2007 - 2022

These (Offshore) Islands

The latest post from the unintentionally hilarious These Islands project, is, well, unintentionally hilarious. Packed with the great and the good, the project is an attempt to look less nutty than Scotland in Union and other slightly bonkers Nationalist offshoots. Their latest blog from Michael Jary (Senior Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants) called ‘Britain’s Standing on the World Stage’ continues where the last left off. Jary strides the world stage, and as he does he notices how people REALLY view Britain:

“Of course, any picture is complex and multivariate, but by and large Britain is viewed with warm respect for its vibrancy, culture, entrepreneurialism, and openness, and as an exemplar of liberty and democracy.”

Yes, an “exemplar of liberty and democracy.”

Jary goes on to state how the “United Kingdom’s global influence might be thought of along three dimensions: cultural, economic, and political”.

Grab a seat, pour a large one, this is good.


Shakespeare is good.

“A study by the British Council5 showed that Shakespeare is globally known, liked, understood, and contributes to a positive view of Britain: 78% of those surveyed in 15 countries had some experience of his work, of whom 76% said they liked it. Shakespeare’s characters – the best known being Romeo and Juliet – display an empathy and humanity which is universal but at the same time reflects positively on Britain.”


It’s not really clear how to respond to this, but rest assured, if Brexit destroys your community, or you lose your job, or the economy tanks, just be thankful that people in Canada quite like Romeo and Juliet, er, or something.

Also: “Other cultural icons spread aspects of British character: James Bond (English, although in what many consider the best manifestation, definitely Scottish) with his sardonic humour, Harry Potter as the nerdy underdog, Doctor Who as the hero who spends most of his time running away, Mr Bean as the bumbling loser whose ingenuity triumphs in the end. These characters are very different from one another but it is difficult to imagine any of them being anything other than British.”

You may be asking yourself, what the fuck is he on about? And you might well have a point.

Again, if you find yourself destitute or living by poverty wages, rest assured, because “London’s West End is the largest theatre hub in the world, measured by ticket sales.”

Yes indeedy.

If you are – for some inexplicable reasons unconvinced at this stage – Jary is coming in for the kill:

“Sports that originated in the UK but remain internationally popular today include football, rugby, cricket, hockey, tennis, squash, boxing, and table tennis. The UK may no longer be world-beaters in all of these …”.

I had until now not realised the cultural impact of ping-pong but it is finally dawning on me. It was at this stage that I began to really have doubts about the drive for self-determination and became more and more moved by the very idea of ‘pooling and sharing’.


Prior to 1979 Britain have been in decline explains Jary, afer that, not so much. Why? “Reasons for this include the Conservatives’ privatisation and labour market reforms, followed by Labour’s strengthening of competition policy…”

But it’s really when Jary gets on to the Political that the giggles start.

He says: “It is natural to think of liberty being first an English, and then a British, invention: rooted in the Saxon past”.

Wonderfully natural I’d say.


“Britain now enjoys a continuity and stability of political and personal freedoms which is unparalleled elsewhere.”

Having firmly established the UK’s utopian status he explains:

“The UK’s economy is twice the size of Russia’s,18 and unlike Germany or Japan, it possesses nuclear weapons.”

Yeah!! Nuke em!

There’s more: “The UK’s security services, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ are reckoned to be world class.”

Yeah – and James Bond and Mr Bean tell them about James Bond again! Put that bit about Sean Connery again, they’ll love that bit!

Then just when you thought we were wrapping up he exclaims: “One of the areas where British diplomatic skill has had remarkable influence is shaping the direction of the European Union.”

What? Oh shit you shouldn’t have done that.

Having spent the last few hundred words pontificating wildly about British global brilliance he then has the cheek to come over all bashful saying:

“Britain’s inherent distaste of nationalism and tendency to self-deprecation has sometimes left it feeling uncertain or queasy about proclaiming its virtues”.

Then suddenly out of the blue he explains: “I have managed to get this far into the essay without mentioning Brexit.”

Yea, we noticed. But it’s all okay because:

“The arguments surrounding Brexit are keenly fought and hugely important but do not form the central focus of this paper.”

Oh. Right.

But that doesn’t make any sense at all to just ignore the most massive political and economic upheaval in living memory, but hey. Jary confides:

“…if the UK can quickly find a new, close partnership with the EU and possibly open itself up for longer-term gains through less protectionist trade with the rest of the world, then the lasting impact to our global standing will be slight.”

Phew, for a minute I was worried there.

Having firmly established our Shakespearian global reach, our envied civil liberties and our really great spies – and having just avoided every single flaw problem or crisis – he concludes with a flourish:

“The world faces immensely challenging issues including climate change, security of food, water, natural resources and the environment, the need for inclusive growth and poverty eradication, the threat of militant Islamist fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation to rogue or fragile states, gender inequality, and weak investment and demand growth. These are problems which can only be solved through effective multilateral co-operation, but where a united Britain, as one of a small number of countries with real capacity to influence, has an immensely important role to play.”

Rule Britannia.

This list of issues he just ignores is long and tragic, here’s just a handful:

Crippling national debt.
Endemic poverty and social breakdown.
The entire horrific history of empire, colonisation and exploitation.
Our disastrous shameful foreign policy omnishambles.
Our illegal nuclear weapons that we don’t even own or control.
GCHQ is a surveillance centre which spies on its own people.

While Jary boasts about Saxon liberty this year the US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted:

“The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

These Islands is a great idea. Why not get the Great and the Good to articulate the positives of the Union? The problem is each time they have done so so far it has ended in an embarrassing shambles, and no Mr Bean doesn’t affect Britain’s Standing on a World Stage.

The extent to which organised Unionist political groupings feel that they are able to just brush aside or ignore Brexit and the forces that have brought it about is extraordinary. But more extraordinary is the extent to which they seem oblivious to its potential to undo all of the fantasy past they make up.

That’s fine when it’s contained in a small group of worthy academics, but if these ideas are ever exposed to public scrutiny, the result may be less amusing.


Comments (13)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. SleepingDog says:

    I’m just amazed at the photograph selected to crown it all. Combined with the florid language beneath, an embarrassment of captions present themselves. What can this quintessential British (middle-aged, white, besuited) Man be whispering in the ear of British Woman (younger, deferential, strained expression) as he beckons her head towards his lap, and on the World’s Stage as well? Well, men are merely players of course.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      Act I, Scene i: the UN General Assembly

      Brutus: “You and me, baby, we ain’t nothing but Angles;
      So let’s do it like we do in the diplomacy channels!”
      Britney: “You mean shaft our friends and then ourselves, while giving succour to rogues and foes alike?”

  2. Ewan Kennedy says:

    “In his spare time Michael enjoys working in his organic farm in Kent, collecting Oriental art and trekking in the Himalayas.”

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    This is classic ‘inventing facts to fit the …. fiction (?)’.

    James Bond, a fictitous character, was, as the author Mr Ian Fleming made clear, a Scot, educated at Fettes.

    I might be wrong, but is Saxony not part of Germany and were the Saxons not one of the many groups, some of Germanic origin, who settled on the island of Great Britain, along with Angles and Jutes, amongst others. Where did this myth of some kind of aboriginal Saxons come from? Possibly, from the fictitious works of a Borders author called Walter Scott, in the novel, Ivanhoe.

    And Shakespeare? Undoubtedly a fine dramatist, whatever his true identity or identities, whose works I have enjoyed and have been a good thing for, indeed, the world. However, he wrote works of fiction, some of which were based on some historical facts, but often distorted to fit and justify the spurious claims of sitting monarchs. Failing to do the bidding of these uber-thugs and their ‘handers’ could be bad for one’s health as Christopher Marlowe discovered. His ‘histories’ are often presented as facts. They are myths of an England that the ruling cliques wish to propagate. How often do we hear Henry V’s speech before Agincourt intoned by some solemn thespian mummer at some ‘great national event’?

    We are dealing with self delusion here.

    1. Willie says:

      Do not dare you suggest that we are self deluded.

      We are British, with the Mother of all Parliaments and imbued with the spirit of fair play. Nothing delusional at all.

      You must be one of those damned separatists Alisdair. Like that Salmond chap who deserves to go to the Tower for his seditious views.

      Fair play Sir, that is all we demand. Equality among the subjects.

  4. Bill Weir says:

    I’m not really a history buff, and now a Shalespear fan either, but using Shakespear (b1564 a d1616) as en exemplar of the United Kingdom (formed 1707 with Ireland joining later) seems a little odd.

    1. Willie says:

      And why not Shakespeare, Bill Weir.

      His birthdate and death being both prior to the 1707 Act of Union is neither here nor there. Was it not Prime Minister John Major who reminded us a thousand years of British history when what he was talking about was English history.

      Our identity Sir, is described by the identity of others. That is what our great British history is about – lies, spin and propaganda to use more appropriate language.

    2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Bill Weir, You have missed my point. The fact that Shakespeare was writing prior to and shortly after the Union of the Crowns and almost 100 years before the Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England is not really relevant. It is the fact that his dramatised histories of the Kings of ENGLAND have become ‘made real’/mythologised as ‘true’ history of the conflated England/Britain/United Kingdom. Indeed, ‘MacBeth’ created a royal myth for James VI Stuart, descending him from Banquo.

      (The United Kingdom began in 1603, not 1707.)

  5. Graeme Purves says:

    ‘Brexit, pursued by a bear.’

  6. crantara says:

    I love the idea that this shallow drivel is supposed to convince us that England is the fountainhead of all that is good in the world. Whilst the advisory council appear to have more degrees than a thermometer they appear to be devoid of one scintilla of nous in regard to Scottish aspirations. I look forward to the spittle flecked ravings of Mr. Wilson, a man so assured of the benefits and safety of nuclear power that he chooses to base himself 200 miles upwind of any possible incident on the Clyde. Or perhaps his support is simply due to the massive amounts of cash he is reported to have received from the industry. We also have a Mr. Hague. A crayonista with a zealot’s belief in his self generated “shisho” graphs. Mind you “shisho” or “shite in shite out” could equally apply to the infantile utterings of any of these uber yoons.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    I recently watched all the Shakespeare historical/Brit-king plays (again) from Macbeth to Henry VIII, in their BBC incarnations from the full dramatic set produced by the likes of Jonathan Miller from 1978 to 1985, and apparently “renowned for their loyalty to the text”.

    However much each play is open to interpretation, taken together they form a devastating, excoriating, often savage and brilliant critique of British quasi-hereditary monarchy. Using history as inspiration, they lay bare the systemic flaws and foreseeable problems: ruthless ambition; insanity (real or faked); dynastic rival-murder; importing a foreign agent into the inner circle of power by marriage; conflict between marriages of choice, short-term convenience and longer-term state (in)security; endless wars of succession and foreign adventuring to placate rival nobles with captured titles; endemic instability unless their were at least two viable male heirs; generation after generation of common people paying in blood, taxes, terror and all manner of oppression, suffering and strife; corruption, courtly misrule, destabilising favourites, despite of wise counsel; religious war and oppression centred on monarch’s religion; superstition, unworldly piety; ill-health and governmental paralysis; rampant criminality of associates embodied in characters like Sir John Falstaff. A ‘good’ king is almost structurally certain to be followed by generations of bad.

    I could go on. The other plays also deal with unfitness to inherited or aristocratic roles in various ways (the unworldy deposed Prospero; the sneering patrician-turned-traitor Coriolanus; the petulant Lear; the jealous king in The Winter’s Tale; the fratricidal king of Denmark in Hamlet). In fact, the happiest rulers are often those deposed who, like Prospero and the dispossessed Duke in As You Like It, find (self-)knowledge, as does unhappy Timon when he loses his money and false friends.

    The most intelligent commentary I read on this aspect of Shakespeare was an article by Germaine Greer, I should really seek out more of her work.

    Possibly Shakespeare was a republican, like Machiavelli, writing under strictures where this was illegal, of course as it remains today in the repressive UK.

    So I really do not think that a deep appreciation of Shakespeare’s plays “contributes to a positive view of Britain”, especially since the awfulness portrayed continues merrily on.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      I found that article by Germaine Greer, which is titled after an apt quote:

      She effectively challenges the apparently establishment scholarly view that Shakespeare is pro-monarchy. The Henry V battle speeches (into the breach; St Crispin’s Day) are, as she says, undermined by the king’s (shocking) failure, in disguise, to persuade his troops of the merit of his cause.

      All this begs the question of whether popular imaginings of British culture are based on what Greer calls “judicious barbering”, the biased editing, Bowdlerisation and selective presentation of works of dissent too big to suppress; the incorporation of critics into a jolly pluralist, defanging them and submerging their most dangerous works (like Orwell). And in Shakespeare’s case, turning pupils off the work by forcing the reading of the text, setting exams on it, controlling interpretations. See many misinterpretations of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” online.

      Interestingly, the Classic Doctor Who spent a lot of time confronting colonial powers very much like Britain (unlike popular spin, the Daleks far more resembled Imperial Britain than the Nazis).

      The BSotWS article also gently peddles a view of “British Science” when there is really no such thing; it was a global endeavour from the letter-writing era onwards. Berners-Lee worked in CERN, for goodness’ sake, and his W3C work is intrinsically global.

  8. MBC says:

    Oh dear. This is what becomes of getting a businessman to pen something about culture and economics.

    If this is the best they can do we have nothing to fear. Tom Holland must regret signing up with this lot.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.