Bouncing Babies, Brexit and Britain
You get battle-weary of these phenomenon. The stream of jubilees, weddings, babies, marriages, divorces, and minor incidents is relentless. If they’re not dying they’re being born. And we haven’t even got to Harry and Meghan yet which is going to make Charles and Diana’s do look an exercise in restraint and frugality.
Yesterday as St George, Brexit and Royalism combined into a spasm of Anglo-British nationalist fervour, the feeling of ‘Britain’ as a sort of queasily sycophantic place of exceptionalism was overwhelming, and the optics weren’t exactly great around this pitch by Corbyn, even if the intention might have been good.
The whole thing needed a Trigger Warning for the Rational and the Republican-minded everywhere.
It’s important not to be consumed by the spectacle, but the sense in which the Windsors act as an enabler to a state of abject stupor is clear. We’ve gone from the memorably low-bar ‘UK:OK’ to imagining Britain as a sort of divine force in the world, and the Royals are the trick that makes that particular fantasy plausible.
Opposing ‘Brexit Britain’ has now become a red-line for the miasma of national unity and the parody of negotiation that May and her cohorts are faking. The ‘National interest’ has become synonymous with the Brexit deal, and England’s hard-right vision of that process.
But what are offered as an alternative? Federalism and more bunting.
Just as you think that the British crisis is exaggerated or overblown, it emerges that Theresa May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy was compared to ‘Nazi Germany’ by her own ministers, and the BBC operated its own vetting practice by MI5 for decades.
As the extent of the state control is revealed, so too is the reality of social breakdown that has quickly become a normalised part of everyday culture.
As a report indicates a 17% increase in Foodbank use in Scotland to an astonishing 170,062 three-day emergency food supplies to people in 2017-18, the idea of more palliative constitutional tinkering seems distasteful at best.
Taxpayers pay £70,000 a week for the unelected House of Lords to dine on lavish subsidised food, while over 1 million people visit food banks. pic.twitter.com/4tgAINPPih
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) April 24, 2018
In wider Britain, it’s reported that at least seventy-eight homeless people died on the streets and in temporary accommodation this winter, bringing the number of recorded homeless deaths to more than 300 since 2013. The number of recorded deaths of homeless people has more than doubled over the last five years, rising from 32 in 2013 to 77 in 2017.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that: “A former soldier, a quantum physicist and a 31-year-old man mourning the loss of his mother and brother were among those found dead in doorways, crowded shelters and tents pitched in freezing conditions since October last year” as if peoples age or careers matter.
In the debris of this social breakdown, the institutional racism of the British State is being exposed day after day. Beyond the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the Windrush revelations (that nobody seems to be responsible for), the nature of British society is laid bare.
As the Spycops campaigners observed cojoining years of anti-activist abuse and Met corruption:
“The police officer in charge of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) when they spied on the #StephenLawrence campaign, was granted anonymity by the #spycops public inquiry who said that, as he’s married to the same woman as when he was young, he is presumed incapable of misconduct.”
Federalism is on its Way (Again)
If all of this has combined to create a less than rosy-glow about just what kind of country Baby X is being born into, perhaps its inspiring some genuinely radical solutions to break through the madness and the dysfunctionality?
This week we were told that a “furious row” had broken out between Richard Leonard and Jeremy Corbyn.
All of this was strangely familiar. As Cat Boyd wrote in the National, we’ve been here before. In fact we’ve been here quite a few times before. In fact the history of Scottish Labour is littered with constitutional good ideas, often sadly, the same idea given new life because the F word is essentially just a way of avoiding the I word:
“Leonard isn’t the first Scottish Labour leader to agitate for reform. Johann Lamont famously quit over interference from London, while her successor, Kezia Dugdale, announced plans for what she called (to great derision) “a new act of Union”. This badly-botched branding essentially killed off Dugdale’s proposals and, with them, any discussion of the merits of federalism. Since then, for roughly two years, both sides have retreated into tribal comfort zones. And that’s a shame, because the pro-independence part of Scotland lost a useful opportunity to have a level-headed debate about the nature and limitations of the British state. For many people, simply invoking the word federalism is enough to sound radical. And, in one sense, it surely is, because Scottish political life has been so badly disturbed by tribalism that any attempt to define a middle ground is a bold move. Radical? Perhaps. Brave? Definitely.
But what does it actually mean, and would it truly work in a UK context? These questions have barely been confronted. Federalism, at this stage, is little more than a word, and, while uttering it involves an admirable level of political bravado, words alone cannot solve a crisis of British proportions.”
Boyd forgets Gordon Brown’s own vague and forgettable enthusiasm for Federalism that peaked in 2014 and quickly slipped away in 2015.
The recurring bad dream does little to overcome the same arguments that were understood in the early seventies.
Here’s why Federalism won’t work.
This is from the Royal Commission on the Constitution, the Kilbrandon Commission (1973):
“A federation consisting of four units – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would be so unbalanced as to be unworkable. It would be dominated by the overwhelming political importance and wealth of England. The English parliament would rival the United Kingdom federal Parliament; and in the federal parliament itself the representation of England could hardly be scaled down in such a way as to enable it too be outvoted by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together representing less than one fifth of the population. A United Kingdom federation of four countries, with a federal Parliament and provincial Parliaments in the four national capitals, is therefore not a realistic proposition.”
There is little motivation and zero agency to change from England, or we would have a meaningful movement Taking Back Control right here right now.
As Isobel Lindsay explained in the Sunday Herald:
“Just as interest in UK federalism was triggered over a century ago by the Irish problem, so today it is triggered by the Scottish problem. Crucially, it has never been because of the English problem.”
This is essentially an exercise in misdirection as much as cooing at a baby Prince or throwing dead haddock into the Thames.
Nothing resolves this. Not another interminable Constitutional Convention, not another endless debate re-treading the same arguments.
Britain is a centralised surveillance state. We remain subjects not citizens and will remain so as long as we are tied to this madness.
What we need to give birth to is a Scottish Republic that can take its place in the 21st C.
Way back when Gordon Brown was talking Federalism commentators like Martin Kettle got very excited [“Gordon Brown is right: federalism is on its way if the Scots shun independence”].
Kettle wrote: “He is surely right in principle that the social union is, and must remain, at the core of a valid United Kingdom if Scots vote to remain within it in September. Amid all the loosely labelled talk about devo max, devo plus and devo more, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a union based simply on the crown, the pound, the military or Team GB is not, in the end, as democratic or as emotionally valid as a union of common social interests between and among peoples and nations.”
But that social union, that social contract is broken. And the void between the brutalism of austerity Britain and the vague mutterings of Richard Leonard’s team is chasmic.
“You think you are watching the breakdown but you are watching the fallout from what was already broken.”