Last night BBC 2’s Newsnight programme concluded its four part look at how Brexit and this election is affecting the unitary state which it pleases opponents of independence to call the Union. Last night it was England’s turn, and the reporter went to Grantham in Lincolnshire, a strongly pro-Brexit constituency in the East of England and the home town of Margaret Thatcher, to ask local voters about their views on Scotland and the other nations in the UK.
The segment started with the reporter, Elizabeth Glinka, asking a group of youth footballers how many of them regarded themselves as English. A large majority raised their hands, although it was noticeable that the three or four Black and Minority Ethnic kids did not. The message was clear, English nationalism is on the rise, yet it seems to be exclusive and based in a sense of ethnic identity which is not so dominant in Scotland.
There were voices who spoke of their regret that Scotland was being pushed away, but the dominant attitudes on display were pretty much what we’ve come to expect, a mixture of patronising arrogance, ignorance, and entitlement all viewed through the prism of the unshakeable belief that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are possessions of Greater England. One person speaking proclaimed that Britain conquered half the world, so Scotland couldn’t possibly become independent. The other nations of the UK, another man stated, can’t go because they can’t finance themselves. They are just a “little bits of Britain”, far away and insignificant. Another man stated that if the UK finished, the world would be finished. A third speaker said that the typical attitude locally – one which he stressed that he did not share himself – was that Scotland could go to hell.
What was clear from the Newsnight report was that there is no appetite or interest in England for compromising on Brexit in order to keep Scotland within the UK. It was also clear that there’s a huge amount of resentment against Scotland for daring to be different, a resentment founded upon a lack of understanding. England doesn’t know Scotland, and doesn’t understand Scotland’s point of view. So it’s only natural that they view Scotland through a prism of English resentments and we get told that we only want independence because we hate the English. People in England have no other information to go on, so it’s hardly surprising that they attempt to make sense of Scotland based upon their prejudices and misunderstandings. The UK media doesn’t attempt to explain Scotland to them – it makes no attempt to explain Scotland to Scotland never mind the rest of the UK. Where there’s a vacuum of knowledge, ignorance rushes in to fill the gap.
Similar attitudes were also to be seen in a video which was shared on social media by, amongst others, the Conservative commentator Toby Young, the guy who vies with Piers Morgan for the title of the UK’s most odious man. The nature of the video ought to have been clear even before you saw it all, as it bore the stamp darrengrimes.com. Darren is the pro-Brexit activist who was at the centre of allegations about misspending by the Leave EU campaign. Darren now runs the digital media operation for the Institute of Economic Affairs, which calls itself a think tank, but which is more accurately described as a lobbying organisation for corporate, right wing, and pro-Brexit interests. The accountability group Transparify, which rates so-called think tanks according to the transparency of their funding, classes the IEA as “highly opaque”.
The video which Darren produced was a warning about what right wing English nationalists would like us to think would happen if Jeremy Corbyn got into power and agreed to a Scottish independence referendum. “Vote Corbyn, lose Scotland”, announced the video. Note the perspective there. Scotland is a possession for English nationalists to lose or retain, not another nation which has a right to decide for itself where its future lies. The video itself was a farrago of factual inaccuracies. Which is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from proponents of Brexit. The video was so far removed from any recognisable truth that it passed through the irritation barrier and became amusing instead. It’s the Patronising Better Together Woman of this election campaign.
The video treated us to a trot through the Better Together campaign’s greatest hits. Scotland wouldn’t be able to buy the NHS. Because apparently it would still belong to the rest of the UK. Scotland isn’t entitled to any publicly owned assets, not even those in Scotland. The Royal Bank of Scotland would leave. UK military bases would close down. BBC Scotland would cease broadcasting – and we were told that like it was a bad thing. We even got the Spanish veto warning which has been debunked more often than Piltdown Man. So there’s Darren, a guy who has spent the last few years making sure that the UK is taken out of the EU, actually trying to threaten us with a scare story saying that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be allowed into the EU.
Rabbie Burns once expressed the wish that the pouers wad gie us the gift tae see oorsels as ithers see us. In modern Scotland we have that all the time, but it’s not a gift it’s a curse. The only reflections that the British media shows of Scotland are those viewed through the distorting mirror of English nationalism. So we learn that we are far away and insignificant, existing solely in order to bolster the self-esteem of English nationalists. Our country is a mere appendage, not entitled to decide its future for itself, told that it’s too weak and too poor to make it by itself. And we internalise those views, because they’re the only ones that we are taught. It is indeed a gift to see ourselves as others see us, but only if we are first grounded in a solid understanding of ourselves.
The UK media deprives Scotland of that understanding. It also deprives the rest of the UK of that understanding, and that’s one of the most important reasons why the UK is currently in the state it is, a state in its final days. The Union never really existed, we can see that every time we turn on the TV.
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