Who cares about Britishness in Scotland?


by Mike
27th September, 2007 at 11:57 am    

What does Britain and Britishness, of which Gordon Brown was banging on incessantly at the Labour Conference, actually mean?

Certainly not much to multi-cultural Britain: a Sikh in Bradford, a Gael in Stornoway or a South Londoner in Streatham. And if they did have a sense of Britishness, what were the key elements that held them together?

The collective experiences of British identity, that might just have fused a sense of togetherness in a post-modern world are undoubtedly the pain of war and the pride in institutions like the BBC and the NHS.

The irony is that these three towers of Albion all lie with their reputation in tatters, as a direct result of policies pursued by GB.

The problem for Gordon is this – the increasing stress on Gordon’s British credentials, whilst pleasing to a Middle England voter – are a turn-off North of of the Border.

The obsession for Brown, aimed to dispel any notions of his Scottishness being an electoral hazard presents – presents real problems for his standard-bearer at Holyrood, Wendy Alexander, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

Gordon and Wendy are close. Her brother Douglas, the Secretary of State for International Development is a Labour Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. Both are steeped in the Labour Party, and on the right of the party.

Both were chosen to take part in the British-American Project for the Successor Generation (now known as the British-American Project) which was described by the journalist John Pilger writing in New Statesman back in 2003 as “a masonry of chosen politicians and journalists conceived by the far-right oil baron J. Howard Pew and launched by Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch”.

Brown is now effectively leader of the National British Party, who’s twin aim is to halt independence in Scotland and growing English nationalism. The NBP now cal for “British jobs for British workers”, a slogan that would be gleefully embraced by any of the far-right, from Cameron’s oak tree Tories, to the green-ink brigade of UKIP to the original British National Party.

Yet Labour is in coalition with Plaid Cymru in Wales and Wendy Alexander has entered talks in a pan Unionist talks to ‘save Britain’ with the Tories and the Lib Dems in Edinburgh?

Confused? Yes, they are.

————
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Mike Small blogs for comment is free


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  1. El Cid — on 27th September, 2007 at 12:18 pm  

    The collective experiences of British identity…

    You forget sport, footy and rugby aside.
    Paula Radcliffe, Joe Calzaghe, Andrew Murray, Lewis Hamilton…
    You also forget a shared heritage — WW2, Isombard Kingdom Brunel, Adam Smith, Michael Cain, football hooliganism and pint drinking.

    You can pretend that they don’t exist, but you’d be lying to yourself.

  2. Leon — on 27th September, 2007 at 12:31 pm  

    El Cid, the wise man that he is, points out a crucial point that unifies this Kingdom of ours, drinking! That’s probably one of the biggest things we have in common…

  3. newmania — on 27th September, 2007 at 12:31 pm  

    The Labour party care because as they know at the last election more English voted Conservative than Labour and they need those seats . They are disenfranchised by a semi detached client state . In order to keep it that way New Labour prevail upon English tax payers to stump up £30 billion for next years bribe the Scots and this is set against £10 billion Oil revenues if you accept that argument which I do not.
    That way ,and by asymmetrically devolving powers to Scotland on Health and education we have in effect been Gerrymandered into a one Party state.

    You know this is an outrage and yet you turn Nelson’s blind eye to it. A consistent huge majority in England want their own Parliament and it is clear that Britain is no more than a set of legal entitlements inspiring no loyalty and much disgust on both sides of the Border. The cynical use that Brown makes of this will finally kill it off.
    Strange isn’t it that it was the Conservatives that fought for the Union when it was still alive to be fought for . 200 rebelled at the devolution act.

    If the Labour Party was capable of doing more than following its master like slaves and questioning this morally bankrupt policy then it might retain some of the intellectual respectability it once had. There was a time when left opinion dominated the media and the academic words ,. That day has gone and will not return while we hear nothing but Baa BAaa ,I `m a good little sheep from New labour….( although you still control the BBC natch)

  4. Steve — on 27th September, 2007 at 12:36 pm  

    Broon and McLabour can stick their “Britishness”, they are just talking up “Britishness” in England, they know its vital for England and the English to be subjigated so they can ruule, STICK your “Union”, Jock!, we will have rid of you and have our own Parliament.

  5. Jamie McG — on 27th September, 2007 at 12:39 pm  

    El Cid – Andy Murray made a point of explaining to interviewers that he’s Scottish, not British. Like most young Scots ‘Britishness’ has no meaning to him.

    ‘Football hooliganism’? I take this is a wind-up?

  6. sonia — on 27th September, 2007 at 1:54 pm  

    who cares about Britishness anywhere? Only people obsessed with skin colour it seems.

  7. Kismet Hardy — on 27th September, 2007 at 2:35 pm  

    Drugs. British people take drugs.

  8. douglas clark — on 27th September, 2007 at 2:40 pm  

    At least in the terms it is conceived, I cannot see the point about this ‘Britishness’ thing. What we do have, more or less, is a common language, common defence and significant congruence in our rule of law. What we also have, or in darker moments had, was mutual religious, racial and political tolerance.

    So what if Scotland goes off on it’s own? The only crew that will be adversly effected are MPs sitting for Scottish seats. Oh, and young Mr Brown himself. There might be more than a little self interest at play here.

  9. sonia — on 27th September, 2007 at 3:50 pm  

    good point from douglas clark. this is prob. just something to for people to talk about, seeing as people have nothing apart from the weather to talk about, sports, and spend all that time in the pub

  10. Leon — on 27th September, 2007 at 4:04 pm  

    The only crew that will be adversly effected are MPs sitting for Scottish seats. Oh, and young Mr Brown himself. There might be more than a little self interest at play here.

    Definitely looks that way to me too. Instead of actually answering the West Lothian question he’s decided it doesn’t matter…

  11. Sunny — on 27th September, 2007 at 5:58 pm  

    I thought Kismet’s comments were a bit silly so I deleted them.

    Like most young Scots ‘Britishness’ has no meaning to him.

    That doesn’t mean it cannot avoid meaning in the future. Unfortunately people don’t seem to get what the aim of this Britishness debate is…

  12. justforfun — on 27th September, 2007 at 6:41 pm  

    Sunny – I think we DO get what the aim of Gordon’s debate is. Gordon trying to get the English to see Britain as their primary identity, rather than English. I don’t have to spell out why – Mike says it all.

    If you mean – is there a debate to be had about Britishness / Englishness / Scots / Welsh and how the BAMEs (pron. ~ barmys) see themselves with referance to these, then that is a different debate. I would say this debate is abit like ‘relgious faith’, something personal and personal it should remain. Why do I think it is personal – well because I think ones nationality within the UK is a state of mind and a free choice – in the emotional realm. Some are comfortable feeling English ( I would include myself) while others like yourself feel British. However we live and let live, because we have different ideas and reasons for why we label ourselves.

    Britain is not like the USA – it is not an ideological construct. I look at Britain as a pooling of the common emotional attachments of its constituent nations into a single Union. While intially created to take advantage of Europe’s naval expansion and exploration in the 17C – Britain is now the home nations outward face to the world for most political and cultural activity. For example in the media it is telling that it not the ‘English’ who emmigrate, but “Brits”. Once broken up into its own smaller parts I think the people of these islands will become far more insular and parochial in a political sense. Imagine in 20 years – when there are English, Welsh & Scots foreign ministers. They will all be irrelavent people. Now that might be a good thing or bad thing and is another debate and perhaps that is the real debate that dare not say its name. Do we need to keep Britain together because it is the only meaningfull mechanism we have for dealing with the rest of the world. Is there is still something collectively for the three home nations to contribute to the world?

    Justforfun

    PS Sunny – can you delete my post 9 as it looks silly as well now :-)

  13. El Cid — on 27th September, 2007 at 8:21 pm  

    Mr McG,
    If you wanna be mealy mouthed, then so be it.
    But Murray still reps GB in the Davis Cup and gets the backing of most Sassanachs. More fools us.
    Whatever, if Gavin Hastings wants to wear an Aussie shirt to demonstrate his allegiances on world cup final day and the jocks wanna go there own way, they can … whatever.
    I find small country nationalism frigging boring and nautious.
    Take Catalunya. I’m going to Barcelona tomorrow. Nice place, though increasingly less so. No Spaniard can get a job in the public sector unless he/she speaks Catalan and this week Catalan TV/radion sacked some Spanish speakers for using Castillian as a bridging language when interviewing, when all Catalans speak Spanish. So much for labour mobility.
    One sort of tyranny replaced by tolerance and mutual respect is replaced by another form of tyranny.
    As if Brits/Germans/French, etc looking to work abroad are going to do Catalan o’level.
    Small country mentality and 1930s intolerance.
    Maybe Scotland should work hard to bring back Gaelic.
    Cause that’s another supposed unifier — the English language.
    As for football hooliganism — Scotland invented it, don’t kid yourself McG. The English simply turned it into a world class export industry.

  14. newmania — on 27th September, 2007 at 10:44 pm  

    it is not an ideological construct. I look at Britain as a pooling of the common emotional attachments of its constituent nations into a single Union.

    The you know little about it .It , it was Greater England and was ruled by English and the dominant Anglo Scots . England would be far more powerful without it but would be less inclined to waste money on foreign adventures. Above all it is unacceptable to have a labour Government imposed on England in perpetuity now Holyrood is a going concern .

    Brown can say Britain another 80 times but if he does not get a majority in England he cannot rule it. The Breakup has , in fact already happened by default and its high time

  15. El Cid — on 28th September, 2007 at 8:34 am  

    apologies for my terrible spelling… that should be, nauseous

  16. Jamie McG — on 28th September, 2007 at 11:58 am  

    Im not being mealy-mouthed – its just you suggest sport as a unifier when its clearly not.

    “I find small country nationalism frigging boring and nautious.”

    Well we’re really taling about democracy Cid.

    “Maybe Scotland should work hard to bring back Gaelic.”

    It is, thankfully.

  17. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:15 pm  

    kismet’s comments are never silly, they always have a point. like any other kind of sardonic humour.

    sunny you’re doing a good job getting training to be a politician. some people are saying very clearly they don’t give a flying fuck about ‘britishness’. some people don’t mind and will talk about it when the topic is raised, and some people will engage. as is always the case. it is also obvious to all of us that some people keep bringing this ‘Britishness’ thing up – for their own particular agendas – whatever they are. you’ve made your reasons clear – i think we’re all aware of that. (whilst they are ‘nice’ reasons, there are probably ramifications and implications you haven’t considered. social ‘intervention’ is never straightforward – that’s the other thing politicians need to learn) and i can see you want to keep this idea in people’s heads, you might want to actually listen to what people are saying back to you, and to others. as a good media professional, you also know if you bang on about it long enough, then people will start thinking there is a good point to all of it.

  18. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:26 pm  

    that post of mine above was in response to sunny saying

    “Unfortunately people don’t seem to get what the aim of this Britishness debate is…”

    let me reiterate:

    you might have reasons to bring up a “britishness” debate, but you ( and people like Mr.Brown, and SUnder K etc. ) need to understand it might -and clearly does -mean very different things to different people. And whilst you keep saying you want to re-appropriate Britishness, You too need to realise you may end up imposing your re-appropriateness of Britishness – on other people. so it could be a re-imposing your re-appropriation. now some people might be happy with that, and some people may collectively want to participate in a re-appropriation exercise, and that might be all very well and good. but i can’t see too many of them, i see more people telling others they should be thinking about this, that it should mean something to them. In any case, seeing as clearly everyone is not going to agree on what Britishness means or constitutes or doesn’t mean, clearly, unless the re-appropriaters are happy with this multiplicity of views ( and i can’t see why they wouldn’t be – and keep trying to impose some monolithic understanding)what are they going to do? Demand that we all agree?

  19. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:38 pm  

    and let me just throw this into the mix – what has consistently been the common feature in top-down hierarchical groups – was the trying to maintain a sense of strong tribal identity. this is old as time itself – where do we think conformity to the group comes from -? and largely stems from the authority in those groups, saying ‘you are x’ and you are like this. this is what you have in common with Us. And whilst it may have had some positives, unless t hat idea of commonality extends to all humans we find ourselves co-habiting this planet with – then all it does it build up the idea that WE have something in common, and WE don’t have that thing in common with THEM. the britishness pushers seem to forget about the world outside, the simple fact that they dont seem to think that THEM has significance, is more worrying than anything else. After all this time in the world, after all these wars, you’d think that they’d have worked out that insidious side-effect! and we’re not back in the 15th century, we’re in a world where we cannot afford, to have this small-island mentality. afford to neglect the impact of the flipside of US US US tribal mentality, because we’re all inter-dependent. around the globe. and this is critical to any kind of environmental sustainability. I am frankly surprised that any people who talk about being environmental activists would realise they need to get out of this petty national is the level we think on mindset.

  20. douglas clark — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:38 pm  

    El Cid,

    I find small country nationalism frigging boring and nautious.

    Large country nationalism – say the USA, Russia, China – are on the other hand exciting and enervating? I think not.

    Possibly a bit more dangerous, right enough.

    Here’s one for the Rumbolds of this world. How many small nations have started wars in Europe?

  21. douglas clark — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:41 pm  

    Sonia @ 20. Good points.

  22. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:49 pm  

    so i think people need to take that into account if they want to continue peddling this line, leaving the next level of common belonging out will not be acceptable, certainly not if its in the guise of ‘progressive’ politics. and i can see that whilst people might think it is progressive compared to petty ethnic politicking about who is muslim and who is gujju, but sorry that amount of relative progression is not much in this day and age.

  23. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:51 pm  

    thank you douglas, i think it is a shame if we only look so far ahead, without looking a bit further. its not that much of a leap – from national boundary – to the earth’s boundary. why not include all humans in our belonging game? yes it is preferable that all these dodgy asians who currently think they’re not british are british, but what about everyone else?

  24. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:52 pm  

    ‘dodgy’ british asians -i should have clarified -who dont think of themselves as british.

    anyway i’ve said ‘enuff, and said all this before. but politics seems to always be rather petty, doesn’t it.

  25. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:56 pm  

    good point douglas, in 21. large country nationalism, like the US, Russia, India, and CHina is terrifying indeed.

  26. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:01 pm  

    Sonia, I fully endorse very statement you have made on this thread. BS free, PC free and level headed.

    *tips hat*

    TFI

  27. douglas clark — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:08 pm  

    Sonia ‘ 24,

    I happen to believe you are right. Surprise!

    Seems to me that there are trans national groupings around now that – despite what Leon said in the Burma thread – did not have the leverage only a few years ago. And that is where I’d prefer to set up my camp, with like minded people who think an atrocity in Burma is just as important as an atrocity just up the road. Where we give up a sentimentalist attachment to our physical neighbours and start to think more closely about our world wide chums, folk we’ve perhaps only ever met virtually. Yet, with whom we may well feel closer affinity than, say the drunken chav outside..

    And you are most certainly right to point out that the world is too small for petty nationalism, unless we want unending resource wars.

  28. Mike — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:51 pm  

    I see a rejection of Britishness as as a rejection of the values of the British State – which historically see to have been associated with (largely but not wholly) war, conquest and imperialism.

    I dont see nationalism or republicanism or cultural revival as being a step back from the world or universal values but a step into the world. What’s fuelled Scottish drive for independence (with the suppport of Scotland’s forst Asian MSP – Bashir Ahmad) is a rejection of the war in Iraq, the need fo new Trident and the neo-conservative agenda of New Labour.

  29. douglas clark — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:40 pm  

    Mike,

    I am really not getting it. If you are saying that the Scots are only now taking exception to being run by a metropolitan elite with odd and backwards views about warfare and Trident and neo-conservatism, are these not issues that also exercise a lot of the non Scottish folk that write and comment here too? Are we going to throw the dummy out of the pram just because we can?

    And why now? Is it because we’ve seen devolution and we quite like it and want more?

    Personally, I think an amicable divorce between Scotland and the rest of the UK is well overdue, but I’d like it to be on more substantive grounds than those you have given. Constitutional change of this magnitude should not be based on short term policy issues.

  30. Mike — on 28th September, 2007 at 3:35 pm  

    I’m trying to explain why Britishness has had any meaning drained from it. The things that gave it meaning have been abolished, derided or dissolved.

    It’s not overnight.

    I think the ‘substantive grounds’ are about looking forward, not short term policy – though arguably we wuld be paying for nuclear power and Trident for a very long time.

    Of course the non-Scottish people share the simple response against neo-conservatism etc, but as the policy merge now seems complete (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article2532459.ece) we maybe have an opportunity to build a better society than Tebbit envisaged.

  31. Anas — on 28th September, 2007 at 6:55 pm  

    Gordon and Wendy are close. Her brother Douglas, the Secretary of State for International Development is a Labour Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. Both are steeped in the Labour Party, and on the right of the party.

    Both were chosen to take part in the British-American Project for the Successor Generation (now known as the British-American Project) which was described by the journalist John Pilger writing in New Statesman back in 2003 as “a masonry of chosen politicians and journalists conceived by the far-right oil baron J. Howard Pew and launched by Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch”.

    Wow, I didn’t know that. Interesting. So not only are Douglas and Wendy amongst the ugliest looking Scottish siblings — and there is fuck of a lot of competition for that title — but they’re hideously ugly on the inside too.

    As regards the title, living in England — although, thankfully I’m taking a well earned break away from the place and going back up to Glasgow for a week — I realised just how Scottish I am and yeah how little I care much about Britishness.

  32. Shuggy — on 29th September, 2007 at 10:31 am  

    The problem for Gordon is this – the increasing stress on Gordon’s British credentials, whilst pleasing to a Middle England voter – are a turn-off North of of the Border.

    And the problems for nationalists such as yourself are too numerous to mention, so I’ll restrict myself to two of them:

    1) I think most people listening to Gordon going on about Britain think the boy doth protest too much. Nevertheless, people like yourselves always assume that identities are a zero-sum game; one can only feel ‘more Scottish’ at the expense of being British and vice versa. For some reason people with your simple-minded mentality dominate what passes for a debate in Scotland. It’s quite sad.

    2) The nationalists – not even able to get a majority in Holyrood – do less well in Westminster elections. So why is there any particular reason for him to worry about Scotland? It would be refreshing if just once some nationalist would concede that they don’t speak for Scotland because all the available evidence suggests Scots don’t want independence.

  33. Mike — on 30th September, 2007 at 2:25 pm  

    I dont think its a zero sum game Shuggy. I dont think that people can only feel ‘more Scottish’ at the expense of being British and vice versa, but polls suggest that people feel far nmore Scottish than British, than they did 10, 20, 40 years ago and this is increasing. Dont shoot the messenger.

    Im not sure why you find this fact so threatening.

    The point I was trying to make is that people have multiple identities – European, Yorkshireman, Gael, Anglo-Irish, Aberdonian etc and these are shifting. Amonmgst these shifts is increasing awareness of national identity amongst the Welsh, Scots, and English – and a result ‘Britishness’ seems an artificial construct.

    The nationalists won an election against a backdrop of electoral farce, all the evidence is they would have won more seats if it hadn’t been for Dougie Alexanders polling nightmare.

    I’m sure your right and Brown will have few worries about Scotland at a Westminister election – precisely the sort of smug self-satisfied attitude that just meane they lost power for the first time in 50 years.

  34. Sam Buchan — on 30th September, 2007 at 2:27 pm  

    This from Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian
    Wednesday November 29, 2006

    “I think the word is panic. Last week the prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary, defence secretary, trade secretary and Scots ministerial expatriates galore travelled in a posse north to a Labour conference in Oban, like a bunch of Spanish hidalgos racing back from the fleshpots of Madrid to quell a revolt in their home province.
    Their objective was to suppress one man, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National party. An opinion poll had shown support for Salmond’s crusade, an independent Scotland, rising to 52% of the electorate. Those regarding themselves as Scottish had risen from half to three-quarters in 25 years, while those saying “British” had halved to just 20%.”

  35. El Cid — on 30th September, 2007 at 3:27 pm  

    Douglas,
    I’m not advocating big country nationalism either.
    But the way some small country nationalists — actually make that all small country nationalists — go on, you’d think they were defending something progressive when really, deep down, it’s regressive volk-searching, sentimentalist, deluded, divisive, garbage. In a word, I find it pathetic. And I’m entitled to that opinion.
    Democracy? Careful what you wish for.

  36. El Cid — on 30th September, 2007 at 3:30 pm  

    What’s a fleshpot, anyone?

  37. Gus Abraham — on 30th September, 2007 at 7:25 pm  

    36. No sweeping statements there then Cid…

    The reality Shuggy is I just don’t feel “British” and I know few people of my generation who do. Sorry if this offends you somehow, I just feel Scottish and European.

    What’s wrong with that?

  38. Clairwil — on 30th September, 2007 at 11:20 pm  

    ‘Scots don’t want independence.’

    Gosh who appointed Shuggy as spokesman of the Scots?

    True it’s a minority in favour of independence but it’s a substantial minority. Denying their existence doesn’t make them go away.

    Typical Labour, trying to rewrite reality.

  39. douglas clark — on 1st October, 2007 at 2:36 am  

    Cid,

    The examples you give are all of subsumed nation states, Catalonia, Scotland, probably the Welsh too. They may well have the characteristics you refer to, although I can’t say I’d noticed much of it up here.

    But there are nation states that have in recent memory become independent, even within Europe. Eire, Norway and the split of Czechoslovakia come to mind. I do not think your comments could be fairly applied to them.

    I, sort of, agree with Shuggy that identity is not a zero sum game, but my identifiers are probably nearer those of Gus Abrahams’, in as much as I see myself as Scottish and European rather than British. Which is obviously not what Shuggy was getting at at all!

    In any event, the dark horse in the race is people who see themselves as citizens, Planet Earth. And that, I would suggest is likely to be a growing trend.

  40. Gus Abraham — on 1st October, 2007 at 9:54 am  

    Shuggy writes: “all the available evidence suggests Scots don’t want independence” but the polls are erratic and contradictory. For example only in 2006 those polled were a majority in favour (51%)- see here:

    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/scotland/story/0,,1937975,00.html

    but oddly less in favour of voting for the SNP (32%) – now the SNP are in power but only 49% in favour of ful independence.

  41. El Cid — on 1st October, 2007 at 1:03 pm  

    But there are nation states that have in recent memory become independent, even within Europe. Eire, Norway and the split of Czechoslovakia come to mind. I do not think your comments could be fairly applied to them.

    No, you’re right Douglas, the fall of the Iron Curtain and Tito’s death were not what I had in mind.

    It just bugs me to see so much intellectual talent and energy wasted on such crap. People often need, particularly young people, a rallying cry to stir the soul and lift the spirit, but if this sort of stuff gets people angry and passionate, more fool them.

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