In the midst of the Covid19 crisis that has engulfed the world, a recent Panelbase Sunday Times poll revealed that support for independence in Scotland is now the majority position, with an astonishing 54 percent of respondents declaring that in the event of a second referendum they would vote Yes.
To place this in context, around 45 percent voted for Scottish independence in 2014 — the culmination of a campaign which began in March 2013 when then First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond announced the date of the 2014 referendum. Back then base line support for independence was around 38 percent, which lulled David Cameron and the London Tory establishment into a sense of false security vis-a-vis the prospect of it coming to pass.
Now, six years and two crises later, everything has changed and changed utterly.
Writing as someone who opposed independence in 2014 but is now fully behind it, the fact it now enjoys majority support for the first time comes as no surprise — not with the way that Brexit has blown the bloody doors off of any lingering semblance that this is a United Kingdom which is in any way, shape or form actually united; and not with the shambolic government of Old Etonians, led by Boris Johnson, currently running the show in London.
If this new poll confirms anything it is that the dysfunction of Westminster, along with the British exceptionalism, nativism and Little Englanderism encompassed in Brexit, has in Scotland been and well and truly rejected. In this regard, Covid19 is to all intents the final brick in the wall of an irredeemably regressive British state that is still today underpinned by semi feudal institutions and whose sundering is long overdue.
To grasp the real meaning of Brexit is to understand the history of a state born in mercantilism and sustained by centuries of empire and colonialism, a history that it is crucial to understand in order to grasp why independence is now a question of when not if.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give the UK its Sunday name, is the epitome of an artificial state. It was and remains the product of the grafting together of divergent cultures, histories and national identities. At inception, this grafting together was undertaken not in the interests of its peoples but in the interests of national elites eager to take advantage of the commercial opportunities of a unified polity with added manpower and resources in an age of expanding empires.
The venality, greed and corruption of the Scottish ruling class in the late 17th- early 18th century delivered the Scottish people into the arms of the union with England without their support, establishing thereby the Kingdom of Great Britain. This was reflected in the social unrest and riots that ensued in Scottish towns and cities both during the negotiations that brought into being the 1707 Act of Union, and upon its passage.
For the ruling elites of both Scotland and England the union of both parliaments into one had demonstrable commercial and strategic benefits. The former had been left bankrupt after Scotland’s failed attempt at establishing its own overseas colony in Darien, Central America (modern day Panama) in the late 17th century. In order to forestall national immiseration the need to gain access to England’s overseas colonies was thereafter considered essential. Meanwhile London was eager to prevent the possibility of Scotland being used as a staging ground for an invasion from the north by the French in the context of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14).
Wales, the third nation that makes up the UK, had already been merged with England in 1536. Ireland on the other hand was a subjugated English (latterly British) colony, and was officially brought into the orbit of what would then be known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. In 1922, after a prolonged national liberation struggle in Ireland, the 26 counties that make up today’s Republic of Ireland achieved dominion status before winning full independence in 1948, while the remaining six counties that make up the entire island of Ireland,were partitioned to become what is now Northern Ireland: hence the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of today.
This necessary historical detour out of the way, here is where things start to bear relevance to Brexit.
An unintended consequence of the Industrial Revolution that saw Britain go on to forge an empire which at its height covered a quarter of the globe, was the forging of a unified working class whose unity transcended national, cultural and regional differences. This class unity was the product of the country’s heavy industries — coal mining, steel, shipbuilding, etc. — and was expressed in common economic interests and struggles against a common enemy, the bosses and owners of those industries, in the context of the trade union movement. It also began to manifest politically with the formation of the Labour Party at the start of the 20th century.
In tandem, forged over time, was a British national identity nourished by the countless wars the state’s ruling elite unleashed and waged over the centuries of an empire that existed not to spread civilisation and modernity to the ‘dark peoples’ of the planet, as officially claimed, but as a juggernaut of exploitation, subjugation and oppression. In those countless colonial wars working class men were used as cannon fodder in a dynamic that continues to the present day.
Margaret Thatcher it was who set about destroying this material basis of working class unity across the UK in the 1980s. Her free market counter-revolution and resulting deindustrialisation of the nation’s economy turned Britain into what it is today — a service economy underpinned by financialized capital.
The country’s trade union movement, which once wielded considerable economic and political clout, is but a shadow of its former self as a consequence, while the Labour Party was systematically gutted of its founding principles in a process begun by James Callaghan in the 1970s and which was completed by one Tony Blair and his centrist crew in the 1990s and on into the first decade of the noughties.
The post-industrial north and midlands of England, parts of the country virtually untouched by investment and left without hope after being decimated by Thatcher, voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in a veritable scream from the bowels of austerity Britain. Every one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, meanwhile, voted for Remain. Wales, particularly post-industrial south Wales, voted for Brexit, while a five percent majority in Northern Ireland voted Remain.
The break down of the Brexit vote only confirmed that what was once the United Kingdom is now the dis-United Kingdom, with those previously mentioned national and regional differences informing its peoples’ identities and worldview over the identity of class to an extent previously unseen. In the end, the illusion that Brexit is actually relevant to the needs of those who’ve seen their lives devoured by the beast of neoliberalism and bludgeoned by austerity must soon give way to the unvarnished truth that the UK as we know it is past its sell-by date.
Brexit in this context is a sideshow, a pantomime largely being played out in parliament and the centrist mainstream. It has unleashed chaos everywhere and consensus nowhere. Such chaos should come as no surprise, however, because more than a harbinger of Britain’s departure from the EU, Brexit is a harbinger of the break-up of the UK.
I for one say let it come. And I for one say that this rank rotten rancid Tory establishment will not make the mistake of risking another referendum on the question, which is why the idea that permission must be sought from London to hold one is tantamount to a betrayal of future generations.
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