The British nationalist metrocommentariat have clearly been spooked by the recent run of opinion polls showing majority support for independence beyond the normal margin of error in opinion polling. There has been a wee spate of articles warning of the ‘threat to the union’, all of which have one significant and interesting feature in common. None of them have the foggiest idea of what to do about it. There’s more woe woe and thrice woe than there is amongst certain independence supporters bewailing the apparent lack of a plan from the Scottish Government to challenge the refusal of a Section 30 order.
Writing in the Guardian on Wednesday, Rafael Behr indulged in the usual Londoncentric opinionating about Scottish affairs, claiming that Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for dismantling the UK has been to blur the line between party and state and entrench SNP control of devolved institutions – an echo of the one party state scare story so beloved of the British nationalist parties. You think that it wouldn’t have to be explained to them that you don’t get to complain about a one party state because you’re useless at winning elections, but there you go. There was the hackneyed trope about the divisiveness of the referendum, splitting families and “polluting friendships”. It was very clear that Rafael’s sources of information about what has actually been going on in Scotland are British nationalists parties and their pals in the press. For a man who claims that something needs to be done to stop the surge of pro-independence sentiment in Scotland, he’s not been listening much to independence supporters, or nationalists as he insisted on calling us. There was of course no recognition at all that he was himself espousing a nationalist point of view, for British nationalism is the nationalism that doesn’t want to speak its name in case it gets found out. It’s the nationalism which is distinguished by its refusal to admit that it’s a form of nationalism.
Meanwhile the rest of the media is acting as though it’s 2014 all over again. In the absence of a credible plan to save the UK, there’s always a scare story to threaten and belittle Scotland into submission. On Wednesday Laura Kuenssberg repeated as fact the Tory party attack lines about how an independent Scotland would not have been able to raise money on its own account in order to tackle the crisis. There was not even a pretence of presenting an alternative point of view. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, they all seemed to manage, but Scotland would have been left there in the toilet paper aisle in Tesco’s without any money to wipe its own arse.
On Thursday, Sky News chose Ronald McDonald as its go to expert on the effects of the epidemic on the Scottish economy. That would be the same Ronald McDonald who is Scotland in Union’s favourite go to guy for dire warnings of the economic armageddon that would befall an independent Scotland. He’s the man who warned in 2014 that an independent Scotland would be an economic basket case if it continued to use the pound, and then when policy was changed he argued that an independent Scotland would be an economic basket case if it didn’t keep using the pound. This is because Scotland is the only country in the entire world which is unable to have any sort of currency which won’t lead it to penury.
Of course the two main parties do have their own plans for what to do about the restless natives in the North British province. Labour has been conjouring up the federalism fairy again, a being which has died and been resurrected more often than Christopher Lee in the Dracula movies. The problem is that there is zero interest in England for a properly federal UK, and in any case even full fat federalism won’t solve the problem of Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will because that’s what England voted for.
Meanwhile the Tories have a plan for treating the ails of the union which consists of making things even worse. Support for independence is growing because Scotland feels marginalised and ignored, so the Tories propose to marginalise and ignore Scotland even more and to reduce the ability of the Scottish Parliament to do anything about it. It’s a bit like deciding that the best way to treat a nasty case of pneumonia is to hit the patient with a hammer. It does bugger all to deal with the root cause of the pneumonia, and now the patient is raging with you.
The problem that British nationalists have not been able to solve is that for there to be a solution to the “Scottish question” which resolves matters in Westminster’s favour, that solution has to be one which is politically acceptable in both Scotland and England. Labour’s solution might be acceptable in Scotland, up to a point, but England has no appetite for it. The Conservatives’ solution might be acceptable in England, up to a point, but it’s anathema to a large majority in Scotland.
Failing an actual plan, all that the British nationalists have got left is trying to stall. That’s what a refusal to agree to a Section 30 order represents. It’s not a plan. It’s certainly not an answer to the questions facing the UK and the problematic relationships between the various nations which make it up. It’s simply a delaying tactic born out of panic and an inability to come up with a solution. It’s the vain hope that if they keep saying no then eventually those troublesome Scots will just give up and shut up. Despite the fears of sections of the independence movement, that’s not going to happen. Do you plan on giving up and shutting up and going away when we’re winning majority support? No. And neither do I.
Eventually something will have to give, and the unionism of the Conservatives in England is fragile and hollow – much to the terror of their colleagues in Scotland. Half of Conservative voters in England would prefer an England divested of its troublesome Celtic appendages. A British Government which continues to refuse the democratic will of the people of Scotland will only stoke up resentment in Scotland and deliver widespread popular legitimacy to alternative routes to independence – whether that’s a referendum without a Section 30 order, or a plebiscite election, or some other democratic strategy such as boycotting Westminster and establishing a national convention.
The panic and scaremongering in the British nationalist media is a symptom of the confusion and incoherence at the very heart of British nationalism. It’s a nationalism that claims not to be nationalist. It’s a nationalism which claims to unite the different nations of the UK but which asserts the supremacy of the largest. It’s a nationalism which claims to be a union but which wants to act as though it’s a unitary state. It’s a nationalism which can’t clearly distinguish itself from English nationalism. British nationalism will fail to find a solution to the problems facing the British state because it doesn’t know what it is itself. Its confusion and incoherence will deliver Scottish independence.
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