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.