By Russell Bruce
But will there’ll always be an England? This song dating from just before WW11 became a big hit for Vera Lynn and exemplifies three things in how Tory/Brexit England perceives itself in the world. First the exclusion of the other nations of these islands as having any importance, England the sole nation of relevance. Secondly if England and other European nations were in danger from the rise of fascism in Europe that was of little concern to an English nationalism that is still influencing those behind the Brexit project which is doing so much damage to our economic and social wellbeing. Thirdly the role of the Empire was useful for economic gain and influence, but the Empire wasn’t England.
Nevertheless England with its appendages still maintained a degree of influence as a former world power. The loss of world power is something English nationalists have always found difficult to come to terms with. A song became a thoughtless rallying cry that stood in contrast to the reality that England needed to find support from wherever it was to be found. As Europe fell to Nazi domination Free French troops found a new base here, as did Polish soldiers and airmen and Norwegian soldiers and those from many other European nations.
England and indeed the other UK nations were willing to give refuge to those fleeing persecution, including Europe’s Jewish population who had managed to escape. Many of those Polish forces settled in Scotland when Poland came under Soviet domination at the end of the war. Europe was divided and would remain so until the Berlin wall came down in 1989. German government was restored in 1948 with a democratic constitution designed by Britain with a similar, but not identical, D’Hondt system used for the devolved Scottish Parliament. Also in 1948 India gained its independence, the British having abruptly withdrawn in 1947 with no concern for the tensions they left behind as they abandoned all responsibility for their former colony.
While England was withdrawing into itself Europe planned to rebuild with significant support from the US Marshall plan. Reconstruction was more than rebuilding bombed cities, devastated communities and a reconstructed productive economic base, it was also a political project that led to the founding of the European Union. As the classic study of Britain’s post war foreign policy articulated, Britain had lost an Empire and needed to find a role. A theme picked up by Dean Acheson in his 1962 speech “Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”. Johnson’s government is still stabbing in the dark with that one and nothing emerging meets Scotland’s foreign policy interests.
For Scotland where we voted 62% to remain in the EU that means several connected and important principals. The ability to return to the EU, to have total freedom to elect governments of our choosing and be free of interference from the governments England elects and to mark out our own distinctive place in international relations, cooperating across friendly frontiers and restoring free movement of people with the ability to work, study and enjoy other cultures with whom we share so much.
The FT have been running a series of articles on the ‘break up of the UK.” They may not be in favour of independence but their coverage does highlight the difficulties Johnson’s government is having in fending off the growing desire for Independence. The Johnson government realises their biggest problem is the high approval ratings Nicola Sturgeon enjoys across the normal demographic divide between political parties and the high regard in which she is held in Europe and far beyond. Anything that can damage Nicola Sturgeon is good for the union.
Getting back into Europe
Dr Kirsty Hughes, Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, in an article published today sets out 5 questions that should be answered by the political parties during the election. Whilst all of these will feature to some extent we think the issues surrounding how Scotland regains EU membership is the most important one. The SNP and the Greens both share a clear constitutional path with international recognition as the essential means to this end. The Alba party we understand are in favour of joining EFTA and later the EEA. That might have been the route if Scotland had voted YES in 2014 but these are different times and the faster way back into the EU is through a straightforward application to restore our place, and influence at the heart of Europe. Applicant states obtain preliminary market access while they complete the various stages of the process to full membership.
Anybody who thinks there is an instant and early solution for membership of EFTA is flying a kite into a tornado. The EFTA route also requires international recognition and EFTA members will not recognise an independent Scotland that has not followed a route in accordance with international law to become a sovereign state. EEC membership requires the agreement of all EU and EFTA members.
So “will there’ll always be an England?”
Of course but what form it will take within these islands and the rest of the world is very different to how Scotland and most European countries see themselves in the 21st century. That is also an issue for many in England who are less than enthused by the direction Johnson is taking their country, elected on 42.6% of the vote and with an 80 seat majority due to Westminster’s first past the post electoral system. If that is posing issues for many people in England it is of increasing danger to us in Scotland.
Johnson’s government held on to powers that should have returned to the devolved nations when we left the EU on 1st January 2020. The current incursion on the powers of the Scottish Parliament is to fund infrastructure directly and bypass Holyrood by providing funding in some areas straight to local councils causing considerable harm to the efficacy of the Scottish government and the parliament in ensuring coherent governmental strategy. A bridge or tunnel to Northern Ireland is an expensive extravagance compared to what Scotland judges are more important priorities.
From Brexit to his deal with the EU, everything Johnson has done in relation to Northern Ireland has all the sensitivity of a self powered sledgehammer. Johnson’s enthusiasm for building bridges does not extend to meeting others halfway on them.