Once again I must remind everybody that it is not the Tories but the British political elite as an institution which is mounting this ‘assault on devolution’. Much the same would be happening regardless of which party was in power at Westminster. British Nationalism – including even the more extreme variants of that vile ideology – has always been an element of British politics. It is now the dominant force. Everything the British political elite does must be regarded as being driven by the imperatives of British Nationalism. This is not exclusive to the British Conservative & Unionist Party. British Nationalism pervades all of British politics.
Nor is it truly an ‘assault on devolution’. Or at least, not solely that. Ending the devolution experiment (For it was always regarded thus by the British establishment.) is undoubtedly one of the main imperatives of British Nationalist ideology. But it may be better to think of what is happening as an ‘assault on difference’. Or better still, an ‘assault on distinctiveness’. The British establishment could tolerate devolution so long as it didn’t threaten the power relationship between Scotland and England (latterly England-as-Britain) that was established by the Union. The first SNP administration in Scotland worried the British. The 2011 election result scared the skitters out of them. An SNP majority government under a shrewd operator like Alex Salmond marked a significant shift in power. This could not be tolerated.
For decades, the notion of ‘Britishness’ had been powerful enough to contain the distinctiveness of the annexed territories – principally Scotland – without impinging on the power relationship. To put it in a manner which while very simplistic nonetheless captures the essence of the ruling elite’s attitude to Scotland, the nominally competing idea of ‘Scottishness’ was acceptable so long as it denoted nothing more than the characteristics of a holiday destination and a premium brand. If ‘Scottishness’ was a matter of national identity for the people of Scotland this was of no consequence because the Union existed as an insurmountable impediment to the translation of national identity as a sentiment into its expression as democratic power. The SNP provided the means by which the people of Scotland could assert our sovereignty. Tentatively at first, to be sure. But increasingly as confidence grew. Recognising the potential threat to England-as-Britain’s supremacy within the Union, the British political elite determined that the Scottish Parliament would have to be reined in – at the very least.
The British political elite embraced this imperative to reassert its dominance with ever greater enthusiasm, leading to the elevation of that paragon of vacuous British Nationalist ideology, Boris Johnson. An individual who would pursue that imperative with the mindlessness of someone bred to the dearth of self-awareness coupled with a surfeit of personal ambition which made him the ideal driver of the British Nationalist juggernaut which is presently deployed against the SNP, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and ultimately the very idea of Scotland as a nation with a distinctive identity.
Boris Johnson is widely thought of as an aberration. It is more illuminating to regard him as the inevitable product of the British political system. The juggernaut needed a mindless driver. The imperatives of British Nationalism would always ensure a driver of Johnson’s ilk. That he is a Tory and that the Tories are in power is also an inevitability inherent in the British political system. The British state is a Tory state. The electorate can, in theory, vote them out of office. But the electorate cannot vote Tories out of power.
The Tory party under Boris Johnson is the unmasked face and ungloved fist of the British state.
The threat to Scotland’s distinctiveness is real and imminent. Ever since 2007 the people of Scotland have elected a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Government for the clearly evident purpose of halting the British Nationalist assault on Scotland’s democracy and Scotland’s prosperity and Scotland’s very identity. That our democratic institutions have to date failed us abysmally is incontrovertibly evident in the fact that Scotland still labours under the burden of the Union.
It may already be too late to relieve our country of that burden. Power is relative. By allowing British Nationalist power to pursue its imperatives unhindered we may already have let the balance tip so much in England-as-Britain’s favour that it is all but impossible to recover. What we are witnessing at this very moment is the transition from normalisation of British power in Scotland to what will be a truly brutal deployment of that power such as to end forever the possibility of restoring Scotland’s democracy.
When the tipping point in the power relationship is reached, the result will seem sudden to those who have chosen to remain oblivious to the process. It’s not sudden. The process has been in train for nearly fifteen years. We are letting it happen. We are mounting no effective resistance. All we’re getting from the SNP/Scottish Government is a running commentary on the demise of Scotland’s democracy.
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