Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh is confused. She seems to imagine that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is the enemy. There is no doubt Scotland has cause to regard this odious individual as an enemy. But is he the enemy? Is he the thing that is doing great harm to our nation? Is he the thing we must beat in order that Scotland’s independence might be restored? Or is he just another politician? Albeit it a particularly despicable one. And, lest we forget, a particularly effective one, contrary to the verdict reached by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. In his own terms and those of his ‘clients’, Boris Johnson has been remarkably effective. He has been effective specifically because he is so despicable. But is he, from Scotland’s perspective, ‘The Enemy‘?
No! He isn’t! Boris Johnson is many things – few if any of them pleasant – but he is not Scotland’s great enemy. He is not the one who stands between us and a return to the normality of being an independent nation. He is not the one we have to go through. He is not the one we have to beat. Beating Johnson – which Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh apparently defines as removing him from the role of British Prime Minister – will make not the slightest difference to Scotland’s predicament. The British state would remain. The Union would remain. That is the great enemy. The British state and the Union which grants it dominion over Scotland. The Union which bestows on the ruling elites of England-as-Britain the power which rightly belongs to the people of Scotland. It is the British state we must defeat in order to retake that power. And we defeat the British state by breaking the Union.
I am no student of Sun Tzu’s treatise on The Art of War. It is not for me to interpret or reinterpret his words. Nonetheless, I will make so bold as to suggest that when he advises those who would practice war – and politics is war without bloodshed… mostly – to know their enemy what he intended was to recommend that they first identify the enemy. The phrase ‘know your enemy’ can be read as ‘know who your enemy is’. Sun Tzu possibly considered it redundant to state this explicitly since how could one possibly learn the nature of the enemy without first being aware of its identity? Tasmina demonstrates that this was not a safe assumption.
Removing Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson from high office is unquestionably a worthy aim. One might easily argue that it is a matter of principle. Indeed, one would be obliged to argue that treating him as the enemy is a matter of principle because there is absolutely no practical value in removing him from high office. Bear in mind that Johnson was not the British Prime Minister at the time of what many will regard as his greatest triumph – Brexit! He rode to No 10 on the wave of that success. He exploited the destestation of the EU among a certain part of the English electorate – largely engendered by the British media in a campaign of disinformation and lies spanning four decades – for his own advancement. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh recognises this.
And then fate moved its mighty hand. After much swithering, dithering, writing and then unwriting of articles Johnson realised that his self-interest could be fashioned to collide with ruling Britannia and he plumped for leading the Leave campaign.
One referendum and two prime ministers later, Boris was installed in No 10 and his position consolidated with a massive majority in the December 2019 election. So far so bad.Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh: In the art of politics, being effective is all that matters – this is Scotland’s chance
What she fails to recognise is that he is exploiting the Union in the same way. Preservation of the Union is an existential imperative for the ruling elites of England-as-Britain But Boris cares little for this. It is even possible that he is unaware of just how essential the Union is to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British sate. He sees only that positioning himself as the guardian of the Union serves his personal ambition. Brexit is done. He’s milked that one dry. He will always be able to refer to it when doing so suits his self-aggrandising purpose. But increasingly he will be referring to it in the past tense. He rose to power on the back of a ‘mission’ to ‘liberate’ England-as-Britain from the EU. He now needs a new ‘mission’. That ‘mission’ is to restore the imagined nation of ‘Great Britain’ to the imagined glories of an imagined past. He has probably always been a British Nationalist at whatever withered and shrivelled organ passes for his heart. But now he finds it expedient to appeal to that part of British Nationalist ideology which regards the periphery of England-as-Britain – the annexed territories – as possessions. Where the threat to this mythical ‘Great Britain’ was previously portrayed as being the EU, now it is those who seek to deprive ‘Great Britain’ of these possessions.
It is an idea more associated with Machiavelli than Sun Tzu, but the art of politics as this is practiced by a certain type of politician requires an enemy every bit as much as practising the art of war. You have to know who that enemy is. It is best to know as much as possible about that enemy. If there isn’t an enemy then you have to invent one. And having invented it, you can portray it in whatever manner best suits your purpose. Boris Johnson found a ready enemy in the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Or, as he and his British Nationalist audience would have it, the effort to destroy ‘Great Britain’. With help from the ever-biddable British media, Boris has his new mission. His hope and intention is that this mission will sustain him in high office until he decides to move onwards and upwards. See Tony Blair for an example of the kind of thing Boris has in mind.
What we need to be aware of is that Boris Johnson is not the enemy. The British Tories are not the enemy. England most certainly is not the enemy. British Nationalism denies England’s identity as a nation almost as much as it does Scotland’s. If British Nationalism is thought to be synonymous with English nationalism then this the product of shallow thinking. There may be superficial similarities. But the England that British Nationalists have in mind is not England as it is perceived by true English nationalists who seek to maintain England’s distinctiveness and protect its right and its capacity to be distinctive just as much as Scottish Nationalists want the same for our nation. This distinctiveness is anathema to British Nationalist ideology. It is certainly anathema to the form of British Nationalism that provides a basis for Boris Johnson’s new ‘mission’.
Johnson’s political instincts make him a good match for the more extreme forms of British Nationalism. Those instincts are crude and simplistic and brutal. There is no room in his philosophy for the kind of nuance which would permit distinctiveness for any part of ‘Great Britain’. The ‘One Nation’ Boris Johnson dangles before British Nationalists is a homogeneous mass. Not for Johnson or the constituency which he addresses the complications of the UK or the fripperies of devolved administrations. Much simpler if it’s all the same with the same government and the same policies and only those differences which are convenient (‘Scottish’ as a premium brand, for example) and which cannot combine to become distinctiveness.
Johnson is much more effective than Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh supposes. He is effective not in the sense of getting things right but in the sense of getting things wrong and getting away with it. Just stop for a moment and consider everything that he’s got away with in his public and in his private life. Take Brexit as an example. He’s getting away with what should be a career-ending catastrophe. As I predicted, the British state is working hard to mitigate the impact of Brexit and to minimise the perception of this impact. This is combined with the blame-shifting tactic that portrays everything that can’t be mitigated or minimised out of the public consciousness as somebody else’s fault. Principally the EU. Increasingly, the devolved administrations.
For all this, Boris Johnson is still not the enemy. Remove him and he will be replaced with someone just as determined to preserve the Union and almost certainly just as committed to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. Because that is the only type of person who can rise through the British political system. I have often noted that Boris Johnson is not the aberration many think him. He is not just a blip. He is the inevitable product of the British political system. We might say he is that system taken to its logical conclusion but for the fact that there’s more to come. It doesn’t end with the end of Johnson’s period as British Prime Minister. The British political system will only ever produce a political elite which is devoted to the prevailing concept of the British state. The British Nationalist genie is out of the bottle and calling the shots. Scotland will be no less threatened by Johnson’s successor than it is now. That threat can only increase. It would be politically impossible for a new British Prime Minister to put the British Nationalist juggernaut into reverse. That juggernaut will continue to dismantle our democracy; erase our national identity; and eradicate all distinctiveness.
Boris Johnson is not the enemy even if he is an enemy. So long as Scotland remains bound by the Union, every British Prime Minister will be just as much an enemy as Johnson. The Union is Scotland’s great enemy. We should know that enemy in every detail of how it is sorely detrimental to our nation and people. But first we must know that it is the enemy.
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