According to the BBC political editor Nick Watt, a senior Conservative spoke to him about his frustration at the way Brexit has been going. What this Tory grandee was specifically upset about was the amount of power and influence that Dublin has had in the Brexit negotiations. Dublin has been able to lay down the law to the UK, to insist that the UK abide by the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty and the Good Friday Agreement, and to ensure that a backstop arrangement is put in place which prevents the UK’s exit from the EU re-imposing a hard border in Ireland. The senior Tory is not at all happy that the Irish government has the power to ensure that the consequences of Brexit are dealt with by the British, and not by the Irish. “The Irish really should know their place,” he told Nick Watt.
The lesson is clear. From the point of view of the red cheeked British establishment, the Irish are an uppity little minor part of the British Isles which ought to return to its rightful place. That rightful place is being told what to do by its betters in London. That was how it was for centuries. Ireland said it wanted something, and the RoastBeefs said no. So Ireland rebelled, and Britain got its way at the point of a rifle.
It was in order to ensure that the interests of Scotland, Wales, or Ireland could never come before the interests of England’s ruling class that the English state embarked on a policy of conquest and control over the non-English nations of these islands. Nothing was to interfere with England’s ruling class’s freedom to do as they pleased, and if that was going to have negative consequences on the other nations of these islands, well that was unfortunate. But it wasn’t going to be unfortunate for the ruling classes of England. The lesser nations could suck it up. It has always been thus. It’s the natural order of British things.
This is the lesson that the ProudScotsBut have never learned. It’s the lesson that they choose to ignore because it speaks an uncomfortable truth. What the ruling classes of England, those who define the British state, those who speak for the Union Fleg, what they think of Ireland and the Irish, they think of you too. You’re accepted as a North Briton, a proud British Scot with your union fleg bedecked bagpipes, because you know your place. You’re not an equal, but you’re allowed the delusion of telling yourself that you are. You’re not a partner, you’re a possession, but you can pretend to yourself that we’re a part of a Union and not a piece of real estate that’s disposed of as someone else sees fit. You know your place. You think the bars on your cage are there for your own protection.
Reconciling those two realities, the nationhood of Scotland with its subordinate place within a British state that treats it as a possession, that’s what creates the cultural cringe. It’s responsible for the belief that Gaelic roadsigns cause potholes, the conviction that Scotland has no culture or identity of its own other than an atavistic hatred of the English. It’s because the North Britons are afraid to confront the reality of their own ProudScotBut submission.
It’s what comes from telling yourself you come from a country that can’t act as a country. It’s what comes from telling yourself that you go your own way in a land whose path is chosen for it. It’s what comes from telling yourself that you’re better than Ireland because Scotland isn’t a colony, it’s a partner in a Union.
It’s a strange Union which works in the interests of only one of its members. The myth of the Union is the comfort blanket of North Britain. It’s the cosy insulation that protects ProudScotsBut from the truth that the contempt, the entitlement, the disdain, that the British establishment has for Ireland is exactly the same as what they feel about Scotland. Know your place Jocks. It was a UK vote. England with its 85% of the population chose for you. That’s democracy in this Union. Scotland will do as it’s told.
This Conservative government can’t wrap its head around the fact that the EU regards Ireland as a member state whose interests must be defended. Britain’s attitude to Ireland has always been that if the ruling establishment in London wanted something, then Ireland could get shafted. They think that about Ireland. They think that about Scotland and Wales. They think that about the working class in England too. The politics of the UK are the politics of being told your place and accepting it. But Ireland didn’t accept it, and now Scotland won’t either.
It tends to be forgotten in the British press that what they are pleased to call the problem with the Irish border isn’t really a problem with the Irish border. It’s really a problem with the British border. The international frontier that winds its way across the north of the island of Ireland is an artificial construct imposed upon the island by the British, in an attempt to retain control over as much of the island of Ireland as possible even after it became clear that Ireland’s independence was unstoppable.
It’s a great irony that the British state is now being taught the limits of its power by Ireland, and Ireland is using an instrument of British control in order to do so. That’s because Ireland knows its place. Ireland’s place is an independent member state in a free union of states, a union where Ireland has the same rights as the other parts of that union. Ireland’s place is to have a seat at the top table. Ireland’s place is to be listened to and respected. Ireland’s place is to treat Westminster as an equal.
Compare and contrast how Ireland has shaped and defined Brexit. Ireland has ensured that Irish interests will not be overlooked. Ireland has forced an unwilling Westminster to deal with Irish concerns. Ireland has a voice. Ireland has a say. What does Scotland have? Scotland’s government hasn’t even been informed about the progress of Brexit, never mind consulted, and certainly hasn’t been allowed to shape the UK’s negotiating position. That’s because those Tories who insist that Ireland should know its subordinate position are confident that Scotland is contained within its shortbread tin.
It’s time for Scotland to know its place like Ireland knows its place. Its place as an independent state. Its place at a negotiating table dealing with Westminster as an equal. Its place as a country with a voice. That’s our place. It’s time we took our seat at the top table too.
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