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Flag Daze


Gerry Hassan wrote recently: “Pro-independence forces cannot just imagine, as Welsh and Sturgeon did, that Britain is dead or beyond reinvention, and that we can seamlessly move on.”

Why not?

There’s much that is redundant and dying about the British State, it’s corrupt institutions of power and it’s culture of managed decline and endless pageantry, its celebrity feudalism, its inherent drawn-out death-spiral. There’s a brutal emptiness to the flag-waving of lumpen Belfast. It has none of the joy of the Olympics or the street parties of the Jubilee. While the Jubilympics was all cutting edge styling and top-rate propaganda, there’s something almost 18th C about the Flegs protests. On Wednesday the birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge was celebrated by an outing of the Union flag. Later this month they’ll celebrate the birthday of the Countess of Wessex. Trafalgar Day too will be noted. Not dead? In what sense not dead?

Why can’t we move on?

As the racist-homophobic UKIP emerge as a serious force in English politics – with a right wing One Nation Labour one side and an off-the-leash right-wing Tory party on the other – diverging political cultures north and south of the border seem a clearer reality, daily. In a ComRes poll out today they (UKIP) outranked the Tories.


But if the deadness of contemporary Britain  is revealed daily in the papers like unwrapping a shroud, so too is the symmetry of choice we’re left with. Chance, risk, uncertainty is not all with the wild and whacky choice of deciding your own affairs like any other country.

Sometimes when the world’s unraveling the real risk is in doing nothing at all.

Take for example the often cited problem of banking. It’s often gleefully asked by Better Togetherites: ‘What would a poor wee country like ours do when the banks collapsed?’ Yet a glance at the news will tell you that the real risk lies within the Union, tied to a mesh of corporate interests and a City of London that is running amok.

Today was the day that Andrea Orcel, the oleaginous head of the investment bank at UBS, appeared before the Parliamentary Commission of Banking Standards at Westminster to explain what went wrong at UBS and how it happened that the Swiss bank became so severely implicated in Libor wrongdoings.

Orcel was one of the advisors who advised RBS to buy ABN AMRO. He was interviewed by the Bishop of Durham and Nigella Lawson’s dad. To refresh your memories RBS, which is 82% owned by us the taxpayer, is expecting a fine significantly higher than the $450 million (£290m) slapped on Barclays in June.

Speculation has suggested it could be in the region of £350m.No-one seems to talk about the ‘risks’ of this casino-capitalism and the ongoing scandal of unregulated mega-rich gambling.

Swiss-based UBS was fined $1.5 billion (£940m) for its part in the scandal. The Bishop and Nigella’s dad had about as much authority as an old Lord and and churchman could muster. Not very much. Did the bankers look overly worried by this scrutiny? They did not. Mr. Orcel, deemed a “deal junkie” by one committee member, was previously at Merrill Lynch, where he was criticized for taking a $34-million pay package in 2008 after advising on the disastrous RBS-led takeover of ABN AMRO. This is beyond comedy. This the reality of the current political Union.

The second major stick used to beat the independence movement is the notion of uncertainty about our role and place in Europe. Yet the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are creating a momentum of anti-European scepticism that is a beast they cannot control whilst the bizarre Nigel Farage and his Daily Mail coterie wag the dog of English xenophobic eccentricity.

Asked whether the UK would still be in the EU in ten years, Mr Osborne said: ‘I very much hope that Britain remains a member of the EU. But in order that we can remain in the European Union, the EU must change.’ The Scottish press are obsessed by the SNP who want to lead Scotland into Europe, but remain oddly silent on the fact we may be being led out of it.

Every day British – and by default extension (sadly) – Scottish interests are undermined and sullied by the ravings of the public schoolboy cabinet. This the reality of the current political Union.

In 1969 as a response to Government and Nationalism in Scotland, George Davie wrote:”It seems to me an evident proposition that one will not be able to think clearly about the prospects for Scotland within the Union, unless one can imaginatively at the same time bear in mind the prospects for Scotland outside the Union.”

It’s becoming clearer to imaginatively see the prospects for Scotland outside the Union as the political culture of British society is exposed.

Citing Bella and Irvine Welsh Gerry Hassan misunderstands (I think) and suggests a cartoon of this British failure:

“This perspective sees the British state as already dead, killed off by the end of Empire, decline of religion, economic decline, Thatcherism, and, maybe for Irvine Welsh, the demise of the British soap on TV.”

Actually the failure of the British State and its political class is much more profound than that. It’s its inability to move on from empire, to think beyond the values of Thatcherism, it’s about its deep-seated and growing social inequality and its hopeless lack of accountability and democracy. In an extraordinary statement, Hassan writes:

“What this doesn’t concede is the adaptability and ingenuity of the British state for all its undoubted problems. We can leave aside the hype and froth about the Jubilee and Olympics, but it is worth noting that the Team GB which took part in the games, as well as including members from Northern Ireland (who could choose between GB and Ireland), also had participants from the Isle of Man and Channel Isles. This made it a Team UK and Beyond UK.”

This is an example of Britain being able to reinvent itself?

I’m confused by Gerry’s argument. He says: “Perhaps the biggest contribution would be if pro-Union forces could, instead of living in a land of make believe, deal with the realities of a land increasingly turning its back on the poor and people struggling to keep their heads above water, and instead lauding the rich, the self-promoting and self-obsessed.”

But it is these very pro-Union forces – in various guises and parties – that are the driving force behind the attacks on universalism, the assault on the poor, the undermining of benefits and the imposition of poverty.

Let’s move on.

Comments (24)

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  1. Doug Daniel says:

    “its inability to move on from empire”

    This is the main problem as far as I’m concerned. If Britain was a film character, it’d be Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler – ageing, bruised and broken, condemned to continuously try to recapture former glories but failing every time. Incapable of admitting it’s time to retire. Everything Britain does is through a refusal to accept that the days of empire are over. Britannia does not rule the waves. The days of Britain being a superpower are long gone – it’s now just a support act.

    We all know one of the things that scares many unionists about the prospect of Scottish independence and the likely nuclear disarmament they’ll have imposed on them as a result is the likely challenge to their seat on the UN security council. Well, it’s high time the UNSC stopped looking like a who’s who of the major powers in 1945 and became truly representative of the world. The UK’s seat being handed to the EU would be a first step (or just abolish permanent seats entirely…)

    But I digress. Scotland’s future cannot be put in jeopardy for the benefit of British elites who refuse to accept the modern world. We’re being held back, but 2014 is our opportunity to claim our place in the world. If we pass this chance up, future generations will not look back kindly on us. I don’t want to be known as Generation Naw…

  2. Keef says:

    Indeed Doug. Generation naw sounds too much to bear. Generation aye will sound just fine. With the no campaign still to make a positive case for why people should continue to be treated like 12th century serfs by the right leaning labour and the far right Tories. I feel the their minds have already been made up. The yes campaign has moved ahead and the unionists know it. This explains their sudden change of heart and their calls for a more positive debate. The simple fact is when they try to find that elusive positive reasoning – it just ain’t there. Their grass root activists are coming to the same conclusion. The poor dears heads are spinning with the ‘crap’ they are being fed.

    Witness how well the labour4indy has been received by their own rank and file. Take note the flat out refusal of the STUC to give any support at all to the better together circus. Let not the reports of labour activists refusing to share the platform with their ‘partners’ go unrecorded. It’s
    all starting to unravel for the negative trough swillers.

    There will be a ‘naw’ generation. It will be the elites, lords and the last set of Westminster corrupt MP’s as they realize the yes vote has won and their freeloading days are at an end. Some may even come to be known as ‘aw naw’ generation when it dawns on them that there is no chance of them ‘re-inventing’ themselves in the hope of returning to the Scottish political scene as they will have burnt that bridge several times over.

  3. Albalha says:

    Veering off topic, but it is Flag related ……. if you missed GMS yesterday, have a listen to Malachi O’Doherty’s take on what’s happening in NI……’s the link, about 24 minutes in.

    A Balharry

  4. Mike Vickers says:

    In Saturday’s Scotsman there was, to me, a good article by Joyce McMillan, in relation to Trident in which she said:
    “the devil is almost never in the detail. On the contrary, the devil is almost always in the question of principle, and in the political will to achieve change; and it is for that reason that the whole independence debate, and the decision on Trident with it, should have been two-phased at the start – as all good constitutional processes are – into an early indicative vote on the principle of independence, followed, in the event of a Yes vote, by long years of detailed negotiation, and a second vote to ratify the new arrangements.”
    Much is written in this column about all the dreadful things an Independent Scotland would be relieved of but little about what great new things an Independent Scotland would create in their stead. In this respect Joyce McMillan is right; what would be the Principles an Independent Scotland that she would adopt. For a start what would the Constitution look like, would there be a New Parliament, what would be the makeup of the political parties, and what would be the financial and taxation arrangements.

  5. Indy says:

    A lot of these debates seem to me to miss the difference between the state as a political institution and Britain as a collection of peoples.Of course Britain will continue and continue to reinvent itself. And Scots will be a part of that. What we’re talking about is the political structures and government. It is ironic that pro-independence supporters are so often accused of identity politics when the exact opposite is true! I suppose the difference is that we have spent decades thinking about what independence is about while many others are now playing catch-up.

  6. Indy says:

    Incidentally I think we should feel some sympathy for the flag protestors rather than just having a go at them. I read some of the comments on various facebook sites and they are actually quite heartbreaking – people wanting to get their flag back, as though it has been stolen from them.

    It is really their identity they are talking about. It’s the ultimate identity politics we are looking at here and very sad. Because irrespective of whether Scotland votes yes in 2014 and irrespective of whether NI formally rejoins the rest of Ireland at some point in the future, the United Kingdom these people identify with so strongly is already dead. And they are struggling to cope and adjust to that and can’t even find a way to express it other than shouting we want our flag back.

    It’s terribly sad really. We should try to understand how hard this transition is for some people rather than just mock them.

  7. Indy says:

    I should clarify I am not saying anyone on Bella is mocking but I have read a lot of comments on other social media from pro-indy people which are very scathing and triumphalist. I think that is unkind as well as unwise.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It’s a fair point you raise. I was mocking – but I was mocking the idea that Britain isn’t dead, rather than mocking those people who are that disenfranchised / alienated.

      There is something deeply sad about a group of people who are so disorientated that their main political demand is to stand under a flag showing fealty. Is that really the demand that drives them to riot?

  8. cirsium says:

    “the Swiss bank became so severely implicated in Libor wrongdoings.”
    “wrongdoings” should the word not be “fraud”?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Yes, you’re right, it should be

  9. Davy says:

    “As the racist-homophobic UKIP emerge as a serious force in English politics – with a right wing One Nation Labour one side and an off-the-leash right-wing Tory party on the other ….”
    That could be one of the possible consequences ( or “backlashes” ? ) of Scottish Independence campaign to be aware of – as an encouragement to right-wing , reactionary English/Anglo-British Nationalism in England , which could then offer encouragement to remnants of British Loyalism in Scotland & Ireland.
    The flag protesters from Ireland have already started to try and spread their “save the Union (flag)” campaign to Scotland….. as from their perspective it is about saving their United Kingdom , which other agent-provocatuers could possibly promote for mischievous ends. I don’t want to sound over alarmist , but maybe worth being aware of possibility.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Fair point

  10. DougtheDug says:

    I’m puzzled that Gerry regards that there is no legal definition of what the UK is because it was formed in 1921 from the Anglo-Irish treaty building on the Acts of Union 1800 and the Treaty of Union 1707. There is no fluidity or porousness about it.

    Gerry says, “This is a challenge for all our political debate. Pro-independence forces cannot just imagine, as Welsh and Sturgeon did, that Britain is dead or beyond reinvention, and that we can seamlessly move on.”

    For a Scotland stuck in devo-max or some federal UK the politics of the British state would still be the politics of Scotland and there would be no way to seamlessly move on but again I don’t get Gerry here or understand what point he’s trying to make. The whole point of the independence movement is to remove Scotland from the British state and once that happens we will seamlessly move on because the internal politics of England and its two provinces will not then be our concern. Gerry doesn’t seem to fully grasp the concept of independence.

    Gerry is right that there is an, “elephant in the room which nearly always goes unacknowledged”, and then fails to even mention it in his article.

    That elephant is one of identity. Like Irvine Welsh I grew up immersed in British culture. My boyhood reading materials were the Victor and Hornet comics whose heroes were, “Sergeant Braddock”, and “William Wilson”, and full of stories of British derring do, especially of the first and second world wars. Then there were the, “Commando Books”, which focused entirely on war stories from the Second World War. All stiff upper lips and British grit. With a father who’d seen active service in the WWII I identified totally with the stories and with Britain.

    It was only later I began to question who I was and whose history I was learning both through school and popular culture, a gradual realisation that Good Queen Bess, Robin Hood and King John, the Spanish Armada and Agincourt were someone else’s national history and not mine and that my knowledge of my own history was pretty much limited to Bannockburn, Bruce and little else.

    Gerry makes the mistake of looking at the issue of independence as one of political manouevering within the UK rather than one of nationality and identity where Scotland becomes a sovereign state. The reality of the British state is one acknowledged by all but it’s a state based on the idea of a British nation and that British nation is one which is almost indistinguishable from the English nation simply by the sheer numbers of English people within the UK and the way English history, institutions, sport and culture have become the default history, institutions, sport and culture of Britain.

    The failure of the British state might be fuelling the independence drive but the core of the independence movement is one of identity where Scots are asserting their own nationality and with it their desire for a state to go with it. If independence was driven only by the politics of left and right then there would be regions of England calling for independence but there isn’t. Independence is driven by identity not by party politics.

    It also explains the intensity of the flag protests in Northern Ireland. For every other region of the UK unionism has a fallback national identity apart from Britishness. It doesn’t matter how fervent a Scottish Unionist you are you will be able to convert your regional Scottish identity to a national one if independence wins but for the unionists in Northern Ireland there is no fall back identity and it’s British or nothing for them.

    1. Mike Vickers says:

      If it’s a question of identity only, what about me an Englishman, who has only been in Scotland for around 20 years. Surely there is a question as to what an Independent Scotland has to offer. I understand the SNP will be issuing a ‘prospectus’ in the Autumn. Why so late when there has been so much time to think about it?

      1. DougtheDug says:

        Mike Vickers:

        “If it’s a question of identity only, what about me an Englishman, who has only been in Scotland for around 20 years.”

        I don’t really understand the question. Scottish identity is cultural not a blood type. Whether you were born in England, Wales or Pakistan is no barrier to being a Scot.

        When you identify yourself as English is that as an English born Scot or as an Englishman in Scotland?

        I assume what you mean is if you don’t identify yourself as a Scot and are not concerned with a Scottish identity then what are the benefits of living in an independent Scotland?

        The fact that the Scottish Parliament has avoided privatisation of the NHS, student fees and is trying to ameliorate the social security cuts coming from England should be a strong incentive to vote for an independent Scotland. There is also the fact that we will control our own natural resources such as oil, gas and fish and have a parliament elected in Scotland which will make decisions based on what is best for Scotland and for those who live in it.

        The benefits of having an independent Scotland have been discussed in public for years and the white paper in the Scottish Parliament is simply a formalisation of the reasons for independence.

  11. Having read as much of Gerry Hassan as I can, the article this piece refers to is yet another example which begs the question: does Gerry start writing a piece with a specific aim in mind? Does he have a point he wants to get across? If you do visit his blog (listed in the column to the right) the same tendency to meander is evident in much of his work. I’ve no beef with the man, but for someone who has such a public platform and, presumably, is paid to write this stuff, it would be good to see him raising his own game before calling for everyone else to do likewise. A wee bit of sophistry can enliven discussion, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken seriously.

    1. DougtheDug says:

      It’s easy to pull out individual sentences or paragraphs from one of Gerry’s articles for discussion but trying to work out what the entire article is trying to say or what conclusion he’s come to at the end is the difficult bit.

      I annoyed him for years because I kept saying there was no Scottish Labour party but he eventually had to admit it was true. It probably broke his heart to say it.

  12. vronsky says:


    Amen. Hassan’s function is to make a simple question look complicated. If I wanted a metaphor for his role in the constitutional debate, I’d say he was like those scientists who published papers arguing that the health dangers of smoking tobacco were unproven. Only difference with Gerry is that he has a favoured brand: smoke New Labour. Yet he gets quoted, even here, as if he were some sort of guru. Queer. Sidestream unionism. Probably unhealthy.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Nobody’s quoting him here as a guru, we’re responding to his comments, and in this case quite critically.

  13. Michael says:

    Gerry isn’t a unionist or New Labour supporter. I chatted with and walked beside him at the independence rally in September. I think he sees himself as asking those difficult and complex questions that others are unwilling to address. The problem is that he can be as of the mark as on it. Sometimes he’s clever and insightful, other times he isn’t. I always think he’s better in real life than online but it would be helpful if his contributions were more consistently on the up rather than the down side.

  14. MacNaughton says:

    Mike Small,

    A timely article, thank you for stating the obvious, no easy task these days.

    I am shocked that so many leading lights of the YES campaign are so tepid about what an independent Scotland might mean.

    Personally, I see the vilification of Alisdair Gray as a turning point in the campaign; it was the time for Scottish culture figures to come out and make a statement, and barring James Kelman, they didn’t do it…while the YES campaign disowned Gray, proof positive that the Scottish cringe is alive and well in the YES camp.

    Scotland has been colonized by England and Unionist thinking Scots for 300 years. You might say that is a good thing or a bad thing, that is an opinion, but that it has taken place is a fact commented on by hundreds of Scottish figures over the years, including Unionists like Walter Scott and Ramsay MacDonald.

    Nobody has ever seriously disputed it. Yet two of our leading writers – Kelman and Gray, people who have devoted their whole lives to Scottish culture, and whose opinions should be valued in that field more than most – are cut loose in the media storm which ensued, for stating the obvious.

    The Scottish bourgeoisie are, along with their Catalan counterparts, one of the most servile, self-interested and pusillanimous groups of people in the Western World. Those who work in journalism and culture – for example, the school master K. Roy, whose recent Scottish Review article is impossible to read due to the sparks which were flying out of the ax he was wielding when when he wrote it – are among the worse.

    It’s time for Gerry Hassan and others like him to argue for independence if they believe in it, as opposed to stimulating some farcically imbalanced “democratic debate”.

    1. James Coleman says:

      I am with you on this. I think it was/is disgraceful that the YES campaign disowned Alisdair Gray. He stated no more than the truth. The hierarchy of the Arts in Scotland IS colonised by the English and by Scots who look first to England for what they deem to be ‘Culture’. Look at the uproar that was heard when the SG very reasonably decided that the curriculum should include Scottish Literature. We live in Scotland for God’s sake.
      I am also very annoyed that we in Scotland cannot criticise ‘The English’ for fear of being called racist when English media is full of not only criticism of Scots and Scotland but is also full of racist remarks about same. Why isn’t there a commotion about that?

  15. MacNaughton says:

    The YES campaign seem to think it is fighting a general election, with an undecided swing vote which will be won over by not mentioning the dreaded S word too many times: S for Scotland.

    This is not a General Election, nor is it the referendum of North Britain; it is a vote on the independence of Scotland, a country whose culture has been undermined and demeaned for the last 300 years.

    The swing vote in this election are those voters who do not know what Scotland is in cultural terms. The YES campaign should be concentrating on informing them about that, calling on people in the arts.

    Instead of which one of independence’s most committed and articulate spokesman over the years is given up for a crank. It simply beggars belief….

  16. James Coleman says:

    I know that the YES camp is trying hard to not upset the horses. But it needs to realise just who its consituency is and what it believes. It was very interesting that a straw poll in The Scotsman, no lover of things Scottish, showed at one point that 64% of Scots agreed with Alisdair Gray’s description of the English as either settlers or colonists. (I say at one point because the Scotsman has no qualms about fiddling a poll if it doesn’t show what it wants.) So the YES campaign should be more circumspect with its criticisms of the views of respected Nationalists.

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