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The Disunited Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland

There are an awful lot of British citizens at the moment who are at best indifferent to the fate of our country or at worst hostile. The most vocal of these are Scottish nationalists, but they are not alone. There are Welsh nationalists too who somehow think that Welsh independence is a realistic prospect. It is odd enough to suppose that it would be sensible for European countries to go back to the borders they had in 1707, but it is something else again to think we should re-establish boundaries that haven’t existed since the 13th century. Then too there is Northern Ireland which contains a significant minority who would like to join another country. One of the main motivations of Scottish nationalism sometimes appears to be helping this to happen. By a very warped logic I keep coming across Scottish/Irish Republicans who think uniting Ireland is a worthy goal just so long as it can be done by partitioning Britain.

It still remains the case however that the majority of people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland want our country to continue to exist. In the only campaign that mattered Scotland rejected independence decisively. Welsh nationalists are a small minority. Most people from Northern Ireland want to be part of the UK, not least because the present arrangement gives everyone some of what they want. I also strongly suspect that the Republic of Ireland would be wary of actually trying to unite Ireland, because it wouldn’t solve the problem it would just import it. The British people in Northern Ireland are going to be British no matter what. They are not suddenly going to become happy citizens of the Republic. We have reached equilibrium in Northern Ireland and the situation is a lot better than it was. Does anyone really want to throw a stone into the pond just to see where the ripples end up?

What worries me most has always been England. When I studied in Cambridge I found England to be the least nationalistic place I’d ever been. English people routinely thought of themselves as British. Being patriotic and wishing to keep your nation state intact is, of course, not a form of nationalism otherwise the word “nationalist” would have no meaning as it would apply to practically everyone in the world.

English people supported any of the home nations at football or rugby if England wasn’t playing. They were delighted if Scotland was able to defeat Holland at football or France at rugby. They simply would not have understood the mentality of someone who said “anyone but Scotland”. I encountered very mild banter because of my Scottish accent and never came across hostility to Scotland or Scottish people. The contrast with Scotland was astonishing and also rather liberating.

Mild Anglophobia is a part of everyday life in Scotland. At school I saw children with English accents taunted and made to feel that they had been cursed with the worst luck of being born in England. People in Scotland routinely said things about English people that they wouldn’t dream of saying about any other place or people in the world. Our fellow citizens were often described as the “Old enemy”. I never experienced something similar when I lived in England and it made me feel ashamed that I and my fellow Scots were so full of prejudice.

As John Hartigan points out in his book The Betrayal of Britain, things have been going wrong for some time. I don’t normally write reviews, but I was very kindly given a copy of this book to read and can highly recommend it. He makes the point that we have forgotten our country. We’ve forgotten Britain.

I once saw an old Broons cartoon from just after the Second World War. There was some sort of party, perhaps celebrating the safe return of Hen and Joe or maybe just the end of the war. But anyway there were British flags all over the room in which the Broons were celebrating. I imagine that this would have been a matter of routine all over our country at that time. It didn’t matter where you came from in those days, we all fought for Britain.

But somehow that idea has gone into decline. In Scotland even in the 1970s few of us had much of a British identity. The situation is obviously still worse today. Nearly everything is prefixed with the adjective Scottish and covered in a saltire. Hardly anything is called British. Even those things that once were called British, like the British Legion, have dropped the British prefix. It’s uncommon to find a Union Flag on anything. It’s pretty obvious why. Unless everything is called Scottish and has a saltire on it, the Scottish nationalists complain or boycott. A British, let alone an English, flag might hurt sales.

It’s an extraordinary situation when compared with that of France or Germany. No one would dare show such disrespect to the French tricolour or fly the flag of Saxony without also flying the national flag. These symbols obviously matter, which is why the Scottish nationalists make such a fuss about them. It’s time for Pro British people to start a fightback. Anything that is paid for by the British tax payer as a whole should have a dirty great Union Jack stamped on it. Anyone who doesn’t want the Union Jack should do without whatever it pays for.

The biggest problem however, is that English people too are now beginning to reject the idea of Britain. I keep coming across English people who show signs of English nationalism. Granted they are a minority, but it has become much more commonplace to see people flying English flags. What’s worse hostility to Scotland has markedly increased.

It is of course a natural response to rejection to feel hurt and respond with a similar rejection. If a woman loves his husband, but he seeks divorce, it is natural that she should cease loving him. The same thing happened during the Scottish independence referendum.

There are two brilliant ideas in John Hartigan’s book that really deserve more attention than they have received up to now. The first is that the Scottish independence referendum lacked the consent of the British population as a whole. Constitutional change should only be made if the British people consent to it and the only way they can consent is if someone puts it in a manifesto at a General Election and then goes on to win that election. Too often recently huge changes that would affect all of us have been made by politicians as if on a whim. This was best demonstrated by the so-called Vow. No party ever put this in a manifesto and therefore there was no consent from the electorate. We must continually remind our politicians that they cannot act like absolute monarchs, but that they require our electoral consent with regard to matters that would change all of our lives.

Personally I don’t think there should ever have been a referendum on Scottish independence. Few countries in the world would allow themselves to be broken up in this way. There is no universal right to secession especially when you live in a Western European democracy. There is not another country in Europe that would allow a part to secede by means of a referendum. Why on earth should we? To suppose that this is anti-democratic is to suppose that France and Germany, which likewise are made up of parts that once were independent countries, are undemocratic. However, I accept that my view on this matter may not be held by the majority across the UK. Let us therefore have a debate about this issue. Let parties put it to the electorate and let the whole British electorate decide.

I’m sure all Scottish nationalists and even some Scots who support the UK would disagree with me and argue that Scottish independence is a matter for Scotland alone. But here once more John Hartigan is very good indeed. If Scotland had voted for independence, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would have ceased to exist.

When Germany was partitioned after the Second World War we commonly called the parts West Germany and East Germany. Well similarly we would have had to change the name of the UK. Great Britain includes Scotland and so clearly that name would have had to be modified. But also we could hardly have continued to call ourselves a United Kingdom when we would so obviously have been divided. Therefore the United Kingdom would cease to exist if Scotland became independent and would become the Disunited Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland.

If Scotland had left the UK it would have affected ever British citizen, not only Scots. I would have lost my country and so would everyone else in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Nation State in which I was born would have ceased to exist and would have been put in the dustbin of history along with Prussia, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It is for this reason that such a momentous decision should have required the consent of everyone not only Scots.

Here too is why I find it foolish when I come across English people who have become so hostile to Scots that they even support Scottish independence. I understand why they feel this way. If I lived in England I too would be tempted to say good riddance to Scotland, just so that I didn’t have to see Nicola Sturgeon on the television any more. English people have a just complaint that Scotland receives more money from the UK Treasury and then uses that money to fund services that are not available to people in England. It is obviously unjust that British students from outside Scotland in effect pay for Scottish students to study for free.

Over the years there has been injustice added to injustice, but worst of all the Scottish nationalists bite the hand that feeds them. John Swinney fought very hard indeed so that the Barnett Formula should continue and indeed increase, even though Scotland has been given the power to raise and lower our own taxation. The SNP therefore are desperate that the UK should continue to subsidise Scotland while maintaining the right to immediately leave when it suits them. But this clearly isn’t a fair arrangement. Why should the UK Government invest in Scotland if there is no guarantee that Scotland will even remain and provide a return on that investment? The UK Government has bent over backwards to give Scotland new powers, but it’s all been for nothing. On the first occasion the SNP didn’t get what it wanted, it once more began agitating to leave. Did any of these new powers help then?  Have they made the UK even a little bit more secure? On the contrary we have simply been helping the SNP take little steps on the route to independence and we have been feeding their insatiable desire. I can fully understand why English people might be sick of this.

But let’s be clear about this. Britain is our country. Britain is what our ancestors have fought for these past centuries. It is as Britain that we have succeeded and achieved greatness. It is downright unpatriotic to want to see our country broken up. It is foolish too, because it would diminish every single one of us.

Do you really want to live in the Disunited Kingdom of South Britain and Northern Ireland? Perhaps you’d prefer that this country should still further divide into Wales, England and Northern Ireland. That sounds rather disruptive to me. What if we ended up with an independent England? What would be to stop London declaring independence? After all London subsidises the rest of England. Perhaps alternatively the South of England would find it much more profitable to ditch the North. Once you begin seceding it’s not always easy to know when to stop.

What sort of place in the world would we have if our country became dismembered in this way? How would other countries view our armed forces if we couldn’t even hold our own country together? It would appear unlikely that they would respect us all the more. Would they take us seriously at all? What would happen to our country’s reputation as a place that people wanted to visit or do business with? How do you react to countries in the world that start splitting up? Do you really want to import that sort of instability into Britain?

At present one of the most dangerous disputes in the world is over some uninhabited islands claimed by both Japan and China. There are other such territorial conflicts all around the world. Argentina has maintained a long standing claim to the Falklands even though no-one who lives on the Falklands wants to be part of Argentina. Spain has long wished to take back the tiny peninsular of Gibraltar even though the people there don’t want to be part of Spain. Why is it that other countries care so much about tiny pieces of territory while some people in Britain appear indifferent to losing a third of our territory? If you think you would be indifferent to losing Scotland you should think again. You would lose everything. You would lose your country and what’s more you would lose much of what you take for granted.

We need the whole of the British population to reassert that we are all British and that we want our country to remain intact. I would like to see an organisation set up with the task of bringing unity to our country so as to counter the propaganda of those who hate us and those who would divide us. But I am just one small voice. I can do nothing on my own. I have no power and no influence whatsoever. I know no politicians. I sometimes tire of the task of writing so regularly with small reward except insults. I’m not the sort who can organise anything. It’s a challenge for me even to send a text message on a mobile telephone.  But we need such an organisation tasked with promoting Britain and countering separatism. It could campaign for ever more things to be done together. The Olympics has shown what Britain can do as a team. It would be better if all international sport was done only as Team GB.  Not only would this help us develop a common identity it would help us perhaps to win.

It is irrational for international sport to take place between places that don’t have an international relationship. Why should Britain have four football teams while Germany only has one? After all Germany was made made up of two independent sovereign nation states until as recently as 1990. Those people who can’t bear the idea of losing the English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish team should reflect on how having these separate teams helps nationalism and how not having them would help unity.

Let there also be schemes which encourage people to live in different parts of the UK. Let there be citizenship ceremonies where we are all express our commitment to our country. Let there be television programmes that celebrate what we share rather than what divides us. The UK Government should realise that until and unless we defeat nationalism our country will always be under threat. Investing a tiny amount of money into an organisation tasked with promoting unity would be money very well spent. What is the point of spending billions on defence if our country could be destroyed from within? It’s time for the UK Government to start helping ordinary Brits to defend our country against those who hate it and who hate us.

I will do all I can and I’m grateful for the support I’ve been getting, but it’s not enough. People who love Britain must join together. It doesn’t matter what your politics is, people from the left, the right and the centre can all work together for Britain. Ordinary Brits must not let nationalism divide us. That is what the SNP want. Our task is long term, but if we work together we will succeed. We must banish separatism from Britain and we must put Scottish, Welsh English and Irish nationalism in the rubbish bin where they belong.

This post was originally published by the author 2 September 2016: http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-disunited-kingdom-of-south-britain.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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