Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'You do not speak for Scotland, sir'

Gerry Hassan has written a very detailed analysis of last night's Newsnight debate on 'the future of the Union'. I must say that personally I wouldn't be quite so effusive about Rory Stewart's performance - he's undoubtedly very articulate and has a 'screen presence', but he got himself into very unwise territory when he flatly informed a Scot in the audience who gave primacy to a Scottish identity that "you do not speak for Scotland, sir". Stewart's proof for this assertion was that his own father is Scottish, lives in Crieff and is "very proud to be British". This, of course, is the classic Tory delusion that got them into such a pickle over the Poll Tax - forget about elections and opinion polls, authentic Scottish opinion is represented by their father or third cousin once removed, or that well-bred chap they once canvassed in Drymen. Admittedly, for as long as there is more than one view held among the public, no-one can literally claim to speak for all of Scotland, but what evidence we have on majority opinion is clear enough - the Scot in the audience was much closer to speaking for modern Scotland's aspirations than that British imperial throwback Rory Stewart, former Deputy Governor of two Iraqi provinces. No wonder Rory still thinks there is something terribly "precious" to be lost if the Union bites the dust - how many other thirtysomething Scots have been given the wizard opportunity to rule a conquered Middle Eastern country? Would never happen under independence.

While we've seen much worse from Paxman, he was scarcely the most even-handed moderator, allowing Michael Portillo to wax lyrical for several minutes about the supposed historic British tradition of anti-fanaticism, but almost biting Joan McAlpine's head off when she tried to introduce a bit of balance by pointing out that one of the first acts of the British state was a pogrom in the Highlands of Scotland. "Oh, we're not going back to that," he groaned after an apparent Damascene conversion about the unimportance of British history, "I want to look forward". Earlier, he had taunted McAlpine about the failure of the "Scottish banks", but ten seconds later airily brushed off a member of the audience who pointed out that many of the bankers in those "Scottish banks" were English. My own point would have been more that those banks failed under UK rather than Scottish regulation, but doubtless Paxo would have regarded that as a "cheap shot" as well. He's certainly the expert on those.

The other thing that leapt out at me from the debate was the utter incoherence of the argument put forward by the representative of the English Democrats. Once again, it seems that underneath the veneer they are classic right-wing Brit Nats, who are lashing out at Scottish and Welsh presumptuousness with an affectation of English nationalism. What England is crying out for is an equivalent of the SNP or Plaid - a left-of-centre (or at the very least centrist) civic nationalist party that believes in English self-government for the right reasons.


  1. The debate was terrible. A waste of my time really. The thing that strikes me is how far behind the English / 'British' are in the debate over the winding down of the UK. They are still talking about what Britishness / Englishness is/are. Perhaps they always will. Unfortunately, having watched that debate, I am not at all confident that they ever find an answer that they are comfortable with.

  2. Sounds all very tired and jaded and faux sophisticated clap-trap hollowing itself out to the barest remnant of a husk by burnt-our carsalespersons and strong-arm, "honey-worded", RP dilettantes and their hangers-on seeing the last pot of gold and power slip through their thieving, insular-minded but globally pretentious , mercenary fingers: A long haul as the decay of the rotten corpse usually is unless treated with the appropriate chemicals.

    I have grown truly weary of these elements and their proxy "Brit" expat - a loathsome term - foghorns overseas: An appallingly infantile community that is sneering, grasping and arrogantly critical, unable to compromise with local traditions, treats the "natives" like backward cookies, guirns and bleats stridently or in sneering/snivelling/elbow-nudging-in-the-old-boys-and-"Brit" wink wink- style while brazenly trying to fuck over their host communities.

    A foul and noisly appalling set of blackguards - male and female - who have pushed the people's of the world's patience way long over the boundaries of mutual respect and tolerance.


  3. Erratum: "coolies".

    Forgive me, but tsunamis of them unabating about whom over several pints of Bass (or London Pride or whatever piss) would confine the rest of the world's peoples in zoos, safari parks (the better to goggle and snigger at); or concentration camps - pace, the South African ones they pioneered pre-Nazis .

    A squalid coterie (them and our own collaborators).

  4. Another machine-generated mistake: "peoples'"; and a random comment, folk seem to be globally waking-up to the "Brit/UK" falsehood as I am anecdotally witnessing amongst my students and fellow, international faculty: The last bit of the shooglie-peg about to fall off the wall (and interestingly, Alex Harvey is playing unbidded here in Tokyo).

  5. Yep. Spotted another.

    Daibhidh (and the "Sensational Alex Harvey Band" is still pumping them out).

  6. I feel a Westminster led referendum in the making, that's what all this guff is about. The BBC wouldn't give independence referendums the time of day until the SNP won their majority, now they're asking the English for their opinion.

  7. While I share some of the criticisms, I thought the debate and the analysis (which was more objective) was valuable. It showed up the utter poverty of the unionist arguments, especially from Stewart and Portillo, which were little more than a kind of nostalgic sentimentality.

    Rory Stewart, whose family hail from Crieff, was born in Hong Kong, and grew up in Malaysia and Scotland. He is a product of the Dragon School, Eton and Balliol College, Oxford.

    During his time at Balliol, he tutored Prince William and Prince Harry. He is a Tory MP. He could hardly be more typical of the British Establishment and the children of Empire, and we get from him exactly what we might expect.

    He is a certain kind of Scot, one that is instantly recognisable throughout the history of the Union. He has many useful and perceptive things to say about Iraq and the British military, and I would guess he is a brave man, but anyone expecting objective political commentor balanced analysis on Scottish or English independence from him can only expect to be disappointed.

  8. Perhaps one of the fundamental differences in the current flurry of debate about the difference between a British, English and Scottish identity is that the quest for Scottish identity has been based on an internal quest for identity in Scotland while the debate about the difference between Britishness and Englishness is one that has been forced on England.

    In England it is an identity debate which never would have arisen without the debate in Scotland.

    In many respects the question of choosing an English or British identity simply makes no sense to a majority in England. It would be like asking a Scot if he or she is Argyll or Scottish or a Fifer or Scottish. English and British in terms of identity and culture have always meant the same thing in England and England has been a geographical boundary in Britain not an identity boundary for generations of English.

    British or English? It's a debate in which most English people either don't care or simply don't understand.

  9. Doug : Yes, it was very telling when the guy from Newcastle explained how the rise of Scottish nationalism was encouraging a new awareness of English identity, which he described as being about tolerance, fair play, etc, etc. He then concluded by saying something like "that's what being English or British is all about", which defeated the whole point! The two concepts are entirely interchangeable for most English people.

  10. Just to take a point you made in your reply, James:

    I’m intrigued by the oft repeated assertion that Britain is some sort of bastion of fair play, decency, and tolerance. Frequently this assertion is made when referring to these attributes as being shared with America.

    Then I look around, and I see “British” life. I see the lives of people living on “schemes” and I compare it to the lives of people in the 4 x 4 set and I wonder about the fairness and why we fondly imagine that there is any. I read the revelations about police corruption and newspaper editors’ methods of securing sensational headlines to beat their rivals and I consider the expression “fair play”. I look at the conditions in which some of our old people spend their last days for want of funds, and greed, and I seriously question our decency.

    These qualities are easy to say, but difficult to live up to. I fear it’s a case of if you say it often enough, despite all the evidence to the contrary, people will believe it, mainly because they WANT to believe it.

  11. I quite enjoyed Portillo's assertion that the quintessence of Britishness was a rejection of fanatacism.

    Wonder how often he's been to Ibrox...