A Parting of the Ways?
Today marked a number of partings of the ways. The most obvious is the imminent (in historical terms) departure of the UK from the EU.
But there is another parting which comes down to values.
The Tories have made much of “British Values” – being open, tolerant, inclusive, compassionate – and wanted migrants to “adopt them” as part of their assimilation. Whilst I was suspicious of Tories trying to claim anything “British” as their own this move did have one major benefit. It helped rolled back a rather nasty English Nationalism and helped some of us feel new pride in the Cross of St George rather than cringing in embarrassment at the racist connotations.
It also meant we could feel more proud of our “Britishness” – I know that reflects a confusion of identities, but such matters are rarely clear. But if I was less inclined to cringe at an English National Identity, I was generally more comfortable in feeling any National Identity.
Whilst I could partly understand why many Scots at the last independence referendum felt independence was best for them, emotionally I felt (from within England) that the splintering of the United Kingdom was a threat to my sense of “Britishness”. When I think about it, I feel more “British” than “English” – even though it is easy to fall into saying, “I speak English, I am English”.
Roll on just a few years to today and we see a rather nasty rampant triumphalist nationalism in the Print Media, on Social Media, and indeed in the Westminster Parliament. Vox Pops on the broadcast media – even contributions on programmes like Question Time – reflect this change. We seem harsher, less pragmatic and more inclined to howl each other down. The values on show are bloody-mindedness (in the face of potential opposition – “it got us through the war”), a strident individualism, scarcely concealed xenophobia, and dare I say menacing imperialism (“you want cooperation on security you give us free trade”). Are these just a different facet of “British Values” or are they more parochial?
Digital TV means more channels and the chance for instance to see First Minister’s Questions and some debates from Holyrood. The recent debate on the call for a second independence referendum was an interesting contrast to Westminster. There was a stark division within the chamber; the SNP and the Greens holding a shared majority view in favour of another poll and the other parties each having their own reasons to be against. But it was, despite the passion, more civil than the Palace of Varieties that is Westminster. It was more tolerant, more open, more internationalist and showing more empathy for the position of others.
The last independence referendum was also divisive but was it and its aftermath as nasty as we have seen during and after the EU referendum? I think not. (If the result had been “Yes” would the resultant disruption and change have threatened this comparative unity?) From just over the border the Scottish political scheme seems healthier – even more traditionally “British”?
I am left with the thought: Is what is now being seen in England led particularly by Westminster and “Fleet Street” an outbreak of an evolution of the Englishness that I so disliked? If so, is Scotland now a refuge for British Values?
The Scottish National Party may find “British” an embarrassing label, but I think they are more British than the likes of Redwood, Cash, Johnson, Fox, Bone, Patel, Gove, Davis, etc.. Perhaps they should embrace that label.
Scottish Independence may be good for British Values.