As one of those ‘Yes bloggers’ held in such high-handed contempt by Scotland’s judicial establishment (Lady Dorrian), such sneering scorn by Scotland’s media establishment (David Leask) and such intellect-crippling loathing by Scotland’s political establishment (Pete Wishart), I confess to a certain swelling of the heart when my analysis is validated by an establishment figure. Particularly if it’s the British establishment. I was, therefore, gratified by an article in Political Insight written by former senior UK Government official Professor Ciaran Martin. That Professor Martin was the “lead official who drew up the framework for the 2014 referendum on the UK side” makes it all the more pleasing.
Not that I crave such validation, you understand. It’s just nice when it happens. I’ve never been averse to being a lone voice. I never publish anything that I’m unwilling or unable to defend in reasoned debate. At the same time, I’m not afraid to admit when I’ve got it wrong. As, for example, with Nicola Sturgeon who – believe it or not – I once saw as the great champion of Scotland’s cause. And it’s not that I hope validation from such a source will give pause to those who reject my analysis – as often as not without taking the trouble to read anything first. The kind of people I’m talking about don’t think in any generally accepted sense of that term. They react instantly and emotionally. What they imagine to be thoughtful pondering of the matter is commonly no more than a frantic scrabbling in search of rationalisations for their unconsidered view. Such people won’t be impressed by anything Professor Ciaran Martin says, even in the highly unlikely event that they actually read his Political Insight article titled Can the UK Survive Muscular Unionism?..
Which is unfortunate. Because seldom have I encountered outside a very small circle of those reviled ‘Yes bloggers’ such an honest and cogent and insightful assessment of Scotland’s predicament. Even if from Professor Martin’s point of view it’s the British state’s predicament. He worries that the UK might not survive this “muscular unionism”. I am deathly afraid that it might. Because if the UK survives then Scotland doesn’t. Not the Scotland we know. Certainly not the Scotland to which nationalists such as myself aspire.
Despite the fact that Ciaran Martin is coming at the issue from the opposite direct, so to speak, he and I arrive at remarkably similar conclusions. He refers euphemistically to “muscular unionism” where I don’t hesitate to call out rabid British Nationalism for the anti-democratic, intolerant, imperialistic ideology that it is. But whatever terminology we use it’s clear we’re talking about the same thing.
Muscular unionism eschews all this. Britain, in this reading, is a single nation and a unitary state. The sub-British national identities within the Union should amount to no more than mere cultural pageantry. They are certainly not a basis for challenging Westminster’s unfettered authority. The devolved institutions are to be tolerated because of the present political climate, but their powers are to be checked and contested, and, should the opportunity arise, clipped.
Professor Martin is clearly uneasy with this “muscular unionism”. Just as I am. But for quite different reasons. To be fair, he does acknowledge the true nature of the thing.
It is nationalism. It is just British nationalism, rather than that of the Scottish, Welsh or Irish variety. It is sometimes portrayed as English nationalism. But this is entirely incorrect for two reasons. The first is philosophical: the national unit for this nationalism is the UK (or Britain, as some muscular unionists prefer to call it). The second is practical: no serious English nationalist would countenance the huge fiscal subsidies to the other parts of the United Kingdom, or particularly care if Scotland (or Northern Ireland, or Wales, left).
Which is precisely what I have been arguing for some years now. Most of what he says echoes my own analysis. But Professor Ciaran Martin appears to hope that there is some way back to the less “muscular unionism” that Scotland had learned to live with, even if having never fully embraced. I see no possibility of that. Two genies are out of their bottles – Scotland’s awakening to the importance of its distinctiveness and the threat to that distinctiveness posed by British Nationalism; and the British ruling elite’s awakening to the threat that this awakening poses to the Union and thereby the structures of power, privilege and patronage which sustain the established order. The fear is that the power relationship so favourable to England-as-Britain that was supposedly set in stone by the Union cannot survive the knowledge which has been an unintended consequence of the devolution experiment of that grossly asymmetrical constitutional arrangement. Therefore, the experiment must be shut down and everything restored to the status quo ante.
The more the Scottish nationalist genie asserts is right to distinctiveness the more the British Nationalist genie seeks to eradicate that distinctiveness and thwart its development. The more British Nationalism pushes its heel into Scotland’s face the more awareness grows of the true nature of the British state and thence the desire to be distinctive.
Professor Ciaran Martin again.
If muscular unionism changes the basis of British government in the way it intends, where is the political home for those outside England who are comfortable with complex and multiple identities, and prefer a strong degree of national autonomy within a multinational state?
I get a strong sense that he hopes for a return to a place that those on the periphery of the British state were once content to call home. That place no longer exists. It has been obliterated by the warring genies of two very different nationalisms. As I wrote exactly one year ago, this is now An existential battle. Ether Scotland survives with her independence fully restored, or the British Nationalism which has found agency through Boris Johnson’s regime prevails and Scotland effectively ceases to exist. Those are the stark choices which must be spelled out unambiguously to the people of Scotland. It’s all very well to offer a ‘vision’ of independent Scotland. But Scotland’s people must also be made to see the true nature of the British state. and the Union that make Scotland very much the subordinate in an entirely mythical ‘union of equals’.
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