Unionism is a force of inertia and deference

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by Mike Small, Editor of Bella Caledonia online magazine:

On Nuclear Scotland and the Marriage from Hell David Torrance wrote in the excellent Scottish Review last week:
“Despite the continuation of the UK being the overwhelming desire of the Scottish and British people – as expressed at election after election – the SNP have managed to turn the sobriquet ‘Unionist’ into a dirty word.”

A friend of mine once moaned that he didn’t like the term ‘Unionist’ remarking that ‘we’d turn into Northern Ireland’ if our political language came to use such terms.  Yet these terms are important and growing in usage.

They unpack the political realities of where we are, who we might become and what structures rule over us.

Without them we are tied to the everyday.  Tabloids whine about fuel prices without asking why the prices are rising.  TV pundits denounce protesters, without asking what drives 500,000 people onto the streets of London.  Everyone denounces Scotland’s alcohol culture but rarely asks what drives a nation to drink.

The SNP haven’t turned the term ‘Unionist’ into a dirty word but the nationalist movement has flushed this language to the surface.  This language is the political map of where we are and where we might venture, without it we are lost in the undergrowth of everyday, thrashing about reacting to anything but reflecting on nothing.

On the big questions of state and nation – it’s essential to distinguish between Unionists, nationalists, republicans, and monarchists.  On the issues of liberty and freedom its important to chart where you stand as libertarian or authoritarian on personal and public issues.  On the questions of economics and democracy it’s still vital to distinguish whether your belief system is based on socialist principles, capitalist ideas or liberal thinking.

Now armchair pundits will immediately bomb such analysis claiming that the world is more complex: what about social democrats, federalism, what about DevoMax they will cry?  What about new social movements and issues, like ecology?  How does George Galloway, a left-wing British nationalist, fit on the map (a good question, ask George).

These same pundits will croak that people live in the real world where a closed nursery or an unpaid mortgage is more important than a political theory, lifeless and exact.  All of which is true.  The upper echelons of political theory won’t get a look-in on STV news as politicians jostle to hug weans and kiss babies and generally pose for endless photo-ops, soundbites and Twitter links.

But two huge – and very different – issues are about to zoom out of the wilderness that will mean everyone should know the difference between a Unionist and nationalist, and a nationalist and a republican.  At the end of next month we will be (whether we like it or not) awash with Union Jacks.

The marriage of Kate Middleton and William is going to be a massive propaganda exercise for our ongoing status as subjects in a constitutional monarchy which lies at the very heart of British political identity.  As we witness massive cuts in public services, and a huge attack on education, health and basic provisions, it will be up to British nationalists and Unionists to defend this ceremony and all that it represents.

The costs of the royal wedding are estimated at £5 billion to the (UK) economy by creating four consecutive four-day weekends in April.  Security costs are difficult to estimate, but are likely to be vast.  St James’s Palace says the couple are going to have an ‘austere wedding’, which will not weigh too heavily on taxpayers.  But the Royals’ understanding of the word austere is likely to be somewhat different to yours and mine.

Even the quiet wedding of Charles and Camilla in 2005 cost £5 million, and it’s highly unlikely to cost less than ten times this much.  So conservative estimates put the starting cost at around £50 million.  Top-end estimates have come in closer to £100 million.

Graham Smith, a spokesman for the anti-monarchist group Republic, said: “William is not the head of state; there is no guarantee he will ever be head of state.  This is a private occasion which I’m sure the Palace will want to milk for maximum PR effect.  It is not for the taxpayer to pay for any part of this event; the Windsors must cough up.”

As our attention wanes from Fukushima, new research is being unearthed from the rubble and debris of private nuclear companies reticent to disclose harsh realities.  But the reality is that Fukushima, slipping away from our media mindscape as it is, is now being re-categorised as a level 7 disaster.  What does this mean and what has it to do with the Scottish elections?

The accident that began at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 11th has already released radioactivity that requires it to be classified as level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), according to new analysis prepared for Greenpeace Germany by Dr Helmut Hirsch.  His assessment is based on data published by the French government’s radiation protection agency (IRSN) and the Austrian governments Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG).  The total amount of radionuclides iodine-131 and caesium-137 released since the start of the accident until March 23rd, as reported by the two institutes, require the Fukushima accident to be reclassified to the same level as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster twenty five years ago in April 1986.  In fact so high are the releases that they amount to three INES 7 accidents.

In contrast to the Chernobyl accident which involved one nuclear reactor, Fukushima has suffered major failures at four.  Three reactors have suffered loss of coolant to a scale that has led to nuclear fuel melting.  In addition, nuclear reactor spent fuel stored at the site has lost coolant, caught fire and in one case suffered a hydrogen gas explosion which destroyed unit 4 at Fukushima.

Dr Hirsch concludes, “Taking all the releases from the Fukushima-daiichi reactors together this even obviously an INES 7 with the possibility that it is three INES 7’s, taking each reactor separately which results in a release of 100,000 Tbq each.”

All of which is far too much technical information.  The basic facts are this, Japan has just experienced a devastating nuclear crisis and Scottish Labour strategist John McTernan has this to say: “What’s going on in Japan is probably the single best advert for a new generation of nuclear power stations – not just here in Britain, but also around the world.

What has this got to do with our political language?  Unionists are united about new nuclear, from newly converted Liberals to Brownite Labour cheerleaders (including Iain Gray in his Torness constituency) to old-school Conservative enthusiasts.  Only the Greens, the SSP, Solidarity and the SNP stand against new nuclear power in Scotland.

As McTernan states: “The honest answer to our dilemmas is a renaissance in nuclear power.”  This week Scottish Labour announced that McTernan was not, as many thought, a lone-wolf howling at the moon but represents mainstream Labour thinking.  Earlier this week the Labour Party in Scotland published an 80 point economic plan that contained a pledge from the party to “remove the presumption against new nuclear for the future.”  Since 2007 the SNP government has resisted moves by the UK government to build new nuclear plants north of the border.

The SNP have called Labour’s pro-nuclear election policy ‘entirely the wrong one for Scotland’ and have argued that no country with Scotland’s energy mix should be contemplating a new nuclear power programme.  Mr Salmond said: “Labour’s very judgment is called into question.” His party has claimed every pound spent on nuclear is a pound less for renewables.

We do know that – in all of this – Unionism is a force of inertia and deference.  The month ahead is a time for Scottish republicans to stand up and be counted and protest the obscenity of a lavish wedding in a time of austerity.  It’s a time for ecologists, democrats and (true) liberals to stand together and fight for a clean green Scotland, powered by renewable energy where a nuclear disaster cannot occur.  One path leads to celebrating inequality in a time of increased poverty and economic uncertainty, the other leads to equality and prosperity and the potential for economic dignity.

In 1997 there was talk that the devolution referendum be delayed because of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.  Let’s not delay any further in pushing onwards to the real change that’s needed in Scotland.

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Published with thanks to the Scottish Independence Convention.