September 11, 2000
Emmanuel Goldstein is back to his occasional series on the state of freedom and democracy in Britain today.
After taking a detour to Sierra Leone, I am back on my turf of the degenerating political culture of England. I was tempted off the virtuous path by Mr. Blair’s ludicrous speech calling for a UN army (I don’t dare to say things like "the UN army will be next, you know" – I’d be put on a kook’s list). However my editorial director Justin Raimondo has taken this particular venture apart far more elegantly than I could, and naturally he is far more scathing as well. Therefore, it is back to the decomposing corpse of British democracy and civil society.
The United Kingdom at the end of the millennium (it’s still got four months to go) reminds me of the United States in the 1850s. The US in the 1850s was run then by a clique of Southern politicians and their northern allies. Despite being in the minority, their solid control of the south, linked to a sizable group of various northern sympathisers gave the Southern agenda virtually unfettered control in the country. Whether it was the ideas were good, like low tariffs, or bad, like wars of aggression against Mexico and the use of Federal machinery to strengthen slavery – the result was undeniable, the South were in charge. In Britain today a Scottish Prime Minister, together with a Scottish chancellor and foreign secretary are imposing a distinctly un-English agenda on the apathetic English. The North is in charge here.
My British readers are probably gagging at this description. The Scottish personnel are coincidental – the result of repeated thrashings of the English Labour party at the hands of their Tory opponents, meaning that the representatives of the loyal Scots were bound to figure larger. Even the nationality of Mr. Blair is in doubt, he is a representative of an English constituency, who’s lived in England since he left school and who has an English accent (when it suits him). England even has a Labour majority, a feat only managed by that party two other times since the Second World War. I agree that the personnel can be coincidental, but the agenda is not. The pro-European, interventionist, economically statist, socially bossy posture is typical of the Scots. There are people in England who share this view – but they are rarely regarded as totally sane. In Britain, the economic interferers rarely feel the same way socially, and vice versa. Similarly, pro-Europeans south of the border talk about deregulating Europe, which is not language heard from Scottish politicians.
The one area where the traditional Scottish voice has not been heard is Scottish anti-Americanism. The Scots are not anti-American on principle, but rather as a reaction to the generally pro-French views of the (anti-British) provincial political elite. Why the anti-Americanism of young Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Robin Cook has never been translated in their more mature years is one of the mysteries of politics. Partly, no doubt there is a sympathetic relationship with Clintonite America and a sense that the more p.c. environment of America is worth emulating. However, it is a big break from the Scottish agenda. Nonetheless, the pro Americanism is a fragile bloom, which would be unlikely to survive either a Republican President or a (virtually inevitable) rift between America and the European Union.
There are two areas where the Scottish advantage has really shown itself. The first is government spending which is about 25% higher per capita in Scotland than in England. As the GNP per head is almost identical, the spending is justified by neither increased taxes (even with Scotland's half of North Sea Oil) or by desperate need. This happened under Tory rule as well as Labour. Indeed one of the most talented (if least liked) Scottish unionists, Michael Forsythe, made the disproportionate Scottish share of spending the centrepiece of his argument. Which raised the question, if unionism is only to be secured by bribes rather than desire, shouldn't the English examine just what they are getting for their money? Similarly, there is a Scottish Parliament with wide ranging lawmaking powers. The British Parliament is forbidden to make laws concerning these legal areas in Scotland, while England has no such Parliament. Thus, a Scottish Parliamentarian (in the British Parliament) may vote that England should have hospital closures or curtail jury trials, but the English Parliamentarian has no say on Scotland. It could be the fact that Scotland refuses to implement a measure while their parliamentary representatives force it on the English. Moreover, the English get to pay the bill.
One of the most commonly predicted events in British politics has been the growth of an English nationalism. Predicted but not fulfilled. Despite a most abusive relationship the English spouse has carried on paying the mortgage, taking abuse and been forced to sleep in the car. The English seem impervious to the injustice of their situation. Partly this is down to the apathy of prosperity, if things are going well, why disturb them? There is also the arrogance that making up 85% of a state can bring, after all what damage can the Scots really do, and are they not virtually identical to the English anyway? The apathetic and non-political nature of the English can be amazing to behold, and the question of Scotland is one area where the apathy is strong.
The other reason why the Scots seem to get away with it is that there is no Lincoln or Fremont figure to articulate majority concerns. The Conservative Party, at least under the last three leaders, has been doctrinally unionist. The Conservative leader William Hague may be very English in his attitudes, but there is little sense that he feels the Scottish drag in the same way as he feels the European threat. Although there have been proposals to restrict Scottish voting rights in the British Parliament, this has been framed as a way of making the Union work rather than as pushing for an English advantage. There are some Conservatives, most notably the northern English MP David Davis, who do see the potential in this course of action for a party without a single MP in Scotland and Wales. In fact, it is being widely assumed that although an outright victory for the Conservatives is highly unlikely, a majority of English seats is in reach with a fair following wind. This could create a constitutional crisis with a ruthless Conservative leader. Would William Hague (or his less unionist successor) sacrifice principle for party advantage?
There are straws in the wind. The English are more generally aware of Scotland's separate nationality than they were five or ten years ago. The cross of St. George is slowly replacing the Union Jack. Burns night has declined in popularity south of Hadrian's Wall. However, a few symbols do not a political revolution make. Nevertheless, a Conservative revival (short of a victory), a more ungrateful and prominent Scottish Parliament or the awareness of taxes that an economic recession bring could power the issue up the agenda. The sleeping dragon could awake, and this time he would be on St. George's side.
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