The United Kingdom: Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
Cameron and Miliband have united in calling for the Scots to reject independence. So, that’s the Union fucked then.
Let me declare my hand I’m neither a Nationalist nor a Unionist (the capitals are deliberate). But I will confess to being a unionist (lower case, this time) in the sense that I think collectivism is a good thing and relationships of warm horizontal comradeship and political communion are infinitely preferable to myopic separatism.
Alas the United Kingdom has never been a union of equals and as a consequence has long encouraged separatism and nationalism. It has been dominated by England, and more specifically the interests of London, while its constitution is archaic and undemocratic, with its Protestant monarchy, unelected second chamber, and vile class system.
There is absolutely nothing to indicate that this lamentable state of affairs will end any time soon, so it seems to me entirely understandable that there is a sizeable portion of the Scottish electorate looking to escape what Tom Nairn refers to as Ukania.
The election of a Conservative government has probably hastened the process of breaking up, and Cameron’s pronouncements this week will have accelerated the further disintegration of the very thing he says that he wants to preserve. When you can boast only one MP in Scotland, it’s bloody presumptuous to start dictating the terms of a future Scottish referendum.
Can the Union be saved? Maybe. Because this strikes me as a strange break up. I’m not sure that most Scots are conviction nationalists (I know many of them are deeply suspicious of the SNP or ‘tartan Tories’). Their proposed secession strikes me as motivated by the feeling that they are put-upon, unappreciated and unloved by the English. It’s a marriage that has little real animosity, just the growing mutual disinterest of the two parties. So, I wonder, as the dominant partner in the relationship, what would England do to preserve the Union? Cameron has resorted to bullying and hectoring. But what about the English electorate? They seem largely indifferent, if anything a more assertive Scotland has antagonised some of them.
Now, I’m sorry to employ the marriage metaphor to describe Anglo-Scottish relations. I appreciate that it is over-used but seems entirely appropriate at this time. Also this week’s events have reminded me of similar metaphor that comments on another set of UK relations that I’m more familiar with. In Pat Murphy and John Davies’s experimental film Maeve, there is moment when a British soldier and a young Belfast women are pictured engaged in a loveless embrace; he humping her in a rather mechanical manner while she stares impassively over his shoulder. The scene has always struck me as a comment on the curiously loveless relationship that Ulster Protestants endure with the rest of the UK. And Davies and Murphy seem to be asking: why would anyone tolerate such a miserable, unsatisfying political congress? Indeed.
Political unions are surely not just practical projects: they’re not just about pounds, shillings and euros. There is an emotional element to them. But if the only thing that keeps England and Scotland in the same cold house is economic expediency or fear in straitened times, then that is a sure recipe for growing mutual resentment, and a more acrimonious break up in the future.