As the UK lurches towards a Common vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and it becomes ever more obvious that no route out of the Brexmess enjoys the support of a majority of MPs, the entire future of the UK and everyone in it is being held hostage. British politics are in disarray.
Brexit is driven by xenophobia, by fear of the foreign, by nostalgia for a lost empire, by the burning resentment that England, and it’s always England, has limits placed on its absolute power by Europeans. Brexit dresses itself up in a Union fleg, it preens and poses as the restoration of the full sovereignty of Westminster, while really being used by the right wing of the Tory party to aggrandise the power of the executive over Parliament. Brexit calls itself a British project, but it’s being used to put the hems on the powers of the devolved administrations and to further entrench the dominance of England within the UK. We won the war you know. Brexit is, and always was, an exercise in English nationalism.
There remains the possiblity of a so-called people’s vote which might just halt Brexit. But that possibility is being aired because of the disquiet that Brexit is causing in England. If the vote produces a result which halts Brexit, that again will be because England will have voted to prevent it. Yet even if it does, Brexit will continue to dominate English politics for decades, risking the rise of the far right as embittered Ukippers and Tory Brexiteers seeks to express their anger. The targets of their ire will be all those who opposed their dream of Britannia waiving the rules, remainers, EU citizens, and the Scots. A UK which votes in a referendum to halt Brexit will be a UK where there will be increased political pressure to punish the Scots and restrict the powers of Holyrood. And this, let us not forget, is the best case scenario, because it’s the only one in which Brexit doesn’t happen.
Scotland and the other devolved nations are and remain a sideshow. All of this is a function of the simple numerical reality that some 85% of the population of the UK live in England. The UK calls itself a Union, but it contains no checks and balances on the power of its largest constituent member.
We are supposed to be in a Union. We are supposed to be a much loved partner in a family of nations. We were told to lead the Union not leave it. But Brexit has exposed the myth. There is no Union. There is only a unitary state which obeys the dictates of English nationalism, the nationalism of one member of that supposed Union, and which refuses to concede to any constitutional mechanisms which might put a limit on unbridled and unchecked English exceptionalism.
The devolution settlement came about because of the experience of Thatcher, a woman who stood before the Conservative party conference and proudly declared that she was an English nationalist. To which everyone in Scotland replied, tell us something we don’t know. For two decades Scotland was subjected to a government which Scotland didn’t vote for, and bore the brunt of Conservative economic policies which damaged Scotland and destroyed communities. Scotland campaigned long and hard for a Scottish government and parliament in order to provide us with a modicum of protection from the ravages of English nationalism.
Right from the start, the British state with its instinctive prioritising of English nationalism did its utmost to restrict the scope of devolution. The limited tax powers promised to Holyrood were effectively neutered. Scotland was not to be permitted a national public service broadcaster of its own. Tony Blair proudly declared that the new Scottish Parliament would be little more than a glorified parish council. The outcome was as the British state intended, the new Scottish Parliament would not be able to protect Scotland from English nationalism, and would most certainly not be permitted to put any limits on the expression of English nationalism at a UK level. We saw that the morning after the independence referendum, when David Cameron told us that it had really been all about England all along, and announced that Scottish MPs would become second class.
Even with devolution, Scotland has not been able to escape the effects of Conservative austerity. The best that can be managed is for the Scottish budget to be slashed in other areas in order to find funds to mitigate damage done by Westminster. Scotland can’t stop the damage at source. Scotland can’t ensure that the damage doesn’t reach north of the border.
Even more obviously, devolution has done absolutely nothing to protect Scotland from an English nationalist driven Brexit. Scotland’s parliament and government have not been consulted, never mind had a role in shaping the form that Brexit takes. Scotland will get what it’s given.
And now we are told that Theresa May is not disposed to consent to a Section 30 order for another Scottish independence referendum. English nationalism has driven Brexit because it cannot tolerate any limits, however minor, however consensual and negotiated, however much the UK has a seat at the EU table, on English sovereignty. Yet Scotland is being told by those same proponents of unfettered English sovereignty that a Prime Minister who enjoys her role due to the support her party received in England, a Prime Minster whose party is a minority in Scotland, has an absolute veto on whether the Scottish people can decide the form of government best suited to their needs.
The question remains for those in Scotland who still believe that we are in a Union, who still believe that Scotland is a partner in the UK project. What constitutional protections does the UK offer to Scotland from the excesses of English nationalism? Brexit has given the answer, and the answer is none.
There is only one nation outside England in the British Isles which is able to resist the ill effects of rampant English nationalism upon it, and that is Ireland. Ireland has been able to ensure that its needs and interests are taken into account as the UK embarks upon its English nationalist driven Brexit because Ireland is an independent state. Scotland lies powerless and impotent, at the mercy of events, a toy of English nationalists, a pretty British bauble to allow them to pretend that they’re not nationalist at all. Even if Brexit can be stopped, Scotland will remain at the mercy of English nationalism.
Only independence can provide us with a bulwark and a defence. Only independence can ensure that Scotland’s voice will be heard and its needs taken into account. Brexit has exposed the myth of the Union, the real dirty secret of the British state. There is no Union and there never was. The UK is and always was a vehicle for English nationalism.
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