Friday, 17 June 2011

Values and the Price of Union

(I haven't had much time for blogging recently. I hope here to tie in some ideas I wanted to write about. Sorry if this is a bit haphazard)


















I: On Scottish Nationalism


Recently I've lost trust in a view I never was aware of having: that politics in the West is basically a smooth process, in which society evolves towards a certain system. Maybe it is the SNP victory that has made me change my views on this.

A few years ago I would probably have scoffed at the idea of voting SNP. I suppose many of my compatriots who voted SNP earlier this year would have been similarly sceptical.

But now that the SNP is a real force, I can't help thinking that maybe it offers a direction out of Britain's current political impasse. And for another thing, raising the question as to whether Scotland is really British has made me ask if I'm really British: perhaps in some rather strange ways.

The traditional narrative of Scots nationalism goes roughly along the lines of Braveheart, with the intellectual crudity expanded over centuries: we were happy savages happily living at peace with the stags and midges until yellow toothed Saxons came along and stole our land, slaughtered us for being Covenanters, slaughtered us for being Jacobites and then starved us to death and stole our land again in the Highland Clearances.

As a historian I have always scoffed at this tale. Yes, Edward I was a dastard of monster proportions. Yes, I feel pride in Bruce and Wallace. But it was largely thanks to the Balliols and the machinations of the Scottish nobility that Edward had anything to do with Scotland. Whilst Bruce (one of the world's greatest politicians of all time) managed to hold the country together for several centuries, the Covenanter and Jacobite wars were largely civil wars. Similarly the Highland Clearances were generally the work of Celtic landowners. And as for Culloden, that cornerstone of Scottish victimhood, the maggots had hardly finished eating the dead before Jacobite Clans were sending their scions to Jamaica, North America and India to prop up the British Empire.

However, modern British history is something else.

























II



The Other Diaspora

In some ways it is thinking about Northern Ireland that makes me support Scottish Independence. If it came to it, would I die for Northern Ireland? No. Would I die for Scotland? Yes. Is this the question that defines nationhood?

I just don't know the answer to that question. I have very little time for either the Irish Republic or Northern Irish Protestantism. And I think this is a huge mis-step. What is sectarianism? Whilst I am generally a libertarian as regards free speech I would like to ban Orange Order marches, and maybe also Celtic and Rangers football clubs. But five year prison terms? That is ridiculous.

At the top of this section I've attached photos of two proud Scots of Irish Catholic ancestry. The first is the comedian Billy Connolly who said 'I used to be a Catholic but I paid a fine and they let me go'. Whilst the other is Peter Mullan who made the film 'The Magdalene Sisters' which depicted the horrific abuse that took place in the Irish Republic (which I would point out to those who fanatically want to disestablish the CofE is officially secular). Is this sectarian? Whilst I would regard myself overall as a friend of the Catholic Church (and even more of the Catholic faithful) the fact is that in Ireland the clergy have been embroiled in some pretty serious scandals. I am myself of partial Irish ancestry and the fact is a large number of diasporan Irish people actually are grateful to live in a country where there is a lot of religious freedom and I feel a degree of pride in how patriotic many Scots of Irish ancestry are. This freedom is something to preserve and it will not be preserved by statist laws.

III: England: Centre or Chasm?

I can't name any young conservatives in England. I'm guessing that Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips will die before anyone more sensible comes along to articulate their positions. And when they do retire or die their successors will probably be equally misanthropic and crazy.

But the rising stars of the English Left really terrify and depress me no end. There is Johann Hari who is still a fan of Christopher Hitchens, used to be a Harry's Place contributor, and wrote that Vladimir Putin killed one third of all Chechens in the 1990s (when Putin wasn't even President, but hey, facts are silly things). He's now a fan of Noam Chomsky and says that the 'Ardship of Cambry supports Sharia law (which he doesn't), which I don't think is so much an intellectual odyssey as a quest for a narcissistic image with wider appeal. See also his genuinely stupid and bigoted articles about Catholicism, which Brendan O'Neill brilliantly skewered.

Then there's Laurie Penny who says 'The notion of taking special exception to one religion over and above any other dodgy cult cobbled together by deranged desert patriarchs should be abhorrent to any secularist who believes in freedom of thought.'

In other words, moral philosophy is too complex a concept for the modern atheists: Jim Jones, Socrates, the Ayatollah, Fydor Dostoyevsky: not a cigarette paper between them. Maybe she should go to Tehran or Islamabad to outline her position on 'deranged desert patriarchs'. Other wise words:

'I now can't help grinning every time I see prim ladies in office suits reading the Millennium books on public transport...

Lisbeth Salander is an immensely powerful character, a misandrist vigilante with a penchant for black fetish wear and ersatz technology, like the terrifying offspring of Batman and Valerie Solanos... Salander is smart, she's brave, she always wins, and she won't let anyone tell her what to do. No wonder so many women secretly want to be her.'

It would at least be nice if the writers paid to represent us could at least spell the names of the sociopaths they admire, but, uh, Valerie Solanas was a maladjusted, mentally ill woman who attempted to murder Andy Warhol (and in the long run probably helped his early death) for no other reason than that he found her terribly boring. And she's good?

I wouldn't even mind these demented ravings if it wasn't for the fact that Hari and Penny so obviously think they are the voices of reason and unwavering moral and intellectual superiority.

Their country certainly isn't my country and their values are certainly not my values.


IV Conclusions

Ideals and views often sneak up quietly before roaring aloud. Ed Miliband might not be an especially idealistic man and he might not have wanted to become Labour leader at this time. But dramatic as it may sound, I think he may be the only chance for saving Britain as a geopolitical entity from corroding by misanthropic left and right. Not by distancing himself from 'liberalism', but by reclaiming a word that has been tarnished by market fanatics and identity politics and in demonstrating how true liberalism should be sceptical of both state and markets. I don't know what to make of his chances given that the 'Left Wing' media has long been denigrating him and is now playing up the most recent (and uninteresting) gossip about him and his brother.

Conversely, despite his ego, I don't know if Salmond even especially wanted such a stunning victory in the recent elections. Scotland now has a leader in the European Christian Democrat mode, which is assertive in its identity without (overall) jettisoning the best features of modern liberalism. Imperfect he may be, but it seems to me that Britain as a nation is undergoing an identity crisis that is difficult to deny.

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