2007 - 2022

Border Crossing

5033298250_7ccdcf4292_o-1024x683This is a crisis of English politics and identity which is developing into a disaster for the British state. Within hours of Nicola Sturgeon’s Bute House speech Michelle O’Neill announced that Northern Ireland should hold a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom and joining the Republic of Ireland as “as soon as possible”. Soon after Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “The announcement from the Scottish Government today shows that any failure by the UK Government to recognise Scotland’s interests could lead to the end of the UK as a state. In that situation, Wales would need to decide its own future.”

David McWilliams has written that: “If Britain leaves the EU, it could start a domino effect – at the end of which is a united Ireland” adding, “Relative to the South, the Northern economy has fallen backwards since the guns were silenced. If there was an economic peace dividend, it went South.”

Up here we call it “pooling and sharing”.

In a considered piece analysing shifting allegiances, birth-rates and demographics McWilliams adds:

“A cursory glance at the performance of the Northern Irish economy since 1922 would suggest that the Union has been an economic disaster for the people of Northern Ireland. They have been impoverished by the Union and this shows no sign of letting up. The only solace the Northerners might hold onto is the fact that all British regions have lost out income-wise to Southern England; however, “we’re all getting poor together” is hardly a persuasive chorus for an ode to the Union.”

But if the economic realities driving Irish politics are very real, so too is the fact that Brexit is now making the economic case for independence. Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University, and a fellow of Merton College notes:

“Brexit changes everything. The economic cost to the UK of leaving the EU could be as high as a reduction of 10% in average incomes by 2030. If Scotland, by becoming independent, can avoid that fate then you have a clear long term economic gain right there. But it is more than that. If, Scotland can remain in the Single Market it could be the destination of the foreign investment that once came to the UK as a gateway into the EU. By accepting free movement, it could benefit from the immigration that has so benefited the UK public finances over the last decade. No, that is not what you read in the papers or see on the TV, but I’m talking about the real world, not the political fantasy that seems so dominant today.”

More here.

As the economic and constitutional energies feed off each other the inky-bastions of the union are slipping into a new hysteria.

17264578_1451483071562404_1240230713150718338_nOur Sacred Union

If Theresa May looked disorientated by yesterday’s announcement, how confused and demented will she become if Brexit leads to multiple referenda across “the devolved nations”. The issue of the borders of Scotland and Ireland is a conundrum they cannot resolve. It’s a farce borne out of their enshrined self-belief, as the culture of false-grieveance acts as a wrecking ball to the Union that has taken an almost evangelical status.

The press reaction was predictably – and universally – apoplectic but the Daily Mail perhaps led the way bleating: “Yesterday should have been a historic day for our country, as MPs voted again for removing the last remaining obstacles to freeing Britain from the EU’s shackles. But any new optimism about the Article 50 Bill was overshadowed by a dangerous new threat to our sacred union.”

Setting aside the hysterical language of freedom and “shackles”, this frothing nationalism creates a new possessive relationship. The union is now “ours” and sacred. A New Jerusalem with optional food banks. But at the same time the constitutional and practical chaos of Brexit is set to one side. Peter Geoghegan writing in the New York Times observes:

“Churchill’s distant successor, Prime Minister Theresa May, spent the second half of last year promising “no return to the borders of the past.” Now Ms. May says that the Irish border will be as “fluid” and “friction-free” as possible. What this means in practice is anyone’s guess: James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, is reputed to placate queries about the border by saying, “Ms. May is aware of your concerns.”

Brexit emerges out of a broken Britain, a land disfigured by inequality.

Whilst its fashionable to blame Cameron (or even poor Corbyn) for the failed Remain campaign, the actual roots of the dysfunctional British state go much further back to the Thatcher era and to her successor in Blair.  Thatcher broke the countries ‘social contract’ and Blair’s shallow narcissism broke a nation’s faith in politics.

Writing in the London Review of Books R.W. Johnson reviews Will Hutton’s The State We’re In:

“The heart of Hutton’s book lies in his raking critique of the Thatcher period. This, heaven knows, has been done before but he does it exceedingly well. The sheer social vandalism of those years has lost none of its capacity to shock: the fact that homelessness has increased in every single year since 1979, an utter disgrace committed as a conscious act of policy; the £3 billion thrown away on bringing in and then abolishing the poll tax; the £22 billion given away in public assets sold under cost; the dreadful damage to the manufacturing base, which recaptured its 1979 level of production only in 1988; the crazy adherence to monetarism despite the fact that monetary growth in 1983-8 averaged 14.7 per cent while inflation averaged 4.7 per cent, quite invalidating the alleged causal link between these figures; the destruction of the Serps pension scheme and thus the deliberate infliction of poverty on millions of old people; and the wicked and deliberate increase in inequality of every kind. This last is what makes all the bombast about ‘Tory radicalism’ and Major’s ‘classlessness’ such a terrible, empty sham, for, as Hutton points out, the net effect of all these changes was ‘the entrenchment of the old class structure that Tory radicals affected to despise’, with the gap between those able and those unable to afford private health, welfare and education far, far worse at the end than when it began.”

This is the long-tail to today’s crisis, not Nigel Farage or Major’s ‘bastards’ but social vandalism sustained on decades of a seething British nationalism.  Privatisation, me-first, the deification of consumerism and the destruction of social cohesion has all led to a loss of any sense of the collective. It’s very difficult to do this for thirty years and then say “we’re all in it together” with a straight face.

How Late it Was

This is now an economic basket case sustained on pure ego, unprotected by constitution, and consumed by political opportunism. The delusion is fading. We are now in a moment where constitutional crisis is colliding with, not economic uncertainty but dire economic certainty. As the Brexiteers near the actual moment of truth the rictus grin is tightening. As Ian Dunt has put it, Theresa May’s govt is bluffing with cards everyone can see:

“Davis likes to call it “most favoured nation”, because it has the ring of privilege to anyone who does not know what it entails. In fact, the WTO’s ‘most favoured nation’ rule mean the opposite of what it sounds like. It means you cannot discriminate in your tariff arrangements. So if you set tariffs for oranges at five per cent for one country, you must set it at that level for all other countries. It does not mean Britain holds any special status there – quite the opposite.”

Tom Nairn wrote in After Britain in 2000:

“The Constitution of old England-Britain once stood like a mighty dam, preserving its subjects from such a fate; nowadays, leaking on all sides, it merely guides them to the appropriate slope or exit. Blairism has reformed just enough to destabilise everything, and to make a reconsolidation of the once-sacred earth of British Sovereignty impossible. As if panicked by this realisation, his government has then begun to run round in circles groaning that enough is enough, and that everything must be left well alone. The trouble is that everything is now broken – at least in the sense of being questioned , uncertain, a bit ridiculous, lacking in conviction, up for grabs, floundering, demoralised and worried about the future.”

Theresa May can certainly reject a Section 30 Order if she likes. But the trouble is that everything is now broken. It’s too late.


Comments (19)

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  1. Eleanor Ferguson says:

    If the people of Scotland don’t vote to leave the awful mess that the Tories have created, I will never understand why. It’s time people started to question why Labour, the Liberals and the Tories think that Scotland couldn’t do better and why there are such howls of outrage at the very idea that we don’t want to be dragged down the path of the total disaster Westminster has decided that we all must take.
    Apparently we are supposed to just do as we are told without complaint otherwise we are ‘whingeing jocks’, always moaning!

  2. Jo says:

    The worrying issue for me is the debate since yesterday’s announcement. There were some good parts, notably an editorial from the Guardian putting the blame for Sturgeon’s announcement fairly and squarely at May’s door.

    Elsewhere it was pretty depressing. Dugdale, Rennie, Davidson and Carmichael all followed the same tune in interviews. Not a single one of them mentioned Brexit as the trigger here to a second indy ref. Not one of them. All chose to focus on the fact that the last referendum was only two years or so ago. Nothing else. All implied there had been no trigger, that Sturgeon just wanted another referendum full stop. I think even they should be able to see the absurdity of that. Sturgeon has taken a huge risk here by doing this. It could even influence the outcome of the local elections in May for goodness sake! Why would she take such a risk if she didn’t genuinely believe she’d exhausted all other avenues and met that, as she described it, brick wall from May at every turn?

    One could ask how Dugdale, Rennie and Davidson can behave like this but my question is why did interviewers allow it given the opposition of all of them to Brexit? Where has that opposition gone now or the concern for the disaster Brexit would be for Scotland or the fact that Scotland voted to remain in the EU? Are they all relaxed about that now all of a sudden? Why aren’t they being challenged?

    Is Davidson relaxed about the arrogance of Theresa May as she’s fought tooth and nail all these months to block input on Brexit from anyone else, even parliament as well as the devolved nations? How is that democratic? Same questions to Dugdale and the others. Why are they being permitted to focus only on their visceral hatred of the SNP and sweep the impact of Brexit under the carpet?

    I watched Scotland Tonight last night. Patrick Harvie was in the studio with some others including Anas Sarwar. Sarwar’s input was cringe-worthy. Cringe-worthy! He talked non stop about the last referendum………..nothing about Brexit. Patrick Harvie tried hard to remind him of the attempts made so far by the SG to compromise with the UK government on Brexit. He actually said they’d gone further on compromise than he would have! But nope! Sarwar continued to sit there repeating the mantra over and over.

    Can Bella consider asking Davidson, Dugdale and Rennie to speak to them about Brexit and about May’s refusal to work with anyone or allow input from anyone else? Can they be reminded of their opposition to Brexit and their predictions of disaster for Scotland and can they be asked if they’re absolutely relaxed about all of it now? I would really like it, Mike, if Bella could do that. Because I really, really want to know their position on these things now since they’ve wiped their memories clean on the subject and that’s really dishonest.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:


      It is a common psychological reaction when someone is faced with a crisis that he or she reverts to a situation with which he or she felt comfortable. It was not just Ms Davidson, Ms Dugdale and Mr Rennie who reacted by fighting the last referendum. The entire metropolitan media did. We got the same in the Radio Scotland phone-in. It was all “too wee, no very good, economy’s a basket case, you won’t get into Europe, you will have to use the Euro, there will be customs posts on the border, etc.”

      It was entirely expected and shows the paucity of the unionist cause. It did not make a case in 2014 and, in the interim, their mendacity has been exposed for what it was.

      Tactically and strategically, Ms Sturgeon really pulled out an ace.

      When I watched the interviews with Mr David Mundell, I thought he looked like a man in shock.

      Nevertheless, the unionist side will recover its poise, or at least will go on the offensive to divert attention from the shambles of Brexit, the budget mess, the recent Irish elections.

      The repeating of the Better Together slogans was essentially to stiffen the resole of NO waverers who had accepted these arguments, probably with some scepticism, the last time. They will play the 38% of Scots who voted LEAVE for all it is worth.

    2. Wul says:

      You make a very good point Jo.

      What on earth is wrong with Davidson, Dugdale and Rennie? They were elected by Scottish people to represent them in Holyrood, yet they behave as if they have been sent here by the London Tories to vandalise their own country and parliament. It’s bizarre.

      Dugdale I particularly cannot fathom, she seems to be hell-bent on alienating every Scottish voter Labour ever had. It’s as if having decided to hate the SNP, she’s also included the whole of Scotland in her hatred and loathing.

      Or perhaps they feel that any positive and supportive views about Scotland and its people would be taken as tacit support for the SNP? In this way they make themselves non-members of either Scotland or the UK, inhabiting a kind of zombie-husk half-life. They have nothing to offer anyone.

      Their behaviour and dis-ease is an illustration of what happens when people act out a lie created for them by someone else. Sooner or later it falls apart.

      1. Jo says:

        Herald reporting today that Mundell is claiming second referendum in the timescale suggested will be illegal. Looks like he’s been sent out to do May’s dirty work!

      2. Therapymum says:

        Couldn’t agree more! When I think of the lies and deceptions of Indy1, it still makes me angry. And yet all of them campaigned together with Ms Sturgeon for the EU ref, with Davidson, Dugdale and Rennie all being very clear about the benefits of remaining in the EU. Immediately after the EU ref, they all changed their tune, and suddenly, we were all in it together, and none of them stopped raising the constitutional question, while Ms Sturgeon was doing everything in her power to find some kind of compromise. They are in a bind of their own making, but that doesn’t make it any better. They know they are manipulating the truth and flat out lying and don’t seem to care. Interesting to note that Labour for Independence has had a huge surge in membership and have guaranteed to take the fight to every Labour constituency party in the country!

    3. kate macleod says:

      Its the same as last indyref, a vast array of established forces opposed to change that will undermine their interests will gather against indy.
      however people are capable of completely disregarding the media and what leftist americans call the reactionary ‘liberal class’, for good or ill, thus Trump.
      Additionally Nicola Sturgeon is FM, difficult for TV to ignore her. Perhaps a press conference every week? Regular twitter messaging and so on.
      There is a very good case that indy is in the selfish economic interests of the absolute majority. You can draw on full fledged capitalists as far away as the australian financial review and vanloads of oxbridge economists to support the economic case for indy. That must strike the fear of god into british nationalists.
      however it is also a possible reason low income voters may not turn up, if noone mentions them & it looks business as usual. I have not forgotten Sturgeon was #with her.
      Perhaps they may conclude as i would, so definitely #not with us

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:


        I followed and concurred with much of your argument, but your final two sentences left me baffled. By that I mean, incomprehension. I just do not know what you are saying. I do not use Twitter and am not familiar with the jargon, grammar, conventions.

        Can you spell it out please?

        1. kate macleod says:

          hi alasdair,

          #with her was a hashtag hillary clinton supporters used.

          Even bruce springsteen , who made millions from documenting the suffering of the working class background he came from, was #with her and not the mildly social democratic bernie sanders.

          like most of UKLabour the Democrats and their supporters do not want any economic redistribution, any real change in the class system or the overlordship of profit before human welfare as status quo.

          At an economic level there is a lot to suggest that the SNP is also not really interested in serious change to the current capitalist model, a society based on more or less hereditary class divisions and its entrenched inequalities

          1. kate macleod says:

            also re # with her

            Sturgeon was a big Clinton supporter. This was supposedly a feminist statement.
            Hillary Clinton is now something of a symbol for notorious version of feminism, neoliberal feminism, in the pursuit of which she proudly helped end most welfare for poor children and women in the US. clinton’s other achievements of course include supporting coups against left wing governments, promoting civil/wars in Lybia and Syria, backing fracking and so on. then promising fake progressive electoral policies which go against her background of decades, policies would have been instantly dropped in office, in the way of Trump and Obama and Trudeau and politicians almost everywhere.

            Admittedly Sturgeon herself does not seem to be a big time liar, but the company you keep is important.

  3. Luther Blissett says:

    Just a small correction. The quotation beginning “Brexit changes everything…” is from a blog post by Simon Wren-Lewis, not Richard Murphy.

  4. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Teresa May and her henchmen are not as smart as they thought they were for now it looks like she will not just be fighting the Europeans but her lack of respect for Scotland and its people has brought the ire of the FM down on her. Then as she was stilling reeling from Nicola’s announcement came word that Michelle O’Neill was seeking a referendum on a United Ireland quickly followed by Leanne Wood warning that Wales was not going to be left out.

    So now May will find herself fighting on four fronts and she is not even up to handling one. Well by her typical Tory bombastic arrogance she did bring all this down upon herself and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, LOL.

  5. Johnny come lately says:

    Scotland will be viewed as the enemy within after seriously weakening the Uk’s already weak negotating hand.
    I don’t think there can be any union left after this.

    1. kate macleod says:

      That is one of the main problems with the UK – Scotland is regularly presented as the enemy within and there is virtually no counter narrative.

      That Corbyn didn’t embark on one was a major failing.
      Scotland seemed to be over him as soon as it became clear he wouldn’t recognize differentiated Scottish perspectives or elected SNP representatives as legitimate.

      He could never say to the English that a coalition govt that included the SNP was a perfectly normal option for forming a Labour, so he stuffed that also.

      Why should Scotland not have a voice, why it a scary illegitimate voice but the british-but-really english voice is not? It is the same answer that the abuser has for abused – you are nothing (compared to me).

      Anyway those enemies within sure are multiplying! Immigrant and then, or simultaneously, Scots. And god it must be hard to keep Australians immigrants out the UK. Where are your convict jokes now?

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Kate, you are right about ‘the enemy within’ trope. I was listening to Good Morning Scotland as I was having my shower and they gave a fair amount of time to a Daily Mail journalist, who, unchallenged by the interviewer put out this line, as well as permitting him to repeat all the discredited mendacity from the 2014 campaign – Europe won’t let you in, Spain, Italy, will object, back of the queue, have to use the Euro, etc. Similarly, the Conservative MEP for Scotland implied that Scotland was really queering the pitch for the Uk getting a good deal from Europe. Finally, at several places, particularly the interview with John Curtice, opposition within Scotland to the EU was emphasised. I think there must have been an error in the count in Scotland – it seems it was not 38% which voted LEAVE, it was 380%. Clearly their views are what counts, whereas, the 48.1% of UK voters who voted REMAIN have just to accept things.

  6. kate macleod says:

    If Corbyn had decided from the beginning of his leadership to counter the bizarre English fear of Scottish influence and not attack the SNP at every opportunity, while not praising an unreformed Scottish Labour led by a right wing opportunist that was highly unpopular in Scotland, there might have different possibilities. He has also been a divisive leader as regards the ‘union’. He has played a role in ensuring indyref2 and the weakening of any potential unity of the left in both england and scotland, in favour of the shell of party unity between people who often hold opposing beliefs and goals. If UKLabour were ever to form a stable government the idea that the English would be right to fear the SNP or Scotland had to be first destroyed. And Scottish Labour would need to have been believably left wing. He never bothered to try.

    1. Jo says:

      Corbyn’s clear terror of challenging Brexit at all was a bizarre thing to see. I couldn’t believe it.

      No one was asking him to stand up and claim the vote result was invalid for heaven’s sake.

      There was a way to make reasonable statements about what was about to follow. When the supreme court ruled that parliament must be involved the whipping of MPs should have gone out of the window for him. And yet he chose to insist Labour MPs did nothing to derail the process.

      This meant leaving nearly half of the UK in limbo along with Scotland and NI. (Those who keep saying “the will of the people” keep ignoring that “the people” voted nearly half and half for remain and for leave as did two parts of the UK. And they say Scotland is “divided”?)

      Corbyn could have said he acknowledged the result but now it was the responsibility of parliament and MPs to look at the possibilities and investigate fully the impact of a withdrawal from the EU. He could have recognised the existence of two parts of the UK who had voted remain rather than leave and acknowledged the difficulties there and urged compromise in order to assist Scotland and NI. He could have insisted that all the devolved administrations were given an active and meaningful role in the Brexit talks. And he could have said that while we had a result it was an extremely narrow one so it was up to parliament to look at the whole thing and make the final decision on what was best for the UK once we had all the detail.

      While I hold May responsible this mess I would lay some of the blame at Corbyn’s door and I speak as someone who has had sympathy with the terrible treatment he’s had at the hands of the media and many of those “moderates” within the PLP. Labour really screwed up on Brexit and blew the chance to rein May in.

  7. Redgauntlet says:

    Brilliant summation, Mike.

  8. Gordon G Benton says:

    From what I have read so far, the article is quite the best yet. We have an excellent case to be independent so as to run our own affairs. If it is ‘Fishing’ we have the Faroes and Iceland to follow; if it is ‘Pensions’ we would have treated women better, and been more honest with our Senior Citizens as to what they could expect in their old age; if it’s the ‘economy’, I understand that a number of us are seriously looking into the real facts, income from our water and electricity exports to England, value of Scottish product exported through English ports; if it’s the low price of oil and gas, it of course will vary, but the petroleum industry is still very profitable, new fields are being found, and further investments are being made, and this is only part of the energy story as Scotland will be in world terms a major player; if it is to be ‘sterling’ or the Scottish Merk, or even the Euro, Scotland will create its own National Bank and tie its ‘merk’ to a basket of currencies; in our relations with Europe, if we DO end up at ‘the end of the queue’, so what? We will follow Norway and others; and that we are ‘too poor, too wee, too stupid’ Scotland’s population is, in world terms, average-sized, and surely since Singapore, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Switzerland, South Korea – all with similar populations, thrive, so will we.
    It is time, I suggest, that we in Scotland, talk about what Scotland is going to be like, not prefaced with ‘if we get our Independence’. It is time now to set out the Scotland of 2050 – its infrastructure, its planning for education, healthy and social services, eradication of food banks, pensions and benefits: time to clarify its sustainable environment criteria, its Land Reform strategy, its place in the World: time indeed to no longer think in terms of 5 year government terms, short-term political verbal jousting, but give the electorate what is really wants – what IS the future? Only the SNP, the Greens, and the YES campaigners together can project this and the time to do this is now.

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