Moving on from the Scottish referendum to other issues including the UKIP agenda

Some weeks have passed since the referendum and a lot has changed in the political landscape, and also my own personal life – I got married last week. I have wondered whether or not to continue a blog at all, and if so, what it should deal with.  Or perhaps I should focus on other things.  I am still working things through.  These are my thoughts so far:

  1. Name of this blog

I called this blog “Upholding English Honour” at a time when I was focused on the idea that England as a nation should deal honourably with other nations, including Scotland, with which it continues to be politically united. The rationale for this name does not obviously come across in every other context and one subscriber found the name disturbing. So I have decided to change the name to “James Campbell”. This is still a pseudonym as I don’t want personal flak. However, I feel it is a good pseudonym as it is the name I was born with, before I was adopted.  So this is the last post from “Upholding English Honour”.

2. Learning lessons from the referendum

It is obviously hard to generalise but my sense is that the Scottish referendum parties were just a bit too radical and progressive for many mainstream Scots.  They had pulled and inspired many in their direction but independence was one step too far, perhaps a few years too soon, into the unknown.  People wanted more democracy but not too much more.  Many people are not ready for the kind of radical, grassroots, participatory democracy that pro-indy activists are ready for.  And so those activists still face quite a mountain in terms of working democratically with people who have had enough democracy for the time being.

It reminded me of when I was a student and I attended a conference of the National Union of Students. This was an eye-opener.  I remember how radical left-wingers frequently tried to “suspend standing orders” – a procedural tactic –  in order to shift the debate in their direction.  In one sense, they were experts in democracy but in another, they lost me and many others who did not have their procedural knowledge, nor their chutzpah in trying to use democratic structures to get what they wanted.  The analogy with the Yes campaign is a limited one but the point I am making is they need to be mindful of the pace of democratic reform they hope to achieve, as if they leave behind a large section of the population, they will in fact not be democratic.  I am sure however they are realists on this point.

  1. Constitutional reform in England

This whole area has blown up thanks to the Scottish referendum. There are many options for reform in the frame and I am not sure which ones are worth pursuing at this time, or will be effective.  The fact is that the English people are light years away from the kind of democratic engagement we have seen in Scotland.  For this reason, I don’t think that whatever comes from this round of constitutional reform is really going to overhaul the Westminster system.  The initiative for such reform appears mainly to lie with Conservative backbenchers who want “English Votes for English Laws”, not with the grassroots.  However I have seen a couple of online campaigning groups spring up including 38 Degrees and Yes England.  It remains to be seen what impact they will have.

4.  Local democracy

One conclusion I have reached is that the way forward in terms of constitutional reform in England is to strengthen local democracy. Constitutional reform is about devolving powers downwards, or even more radically, claiming popular sovereignty and “evolving” powers upwards to the local level first, and then higher levels only when necessary.  Thanks again to the SNP and the Yes Scotland parties for bringing this idea back into the political arena.

England is a much bigger nation in terms of population than Scotland and with much lower levels of national solidarity. For this reason, I believe we need to be exercising powers much more along the lines of natural local affiliations e.g. Yorkshire, the North East, Cornwall, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester.  Other areas such as the Home Counties may lag behind but that really is their problem.

I have lived in Birmingham only for the last few months.  I have resolved to take a greater interest in local politics, follow developments and take part when I can.  However, Birmingham City Council has some work to do before I can be confident that it is ready to exercise more powers. Its education department recently went into special measures as a result of the “Trojan Horse” Islamic extremist influences.  Its children’s services department was condemned a while back.  Councils need to show they can run the services they already provide effectively before asking for more powers, or even worse, being given powers they are not ready for and haven’t asked for.

  1. UKIP, immigration and assimilation

We all know that UKIP are on the rise.   Two Conservative MPs have joined them.  They have many MEPs, including one in Scotland.  I take the view that we can’t just try to crush them as enemies because of the racist tendencies of some of their supporters.  UKIP are tapping into a vein of popular disenchantment with real roots which need exploring.  Before I try to do this, I’d like to mention a campaigning organisation which I believe is challenging UKIP and far right extremism in the wrong way.

  1. “Hope not Hate” sadly going about things the wrong way

    I followed “Hope not Hate” for some time until recently. Their noble aim is to challenge racism in the UK. Unfortunately, what I saw is that they reported on the activities of individual far right extremists, showing a kind of perverse fascination and, quite often, condescension.  Many of the Facebook comments on these articles from their supporters were personally abusive to these people. I challenged “Hope not Hate” on this and they saw my post, but did not respond on this point.  The insults and abuse continued and so I am no longer following them, or even supporting them. Many of their supporters have descended to the level of the people they oppose.  There is obviously an orthodoxy among some anti-racism activists that far right extremists are sub-human and can be freely insulted.  This attitude is going nowhere.

    I may write a further post at some point on the importance of culture and personal balance when it comes to engaging in political debate.

  2. UKIP’s point that has to be dealt with : the democratic deficit on immigration and assimilation

    Groups that tap into popular discontent usually do have a point which needs to be understood and handled much more carefully than those groups tend to do so themselves. It seems that there are many white working class people unhappy with the mass immigration and assimilation policies of UK governments going back decades. This group provides UKIP’s most fertile ground.  I have not studied in depth the history of immigration and assimilation in the UK since the Second World War and so my thoughts are tentative.   What I think though is that there is a big democratic deficit on this issue.

    Britain has changed significantly and forever as a result of mass immigration.  There are many parts of major cities where ethnic minorities predominate.  More recently, there has been significant Eastern European immigration to smaller towns.  Older people have seen the Britain they grew up in be transformed beyond recognition.  There has been “white flight” and the government and the middle classes have dumped the problems of assimilation on the more traditional white working-class communities and local authorities.

    Despite regular elections, I don’t believe that the people of Britain have not been consulted on the huge changes that mass immigration has brought.  I will research this more at some point.  It seems that immigration policy has been the preserve of Westminster and Whitehall and they have not seen fit to obtain a popular mandate on the long-term changes that mass immigration would bring.  I believe this is the root cause of resentment of ethnic minorities.  This needs to be exposed and the anger of the people redirected at our governments.

    UKIP are now seeking to give a voice to those discontented people but in my view, are offering simplistic solutions.  There needs to be a wider consensus-building exercise which acknowledges the democratic deficit over the past decades in this area but seeks a mandate from the British people, moving forward, on immigration and assimilation. This includes consulting everyone, ethnic minority groups as much as ethnic white English / British.  The real-life problems of poorer white British people are pretty similar to the real-life problems of poorer ethnic minorities who often live side-by-side.  Working together, they can far more effectively challenge government policy than if they stay isolated. White people and ethnic minority people need each other for our nation to work.  We all need to listen to each other respectfully, especially to the elderly.

Trident review and TTIP are also going round my head but I think that’s enough for the time being!

Trusting our politicians to trust us with more powers

Having banged my English drum for Scottish independence on this blog for the last few months, I am sad and disappointed at the majority “No” result which I watched come through earlier this morning.  I can’t compare my feelings to those in Scotland who have worked so hard for independence and yet are probably facing the day with deep hurt and sadness.

However, we can all be united in praise of the amazing turnout, which reflects an incredible revival of interest in politics in Scotland which none of us have ever seen anywhere in the UK.  I think we must give much of the credit for this to Alex Salmond and the SNP who secured the mandate for the referendum in the first place.  It would be nice to hear the “No” parties also give credit to the SNP for this.

Over 1.5 million votes to leave the UK, including “Yes” majorities in Glasgow and Dundee are a mandate for changing the status quo.  Given the promises made by Gordon Brown and his “Better Together” colleagues in the last few days of the campaign, every “No” vote is also a mandate for change. As to what those changes might be, I await the detail with bated breath.

Watching the BBC coverage in England, politicians from the “No” parties as well as pundits were almost unanimous in predicting major constitutional change across the UK on the back of the “No” vote.  This seems to involve the possibilities of :

  1. a UK-wide constitutional convention
  2. English MPs having the exclusive right to vote on English issues in Westminster;
  3. an English parliament (perhaps preferred by English Conservatives);
  4. regional assemblies in England, with or without an English parliament (the latter perhaps being a Labour preference);
  5. a devolution of powers to English city / regions;
  6. more powers for devolved assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland;
  7. a federal UK incorporating one or more of the above options.

When I say that the commentators were “almost unanimous”, a note of strong scepticism was sounded by Simon Jenkins of the Times who predicted that Westminster leaders will revert to type within 6 months or so and come out with a reform package which, in practice, makes little dent in their own huge array of powers.  Milder scepticism was also expressed by most pundits on the tight timetable laid down by Gordon Brown for new powers for Scotland, especially as detailed proposals may not get the backing of all English Tory MPs.

I agree with Mr Jenkins.  Like him, I would like to see huge constitutional reform which ensures that local people are much more involved in the decisions that affect their daily lives.  This was the kind of reform that the “Yes” campaign were credibly promising.  But at the same time, I do not see Westminster politicians changing their spots any time soon, or in fact at all.  Westminster is a sovereign parliament.  Its politicians are used to exercising centralised power over the nation with little accountability between elections.  It has devolved powers only when necessary and to the extent which was necessary.  There is no natural appetite for constitutional reform in Westminster. Far-reaching constitutional reform requires a deep commitment to interactional, grass-roots politics which no longer exists within the ranks of most Conservative and Labour Party MPs.  Neither David Cameron, Ed Miliband nor Nick Clegg talk like politicians who have emerged from the grass-roots.  Their approach is to sell their party-produced policies to the passive public.

The failure of the Westminster politicians to engage with constitutional issues with the Scottish people (never mind with the rest of us) in an interactive way during the 2 years of the referendum campaign gives the lie to their sudden interest in constitutional reform.  Westminster is likely to go about the issue of constitutional reform across the UK in the same top-down, transactional manner as it does with every other issue. I predict that the main proposals will be drawn up by senior party leaders. They will be dressed up to look like major power-shifting proposals but in fact will not be.  There will then be an official consultation process which will result in some minor tweaks.  Parliamentary sovereignty is not likely to be seriously challenged by the end-product.

Why is there such little appetite for challenging Westminster dominance and implementing constitutional reform among the English?  The concentration of power in Westminster is one reason.  The weakness of solidarity and identity among the English is another.  The banality and mediocrity of local democracy is another.  Here in Birmingham, our council’s entire children’s services department has been officially condemned.  What else is wrong with the city council, I ask myself?  Are they fit to ask for, never mind take on further powers that Westminster suddenly feels they need to bestow on them for wider political reasons?   If our city’s best politicians want to go to Westminster where the real power lies, then will we ever have a professional cadre of local politicians?

I recently stumbled across proposals for a new “Magna Carta” from the House of Commons Select Committee on Politics and Constitutional Affairs.  They are currently running a consultation on the need for and the nature of a written constitution for the UK.  This includes a public competition to write a preamble.  Curiously, they have made no reference to the Scottish referendum and wider publicity for their consultation is lacking.  I have not heard it mentioned by any party leader and it seems to be an initiative of that committee. This again tells me that the desire for constitutional reform among our leaders is minimal and their Damascene conversion to it is purely reactionary.  The driving force behind their commitment to “devolve” more power is their desire to hold on to as much as possible.  It is a PR-response to the huge “Yes” vote in Scotland.

Two years ago, David Cameron refused a third option on the ballot paper which could have prompted widespread discussion on and moves towards widespread constitutional reform.   He is not likely to apologise for this mistake.  He is not really interested in constitutional reform, does not have much experience in it and does not have good judgment on constitutional issues.  He is likely to give it the minimum attention possible and continue to react to discontent in Scotland, Wales and his own backbenches on an ad hoc basis.  He is not likely to take sound advice from people who really know about grass-roots political involvement and constitutional reform.  He is totally the wrong person to be in charge of our country during this process.

So now we are waiting for fractious and confrontational Westminster leaders, who feel obliged to devolve some of their powers, to open a consensus-building dialogue with local politicians most of whom have not recently requested any new powers. This process will take place in the name of the de-politicised ordinary English people who don’t know much about why this is all happening, except that it must have something to do with Scotland.  I don’t know where this process is going.

Last nights’ pundits were right to point out that effective constitutional reform takes a long time and should not be rushed.  Looking only at the English situation, we need to start with a discussion among ordinary English people as to how they feel about democracy in general and why they care so little about it.  A constitutional convention, along the lines of the Scottish one in the 1990s, is the right way to go.  Again, this should not be rushed.  We need sensitive politicians to facilitate this process so that we are really listening to ordinary people, and not just going through the motions, or getting a quick snapshot.  The process must take its own time.  We could do with some advice from Scottish activists however they will have different priorities at the moment.

Referendum Editorial

At the start of the referendum campaign, Scottish politics featured nowhere on my radar.  Support for the union was well over 60% in the polls.  As the polls showed increasing support for “Yes”, indignation kicked in at the prospect of a rupture in the union and my British identity.  I have explained in other articles my journey to “Yes” since that time, and going into the final few days of the campaign, I am still firmly of the view that a “Yes” vote is what is best for England and Scotland.

This referendum campaign has been a chance for the British political establishment to shine and show how much the union of our countries means. With good support for the union in the polls, and all the advantages of incumbency, this was not a campaign for “Yes” to win but only a campaign for “No” to lose. 

I have eagerly awaited the positive case for the union.  It has never come.  Instead, I have witnessed the unfolding of perhaps the most dismal political smear campaign I can remember.  It has included: 

  • smears on Alex Salmond
  • threats of political consequences from voting “No”
  • trying to get foreign leaders to back the union
  • ruling out a devo-max option on the ballot paper which many wanted
  • rushing out devo-max proposals as polling for “Yes” grew
  • digging around for anti-English sentiment
  • celebrities putting a pure “emotional case” for the union
  • patronising Lego promotional material and political broadcasts
  • creating every possible uncertainty over SNP policies
  • accusations of ugly nationalism and comparing SNP leaders to fascists
  • a terror among senior unionist politicians of debating with ordinary Scots
  • scaremongering e.g. border guards, an absolute no to currency union long before the need for such a decision, massive expenditure cuts, Scotland being undefended against terrorists etc.

This campaign has shown the British political establishment at its very worst.  It need not have done.  A healthy body of politicians could have engaged much more positively with the “Yes” groups and ordinary people, listened to them seriously, worked towards consensus and compromise if possible, and retained honour and principle while opposing independence.  I believe that such a positive approach would have produced a convincing “No” vote.  But the people who could have led such a campaign have been missing in inaction.

There have been no walkabouts in Scotland from David Cameron, Ed Miliband, or Nick Clegg – the leaders of the parties who want to rule the Scots after the next general election.  Unless I have missed something, I have not seen any Scottish appearances by Tony Blair, John Major, Michael Heseltine, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown or numerous other senior politicians.  Until yesterday – with less than 2 weeks to go until the vote – there had been no move by rank-and-file MPs to visit Scotland, and even then it will be only a 100 odd Labour MPs and no Tories.  Either Better Together told English and Welsh politicians to stay well away because they would be a liability or they just didn’t care enough to put in the effort to save the union.   Given that Better Together has been paying ordinary English Labour activists to canvas in Scotland, I am assuming that it is the latter.

The lack of unity and leadership among the pro-union forces has been painfully obvious.  English politicians simply thought that saving the union required minimal effort and consequently made a minimal effort.   We are not talking about a few months of political ineptitude – we are talking about 2 years with ever-increasing alarm bells.  And the evidence of these 2 years is what we have to take into account when predicting the attitudes and behaviour of the Westminster establishment in the years to come. 

Politics is about creating a better future – but it is done in the here and now.  The process of politics shows its integrity or lack thereof. I simply don’t believe politicians’ promises when they go about their daily dealings with their political opponents and the people they rule with such contempt and indifference.  And when the stakes are the very future of the union itself, I am all the more dismayed by these attitudes. 

Scottish people have no reason to believe Westminster politicians any more, no matter how fine the sentiments they express may be.  And why should we English be taken in by them either, just because we are the majority nation in the UK?  If they are able and willing to turn on the contempt and indifference when it comes to dealings with the Scots, why should we trust them in their dealings with us?    

The rotten heart of the union has been attacked by the SNP for years now.  But it has been exposed for all of us to see by this referendum campaign.  We should not let them off the hook and a “Yes” vote will be a good start to a more radical reform of our political institutions.









Trident : the elephant in every room of every house

If you run over the various political issues, it can be tempting to put them on the same level – health, education, welfare, transport etc.  When it comes to immigration, most of us can spot that there is something wrong when a party like UKIP gives so much prominence to it.  But sometimes, it is necessary to grade one issue much more highly than the others, at least until major progress is made in it.  I’d like to persuade you that nuclear weapons is such an issue.

A few facts from a quick search of Wikipedia reveal that the UK has a stockpile of around 225 thermonuclear warheads, of which 160 are operational.  (This is dwarfed by the US and Russia both of which have 7,000 to 8,000 warheads.)  Nevertheless, as each dropped warhead will kill most people within a 20 mile radius, the UK’s operational nuclear warheads alone could wipe out 160 cities the size of London.  If London has 7 million people, then that’s over a billion people. The further damage to other people from radiation, loss of food, employment, shelter and clean-up costs are incalculable.

It is abundantly clear to me that the use of nuclear weapons is unjustifiable in any circumstances.  I would never press the nuclear button.  If I would not do so, I should not expect any moral being to.  The damage that even one warhead would cause is way out of proportion to any threat against us.  Even if an aggressor fired a nuclear missile at the UK, retaliation would only be revenge – it would not neutralise the attack.  The chances of facing a nuclear threat would in fact be much reduced if we disarm.  Perhaps someone can correct me, but I know of no non-nuclear power which has been threatened with a nuclear strike.

If the use of such weapons is immoral, then so is the threat to use them.  It is a basic principle of morality that threatening to do something immoral is also immoral.

If we ruled out the use or the threat of using nuclear weapons, but told the world that we just wanted them for “research” or some other non-military reason, then we would probably not be believed.  The fact is that there are systems in place for political leaders to activate warheads.  Even if our deceit were believed, we would still be guilty of a colossal waste of money.  This again is immoral. 

The UK’s nuclear weapon system – Trident – “needs” replacing by 2020.  Estimates of the cost of Trident replacement are in the region of £20bn to £30bn.  Adding in the running costs over its lifetime, overall costs are estimated at up to £100bn for Trident Mk 2.   The three Westminster parties have committed themselves to replacing Trident, despite the end of the Cold War and despite no predicted threat from any other nuclear power.  So much for multilateral disarmament commitments.

The problem with the UK having the means to kill around 1 billion people is that it corrupts us all. All of us who pay taxes and somehow contribute to the British state, co-operate in this evil to some extent.  We can’t avoid it unless we leave the country, refuse to work or engage in civil disobedience.  As the level of co-operation of any one of us is low, then we can weigh it in the balance and decide that we can make enough of a positive contribution to the UK to justify tolerating the evil of nuclear weapons. 

I would say however that the evil of nuclear weapons is so great that it is hard for any of us to justify voting for a party which supports their retention i.e. the Lib/Lab/Cons.  Voting is a deliberate act.  There are electoral alternatives, at the least spoiling the ballot paper or not voting at all.  I have been a member of Liberal Democrats and Labour in my time and so I need to change my ways.    

And if voting for such a party is immoral, joining it is even more so, and running for office yet more.  I don’t accuse all elected Lib/Lab/Con officials of being evil – I can’t judge anyone – but I am making an objective point that they are materially co-operating in evil.  The more and the longer they tolerate this evil, the more they will be corrupted by it.  And the more they are corrupted, the less moral authority and energy they will have to use their office and their energies for the common good.

At some point in their recent careers, Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband made an active choice to replace Trident.  No doubt, the choice was shared with fellow cabinet and shadow cabinet members.  They could have made the opposite choice, saying that there was no longer any credible nuclear threat to the UK and that the costs of replacement would be prohibitive.  They would not have had to lose face to so-called “loony lefties” for having had nuclear weapons up to now.  But no, for some reason, they persisted in believing that nuclear weapons were still justified.

Perhaps they were beguiled by the language of defence.  There is no merit to examining the pros and cons of different options to implement immoral policies.  It is a waste of time.  But defence-speak quickly moves into discussions of threats, military “capability” and technical analyses of different weapons systems. It can be easy to be drawn into this world i.e. corrupted, and lose sight of the fact that the whole system is immoral. 

The choice that Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband made was for a very serious moral evil.  It is probably one reason why I am totally uninterested in anything they say, no matter how high-sounding their words are.  They lack moral authority. 

I am coming to the conclusion that, whenever I am able to get involved in a political debate with an elected representative from one of those 3 parties, I will ask them the same question:

“How can I take seriously your commitment to e.g. reduce inequality, relieve poverty, create jobs etc, when at the same time, your party is committed to a nuclear weapon system which can kill around 1 billion people?”

When gangland bosses remember to give their mums flowers on Mother’s Day, I am not impressed by their support for the flower industry or by their demonstration of filial love.  It may salve their consciences for a while but no-one is fooled.  But we allow ourselves to be fooled if we take seriously party leaders when they talk about e.g. social improvements, while at the same time, they commit themselves, our country and our money to maintaining weapons of mass destruction.  Talk to the hand.

If we want to find just one reason why we lack political energy in the UK, look no further than nuclear weapons.  If we want to find just one reason why we are cynical about politics and politicians and why we can’t be bothered to vote, look no further than nuclear weapons.  These weapons are a stain on our nation and our values.  They drain the life and respect out of democracy. What is a democracy for if we use it to pose a threat to world peace?

Perhaps a Yes-voting Scot can set me straight on this, but I think that there is more positive energy released from rejecting individuals, parties and institutions which endorse nuclear weapons, than even from embracing the idea of national independence.  I have never fully experienced it, but I believe that, over time, rejecting the structures which keep nuclear weapons in the UK will be liberating – intellectually and emotionally.  I certainly already feel that I have a greater clarity of thinking since more explicitly rejecting nuclear weapons, and their supporters.

Nuclear weapons have created a huge cloud over and in our minds which saps our energy and unity. It is because they are evil.    

What unites us is much greater than what divides us

I saw that Better Together repeated this line today when telling us that Sir Paul McCartney has signed the letter from English celebrities which asks the Scots to “stay with us”.  I thought – they’re right – what unites England and Scotland is much greater than what divides us.

We’re all human beings, sharing the same land, with similar traditions, similar morals, similar weather.  Like all people, we have hopes and dreams, have relationships, have children, have friends, go to work. Our political differences divide us to some extent but politics – though important – does not wholly determine our lives.

On the negative side – what divides us – one could put the British state.  Ironically, in forcing us together politically, English and Scots are more likely to be unhappy and divided.  We accuse each other of subsidising the other – money is always a potentially divisive issue.  The Scots say the English don’t care about them.  The English say the Scots get too good a deal. The Scots say that the union favours the rich and powerful. Some English agree.  So the union itself – paradoxically it seems – is accused of being divisive.  That’s my position.    

I believe that independence for Scotland will enable each country to reconfigure our relationships much more healthily – within our countries first, and then between our countries.

So let’s remember, in both England and Scotland, that whatever happens in the referendum,   what unites us is much greater than what divides us. 

Where has all the energy in Britain gone?

In a previous article, I imagined how a spirited defence of the union could have looked like, with English MPs and elder statesmen descending on Scotland in order to find out from ordinary Scots what had gone wrong.  Of course, nothing like this has happened.  There is no energy in England or Scotland to remotely match the energy that the Yes supporters have.  This is not surprising because Yes supporters have a natural unity about them which releases and channels the energies they possess for a greater good which they genuinely believe in.  By contrast, supporters of the union are self-conscious, fragmented, reluctant and many are in fact missing in inaction.  They know they lack what the Yes voters have and can’t bring themselves to admit it. They are still hanging on for a close No vote in the hope that they can go back to political sleep afterwards.  Their actions give the lie to their supposed love for the Scots and for our union.  They don’t dare show their faces in Scotland because they lack the courage to deal with people who are going to ask them angry questions about what they have done in their political careers. So they carp from the sidelines – trying to dig up anti-English feeling, picking holes in the Yes manifesto, and taking premature positions, such as on currency union, which are designed to scare voters towards a No.

But we all have energy, English and Scottish alike.  We go to work, we look after our children and our older folk. We play sports, play music and take part in community activities. So why are we – who are so attached to the British state – so apathetic (and pathetic) when it comes to political participation?  Is it because we have not been galvanised by an inspiring speakers?  Is it because we have no enthusiasm for the policies of our main parties?  Is it because no-one else seems interested in politics? Is it because we don’t feel valued as a member of our country?  I think there is something to all these reasons.

If we look back in time to the founding of the union of England and Scotland, we can see that it was a union of political elites, more than peoples.  There was hostility among most Scots.  There was no great mood in England for union that our politicians were expressing.  The reasons were mainly commercial.  The union served the interests of the political and business classes.  The peoples of both countries were co-erced into union.  I say co-erced because there was no mandate from them.  Both peoples were subject to a British identity propaganda campaign from the monarchy and the government.  Those of us who still believe in Britan (not me) are the current beneficiaries of that ideology. 

The British state for most of its history has served the interests of our political and economic elites.  Scots and English have been united mostly in terms of international endeavours – economic and political colonialism.  Thankfully, the empire has passed.  More recently, we have been united in defence of the realm during the world wars. Thankfully, the threat has passed.  We have been united, perhaps more positively, in the creation of cherished public institutions such as free healthcare and education.  Sadly, this unity is now passing, as we in England face a growing privatisation of the NHS and massive university fees.  So much of what united us is now in the past. And most of that related to our dealings with the outside world, not between ourselves.

I for one feel powerless as I see my country take positions which alienate me – replacing nuclear weapons at a cost of up to £100bn to the taxpayer; bailing out banks by running up government debt; clamping down on benefits and starving community groups of funding; jumping when the markets sneeze; and privatising the NHS by stealth.  I don’t see much difference between the main parties.  I don’t think that there is a genuine mandate for the policies that our politicians are pursuing.  Or if there is, it is a weak one, from an electorate which does not have the tools or the energy to get their politicians working for them. 

So we know that, as human beings, we do have energy, but that this energy is sapped by not feeling united, and a discontent at the way our country is going.  How is it that our energy is channelled away from unity and national purpose?  I think this takes us back to the rationale for the union between our countries. If the peoples of our countries were actually co-erced into a new political relationship with each other, then this was a shotgun marriage. If we were then subject to pro-British propaganda by our elites so as to convince us that this new relationship is what we really wanted, then this relationship turned into a marriage arranged by controlling parents.  If our energies were then channelled towards serving the privileged interests of our political and economic masters, and if we were rewarded with enough “bread and circuses”, then this would have given us very little space to work through what was really going on.

Perhaps the British establishment has done Scotland a favour by neglecting Scottish political preferences for the last few decades.  With the poll tax and its abandonment to industrial decline, the Thatcher government left Scotland helpless to look after its own – a national humiliation.  This exposed the selfishness of the British political identity and Scotland’s loyalty to the union has declined since then with a succession of alienating policies.   

Critical commentators in Scotland have long condemned the rottenness – to the core – of the British state but we in England are only now beginning to get it ourselves. The British state is like a giant parasite that sucks much more life out of us than it gives back.  The energy of the Yes campaign shows us all that, cut free from the shackles of the British state, we too can find new unity and channel our energies towards serving each other and pursuing our heartfelt national dreams, not those of our political and economic elites.

So we need to organise ourselves outside the Westminster system and ultimately rise up to reform it or replace it.  I don’t want to join any party which would spend £100bn of our money on weapons that can destroy millions of lives.  Such a policy is self-evidently evil.  This is enough to rule me out of joining the Conservatives, Lib Dems or Labour.  Perhaps I should join the Green Party.  I am thinking about it.

So the Westminster system finally stands condemned, and with it the very foundations of the British state. Relationships that are built on co-ercion can’t be reformed.  They must be torn down.  Then we must re-build relationships within our nations – English with English and Scottish with Scottish. In time, we can form natural alliances between our nations but there is a lot of work to do first.  The Yes campaign have shown us the way, and we can all benefit from their clear-sighted analysis and pursuit of noble principle.  There doesn’t have to be a Scottish monopoly on principled nation-building.