Some great responses over on the right in reply to Adam Tomkins and virtually all on the same broad theme of believing him to be deliberately confusing concepts of country and nation and – to put it crudely – making it up about what the UK is and what its supporters actually believe.
I’m grateful to him for responding – he didn’t have to. And also because it is so rare that we get a real live Unionist spelling out in some detail exactly what his country means to him and how Unionism justifies itself. That’s true. It is an unusual event in this long, long debate to have a detailed case spelled out for the Union. Most of its adherents run in the other direction, jeer from the sidelines or produce miniscule soundbites and totally negative opinions of independence. Here at last is something definitive delving deep into the belief system of Unionism. And very revealing it is…
The striking theme for me is how our country –the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – is whatever its supporters want it to be.
To Adam Tomkins it is not a nation. He is a Unionist but not a Nationalist. So he can love his country but, unlike those with deep feelings for their homeland in every other country on earth, that does not confer the word Nationalist upon him. Does that mean when David Cameron boasts about ‘this proud nation of ours – Britain’ that is not an expression of nationalism, as it would be on any logical definition? When members of the Lords say independence is a betrayal of the memory of those who died fighting for this country – Britain – that also is not an expression of nationalism? When an aircraft carrier is named and there is an outpouring of pride in this symbol of a ‘powerful nation’ – again Britain – it is not nationalism? When the Foreign Secretary talks about British values of democracy and decency in the world, could there not be a clearer statement on British nationalism?
If you walked into any street in England and asked voters if they were proud British Unionists or Nationalists, what do you suppose they would answer? I fear the carefully crafted distinction designed to deny the very emotion and credo that made Britain Great reads like sophistry…something that may carry conviction for its author but which would not be understood by the voters. The Victorians who drove the Empire project and built and canals and railways and created the legacy on which so much of Britain’s self-worth is still based, were the most nationalistic, chauvinistic, imperialistic, self-glorifying nation on earth, not because they were Unionist but because they were British. Indeed, they mostly went further and conflated their Englishness with Britishness – a still common failing which contradicts the Professor’s rather airy idea of a Union of Nations.
The people of the UK (possibly exclusion coming up for parts of NI) do not think of themselves or call themselves proud British Unionists, they think of themselves as proud Britons. They are nationalistic about Britain. (I know for some of you we shouldn’t mix up the terms UK and Britain but let’s face it, the people do it all the time).
I also don’t have a ‘fragile identity’ which needs statehood to ‘reinforce’ it. My identity is immutable and constant and it is mine. I am a Scot. I stand with my friends around the globe who declare: I am a Finn. I am German. I am Palestinian. What my belief in Scotland – my Nationalism, if you like – means is that I want to take those powerful feelings for my country and my people and use them to run my country…as all the others do. It isn’t about the Professor’s narrow view of identity – it’s about taking the powers to run our country as we wish and you don’t even have to be Nationalist to want that. My identity extends to European, a condition I fear a diminishing number of British Unionists adhere to. (I think the Professor’s rather shifting national loyalties is deliberate obfuscation on his part. The old Unionist trick is to ‘brand’ Scottish Nationalists as dangerous while campaigning for British Nationalism by pretending it is a superior, more refined species of belief. On this note, it is always a dead giveaway when you read the word ‘separatist’. That’s not an academic’s word but a politician’s and its use concedes that the author is afraid to use the correct terminology because of its inspiring implications. I am content to use self-determination, the term of the United Nations and we shouldn’t forget that the ‘separation’ of which the Unionists speak is a deliberate insult to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)
Hold on! What’s this…‘I am a Scottish Nationalist, in that I believe that Scotland is a nation. But I am also a Unionist, in that I believe that the best future for Scotland is one in which she maintains her uniquely privileged position within the UK.’ So Adam Tomkins is also a Scottish Nationalist…although not a British Nationalist. I’m afraid that my O Level application of Common Sense would insist that denying your country self government tends to suggest a view somewhat lacking in the normal definition of Nationalism.
This takes us from sophistry to obfuscation. But the killer point is surely the second, that we have a uniquely privileged position. Assuming he doesn’t mean privileged just to be allowed into the UK (having been partner to forming the thing in the first place) but that we have a special deal that benefits us. Well, we certainly do get more powers than the other members but why exactly is that? Because we fought the British state and threatened it until they relented –exactly as the party leaders are doing today in pretending more powers are on offer to buy us off. I’m not sure that’s a bouquet for the benevolence of Union.
But what also goes unsaid is that whatever powers Scotland has now and will have, they are entirely and totally in the gift of Westminster – theirs to give or take away at will. Without entrenchment, powers are charity, gifts of patronage, to be bestowed or withdrawn depending on merit.
I also think the characterization of Yes as seeking a socialist utopia is fatuous. It ignores the serious centre right involvement, the business engagement and betrays a shallow perspective, like me claiming that all No voters are anti-immigrant welfare-slashers.
What Professor Tomkins has done though is to do us a great favour. I always imagine that clever people must know more than I do or have arguments I can’t dispute. This reply exposes how lacking in clear logical thought the No side’s intellectual argument is. Unionism is a many-headed beast that is Scottish Nationalist when it wishes, British Nationalist when appropriate, non-Nationalist by default apparently, ever benign and even successful. Sorry, Professor. I doubt if you’d find many takers either side of the Border who would say Britain right now is successful, except perhaps in covering up the awful accounting that will follow the next General Election.by