Delyth Jewell may be overstating things somewhat when he describes Mark Drakeford’s statement as marking a “monumental day in the history of the Welsh nation“. First Minister Drakeford has done no more than state the obvious when he says,
If you believe the UK is a voluntary association of four nations you have to face the possibility that some component parts of the UK may no longer choose to be part of it.
The problem lies in that opening conditional phrase. If British Nationalists believed that the UK was a “voluntary association” they wouldn’t be British Nationalists. They are British Nationalists because they maintain that, even if the UK ever was a voluntary association, it is not that now. British Nationalist ideology holds that the three smaller nations are subsumed into ‘One Nation’.
In dealing with these issues I tend to refer specifically Scotland. Not because I regard Scotland as more important, but simply because the historical backgrounds are different in each case and it would be impossible to deal with all adequately in a short article.
The Union between Scotland and England was always the Greater England project. The intention and purpose of the Union was, from its inception, to suppress and eventually eradicate Scottish identity and replace it with English identity. That project failed. Scottish identity proved too stubborn. So the focus moved to creating a new common identity for England and Scotland. We would all be British. The Greater England project became the Great Britain project.
But Britain, Great or otherwise, was never a nation. It was an invention contrived by – or on behalf of – the political, economic and social elites which combine as established power. It was, and remains, a system designed for the preservation and continuation of established power. Britain is not a nation. It is a ‘brand name’ applied to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the few at whatever cost to the many.
British interests were, in the early days of the Great Britain project just as throughout the Greater England project, England’s interests. To a considerable extent, they still are. But only because and to the extent that England’s interests coincide with those of the British ruling elites. The Union, like the British state that it created, does not necessarily serve the interests of the people of England. Scotland’s interests are not now, nor were they ever, a consideration.
The aim of Union was to take Scotland out of the equation – economically, politically, constitutionally and culturally. Scotland was to be extinguished in order that established power might better prevail.
The Great Britain project was rather more successful than the Greater England project. The manufactured British identity took hold aided by the rewards of imperialist expansion, rousing military jingoism and tantalising aristocratic pomp. The seeds of the ‘One Nation’ cult were sown.
But, successful as the Great Britain project had been, Scottish identity was not eradicated. The idea of Scotland as a nation persisted. As the status of the British state declined along with the profits of colonial exploitation, the fragile cohesiveness based on notions of British exceptionalism diminished. Scotland began to tentatively reassert its identity. The British state resorted to trying to buy us off with trinkets such as the Scottish Office and devolution. But to no avail.
And so we come to the present day. Scotland has found its voice and that voice is challenging the established power of the British state as never before. All efforts at eradicating Scotland’s identity having failed, the British political elite is now resorting to a crude and increasingly aggressive form of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which threatens to do by political coercion what could not be achieved by political cunning. We are now being told that Scotland will be subsumed into an increasingly alien British state regardless of the wishes of Scotland’s people.
The Union was always doomed to fail. The asymmetry of power and denial of Scottish popular sovereignty could not possibly survive alongside the kind of political engagement and democratic participation which has developed in Scotland over recent years. One would have to give way to the other. The British political elite is determined that preservation of the Union must take precedence over respect for democratic principles.
For Scotland, the choice is clear. Either we #DissolveTheUnion, or the Union destroys our democracy. For the other “component parts of the UK” – including England – the choice is similar. Either they insist that the UK is a “voluntary association” which they can choose not to be part of, or the British political elite will ensure that it is an involuntary one which they may never leave; and in which their interests will be all the more readily subordinated by the new constitutional status imposed on them.
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