August is traditionally a slow news month. August is usually the month that those of us who write and blog about political developments get to put our feet up, eat junk food, and watch crap on the telly, while complaining that Impossible is a whole lot crappier than Pointless and adding it to the ever lengthening list of things that pisses us off about the BBC. But not this week. This week has been a newsmaggedon.
This week we’ve had the annual GERSmas festivities of North British mediocrity, an occasion traditionally celebrated on Scottish social media with the production of a graph showing that Scotland is somewhere behind Zimbabwe in the economic competence leagues. A graph which equally traditionally fails to point out that it’s the UK Parliament which has its paws very firmly on the economic levers that have led to this situation, if in fact it were true.
We’ve had the mounting calamities of the Trump presidency. This week saw court convictions of close associates of Donald Trump. It saw immunities granted to some of his other close associates in return for cooperating with prosecutors. And it saw the Big Orange Cheeto’s belated realisation that the quickest and easiest way to get Hillary Clinton locked up would have been just to have given her a job in his campaign staff.
We’ve received the news from a heavily sweating Dominic Raab that the British government’s plans for a no-deal Brexit tell us that the UK won’t be easily able to keep importing sperm from the EU and so the UK is going to need even more wankers than it’s already got. Which considering that the Conservative party is already amongst the world’s leading suppliers is going to be very difficult.
And then there’s the allegations made against Alex Salmond and his decision to mount a legal challenge over the way that the matter has been handled, much to the distastefully salacious lip-smacking glee of the British nationalist press in Scotland which is always in search of something to criticise the SNP for and now thinks all its SNPBadmasses have come at once. There’s a lot going on.
With all that to keep us occupied, it would be forgivable if you’d missed a speech given by Jacob Rees Mogg in which he suggested that the issue of the Irish border could be easily resolved, by inspecting people crossing it the same way they were subjected to checks during the Troubles. Jacob clearly thinks that the Troubles were so called because their onset coincided chronologically with that Simon and Garfunkel song about a bridge over troubled water, and not because they were, you know, troubled. But no matter, in Jacob’s mental universe the Irish border issue which bedevils Brexit can be easily solved with a song; like a bridge over troubled waters, I will subject you to searches by armed soldiers. Because that will really ensure that the Troubles are kept in history.
In reality, Jacob is probably aware that the reintroduction of border checks would run a serious risk of reigniting the Troubles. It’s just that he doesn’t care too much. The concerns of the natives in a distant province are standing in the way of what Olde Englande wants, and that will never do. He’s probably vaguely aware that the UK has an international treaty obligation to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic open and checkpoint free. It’s just that he doesn’t care too much. Treaties made by the British with lesser breeds only need to be adhered to as long as it suits Great Britain. Because Britain has Great in its name, and nowhere else does. Except Great Neck in Long Island in New York state, which is so called because it was settled by one of Jacob’s ancestors. Donald Trump has property there.
It’s remarkable how nonchalant the Conservative and Unionist party are about throwing the “unionist” bit under the Brexit bus when it suits them. Or at least it’s remarkable, or should be remarkable, if you are a Conservative and Unionist in one of the non-English parts of the UK. The rest of us already knew that the Conservative party has a definite hierarchy of interests. First there’s what’s good for the Conservative party. Then there’s what’s good for Conservative supporting newspapers. Then there’s what’s good for the City of London. Then there’s what’s good for the south east of England. Then there’s what’s good for Conservative constituencies elsewhere. What’s good for those parts of the UK that are covered by the “unionist” rubric doesn’t even figure.
“Unionism” only ever existed in the first place in order to provide a non-nationalist figleaf for English nationalism, and can be discarded whenever it’s convenient, leaving us the naked glory of Jacob in full Rule Britannia mode. It’s only those who still call themselves Unionists in Scotland and Northern Ireland who haven’t realised that as far as the British establishment and the Conservative party are concerned, they are as disposable as a used nappy. And indeed, serve much the same purpose.
Even arch-Unionist Edward Carson, the architect of the Orange statelet of Northern Ireland, eventually came to that realisation. Writing in 1921 about his political beliefs and deeds of the previous thirty years, he said, “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.” Almost 100 years later and nothing has changed. Scotland and Northern Ireland remain the political playthings of the Conservatives.
For all that has happened this week, for all the crowing, the preening, the gloating and muck raking, that essential truth about the nature of the British state remains the same. Scotland, just like Northern Ireland, just like Wales, just like working class communities in England, exists only in order to serve the needs of a British Conservative political class that doesn’t care much for us and which knows us even less. No crowing headlines in the Daily Record alter that truth. The independence movement is all about a bigger prize, the prize of self-respect. It’s the bridge over the troubled waters of British nationalism.
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