Yesterday, 18 September, was the anniversary of Scotland’s first independence referendum. Only the anniversary of the first one, mind. There will be another. However since the first one produced the result that opponents of independence craved, they are determined that Scottish democracy should be preserved in aspic, forever stuck in the hours after the 18th of September 2014 like some Groundhog Day without any laughs or star quality. But it’s worse than that, Bill Murray was at least an agent of his own destiny, trapped as he was in the same day repeating itself for ever.
The British nationalist ideal for Scotland is to be stuck passively watching a David Starkey documentary about the Great British monarchy on a loop for all eternity, while our eyelids are held open, our mouths are gagged, and the Tories and Labour scream “You’re happy! This is what you voted for! Smile or I’ll put on the Neil Oliver programme!” in our ears. All the while your kneecaps are being struck by hammers to make sure that you’ll never move under your own accord again. Punching above our weight by being punched below the belt.
Ross Thomson, the Birdie Song of the Scottish Conservatives, graced our lives yesterday with a wee video on social media when he popped up against a backdrop of flegs to say how happy he was it was “Union Day”, and then for good measure he munched on a Tunnocks Teacake. Being lectured by Ross is like being threatened by a rabid hamster.
The reason that so many of us in Scotland are demanding a second referendum is very like the reason that so many in the rest of the UK are demanding a second referendum on the EU. It’s because we were lied to and deceived. The UK is being taken out of the EU by people who lied and deceived in order to win their victory. Scotland was kept in the UK by people who lied and deceived in order to win their victory. There were many lies in both campaigns, but Scotland was kept in the UK by the biggest lie of all, the lie that we’re a part of a union. The UK is no union, and it never has been. The UK is now and always was a unitary state in which Scotland was absorbed into a Greater England. The so-called Union was only ever a comforting lie told to Scotland as a sop.
If you are a part of a union, a real union, you retain agency. A marriage is a union, but the smaller spouse does not surrender all control over their entire life to their larger partner. The larger partner doesn’t get to call all the shots and make all the decisions, telling their smaller partner – but this is what you voted for when I put that ring on your finger. There’s a difference between a ring on your finger and a ring through your nose. In the tired old metaphor of the UK as a marriage, Scotland has a ring through its nose, not on its finger, and we are led where the larger partner takes us, without a say, without consent. The UK allows Scotland no agency.
If you are a part of a union, a real union, you have a voice, you have a say, you have representation in the body which leads and governs that union. Within the UK, Scotland has a right to send MPs to a parliament in which they are a small and marginalised minority where they can always be outvoted and their concerns dismissed. The UK is in effect an elective dictatorship, in which the party with the largest number of seats in that parliament takes all the power, and all that power rests with that party’s leader and the cabinet which he or she hand picks. The only formal representation that Scotland has in the UK cabinet is David Mundell, a man who has made it very clear that his job is not to speak up for Scotland within the British Government, but to speak up for the British Government within Scotland. The UK allows Scotland no voice.
From the very beginnings of the UK, the Union was always the big lie. Scotland was bribed, coerced, and threatened into it by an England which sought to secure its northern border, and once caught became subsumed into Greater England, subjugated by military force for decades after 1707. In the eyes of the British establishment, it was Scotland which became extinguished by the Treaty of 1707, not England. The role of Scotland was to act as a tartan fig leaf, a disguise for English exceptionalism, allowing the proponents of Britishness to pretend to themselves that their nationalism was better than that of lesser breeds by virtue of not being nationalist at all. And all these years later, that lie still allows people to claim that they don’t want Scottish independence, because they say they don’t like nationalism. It blinds them to the British nationalism, the English nationalism, that is all around them, like fish who are unaware of the water they swim in.
The concept of the Union served to act as a comfort blanket to North Britons. It allowed Scots to pretend to themselves that we were not like those nations conquered by the British Empire. It meant that they could tell themselves that Scotland was a partner in a family of nations, a free agent freely associating itself, free to make its own decisions – just as long as those decisions were the same as those that England’s establishment made. And for much of the 20th century, Scotland voted much the same way that England did, and we could all keep pretending that the lie of the Union was no lie.
Brexit exposes the lie of the Union. There is no Union and there never was, and those who affect the conceit of Unionism are deluding themselves. You can’t be a Unionist if there is no Union. You’re just an apologist for British nationalism, for English nationalism in tartan drag. There is no Union Day if there is no Union.
So I have resolved to purge the words Unionist and Unionism from my political vocabulary. Those who seek to keep Scotland a part of this unitary state can call themselves what they please, but I’m not going to be a party to their self-delusion. I’m not going to allow them to keep pretending that the Scottish constitutional debate is a debate between nationalism and non-nationalism. They are British nationalists. Let’s call them that. There can never be a Union Day because there is no Union.
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