Peter Arnott: This Is Going To Be Good

The Scots were never big enough to break the Union. That’s always been a job for the English.

So what do we do now? We’ve just lost a fight, so our instinct is to pretend we can reorganise and regroup immediately, like Rocky Marciano. The hive mind of the yes movement is already a-buzz across social media with plans and hashtags. We are so busy picking ourselves up off the floor that while we may have grumpily noted that we ceased to be very interesting to the UK media at about a minute past 4 on Friday morning, we probably haven’t quite noticed that the way the story has moved on is entirely in our favour. Quite bewilderingly, our project of breaking Britain has been taken up with gusto and enthusiasm… by the British state.

Might it just be that a narrow No vote last Thursday was the best possible result in the long term? Before you reach for a brick and tell me to stop being such a smart arse, consider this.

The best imaginable result was a decisive Yes… but that was never on the cards. The best possible result was a narrow Yes – and that would have united all the politicos of the rUK against us. While a narrow, not even that narrow a No vote has turned them on each other. Like wolverines in a sack.

And, as it looks to me this Sunday night, they might be doing a better demolition job on this blessed Union of Nations than we ever dreamed of. And doing it even faster than we had in mind.

Even before the extraordinary developments of the long weekend after the night before, if, up until a couple of weeks ago, somebody’d offered me a 45% Yes vote, I’d have taken it. If you’d offered me that two years ago, I’d have bitten both your hands off at the wrist in bewildered gratitude. But I never expected the speed with which the narrative of the break up of Britain would transfer itself to what has always been the epicentre of the earthquake: London.

The Tory plan for English votes on English laws – for devolution from the centre to the centre – was always on the cards as a post-referendum electoral wizard wheeze to trap the Labour Party. And in the context of the decisive No vote Cameron was expecting, might have been just that – a crushing blow not only to Scotland but to the prospect of any decently progressive government anywhere in the UK ever again. That was always the prize the Tories sought that they thought was worth the risk of calling Scotland’s bluff.

It was evident that the risk was never taken seriously, as witnessed via the already notorious and evaporating ‘vow’ opportunistically scratched in pencil on the back of a wet fag packet (and the front page of the Daily Record) last Tuesday. A move made in the same spirit of lazy opportunism with which all three UK parties jointly refused to “share” the pound.

They didn’t even need to make those pledges, is what’s rather comical about the whole thing. That one Ipsos Mori poll that showed Yes in front that got all of us so excited turned out to have been the push out of the door and into the polling station that the No voters needed.

All the same, the promises and the timetable laid on the table as the restaurant was closing were a vital psychological prop for No voters, according to the evidence of Lord Ashcroft’s exit poll. They were enough to make No voters vaguely feel that they were voting for something, and that a UK that cared about them would deliver them a reward for their loyalty, and that the UK valued them as contributors to a democratic process.

We Yes folk thought that was bollocks. We thought it was a cynical ploy that would vanish with the morning mist. But we were wrong. We had underestimated the faux cleverness of the Bullingdon boys.

Because Cameron has decided to go ahead with the reform for Scotland and to do so on the timetable that Gordon Brown set out. But, and here is where the wizard schoolboy wheeze comes in, also to tie in the timing of devo max for England (basically, the sloughing off of any responsibility for anyone on these islands who isn’t already rich) to the timing of those irritating pledges made to the loyal No voters of Scotland. That is, he is exploiting promises he didn’t mean for a project he really cares about. Winning the 2015 UK general election.

After all, Scotland’s electoral significance for the Tories is already precisely nil, but this move gives them the chance to paint the Labour Party as putting self interest before the people of England. Labour, already condemned as anti-Scottish in their former fiefdom, can now be painted as anti-English as well. Labour will suffer a bit in Scotland, probably, but they’ll get CRUCIFIED in England. Result!

So the reward for the loyalty of the Labour No voters in particular, and, with heavy, almost delicious irony, for the slow-minded elephants of the Labour Party, is a trap. The Tories can now paint the Labour Party as being anti-English and as standing in the way of “fairness” out of sheer, naked, party interest. And the charge will stick. Because it’s entirely justified. The Labour Party opposed our independence out of party interest, and now the English are going to feel about them exactly the same way that we do.

It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so bitterly hilarious. It is a quite brilliant electoral ploy by the Tories that will almost certainly secure them a comfortable victory in 2015. It is also the beginning of the end of the Union, in an even more decisive way than a narrow Yes vote would have been.

This is not just because an awful lot of No voters are going to feel awful like they were made chumps of, that is only incidental. The real damage to the Union is being done by awakening England to the idea that it doesn’t much like the idea of union any more either. And if our feeling that way (i.e. some of us) was a problem for the Union, then the English feeling that way, and being given an electoral focus for that discontent, is surely going to be fatal to it.

The end of the Union, the Break Up of Britain… or UKANIA, to use Tom Nairn’s more useful term, has its roots in the economic and cultural strategy that broke the post-war settlement of 1945, abandoning first the principle of full employment, then that of industrial policy and finally the welfare state. Those things that reinvented “Britishness” in 1945 as a model of social cohesion in the wake of war and depression were progressively and then suddenly abandoned, most dramatically under Margaret Thatcher. That process was never seriously challenged under New Labour. It should not have been remotely surprising therefore that the idea of Britain should have been hollowed out along with its social substance.

Devolution in Scotland was always a compensatory and defensive measure against the dominant concomitant of this “national” decline – that is the dramatically enhanced recent concentration of all cultural, economic and political power into the city state of London. Devolution, at least for us, was much less a matter of asserting our different identity as it was of exploiting that distinctiveness and parleying it politically into the creation of an at least partially protective alternative centre of gravity, cultural, economic and political, here in Scotland that can never rival the pull of London, but can at least negotiate with it. This has never been an option for the Anglo-Saxons, who confuse themselves with their Norman overlords, imagining they are the same people. The English do lack strategic advantages that the Scots have.

At least until last week. A decisive No vote removing the threat of independence “for a generation” or “forever” according to Jack Straw in the Times, was supposed to remove that marginal leverage from Scotland. We weren’t supposed to be able to negotiate any more. We were supposed to disappear again from British politics, and return into the obscurity from which we have only ever emerged when the Union was under threat. But a 45/55 split just doesn’t “deliver” that stability, no matter how hard both Labour and Conservatives – each for their own reasons – pretend it does.

What is more, thanks to the way the Yes campaign was organically grown rather than directed from above, we are clearly not going anywhere.

So now, with the Scottish question still unsettled, for electoral advantage in 2015, the Conservative & Unionist party have just exploded a bomb underneath the very idea of the Union that they’ve got in their NAME, for goodness sake. They are leaving the Labour Party, crippled, exhausted and corrupted by association, as the only “principled” Unionists standing. (Apart from the assorted fuckwits who invaded George Square on Friday.)

The West Lothian question now pales in to nothingness besides the suicidally incoherent idea of governments elected in the UK that can’t legislate on schools and hospitals and immigration. (Unless they’re a Tory government, of course.) It’s a fundamental attack on democracy in England which the Labour Party have to resist, even though the Tories will make them look undemocratic while doing it.

You can see why Crosby, Osborne and Cameron think it’s such a bang on jape. It will steal UKIP’s English nationalist thunder and cripple the Labour Party. What’s not to like?

Well, boys, if any of you had taken any of the bullshit you spouted about how you love the Union seriously, you’d understand that what the Scots failed to to do in the name of Scotland, the Tory boys are going to accomplish. The Tory boys, who don’t give a stuff about anyone or anything other than their own narrow bunch of buddies are doing a demolition job on the United Kingdom in the name of England – an England they despise as heartily as they loathe Scotland.

They are going to break up the Union for us. And we’ll help, of course. We’ll join political parties. We’ll use the formidable machine of participatory democracy we’ve invented to focus on the new target of May 2015. But the arena we’ll be working in is still being defined before us and not by us. Deliciously. For a week or two, counter to our activist instincts, brothers and sisters, I suggest we pull up a chair and crack open the popcorn.

This is going to be good.

Peter Arnott
National Collective

This article was originally published on Peter’s blog.