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Living in the Shadow of Empire State Britain and the Problem of Cultural Dementia

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, April 19th 2018

The UK has been an uncomfortable place in the last few days. There has been the controversy over the Windrush deportations, Tory Cabinet minister Esther McVey defending the rape clause at the Scottish Parliament as ‘non-invasive’, and the resuscitation of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ 1968 speech from beyond the grave. On top of this there has been the Trump-led bombing of Syria, backed by UK and French forces, without parliamentary vote or international approval.

We have to understand the deeper context of the state we are in. The UK has not and never has been a democratic state or polity. Instead the overhang and past influence of feudalism and absolutism define much of public life, institutions and attitudes to this day. Take just one obvious example. We talk about electing the UK Parliament, but we elect one part of it (the Commons), and don’t the other (the Lords), leaving it completely unelected (and this after a hundred year long campaign to abolish or overhaul it).

From Warfare to Welfare and Back

The UK has for all of its existence been first and foremost a warfare state: one whose purpose has been historically to wage war, conquer territories, dominate the high seas and maintain its Empire. If some people think this is something deep and buried in the past, just consider that since 1945 Britain’s armed forces have been involved in military action in every single year apart from one – 1968. That year represents the gap between the retreat of Empire and Aden and the beginning of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

Enoch Powell’s Ghost and Bigotry still haunts modern Britain

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 17th 2018

This week sees the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which occurred on April 20th 1968, with the BBC deciding to recreate it and broadcast on ‘Archive on 4’ – read by actor Ian McDiarmid.

The speech has never been broadcast before in full, and this decision hasn’t been without controversy, both before and afterwards. It was an extraordinary experience to hear this much cited, even legendary, speech in its entirety – 45 minutes of powerful, passionate, and shockingly over the top and insensitive language – as it was delivered decades ago to Conservative Party members in the Midland Hotel, Birmingham.

Powell, then Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West and Shadow Secretary of Defence in Ted Heath’s Shadow Cabinet, made the case that immigration from the Commonwealth was irreversibly changing Britain for the worse. His language was a mixture of his classically trained mind, combined with the confidence and arrogance of Britain’s ruling class, and a populism which he felt was needed given the scale of problems the country faced. It took place only days after Martin Luther King had been assassinated; Powell had just visited the States, and become convinced that the US divisions on race provided a premonition of a horrendous British future. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking the Taboos and Silences of Belting Scotland’s Children

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 11th 2018

Scottish education has always had an important, even disproportionate place in society – emphasising its distinctiveness, traditions, and of course, multiple individual stories and experiences.

Yet our education system has had for all the good and positive stories, too many which are bad and dark. This legacy continues to this day. For all the pride in the best of our schools and education, there has been a historical culture of fear, punishment and violence, and teachers and authority using power inappropriately to control children.

These attitudes are often assumed to be in the past, but they haven’t left us fully. A ComRes survey at the end of 2017, produced due to Scottish Government backed proposals to ban the smacking of children, showed that a tolerance of violence was widespread. 74% of adults in Scotland surveyed did not think that smacking a child should be a criminal offence; seven in ten said smacking was not child abuse; an astonishing 85% said they were smacked as a child, while 66% said it was sometimes necessary to smack a child. We have grown up with a culture of violence towards children which not surprisingly still affects present day attitudes.

This was brought into public view by the recent debate on belting which began in the ‘Scottish Review’s’ piece by Carol Craig that motivated Ian Jack to reply in ‘The Guardian’ that belting might have been ‘unfair’ but that it ‘had done me no harm’ – a view that unleashed an avalanche of reflections about corporal punishment and violence against children. Read the rest of this entry »

In Praise of Gentleness

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 28th 2018

Where is the gentleness in life? Instead – in too many places – we have a surfeit of anger, dislocation and frustration.

For some the big issues of the day necessitate, even demand, such assertive and sometimes negative qualities. We live in times defined by corporate dishonesty, brazenness and theft, where the vast majority of us feel unheard, marginalised, alienated and silenced. Anger is clearly an understandable response, but can only take us so far, and too often blows itself out through exhaustion and disillusion.

Too much of public life seems to be a search for the guilty, condemning others, playing the person not the ball, and being driven by immediate comment and criticism with little to no reflection.

This is our modern world, and one many see as aided and reinforced by the environment of social media, Facebook, and Twitter. Yet, something more is surely at work. There is the decline of authority, the weakening of trust, an absence of leaders that we look up too and believe in, and a diminishing of the social bonds, connections and shared values which hold societies together. Read the rest of this entry »

The View of Britain from Europe: A Perspective from Lublin

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 21st 2018

Europe feels very different when viewed from its eastern borders. This week I have been travelling across Europe and staying for several days in the beautiful Polish city of Lublin – 95 miles from Warsaw, in the south-east of the country, not far from the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Lublin is a proud city with a rich history and sense of its past importance. It currently has a population of 349,103 and four universities, numerous colleges and lots of successful and impressive businesses and start-ups. It has also seen a lot of changes – with numerous different political masters down the years from being part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to being under the authority of Austria-Hungary, then Russia, and occupied by Nazi Germany.

All of this has given the city a varied but sometimes painful history. On 7 November 1918 at the conclusion of the First World War as a separate Polish state re-emerged, Lublin was the site for Ignacy Daszyński establishing the Provisional Government for the People’s Republic of Poland.

The inter-war Polish state was recognised at Versailles but given a tragic hand by history, being sandwiched between the two rising tyrannies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, who agreed to dismember the country in the infamous Molotov-Rippentrop Pact agreed on 23 August 1939. This pact was the basis for the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 September, and hence the beginning of the Second World War, and on 17 September, the Soviet invasion. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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