Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The United Kingdom must break up for England's sake

In​ 2019, Boris Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 2020, he shrank into being prime minister of England. For the second time in less than seven years, the union is in trouble. 

But this time the problem needs a new question. Forget: "Should Scotland be independent?" The Scots will take care of that. Ask instead: "Who in the rest of Britain needs this union with Scotland? And why?"

Neal Ascherson has another thoughtful piece in the London Review of Books - and to put it mildly, the prime minister has done nothing in the past two days to suggest his introduction is wrong.

The conclusion he comes to is a novel one: the United Kingdom must come to an end, not just for Scotland's sake, but also for England's:

In Scotland’s 2014 referendum campaign, one apparently humble word became the deadliest weapon. The word was "normal". Again and again, at pro-independence gatherings, I heard people say: "I just want my kids to grow up in a normal wee nation, like other countries." By this they meant a country which took its own decisions for better or worse, which could feel that its future was in its own hands. But they also meant that the UK was "abnormal". ...

At the core of the abnormality was England’s difficulty in accepting its Englishness. Not all Britishness is a deceit ... but in politics the moth-eaten remnants of imperial Britishness form a blindfold against the 21st-century world. 

Britain is an imaginary realm, floating in a category above mere nation states; England is a European country like its neighbours. 

Britain is exceptional and must express itself in superlatives ("world-beating", ‘"global leader", "most efficient on the planet"); England is a medium-sized country with first-rate scientists and rotten management.

Britain dreams of becoming a heavily armed, swaggering pirate power, defying international rules; England is a minor, sceptical nation with a taste for satire and democracy.


Matthew Kilburn said...

I think he might have Britain and England the wrong way round, crudely, which is less tidy.

Jonathan Calder said...

I'm with Neal Ascherson. The problem is not the English people (despite what left-liberal Twitter often seems to believe) but that they are trapped in a Ruritanian constitution.