Some lost souls milling around the Royal Concert Hall on Sunday seemed desperately in need of some direction. I had therefore intended to blog supposed ‘gaps’ in the SNP case for independence so they might see the error of their ways. But I was distracted by a quote from Clegg in the Observer:
“We stand tall in Washington because we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin”
It stopped me dead. A supposedly intelligent leader of a major UK party comes out with something barely appropriate to the playground. Now, I can understand the many people who are proud of Britain and its history. Together with the Welsh and Irish, we Scots and English created a major achievement of Western civilisation in the British Empire that was the envy of most of the planet a century ago.
Because my grandad lost a leg at Ypres (6th Bn Scots Guards) and my dad drove a tank across Africa and Europe (44th RTR) and I grew up with a pink-painted map hung on the classroom wall like other kids in the fifties, I share that pride. I’m also proud my Appin Stewarts were front and centre at Culloden and that 300 local Gododdin were gloriously gubbed by Angle hordes at Catterick in 600AD. But, though I connect with all three, all are now history. Done.
Since my dad parked his Sherman for the last time, Britain has been in trouble. The last country to recover from WWII, its innovations of jet airliner and mini, Beatles and Quant were undermined by industry, politics and empire in equally antiquated amounts that led to a ’70s nadir. Since then, ‘Britain’ has grown tenuous as its various components have diverged. This is not obvious to our English cousins because they (as well as many abroad) always conflate England with Britain.
We Scots developed a chip on our shoulders about that. After Thatcher depredations, the Labour party going native at Westminster, the Beeb retrenching from received pronunciation to ‘regional accents’ and growing hostility towards immigrants Scots don’t share, justification for that chip grew. And yet, today’s Scots, with their own Parliament, rejuvenated arts scene, resiliently cheerful Tartan Army & post-industrial economy, have dumped that chip. If you want to see a capital city of which anyone would be proud, try Edinburgh in August—abuzz with life and culture but relaxed and at peace with itself.
Not so our English cousins. Let’s leave aside this summer’s urban riots, all is not well even in the leafy shires. Tory backwoodsmen bicker about Europe, sabre-rattle about action in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan when justification—let alone the goal—is unclear. It is from pandering to such thinking that Clegg’s appalling pompous comment derives. It highlights that England urgently needs to find a post-Empire identity. Whether it revisits hoary old traditions, like a catholic-free throne or a non-royal as head of its church, right down to wigs on its barristers, is for the English—not Scots—to decide.
And they would do well to travel abroad more before they come to any conclusion. Not only the Germans but the Portuguese and Singaporeans have overtaken England in building a modern society. The Brazilians and Poles are about to do the same. Only the Americans seem stuck in the same time warp of nostalgia for when their word was law and their writ ran around the globe. It’s not just Clegg who needs to drop the hype and get out more.
Scots have already discovered an identity for the 21st century. Their economy will be based on energy, specialised engineering, financial services, whisky and tourism. They will be part of the European Union, friendly and open with neighbours, modeling society on the enlightened Scandinavians. Small as Scotland might be, a positive profile will be welcomed, its sports teams spreading goodwill and its military adding its full share to peacekeeping around the globe.
What it will NOT be doing is talking glaury guff like “punching above our weight” or Clegg-esque gobshite. It will have no Trident, no £7bn ‘super-carriers and no interest in interfering in other sovereign states. But it will have a peace corps to bring aid and develop a future in less fortunate lands; its borders will be open to both its neighbours and immigrants who come to contribute. In the dark days of the late 20th ©, Scotland started a journey back towards enlightenment. Long may that remain so.
Whether our cousins ‘dahn saff’ want to emulate this is up to them. But we are done taking any lessons in identity, strategy or direction from their posturing politicians.