Tuesday, November 28, 2006

London Calling

One time Revolutionary Communist NUS apparatchik turned New Labour luvvie, David Aaronovitch, has an amusingly bile-filled article in today's Times. I really can't be bothered to take his argument to bits (too easy), so here instead is an article I did for last month's Scots Independent newspaper, which kind of preempts his clumsy intervention into the debate.


'Over the past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying the BBC series on Suez. I’m not usually a fan of docu-drama, but this has been superb, bringing home how General Nasser brought the post-imperial delusions of the British ruling classes back down to earth with an almighty crash.

'In the SNP, we tackle daily many of the delusions that live on when making the Independence case. ‘Scotland’s voice would be puny’, it is said. ‘Being British is the only way to retain influence in the world’. At this we can laugh, setting recent abject failures in British diplomacy and the brittle posturing of Tony Blair against the positive roles played by much smaller European states.

'Something I find much harder to thole, though, is the faux-sophisticate sneering of the London-based left when it comes to the SNP. Perhaps this is because otherwise, we might have a fair amount in common with them when it comes to policy. However, I disdain utterly their self-proclaimed monopoly of concern when it comes to internationalism, social justice and the vitality of our civic society.

'Their dislike of the Conservatives just about allowed them to stomach devolution. A historic wrong was being righted, they told themselves around Hampstead dinner tables. Anyway, surely it will bring us closer together and what with Europe becoming more powerful and everything… sorry, I’m being terribly rude here. Shall I open another bottle of Chianti?

'And that was about as much thought as most ever gave it. However, with the unpopularity of Scottish Labour and the apparent momentum behind Independence, Hampstead has awoken. It seems discombobulated, neither understanding nor liking what it sees in the SNP. Perceiving a threat, instead of engaging with the debate it reaches for the comfortable and familiar anti-nationalist clich├ęs so beloved by the 57 varieties of Brit left.

'Thus, we are now being treated to a series of articles telling us how Scottish nationalism is backward looking and exclusive, unlike the ‘given’ opposites of Britishness. Being British lets us share a greater destiny, we are told, instead of being isolated little Scotlanders, festering in the petty resentments of narrow nationalism.

'As a credo, it’s marked by fuddled thinking, rampant double standards and fraudulent assertions of conceptual superiority. It’s amazing how cosmopolitan citizens of the world, who would no more consider themselves isolated from Paris than from Pinner, can still somehow see Scottish Independence as isolation. ‘Britishness good, Scottish nationalism bad’ bleat the sheep, in an attempt to drown out any dissenting voices.

'Hugh MacDiarmid referred to the contradictory aspects of our character as the 'Caledonian Antisyzygy’. Perhaps its time to consider the Metro-Left Antisyzygy: the home of diversity which sees cultural difference as a threat. The force for good which undermines international law. The upholder of non-proliferation shaping to replace Trident. The guarantor of economic prosperity headed for a £700bn national debt by 2010.

'Devolution, Blairism and ‘Cool Britannia’ were the last roll of the dice for Britain. But far from killing the SNP stone dead, devolution has for many made Independence easier to contemplate. Blairism, meanwhile, is now being seen for the ephemeral cult of personality it always was. And as for the latter… despite the best efforts of Blairite thinktanks, it died an agonizing and lonely death somewhere between Noel Gallagher’s champagne glass and the fatuity of the Millennium Dome.

'With his sweeping majorities, Blair had the chance to reinvent Britain by introducing a written constitution, a bill of rights, scrapping the Lords, reforming the voting system and encouraging regional government in England. Instead, he seized the levers of centralised executive power with a Gollum-esque glee. Having enjoyed almost a decade of absolute power, Labour can hardly complain in future if the Tories decide to play by the same rules.

'An even vaguely competent Cameron leadership will surely see New Labour smashed on the rocks of English public contempt. Normal service will be restored, and the whine will resume once more that we need to stick together so we can return Labour to government.

'Well, I'm a democrat. If England votes Tory, as far as I'm concerned, that's who should govern England. No ifs, no buts. If the Metro-Left don't like the idea of the tyranny of the minority, they should be clamouring for PR to be introduced while they still have the chance, then buckle up tight for the kind of realignments we have already seen in Scotland.

'Approaching the 300th year of union, we find ourselves shackled to a decorative and decadent power centre increasingly irrelevant to the people it tries to govern. It is insulting to suggest that either England or Scotland needs the other as a bolt-on accessory to ensure its good conduct and high standing in the world. I’d like to think that in the SNP, our sights are set higher than that – would that these modern day Habsburgs could say the same'.

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