Remember Brexit? Remember those halcyon days when the worst thing that we thought was going to happen was leaving the EU without a deal? While we are focussed on the coronavirus epidemic that is having such a tragic effect on the lives of thousands, and which is causing economic worry for millions more, the British Government isn’t being as focussed as we are. Despite everything that’s going on, Boris Johnson and his band of miserabilist ideologues are not being distracted from their pursuit of the hardest Brexit possible. That the economic impact and disruption will come on top of a UK that is already reeling from coping with the coronavirus epidemic and less capable of resilience than it was previously means nothing to this Government. Because sunlight uplands, great British spirit, Vera Lynn, Dunkirk, taking it on the chin.
What has become clear from the Conservatives’ mishandling of the epidemic is that they were slow to respond because they were blinded by the arrogant ignorance of British exceptionalism. They saw no reason to introduce the same measures that other European countries have introduced because they were convinced that Great British exceptionalism would see them through. They are making the exact same mistake with their refusal to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit transitional period and their single minded pursuit of the hardest exit from the EU and again it’s because of their unshakeable belief in British exceptionalism.
As the virus started to take hold, the British Government was far more interested in the glories promised to it by the Brexit dream of British exceptionalism. The UK lost valuable time, and lives have been lost because of it. Yet even now with all that is happening the Conservatives are determined not to let go of that deluded dream of Brexit even though the negotiations on the UK’s final trade deal with the EU have stalled. They are prepared to risk further disruption, further economic ruin, the further cost to livelihoods and life opportunities, all in order to pursue the vainglorious fantasy of British exceptionalism.
Talks with the EU had been suspended while EU states dealt with their own responses to the virus. They resumed last week with a bald statement from the UK’s lead negotiator that under no circumstances would the UK seek an extension to the Brexit transition period. This is despite the fact that the EU has its own issues with dealing with the virus and is in no mood to accommodate an artificial timetable imposed upon it by Boris Johnson. All the more so when the UK is approaching the negotiations inflexibly and is refusing to accommodate to the EU on any issue. The truth is that the UK still appears to have no coherent plan other than cherries, cake, and unicorns. If it were not for the coronovirus epidemic this would be a huge political crisis. But the UK is walking into the nightmare blindly.
Since there was already only a small chance of reaching a deal before the virus struck, there is now no chance at all. What that means in effect is that the UK is preparing to leave with no deal at all on 31 December this year. The economic dislocation that this will create will crash into an economy that’s already reeling from the effects of lockdown and closures due to the pandemic. But hey, Vera Lynn.
British nationalism is founded in delusion. The biggest delusion of all is one that I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog, the delusion that British nationalism is not nationalist at all. But that is only one of the many delusions and myths that the British state uses to protect itself. It’s also founded in the delusion that the rest of the world admires and looks up to the UK. Opinion polls show that a majority of people in the UK neither understand what the colonialism of the British Empire really meant for those on the sharp end of it, nor appreciate that the victims of British colonialism do not regard it as a force for good. There is a widespread belief that the rest of Europe admire the UK – with all its structural inequality and its creaking constitutional arrangements – as a beacon of liberty and democracy. It seems clear that the real reason that so many in the UK wanted to leave the EU was because there is nothing within British nationalism which permits Britishness to survive intact unless it is leading and dominating. The concept of acting as an equal partner is alien to British nationalism. The only model of international relations that British nationalism understands is one based in power.
We are now seeing that British exceptionalism endangers lives and damages us. That has been put into sharp relief by the British state’s reluctance to face up to the pandemic, its running down of preparedness due to an ideologically driven austerity, the secrecy which it shrouds its scientific advice in, and its willingness to see that scientific advice be prejudiced by political considerations. It is being compounded by the looming threat of entirely avoidable economic dislocation as a result of this government’s insistence on continuing with its Brexit plans as though the pandemic wasn’t happening.
It was one thing to live in a British state whose delusional fantasies of exceptionalism were constrained by its membership of the EU, it will be quite another after 31 December when the Conservatives with their crushing majority in the Commons will be free to do precisely what they please. The Conservatives’ obsession with Brexit is costing lives, and the damage that it’s done isn’t over yet. Escaping from it must be the single minded priority of every Scottish independence supporter once this current crisis is over. Because there will be another crisis at some point in the future, and if we do not ensure that Scotland protects itself from the malign effects of British exceptionalism, people will suffer and die needlessly in the next crisis too.
Scottish independence is no longer merely about ensuring that Scotland gets a government that is accountable to the people of Scotland and which works in the interests of the people of Scotland, it is about making sure that Scotland has a government whose decisions are founded in reality and clear thinking, not in the dangerous delusions of British exceptionalism that risk our lives, our livelihoods, and our well being. British exceptionalism is killing us.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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