internal affairs. If you are inside, you are ‘talking down Scotland’; showing yourself to be a self-hating Scot unfit to serve on its ‘Team’. 
The nationalists have bullied too many into silence. People who know better have not spelt out the costs of separatism, or said clearly that progressive forces will suffer most. 
How can they not? Nationalism will allow capital to remain global, while forcing arbitrary local divisions on labour. Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch have flirted with Salmond because they can sniff a small state coming that must, whatever its currency turns out to be, run surpluses and build reserves to please the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and, above all, a market that will punish the tiniest step away from neo-liberal orthodoxy. 
The currency question has no answer except deeper and wider austerity. That people who think of themselves as left wing can brush it aside and pretend that working and middle-class Scots won’t suffer is a self-deception so extreme it borders on religious fantasy.
Keyboard latest: the backspace is working again.


Phil Beesley said...

We can be British.

Much that we need to do is to laugh at _Passport to Pimlico_. In Pimlico, citizens perceived rights. Middle class people need to place themselves in Pimlico.

Or we could laugh at _Whisky Galore_ from the same studios, written by Compton Mackenzie, a founder of the Scottish National Party.

The people of Pimlico didn't wish to be run by London. The folks in the Hebrides didn't wish to be run by Edinburgh.

How much independence is being offered?

Tristan said...

British nationalism today, as far as I can tell, is centred around the anti-immigration rhetoric which was once the domain of the National Front and BNP which is now shouted by Labour and the Tories.
It seems to be more about where you were born, not where you choose to live. Not about the things we have in common, but about perceived difference.

British nationalism is a recent thing anyway - Britishness is largely a Victorian construct, and only adopted on a mass scale in England (to our detriment, abandoning our own identities and traditions - and then allowing the racist English nationalism we see today to fill the void).

Perhaps Scottish nationalism is set against British nationalism as an overarching idea, but not against the other? That would explain its more tolerant attitude that I see. It seems more about (more) local control than the anti-English/foreigner sentiment we see in some other nationalisms.