Monday 7 April 2008

The Disunited Kingdom

I promised to get back to Ken Adams who commented on this post from last week.

I must admit that I didn't know that the National Trust for Scotland had broken away from the original UK-wide body. But the point I was trying to get across wasn't so much concerning the origins of Scottish and British institutions but rather how they are perceived in Scotland and what the implications of that may be.

I've been reading the Scottish papers for close to forty years. In the early days the idea of Scottish independence was essentially a non-issue. But week after week, month after month, and year after year the same points were made in articles and letters to the editor. I put it like this:

This presumption of the English norm, as I have dubbed it, is intensely annoying to Scots. Being English is seen to be such a natural state of affairs that it's the exceptions to Englishness that are defined, not Englishness itself.
I think that the point isn't whether or not there is a presumption of an English norm, it's that many, many folk up here deeply feel that there is. They may well be wrong, as Ken tells us in the National Trust example. But these beliefs have political consequences. I believe that they're a major cause of the rise in support for independence.

Now, most English folk aren't very interested in Scotland. Why should they be? But what I don't understand is why Scottish, Unionist politicians have been so incompetent. People like Gordon Brown.

If I'd devoted my whole life to becoming Prime Minister of the UK I'd have taken a few basic precautions to keep my fellow Scots on board. I'd have been reading all those articles and letters and would have done something about them - to take the wind out of the Nationalists' sails. I'd have renamed the Bank of England the Bank of the United Kingdom. I'd have made speeches suggesting that England-only bodies should proudly describe themselves as such. Just like in Scotland. I'd have made Scottish bank notes legal tender in England. I'd have strong words with the Foreign Secretary to sort out those buildings that proclaim that they are the "English" Embassy. I wouldn't have patronised the English (and really annoyed the Scots) by claiming that Gazza's goal was one of my favourite sporting moments. And yes, I'd produce a proper set of UK accounts that show the whole financial picture and avoid the endless rubbish that I've read over the last year or so. If Gordon Brown wants to enhance "Britishness", he doesn't have a clue about how to go about it.

But he doesn't and it's probably too late. David Cameron will no doubt serve as Prime Minister of the UK. But anyone else after him? Probably not.


David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Ken Adams
Yes I see the argument, but we cannot be held responsible for what other people put in their phone books!  
The British Government call their embassies British embassies.  
Your argument about the language makes no sense; the country where English is the language could be any number of countries USA, Australia New Zealand etc, there is no country that is ruled by an English government, it is the British government and it is Britain.  
I am sorry but the truth does not fit in with the victimised cloak the Scottish nationalists are wearing. And as it is the English who are the ones whose country is to be broken up into separate parts, by a British Government controlled by Scots, led by a Scot, who with a Scottish Speaker who controls of the House of commons both of whom signed the Scottish claim of Rights, vowing to put the interests of Scotland and the Scottish People above all else. That being the case then I can assure you the Scottish Nationalist cloak of victim hood is wearing a little bit thin.

12 April 2008, 18:50:32 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer
I dealt with the "English Embassy" issue and the EU here.

11 April 2008, 14:36:11 GMT+01:00

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Ken Adams
Andrew it is a mistake to think solely in terms of the EU, yes it is a process recognised and driven by the EU but it is implemented by the British government they have control over the whole process and it would not be possible without the full support of the British government.  
Of course Scotland is a sub region of the EU the regionalisation process is designed to dismantle the nation state what better way than to divide along previous nation borders but weaken the largest constituent.  
The Scottish nationalists complain about being ruled from London but seem blind to the fact that for the past thirty years they have increasingly not been. And for the last ten years they have had a Scottish administration in London who have been our negotiators in Brussels. Do they really think they will get more independence for Scotland by breaking away from the UK, they will have no more influence that any of the other tiny EU state. And that is ignoring the effects of the next stage of EU regionalisation cross border regions.

10 April 2008, 18:49:09 GMT+01:00
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Andrew Duffin
I detect an elephant in the living room. 
It's not the UK government that's proposing to break England up into regions. 
It's that other, superior government across the Channel, you know, that one we are not supposed to mention, that, erm, "Commission" thing, you know. 
Scotland will be a region too. It's just Scotland's good fortune that the borders of the new region happen to coincide with the borders of the old nation. If it had been decided another way in Brussels (oops, the cat's out of the bag), there would not be a damn thing any British government could do about it. 
Just look at their map, it's old enough, really you would think people would have noticed by now.

10 April 2008, 12:42:58 GMT+01:00
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But what I don't understand is why Scottish, Unionist politicians have been so incompetent. People like Gordon Brown. 
Becasue he is focussed on dismantling England.

10 April 2008, 04:52:25 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer said...

Ken Adams
In reply to David’s post: I really cannot see where this is going, I can see the point that Scottish Nationalists invented a lie and then year after year continually repeated it until it became the truth in the minds of many.  
It is possible that Brown and his other Scottish Westminster MPs did not see the significance of demonising England and the English in relation to the United Kingdom. They might have thought that having a Scottish administration in charge of the UK government would take the wind out of the nationalist’s sails.  
You say Scottish, Unionist politicians have been incompetent, I can assure from the position of England, they have been anything but incompetent, Scotland and Wales are granted national autonomy but England is to be divided into regions. That hardy seems like a recipe that ignores Scottish nationalism, they get their own parliament whilst England is not only refused equality but is destroyed as a kingdom within the UK. On that point Brown has been absolutely consistent, perhaps because along with many other Scottish Unionist politicians, including the Speaker of the House and Alaister Darling, Brown signed the Scottish Claim of Rights thus taking an oath to put Scotland first in all things, they do seem to be sticking to that oath. 
There is a weird sense of being lost in some never never land apparently the Scots do not feel part of the United Kingdom because the bank of England is called the Bank of England and not called the bank of the UK, because there is an English Ballet company, yet there are the Scottish equivalents. At the same time the British government is totally controlled by the Scots, so there can be no argument that Scotland is a vassal colony of England. The Labour party would not be in power in Britain without the Scottish vote, the debates that have taken place about the Scottish government and any taking place about further Scottish independence, are between the Scottish executive in Westminster and the Scots in Scotland, England and the English are simply not part of the debate.  
It might be an eye opener but Scottish bank notes and not even legal tender in Scotland, neither are British bank notes, they are only legal tender in England and Wales, no notes are legal tender in Scotland only coins.  
I have never heard of a problem with accepting Scottish bank notes but perhaps I am not best placed in that respect. I suppose that there might be a problem with some youngster on a supermarket till who have never seen a Scottish Bank note. I have certainly always accepted them without question and never had a problem using them in England.  
Oh and English Embassies do not exist! 
I think all of us are at loss to understand why Brown would wish to wrap himself in the British flag, I personally suspect is has much more to do with the EU than with internal British Politics. But I find it worrying that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron (Scottish family by the way as the name suggests) are talking about a new British Constitution and British Bill of Rights, at this time when the EU Constitution is in the process of ratification.

9 April 2008, 12:46:14 GMT+01:00

David Farrer said...

Ken Adams
Ian, no wonder we are talking past each other, you invent the term Greater England and the subscribe the use of that term to Gordon Brown and David Cameron they have never used that term, unless you can offer some proof ?  
Why not Greater Scotland and the Scottish Empire?  
'The First English Empire: Power & Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343'.  
Look at the dates  
You say it was the English that forced the union in 1707 but forget it was the Scottish king that started the whole thing, it was the Scottish King who became king of England and made a speech about having two wives.  
You argue about the British Empire but you conveniently forget that the golden age of the British empire included Scotland that is why it is called the British empire. Pre 1707 it was the English Empire and the Scottish Empire.  
Scotland is not a colony of England and Brown is Scottish so your argument makes little sense. I would agree that granting autonomy to Scotland has inflamed and targeted Scottish nationalism. However Scotland was not granted autonomy from England but from Britain and the British Parliament and the British government which incidentally was at the time and still is ruled mainly by the Scots. Now it those same Scots who are wrapping themselves on the British Flag.  
So the Scots in the British government allow autonomy for Scotland and somehow it is the fault of the English?  
The term little Englanders was first used in Second Boer War (1899–1901). and is now used mainly as an insult to describe Eusceptics, who are not against the EU because of any sense of England anyway, they mostly argue for a return of power to the British government. I have never heard it use in the manner you describe. 
Cromwell invaded Scotland because it was being used as a base to attack England.  
Look whatever you thoughts about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom or Scotland’s Future independence, I do wish you would stop this stupid and meaningless re-fighting of historic battles during a civil war which tore both England and Scotland apart over 350 years ago. And re-target your augments to Britain and leave condemnation of England out of it. It might play well in Scotland but it has no factual base If you in Scotland do not like what Brown and his cronies are doing it is up to you to vote them of power, we in England do not have that ability.

8 April 2008, 17:09:03 GMT+01:00

David Farrer said...

I'm sure there will be UK Prime Ministers after Cameron. The UK will still be called the UK after Scotland leaves: The United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland or The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will save a fortune on reprinting stationary and signage. (The Union Flag will still be used too I would bet.)

8 April 2008, 13:39:07 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer
Anon A Moss 
Very good point.

8 April 2008, 06:26:21 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer said...

an Campbell
The basic reason for the anomalies cited in these posts is that the place that we call Britain is in reality 'Greater England'. You still hear people today, both in England abroad, say England when they mean Britain but it was much more common up to about 30 years ago. One British prime minister, who represented a Scottish constituency, is even described on his gravestone as 'Prime Minister of England'. 
Gordon Brown and other Unionists tell the English that asymmetric devolution is the price they must pay to maintain the Union (Greater England). This is the reason why the English must call themselves British rather than English, why the English cannot be permitted their own Parliament and why Brown, inverting the older habit, avoids mentioning England at all if he possibly can. England must now be called Britain. England must remain invisible and politically non-existent. It is also why those who seek national recognition for England are often described as 'Little Englanders', and usually 'shrill'. Little Englanders do not wish to rule over other people and so they are a threat to Greater England. Nor do they wish to be ruled over by other people. David Cameron has already said that he does not wish to be Prime Minister of England - he wants to be Prime Minister of Greater England. 
Mr Brown as a Scot is in a similar position to a Visigothic emperor ruling in Rome and trying to keep his remaining empire together. He believed, like many colonialists, that by offering some national autonomy to his colonies he could maintain his empire. Any study of British colonialism overseas would have revealed to him that granting autonomy to colonies makes them into nurseries for nationalists - and of course nationalists are now in government in all three devolved administrations. 
On my shelves there is an historical work entitled 'The First English Empire: Power & Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343'. Briefly it shows how, having conquered England, the Norman kings did did their best to conquer the rest of Britain, starting with Wales. They overawed and then conquered the Irish. They failed to conquer Scotland, where they faced a local insurrection led by a Norman knight, Robert de Brus, but the aim of controlling the whole of the British Isles was handed on and remained the aim of whoever ruled England. The first complete Union was achieved, briefly, by Cromwell. Although the Union of 1707 was agreed between the Scottish and English Parliaments, it was the English government that forced the pace and the Acts of Union were accompanied by bribery and blackmail. In 1801 the Irish were given no choice. The Union that Brown defends is historically a forced marriage, a guise for Greater England. 
The trouble is that having tried to appease the Scots, Welsh and Irish, Mr Brown is now finding that the people of England increasingly are finding their own voice. Little England is getting its boots on. There is an 'English Question' (usually camouflaged as 'The West Lothian Question'). The flag of St George, as your posters comment, has suddenly appeared in sporting contests and even on the occasional town hall although there are still efforts to suppress it as 'racist'. 
Michael Portillo has described the Union as a 'failing marriage'. What he means is that force no longer keeps it together. If it is to continue into the 21st century, the Union must rest on the consent of the people, including the consent of the English - who have never been asked even if they wish to have their own Parliament (because as Tony Blair admitted, they would say 'Yes'). As the protagonists of Greater England could not bear to allow such a democratic choice, the Union will fall apart. It's probably already too late and poor David Cameron might well end up as Prime Minister of England.

7 April 2008, 21:30:21 GMT+01:00

David Farrer said...

Ken Adams
As I believe you mentioned in your original post we seem to be talking across each other and not communicating.  
I simply do not see evidence of Englishness as being the reality, Englishness seems to only be in the eye of the Scottish nationalist. In England up until very recently we in the main thought of ourselves as British, an encompassing concept. We certainly not see Scotland as a subsidiary English colony because England in the minds of most of us did not exist as a separate political nation state, it was and still is mostly an alien concept, we do not think of ourselves as English British just British. So we are perhaps taking past each other because I do not see that there is any truth in the idea that England is a defining issue.  
I do not however ignore the point about the concept of Englishness north of the border, but would suggest, regardless of its power to influence, it is a false concept rather than a factual reality. In most case references to England can be replaced with British or United Kingdom and thus gain from an injection of reality. Given this would not enhance the move for Scottish independence in the same manner, but would be much more honest description of the reality.  
In any debate about which flags to fly there is no debate at all about flying the English Flag, only whether it should be the Scottish or the British, in England you hardly ever used to see the English flag except at international football matches, England was not really part of our national conscience.  
Bill in comments is of course quite right the NTS was formed as a completely autonomous body in the early 1930s however where he is wrong in that the NT was not formed as an English National Trust but a British National Trust.  
He also mentions the Bank of England but must realise that there is also the Bank of Scotland which was formed by the Scottish Parliament 1695 obviously before the Act of Union. Hence it retained its name, as did the Back of England which was set up at around the same time. The difference being that the Bank of England could lend money to government whilst the Bank of Scotland was not allowed that privilege by the Scottish parliament that set it up. So because it could lend money to government the Bank of England became the bank for the United Kingdom, I have no knowledge as to why its name was not changed.  
It is an interesting footnote but it was a Scotsman, William Paterson who prompted the establishment of the Bank of England, yet is was an Englishman, John Holland, a London merchant, who was most closely association with the foundation of the Bank of Scotland.  
I feel it is a misrepresentation to try to blame the English for the obvious historical nationalistic tendencies of Scotland. It could well be that Scotland has never forgiven its leaders for signing away their nation state in the act of union, and have cloaked themselves ever since as a victims of English oppression. But that if it has any relevance, totally ignores the fact that it was an ACT OF UNION , both the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, ceased to legally exist as independent nation states and became the Kingdom of Great Britain. So as Scotland never acceded to England but to a separate new body Britain.  
If anything as I believe I have mentioned before certainly on the cultural front Scotland has gained the loins share, perhaps because of their separateness, or the fact that Scotland has found a way of transposing their historic culture into modern Britain in a way that that retains a unique Scottish perspective. And of course recently Scotland has totally dominated the British political scene and is in the driver’s seat on not just the devolution movement but also the rebuilding of the British Constitution which seems a little problematic if there is to be an independent Scotland.  
In reality it should be the English who are complaining about the union it has not particularly serve England

7 April 2008, 20:16:39 GMT+01:00

David Farrer said...

Anon A Moss
"I think that the point isn't whether or not there is a presumption of an English norm, it's that many, many folk up here deeply feel that there is. They may well be wrong, as Ken tells us in the National Trust example. But these beliefs have political consequences. I believe that they're a major cause of the rise in support for independence." 
Another factor you have not mentioned is that Labour in their opposition years frequently played the nationalist card themselves. 
Remember all that 'the Tories have no mandate to govern Scotland' type stuff? It is Labour that has been subverting the Union for a couple of decades, not the SNP, they just got the benefit of it.  
While I doubt this was done for the SNP's benefit, The Labour party are on the whole pretty thick people, the more they presented Scotland as a victim of Tory Thatcherite aggression, the more they stoked the fires of nationalism which is now burning them. 
The Labour party pandered to Scottish self-pity, and did not stop to consider that in doing so it was endangering its own position. They are now suffering the consequences, and rightly so.

7 April 2008, 17:38:59 GMT+01:00
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Bill (Scotland)
So far as I am aware the NTS did NOT 'break away' from the NT - it was set up as a completely autonomous body in the early 1930s (1934, I think); I have been a member since I was about 11 (in 1963). 
I mentioned in an earlier comment the 'Bank of England'; there is also of course the English National Opera and a number of other purely English bodies; I'l drip-feed these in comments in future 'Scottish cringe' posts of yours such as this - lol

7 April 2008, 16:27:08 GMT+01:00