After the referendum we are left with division – division between Scots voting ‘Yes!’ and Scots voting ‘No!’ With any luck they will find a way to come to terms with the result, but my suspicion is that things will be raw for a long time yet. I also suspect we are embarking on a period of even greater trauma that could well lead to a split some time in the future.
And it is difficult to see how divisions between Scotland and England will not now intensify. A light has been put on the stupendous idiocy of the original devolution settlement that allowed Scottish MPs a say on English issues while not returning the favour. The English can be slow to identify injustice, but when they do…
But all this is in a sense incidental – it will happen as it happens. All this could have been avoided a long time ago, but various acts of destruction were perpetrated that may well make division more likely – not less. I am interested in why politicians do stupid and destructive things. I am interested to know who to blame. Whose fault is all this?
Not, mind you, because blame games are good in themselves – they are not. But it is always important to understand why things happen. If we do not, and if we make no effort to find out, we are destined for things to continue their sad decline, and one day we will wake up to be living on an island divided by arbitrary lines, cutting families, friends and fellow-countrymen off from one another.
Britain is – and this needs saying more often, despite the shrill invocations to the contrary – a great country. Probably one of the greatest ever to have existed on this earth. To kill it, I assure you, will not make the world a better place – and it will certainly not make the lives of the inhabitants of the British Isles any better.
It is easy to blame David Cameron. He agreed the referendum. He agreed the wording, which gave the separatists an inherent advantage – co-opting the positive word ‘Yes!’ and focusing attention on Scotland’s independence rather than Britain’s end. It would be interesting to know how many extra votes these simple affirmative exclamations garnered for their cause. He was also, as people are beginning to say, far too cavalier in his approach, at least until the panic in the week leading up to the vote.
But it wasn’t really his fault. Once the Scottish electorate, in 2011, returned to parliament a majority for the SNP of 69 seats out of a total of 129, Cameron had little choice if he was to avoid being called a Tory naysayer (or words to that effect). The wording of the referendum remains unfortunate, and he should have fought a bit harder, but he remained mostly aloof because he assumed, quite logically, that Conservative involvement would haemorrhage votes from the ‘No!’ campaign even before a word was uttered.
Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists are another culprit. Well, this is obvious; but an end to the Union is what they want so they can’t really be blamed. Yes, he will say anything to get votes out, and he has no identifiable scruples, but that is the modus of the demagogue and that is what he is for. The fault lies much deeper. Forty-five percent of the Scottish electorate didn’t have to vote his way; something of far greater import has gone wrong with the Union and with Britain.
Nick Cohen, writing in the Spectator, has an idea. A number of left wing English intellectuals, he writes, were possessed by a loathing of England. Anyone who sets themselves up against England, so the logic goes, cannot be all bad. But this is not just left wing loathing of England. It is every bit as much left wing loathing of Britain and pretty much everything you might lump in with traditional understanding of those two entities.
Nick Cohen, of course, impeccable left winger that he is, raises the point because he doesn’t want the left to become an anti-English movement. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot to admire about Nick Cohen. He writes with the clarity of an Orwell, and he takes a principled stand against state regulation of the press, and exposes to great effect the hypocrisy of many left-wingers over some of their most cherished shibboleths – feminism, equality, anti-racism.
But what drives Nick Cohen in this instance is a fear that left wing politics might be rejected in England because of crude anti-English sentiment. If socialism is to control Britain then it needs to control England, and in the new post referendum paradigm, England has woken up to not only the unfairness of the West Lothian question but also the imbalance in public spending between Scotland and the rest of the UK. If Labour does not get this right, they could suffer, especially as they might be about to lose the influence of the Scottish Labour MPs in future English-only business.
But here’s the problem. The dominant strand of left wing politics today is very much about anti-Englishness – and anti-Britishness too. There was a time when the Labour movement did patriotism; there was a time when the Labour party would have no truck with ideas and movements plainly anathema to British civility. But somewhere in the mists of time the Labour movement was almost completely captured by those who hated Britain and all she stood for. Those who took their inspiration from the toxic theories of Karl Marx rather than the compassionate example of Christian socialists. That is why the left has worked so hard to change so much about the country – they weren’t reformers; they were vandals. What sort of love is it that seeks to change everything about a person? I love you, darling; I love you so much I want you to become a completely different person. Doesn’t wash.
It is noticeable in the way many on the left assume that anyone criticising England and Britain can’t be all bad. It’s been going on for decades – complacent toleration of Soviet sympathisers while eviscerating the career, political or otherwise, of anyone even taking the piss out of Nazis by wearing their clobber at a party; the lazy equation of Britishness and Englishness with inherent racism; the implacable desire to keep handing power to the nation-destroying EU; the mass immigration which seems to be viewed as a means to dilute the existing, obnoxious British population; and accompanying all this are the insidious, oblique references and attitudes that there is something wrong with Britain and England at the most basic level.
What Nick Cohen is asking for is perfectly reasonable – that the left shows a little more love for the English. His fear being that the left ‘will not get a hearing unless they give the impression that they like their fellow citizens; and don’t regard them as irredeemably prejudiced xenophobes and creeps.’ True enough. Neither does he want Labour to ‘find itself portrayed as the enemy of the English.’
The problem is, in so many ways the modern left is precisely those things. They don’t like a good proportion of their fellow citizens, particularly those who remain quite attached to the history and achievements of their country, and especially the ones who don’t accept this leftist characterisation of their country as racist, xenophobic and bigoted. They want to be permitted their traditional English and British identity without being sneered at. If the left can alter this attitude then that would be a good thing, for the left and for the country. But it would have to be genuine. Gordon Brown perfectly demonstrated the two faces of the modern left in his response to Gillian Duffy in 2010. When he left her he said, ‘Very nice to meet you.’ But when in the supposed privacy of his car he let his true feeling out: ‘Just a sort of bigoted woman.’
I would suggest Nick has his work cut out. Leopards and spots and things.