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Posts Tagged ‘British Establishment’

The Birth Pains of Scottish Democracy and the Anguish of ‘Posh Scotland’

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 26th 2014

Many strange things will be written about Scotland this year. Some will be uncomprehending, some inappropriate or wrong, with others likely to be malevolent and wishing to sew seeds of confusion or distrust.

One existing strand is the pain expressed by some English media voices. There is the liberal ‘Guardian’ reading classes, some of whom have just bothered in the last few weeks to look north from their cosmopolitan concerns and to plea, ‘don’t leave us alone with the wicked Tories’. Then there is the ‘Daily Telegraph’/’Daily Mail’ land of ill-concealed anger about ‘separatism’, derogatory comments about Alex Salmond, and a confusion over whether they really want Scotland to stay or go.

Sometimes interventions cannot be easily categorisable, or while coming from one particular perspective, give voice to a viewpoint which hasn’t been expressed or articulated in public. This was the case with Hugo Rifkind’s recent piece on ‘posh Scotland’ (his words and sentiment) in ‘The Spectator’ and its clarion call to awaken and ride to the defence of the union in crisis.

Rifkind’s ‘posh Scotland’ wasn’t a place for anyone with decent prospects; this wasn’t, as he made clear, anything to do with Ed Miliband’s struggling middle classes, or by implication, ‘the middlin’ folk’ of Scotland. Instead, this was about privilege, wealth and power: the people who run things, own large tracts of Scotland, are privately educated, and believe that the state, if it has to do anything, is there for poor people (and keeping those people a safe distance from them). Read the rest of this entry »

What happens after the demise of ‘the Holy Trinity’ of Britishness?

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, August 17th 2013

It has been a week of momentous events. The unfolding Egyptian tragedy, the restarting of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, and in our corner of the world, the first Scotland v. England match in over a decade.

It feels inappropriate and insensitive to mention a mere football match in the company of such historic events. Yet, I think with that caveat the game mattered because it offered a glimpse of future possible arrangements. Two neighbours and friends with a rich, shared history, but who have slowly drifted apart. And in this slow semi-detachment, they have begun to appreciate each other in a new light. At least, that’s what I thought about the football.

Much of the Scottish debate and sentiment seems at times to not connect to wider dynamics and factors, from the state of British politics to wider global issues. Clearly the same can be said about some of the central delusions which have a vice like grip on British politics.

One of the defining factors in Scottish sensibilities is the state of the pan-British institutions which used to contribute towards the expression in both popular will and institutional form of a collective sense of modern Britishness. Read the rest of this entry »

Living on an Island: Scotland and the London Question

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, June 29th 2013

May 2015: Boris Johnson wins the UK general election and declares London de facto independent from the rest of the UK, stating that it will from now on keep the taxes it raises and spend most of the money it needs itself.

Rewind to today. On a regular basis plaintive pro-union voices can be heard asking when Scotland’s constitutional debate will ever end. The answer is that it won’t, because it will never fully reach a final destination. That is because a large part of the debate isn’t about nationalism but about the Scots experience of living in one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. And one where we share an island with the powerhouse and pull of London.

London and its surrounding areas has increasingly come to dominate the UK – whether it be politics, economics, society, culture and media. The Conservative Party, if one takes the whole South of England, elected at the 2010 election 191 of its 307 MPs – 62% of the parliamentary party from this part of England. Its only way of understanding and having direct representation from vast swathes of the North is from Lib Dem MPs in the coalition. Read the rest of this entry »

The Framing of the Scottish Independence Debate: A Tale of Two Referenda

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, May 15th 2013

Two independence campaigns are now running in the UK: one on Scottish independence; the other which has become more public in the last week, on the UK’s possible exit from the European Union. Strangely they operate in near complete isolation of each other, with the Euro referendum being talked about as if we still lived in the high days of untrammelled Westminster parliamentary sovereignty.

In the last week, the front page of the Scottish edition of The Times reported a fall in support for Scottish independence of 3% as, ‘’Yes’ vote hits trouble as support crumbles’ (May 9th 2013). The same week it began its campaign for the UK to embark on EU withdrawal, lining up a chorus line of Tory grandees to declare their support for exit; successive front pages declared, ‘Lawson: It’s time to quit EU’ (May 7th 2013) and ‘Voters tell Cameron to cut Europe down to size’ (May 8th 2013); and were followed by Michael Portillo coming out of support of withdrawal, ‘We don’t share Europe’s vision. So I want out’ (May 9th 2013). The front page of the Scottish edition on the day of the Lawson announcement also included a headline stating, ‘Independent Scotland may struggle to keep lights on’ (May 7th 2013).

One has the language of ‘separatism’, ‘separation’ and is filled with risk and negativity; the other the language of ‘a new relationship’, ‘renegotiation’ and greater choice and flexibility; the first about Scottish independence, the second British withdrawal from the EU. When I asked Angus Macleod, editor of The Times Scottish edition why he used pejorative language on Scotland in one of the pieces cited above he answered, ‘Independence is in in the intro and elsewhere. Separation is used for variety. It’s called journalism’ (twitter, May 9th 2013). Read the rest of this entry »

On Living in an Old Country: The Power of the Past after Thatcher

Gerry Hassan

The Scotsman, April 15th 2013

The last week has effectively been an elegy on Britain’s recent past and present rolled into one.

This is not just about Thatcher, but the numerous references to the Churchill and Attlee funerals and how we marked these past titans. Is this who we really were, we ask with curiosity? Are we still that same people who dreamed dreams, stood alone against the Nazis, and built a welfare state, we ask, with a hint of anxiety?

Britain seems increasingly a place shaped by the allure of living in the past, by the power of previous generations and the combined cacophonous voices of the dead.

This is not just about the Thatcher moment. In recent years the British state has increasingly marked its numerous military and imperial triumphs and engagements. We have honoured Admiral Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Britain; next year there is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Western Europe and the bizarre celebration of the 100th anniversary of the onset of the First World War. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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