One way or another, English nationalism, a beast the union kept in its cage, will prowl the land after the Scottish vote. If the Scots leave, of course, then nothing will stand in its way. The residual United Kingdom will be a greater England in all but name. If the ‘no’ campaign scrapes a victory, however, national feeling will if anything be more intense.
Among the many reasons I cannot abide nationalist posturing is that victimhood always accompanies it. No one on these islands has cut a more ridiculous figure than the Scottish politicians and intellectuals, who cast themselves as the leaders of an oppressed people, groaning under the yoke of English colonialism. All nationalisms are built on invented histories –propaganda and lies to use plain language. Scottish nationalism’s greatest propaganda success has been turn Scots, those eager and rapacious participants in empire, from the colonists into the colonised.
After a ‘no’ vote it will be the turn of the English to play the victim. The Scottish parliament already controls most of domestic policy – education, health, social work, housing, agriculture, planning and criminal justice. Yet Scottish MPs can still decide English education, health, social work, housing, agriculture, planning and criminal justice policy. The Welsh Parliament has lesser but still significant powers as does the Northern Ireland Assembly.
To date, Westminster has avoided answering Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian question
‘For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate … at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’
But I cannot see how it can be postponed for much longer. Panicking politicians are attempting to head off Scottish independence by offering the Scottish parliament the power to control and set Scottish income tax. Scotland will have home rule in all but name. There will be no justification then for allowing Scots to vote on English matters.
The British have a consoling national myth that we do not need written constitutions like those over-rational foreigners, but survive and indeed prosper by muddling through. I suspect that the days of muddling are over. (It has hardly been a great success, after all.) If they are not, if politicians continue to duck the West Lothian question, and Labour in particular has an interest in allowing Welsh and Scottish MPs to retain their current powers, it will be the turn of the English to feel that they are suffering under colonial rule. They will be subject to taxation without representation, and the decrees of a parliament, whose composition no one will be able to excuse or even explain. The longer English grievance festers, the more septic it will become.
I shouldn’t have to add that I find the left-wingers who are cheering on nationalism asinine, almost criminally so. They have put the prospect of giving a bloody nose to the ‘establishment’ before any worthwhile social democratic principle. Do they want a future where an 18-year-old from Dundee has to move abroad to take a job Birmingham and vice versa? Do they not see that the old multinational British state, for all its flaws and crimes, at least limited blood-and-soil nationalism, because it could include people of all backgrounds and ethnicities?
Apparently not. One way or another, Britishness is going. I hope it is not replaced by brutishness.