2007 - 2021

On the Road to Nowhere

This was the Prime Ministers Road to Brexit speech, meant to be the crescendo of a series of public performances to put us all at our ease, clarify things and create a vision of the way ahead. Brexit as road movie has somehow been overlooked until today. But here it was: part far-out Kerouac; part McCarthyian dystopia, but ultimately this was David Byrne’s Road to Nowhere …

Well, we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen

And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride

I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know
We’re on a road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

Theresa May’s speeches are met more with expectorant than expectation these days but even by her own dire standards this was a truly dreadful speech full of vague and meaningless lines delivered robotically from a podium in bland repetition. It was phlegm-free but also oddly contentless, like the words had got lost in the snow. In a week that saw two incidences of Blue on Blue action, with John Major stepping into the unlikely role of Remain Hero and the Bow Club joining the queue of people calling for David Mundell’s resignation (‘enough of the circus‘) May ended the week by not so much lowering the bar as stamping it into the icy ground.

Her #RoadtoBrexit speech followed a series of desultory performances by her ministers, now thankfully ended with us none the wiser. It completely ignored Scotland and body-swerved the Irish border issue in a speech that seemed about gently lowering expectations, oblivious to the fact of how very low those expectations already are. It will likely cause increased anxiety and anger among pro-European voices and apoplexy among Brexiteers still high on the prospect of ‘Liberation’ from imaginary foes holding this great nation back.

This was an exercise in managed decline.

As James Felton wrote: “A lot of you said I couldn’t do this. But here I am 30 seconds into the speech and so far nothing’s fallen of the wall, nobody has handed me a P45 and I haven’t coughed or shit myself.”

Speaking against a secure backdrop of a strangely greyed-out Europe – with the words ‘Our Future Partnership’ hovering somewhere about Kazakhstan she suggested, somewhat optimistically that:

“The approach I have set out would: implement the referendum result, provide an enduring solution, protect our security & prosperity, helps us build the kind of country we want to be, & bring our country together by commanding the confidence of those who voted Leave & Remain.”

The Prime Minister was wearing her now trademark heavy chain necklace round her neck as she she spelled out a sort of grim series of meaningless gnomic messages:

“What I set out in the five tests is the five tests we will be setting … ”

and the ominous …

“We won’t be thinking again.”

At the heart of it though is a strange aversion to embracing change. While her Foreign Secretary is full of wonderful hallucinogenic nationalism, her rhetoric is downbeat and desultory.

As Patrick Harvie pointed out:

“Throughout the speech, I lost count of the claims that the deal they want will be a deeper, closer relationship with Europe than we’ve ever before, all followed by clear examples of how it will be worse than what we have now.”

Ian Dunt was more succinct, offering: “Basically we’re all going to get quite badly twatted.”

A handful of people thought it was all great.

Iain Martin of The Times called it a: “Terrific speech from May.”

The Colonel suggested that the speech had been greatly received saying:

“Commentators from different parts of the political spectrum recognising this is a substantive, pragmatic speech which will create space for both sides in the negotiation.”

Living In the Shadow

It’s difficult to be serious.

A year ago Professor Richard Wyn Jones ( director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University) began to analyse the competing forces at play driving Brexit. He wrote:

“English nationalism is a curious concoction, combining a rather unlikely sense of grievance about how England was treated within the devolved UK with a sense of entitlement and even superiority about the UK’s place in the world.

But however improbable this combination may seem to those of us who live in England’s shadow, its potency cannot be gainsaid. English nationalism has played a key role in the two UK-wide votes held since.”

He goes on:

“In the 2015 UK general election the Conservatives made extraordinarily effective use of English fears about possible SNP influence over a minority Labour government.

The party’s opponents all testify to its effectiveness. Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg speaks of the “visceral fear” of the SNP that saw his party being swept away in its former strongholds in the southwest of England.

But it was about more than simply concern with the SNP. Nigel Farage speaks of how the Conservatives capitalised on “some quite vehement anti-Scottish sentiment” among the English.

It was, he said, a sense that “the Scottish tail has wagged the English dog in the most remarkable way”, with particular dismay at the way that Scots are “getting our money”.

“A strange form of unionism, you might say, but it makes more sense if you accept that theirs is emphatically not a union envisaged as a partnership of even near equals.

Theirs is rather a United Kingdom regarded, in essence, as a “Greater England”. Local differences with this Greater English state can be tolerated, but it is toleration within limits.”

It’s only in this sense that any of the Brexit speeches and disavowal make any sense at all. The Britain that is being ‘defended’ and ‘liberated’ has morphed and mutated from the one that was celebrated and for which we were Love-Bombed a few years ago.

It’s no wonder that the Celtic Fringe should be ignored, because in these peoples minds it doesn’t really exist. Brexit means a Borg Britishness in which resistance is futile.

Who cares if this causes a massive constitutional crisis in Scotland or re-awakes an Irish Reverent Army? Not the Prime Minister or her Cabinet. There is a ‘Golf clubhouse of the Mind’ in which ‘the Republic is pictured as a rural backwater – not vibrant globalist economy.’

The Scots? They’re just an amorphous bunch of recalcitrants from a northern outpost of little electoral value.

The Current Regime of Paralysis

But it would be wrong to see this just as a Scotland-England thing, or a Westminster versus the Celtic Fringe problem.

Even if the rhetoric of neo-colonialism grates daily in Dublin, Cardiff  and Edinburgh, the problem is not just ‘national’ it is far deeper that that.

As Richard Seymour argues: “Brexit is probably the biggest threat to the integrity of the British state for some years, including the Scottish independence referendum.”

What we are witnessing is both an identity breakdown and change in the relationship between the capitalist state and the capitalist economy.

For Seymour all of this as ‘unpredictable consequences’.

“The crisis of representation in recent years, catalysed by the financial crash and austerity, is also the culmination of the transformations of the state over the last few decades, narrowing its popular basis. The resulting political backlashes — riots, indyref, Brexit, Corbynism — have tended to be grouped under the baffled (and self-justifying) rhetoric of “populism”. Such smarmy one-size-fits-all terminology gets at part of the reality, but it obscures the multiple lines of politicisation here, and therefore the various aspects of the state, from nation to economy to education, that are in crisis.”

He concludes: “We’ve been in situations before, where all the options for capital are different kinds of bad. Here, we’re in a situation where all the options require radical thinking in order not to be disastrous.”

This is bad news give that the one thing the Prime Minister was clear about today was “We won’t be thinking again.”

We really are on the road to nowhere, here we go.


Comments (12)

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  1. Alan says:

    More like Road to Hell.

  2. Willie says:

    I read this and then I think to myself that –

    a) Scotland voted 62% to remain
    b) Returned it’s third SNP Government in Hollyrood and,
    c) Returned over 50% of Scotland’s MPs as SNP.

    Bit of a democratic deficit really as these beloved Tories stuff us over and over again., and manoeuvre to roll back the devolution settlement.

    But yes, a good article, putting the black farce into perspective.

  3. e.j. churchill says:

    Mike, while it is unquestionably a lot of fun to pen a metaphor-stuffed Phillipic, it is clumsy and distracting communication filled to the brim with false bifurcations. (see: ’tis easy)


  4. Lochside says:

    The English have ruled the Celtic nations for the past three centuries with the velvet glove of an unwritten constitution in their mythical ‘green and pleasant land’ ruled by equally mythical wise patrician leaders . From time to time the iron fist has emerged from the velvet to crush us and the plebeian English when deigning to show anything less than abject deference.

    Since Universal sufferage followed by massive wartime sacrifices and catastrophic emigration, in Scotland at least, we have woken up, and since the turn of this century threatened the Greater English lie hidden under layers of pomp, pretence and political oppression masquerading as a democracy.

    Our downright impudence in demonstrating our rejection of their corrupt apparatus of government by voting for Independence supporting parties and nearly ending the union in Indyref1 was enough to unleash the barely disguised, but long harboured,hatred and disgust for our very existence. Witness, the 2015 GE using the oldest racist stereotype of the greedy, tight Jock, AS picking the pocket of Cameron. The Pavlovian knee jerk avalanche of anti-Scottish rhetoric and downright abuse has never abated since.

    From then onwards, ‘they’, the English elite and a significantly large part of their population endorse our dimunition politically and even the visibility of our food and drink under florid Union flags on every carton and bottle. We are written out of every historical event of ‘English’ history. Thus the Romans ‘conquered Britain’..no they didn’t; The First War wasn’t that ‘bloody’ ( quote Dan Snow). Really?… 148,000 dead Jocks says otherwise; Dunkirk was a ‘victory’ ( tell that to the Highland Division sacrificed to fight on for days after the evacuation by Churchill the mass murderer).

    And now, the final frontier: their racial superiority and bullshit ‘play fair’ philosophy being called out by bloody foreigners!..and worse the Sweaties won’t stay in their natural supine place!
    Well hubris is long overdue for these ‘imperial masters’, long sustained by celtic resources both human and material. Let them get on with facing the world on their own for once and see how great they really are.

    1. William says:

      Thank you for every word of that.
      But will they “face the world on their own” or use the rest of us as whipping boys, again, when it all goes wrong for them?
      I was born in England; I have chosen to live in Scotland.
      On y va.

    2. Kenny Smith says:

      You said it much better than I ever could lochside, very well put and sums it up very neatly in a paragraph. A union I could support but this never has been or will be anything other than complete domination and servitude. Oh how I pray we can be free of these clowns

  5. Martin Cutler says:

    The real problem is that the Celtic fringe, as the author puts it, continue to regard themselves as separate nations. Up until Blair’s disastrous, not thought through devolution we mainly considered ourselves as one country – UK or Great Britain – with all parts more like different counties. Yorkshire seemed similar to Scotland, if smaller geographically but bigger in population. Under nationality I always put British, but now because of the resurgent nationalism in Scotland, Wales and (to a lesser extent) Northern Ireland I put English. Personally I find this very sad, as together we made a great nation.

  6. w.b.robertson says:

    so I can take it you don`t like Brexit?

    1. Martin Cutler says:

      The EU is hardly the same as the UK. One language, one currency, one central bank, one foreign office, a directly elected MP in a parliament that has real power, etc etc. No membership fee for Scotland!

      1. J Galt says:

        Except of course the £Billions from Oil and Whisky over the years.

      2. Kenny Smith says:

        Sorry 1 language? Welsh, Cornish and Gaelic are spoken indigenous languages as well as English. Scots too depends much on your view on that being distinct enough, personally I would say yes it is or at the very least was. This fight isn’t against the English Joe on the street, nothing about sending you home to think again. This is about a union by the very treaty that was entered into. A union in name only. Got to love English MPs say ” a colony of the EU” or ” have decisions forced on us ” without any sense of what they inflict on there so called precious union. There always was a different way of thinking and doing things on either side of the border but now the split seems to me anyway too big to bridge. It’s not 1707 anymore. A fair federal settlement would have seen it last another 300 years in my opinion but that’s up in smoke now. We never were a Yorkshire or a Devon, we are the land and the people north of the north, a nation called Scotland. A partner, a member but to some especially in England just another part of England that will do as it’s told. Well no more

        1. Martin Cutler says:

          Not a matter of doing as you’re told. Scotland have always been well represented in Parliament and government, with several PMs and other ministers. The fact is that you want to be independent and not share a nation with the English. Fair enough, and if Scotland do decide to be independent then that would be disappointing, but I’m sure we’d do everything we could to make you successful. Unlike the EU who seem to want to “punish” us.

  7. penyubur says:

    For crissakes! Who cares? Did Swift rip off” a stupid and meaningless and dumb commercial or not? Even if she was inspired” by it or whatever, so what? Did she break the law? Should she be hung by her big toes for this made up transgression? Both feature young women willing to act like idiots in front of a camera and people are so bored and vapid they want to compare and then belittle one in favor of another? Human beings are circling the drain is what all this is telling me. Stupid, meaningless tripe being made over other stupid and meaningless tripe. The lord have mercy on us all as we, collectively, seem to be losing our minds.

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