Tag Archives: union

Scottish scare stories

Funny. Labour is on the ropes, apparently, forced at every turn to deny that it would join in coalition with the SNP. It’s mischievous political reporting in my opinion, but the messaging used by the Tories in their briefings betrays an unease with the UK. Or, rather, with Scotland. The message appears to be, “Don’t ally with those people who want to tear this country apart”. So, when it’s not immigrants or the poor who are the outsiders of the day, it’s the Scots, whose democratic choices are seen as some sort of subversive plot to undermine the country. The SNP has more of a mandate than UKIP, who are deferred to as the self-appointed voice of England. Little England. A miserly, miserable, nostalgic England of moral pygmies. But hey.

The real, sobering fact shouldn’t be the prospect of a left-wing coalition, but that so many Scots feel ambivalent at best, hostile at worst, towards the UK. That so many feel that they would have nothing to lose and all to gain through independence. And is it any wonder, when the prospect of a coalition with a party that’s not in England stirs up this undercurrent of hostility, this sense that the Scots are outsiders here to rip up “our” UK? Why not build a country which offers a fair deal and a positive vision to all of its constituent parts?

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Let’s Stick Together

It was a bit weird watching David Cameron make a speech in favour of the Union….from the Olympic Stadium in East London…addressing everyone else but the Scots.

I also saw Alex Salmond’s rebuttal, in which he pointed out that one of the most compelling arguments in favour of independence is that Scotland keeps voting left and getting Tory governments in Westminster.

I don’t have a dog in this fight and I understand both sides of the argument. Perhaps it’s because I live in England, but it seems like everyone is hell-bent on scolding or frightening the Scots into making the “right” decision. The BBC presenter’s response to Salmond was to point out that “business” wasn’t in favour of a split. Cameron is asking the rest of the UK to….what exactly? Pressure the nearest Scot?

Speaking as an African, I know that independence is as much an emotional issue as a practical one. Facts about the consequences of independence aside (and those are heavily disputed as it is), there is Scotland’s national story. No one has yet addressed this issue with a historical context, acknowledging that this is about more than just economics or brand UK. Or the rest of us that Cameron addressed today. It’s Scotland’s choice, and we would do well to start talking to people, rather than down at or about them.


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In Praise of Acts of Union and Disunion

“The divided and contentious nature of these islands is hardly exceptional and it’s hardly surprising. Although Britain is sometimes viewed still as an old and stable country, these in fact are selective visions. Historically speaking, Great Britain and still more the United Kingdom are in some respects recent and synthetic constructs that have often been contested and in flux in the past…as they are now.”

I am working my way through, and thoroughly enjoying, the BBC Radio 4 series with historian Linda Colley Acts of Union and Disunion – putting this country in historical context and looking at the national myths and heritage. In short, 15 minute bites, she looks at different aspects – being an island, this country’s relationship with the sea, the monarchy, etc – to explore what it all means. Timely, given Scotland’s decision on the future of the Union, but also comforting, given the raging anti-migrant rhetoric that refers to some homogenous, static Britain that never existed, being corrupted by voices from the old and new world.

It’s poetic and rather glorious. I find myself intrigued but also reminded of what I find so fascinating about the UK: its idiosyncrasies, its nations and countries, how it sees itself, how it sees the world. I also find it comforting to take the long view of history, the reminder of how much is contested and constantly being negotiated, and renegotiated, and constructed and remade.

Colley is a witty, engaging host, easily drawing you in to the themes of the programme. In particular, I liked her commentary on identity and the difficulty of applying fixed labels to people. We are very rarely ever one thing, and the same goes for our countries. She points out that it’s not the break up of states that’s notable, but their ability to cohere in the first place – and evolving and believing stories about themselves helps.

If African countries did similar programmes it would be so interesting. I will never forget my visit to the dinosaur museum in Karonga, Malawi last year. It was a small exhibit but it packed a punch and put more recent events, such as colonisation, in their place.

So often history is a battleground for jingoism and confected nationalism – but I am really enjoying this clear-eyed, sometimes humorous, rather affectionate reflection on these islands, her nations and her peoples.

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