Colonial Governor Alister Jack was much to our collective intense disappointment not amongst those Tory MPs in Scotland who got his jotters along with Stephen Kerr, Kirstene Hair, whoever it was who was pressed into service as the stunt double for Ross Thomson, and the rest. This means he’s still gracing our airwaves and making the sort of comments that make it even more difficult to comprehend what this clueless creature is doing infesting our public life like an upper class public school boy on a gap year. Last week he was being interviewed on BBC Good Morning Scotland, natch, and was asked what his response was to the statement by Nicola Sturgeon that the UK was a voluntary union of nations.
His reply ought to have been plastered all over the front pages of the press in Scotland. It ought to have elicited a shocked reply and an intensive follow up from the journalists on GMS Scotland. Because what he said, after a bit of waffle about how fantastic and enduring the “union” was, was that he didn’t agree with that at all. He didn’t agree that the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations. Oh. So it’s an involuntary union. It’s a prison. It’s like the Hotel California, only in this case it’s a crumbling 1950s seaside holiday camp where you can check in but you can never leave. Scotland is doomed forever to a cold leaky chalet and some undercooked cabbage.
In one bumbling interview, poshboy Alister ripped out the very foundations of Scottish Unionism. Those are foundations that were in part cemented into place by a certain law professor of the name Adam Tomkins, whom Alister may be familiar with. But possibly not, as the only people he’s really familiar with are other poshos, and Adam’s a bit too common. Useful for a rich Tory, but not properly one of us, a sort of glorified butler really, serving up legal opinions that can come in handy.
Adam was a member of the panel of distinguished legal British nationalist brains who drew up a report called A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways Forward for the United Kingdom in the wake of the independence referendum of 2014. The report was later the basis of a draft bill that was presented to the House of Lords by Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC. The bill describes the UK in its fundamental principles saying, “the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of the UK nations and parts expressed through informed and democratic processes.”
This was also the description of the United Kingdom used by Tory peer James Douglas-Hamilton, addressing the House of Lords on the 1st of June 2015: “Let us never forget that the Union is a voluntary partnership of different nations.” Douglas-Hamilton used to do Alister’s job back when the Tories were trying to fend off calls for a Scottish parliament. The Tories lost that battle, they’re going to lose this one too.
In its report, The Union and Devolution, published by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, the House of Lords agrees with Douglas-Hamilton’s description and in addition confirms that Scotland, as well as the other components of the UK, have the right to self-determination and independence. So totally not like Spain then.
Under the section “Support for the Union”, chapter 26 says: “This popular support [for the Union] is a vital element that underpins and supports the continuance of the Union. It is an essential characteristic of what a number of witnesses described as a voluntary union of nations. The UK Government and Parliament’s agreement to the holding of the referendum on Scottish independence acknowledged implicitly the right of Scotland to secede from the Union through a popular vote. Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 explicitly states the same right for the people of Northern Ireland. Although it has not been tested, it can be assumed that the same right exists for the people of Wales.”
What’s interesting in this paragraph is what it doesn’t say. It omits all mention of the largest nation in the UK, England and its right to self-determination. The underlying assumption appears to be that England already has it. This merely confirms that in the eyes of British nationalism, the UK is simply England writ large. The other parts of the UK might have the right to self-determination, but essentially as parts of the UK they are parts of a Greater England.
So what the First Minister said about the nature of the UK was actually the least contentious part of her speech from the point of view of those who describe themselves as Scottish Unionists – but who are really British nationalists pretending not to be nationalists at all. The characterisation of the United Kingdom as a voluntary union of nations is what underpins the claim of British nationalists in Scotland that their nationalism is better than other nationalisms – that would be your nationalism you Scottish separatist you – by virtue of not being nationalist at all.
In fact, it’s only if the UK is conceived as a voluntary union of nations that there can be any truth at all in the claim that the desire for Scottish independence is nationalism, but opposition to it is also opposition to nationalism in general as well as opposition to Scottish independence in particular.
The position espoused by Alister Jack is dangerously close to that propounded by the infamously Persil-phobic Manky Shirt Guy himself, Alistair McConnachie. Whose parents at least knew how to spell Alistair properly. McConnachie’s politics are those of the extreme right, marginal and beyond the pale for any rational democrat. This is after all a guy who was expelled from Ukip for denying there was evidence for gas chambers in the Holocaust and who has worked for the Orange Order.
Yet McConnachie gave a speech to the far right wing pressure group The London Swinton Circle, which claims to be dedicated to the promotion of “traditional Conservative and Unionist principles” on Thursday 18 June 2015, and told the massed ranks of gammonistas that the UK was a unitary state. Although now offically outside the Conservative party, the London Swinton Circle continues to be closely associated with leading Conservatives. Conservative MPs Liam Fox and Owen Patterson have been guest speakers.
Now we find that the Secretary of State for Scotland apparently holds the same marginal view on the nature of the UK as those on the extreme far right of British politics. That’s a deeply alarming development. Let’s be clear, I am not saying that Alister Jack is an avid political follower of McConnachie. I am not saying that he even knows or has heard what McConnachie has been saying on the matter. However what I am saying is that Boris Johnson’s government has normalised the politics of the far right and brought it into the mainstream of British politics, and that this Conservative government is using the arguments of the extreme right to deny the democratic right of the people of Scotland.
What I am saying is that Alister Jack is too stupid, privileged, and arrogant to understand how he is destroying democracy in Scotland and undermining that Scottish Unionism he professes to love. He’s consumed by his own ambition, his own drive for a power to which he believes he is entitled. This is what happens when you have governments that you can’t hold to account. You get a government of dangerous fools. You get governments which unleash the demons of fascism and which are enabled by useful idiots like Alister Jack.
Remember during the independence referendum campaign when Better Together assured Scotland that the only way that this country could protect itself from political extremism and anti-democratic forces was to remain a part of the sensible and moderate UK? Now we know the truth, it’s the UK which is normalising the far right, it’s the UK which threatens democracy. We have a British government which has destroyed the traditional understanding of Scottish Unionism, of Scotland as a voluntary partner in a union of nations, and replaced it with a quasi-fascist conception of a unitary state.
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