Andrew Bowie’s bumper book of British banality

We’ve all been distracted by empty supermarket shelves, petrol shortages and soaring gas prices none of which have anything at all to do with the rank incompetence of the Conservatives and their fixation on getting the hardest possible Brexit as a favour to their money laundering friends, oh no. On top of that there’s the revelations of the Pandora papers and the extent to which the Tories are funded by dodgy individuals who are allegedly involved in industrial scale corruption and are pally with anti-democratic authoritarian types who aren’t actually Priti Patel. But don’t let it be said that the Tories are incapable of multitasking as incompetently as they do, or more exactly fail to do, everything else. They have still found time to grace us with a collection of essays by Conservative thinkers, and Alister Jack as well, which it pleases them to call the case for the United Kingdom.

Titled “Strength in Union: The Case for the United Kingdom “
The slim volume was edited by Andrew Bowie, which ought to be enough to warn you that you’re in for an unsatisfying gruel of smugness, arrogance, irrelevance and triumphalism, all cooked up in an industrial oven of British exceptionalism. There’s nothing new in this paean to the British state, it’s just the same rehashed nonsense that Scotland was force fed by the BBC and the Better Together campaign back in 2014. This is the kind of stuff that would be rejected by a GCSE modern studies teacher for being trite and unresearched. Meanwhile, just enjoy the irony that the party which brought you “freedom” from a union so that we could measure our “sovereignty” in imperial units has now published a book called ‘Strength in Union’.

The essays even try to assert that the British nationalism of the Conservatives is outward looking and a beacon of tolerance, diversity and inclusion which the rest of the world aspires to even as the Home Office imposes a hostile environment and EU citizens who have made their homes in the UK are told that they are no longer welcome. Yeah, it’s that bad.

We are told by Michael Fallon, chanelling Philip Hammond who infamously warned that an independent Scotland would have no defence from threats from outer space, possibly because the BBC would not allow Doctor Who into an independent Scotland, that Scotland is dependent upon the inflated military budget and nuclear viagra of the UK and would be hapless helpless and utterly vulnerable as an independent nation because it would friendless and isolated, unlike the UK which has got such fantastic relations with its neighbours.

There is the usual attempt ( copyright Gordon Brown) to rebrand universal values as somehow uniquely British, so for example Tory MP Karen Bradley, who when Secretary of state for Northern Ireland showed that she had not got the foggiest notion about the basics of the history or politics of Northern Ireland by confessing that she hadn’t realised that nationalists in Northern Ireland won’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa, brings that same depth of insight into an essay which avers that tolerance, freedom, and diversity are core British values which presumably Scotland will be deprived of as an independent nation.

Bowie’s own contribution is an exercise in banality and trite irrelevance. He tells us at length about how he feels just as much at home in London and Cornwall as he does in Scotland which leads to the inevitable conclusion in a dispassionate observer that Andrew Bowie’s emotional attachment to a place is predicated upon the possibility of it being governed by a Tory. Apparently we are supposed to conclude that Andrew Bowie’s feelings are an adequate justification for a Conservative government which enjoys little electoral support in Scotland but which unilaterally and without even the pretence of a mandate is undoing the devolution settlement which the people of Scotland campaigned long and hard for even though Bowie’s own party assured the people of Scotland when it was seeking a No vote in 2014 that the powers of Holyrood would never be altered or changed without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament. But Andrew Bowie loves being British and that makes it all OK.

Brexit gets few mentions in this collection of essays, it is hailed as heralding trade opportunities for Scotland,with a grudging admission that a majority in Scotland voted to remain. Since we are very far from seeing any of these supposed trade opportunities, the tract quickly goes on to describe Brexit as being in the rear view mirror, as though we are not still dealing with its lasting and long term negative consequences. The message is clear, get over it Scotland, rejoice in your blue British passports that don’t offer freedom of movement or settlement in Europe and enjoy buying things – if they are in stock that is – in ounces and pounds now that we’re free of that satanic and foreign metric system with its logic and ease of use.

Alister Jack’s contribution tells us that he is not a fan of describing the UK as four nations, because in his view the UK is “one great nation” He reduces the cultures and identities of the different nations of the UK to “regional variations” and a “tapestry of dialects”. He decries the “separatists” “constantly trying to make Scotland a different country.” Just think about that for a second, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the man who is supposed to represent Scotland in the British cabinet, by his own admission does not like to think of Scotland as a nation. Which begs the important question – just why does he think that he has got his job?

Meanwhile former party leader Theresa May equates being Scottish with being from Yorkshire. It should be clear by now that the Anglo-British nationalism of the Conservatives has as its goal the erasure of Scotland and Wales as nations and their reduction to glorified English counties whose role is to allow Anglo-British nationalists to pretend that their nationalism is more expansive and inclusive than that of other, lesser, nations. For the Tories Scotland is just more fuel for the binfire of British exceptionalism.

You don’t have to be a supporter of Scottish independence to recognise that Scotland is already a different country and that it did not cease to be a country in its own right because of the Union of Parliaments of 1707. Indeed the treaty which underpins that Union contains important provisions which guarantee the continuation of Scotland as a nation such as Scots law, education and the place of the Church of Scotland. Alister Jack discounts all this and dismisses the Scotland-England border as nothing more than a sign by the side of the road. as though it was of no more importance than a sign telling you there’s a cafe off the next exit.

This appalling lack of understanding of Scotland as a nation with its own distinctive culture, history and identity, a history and identity which inform the distinct political culture that Scotland still possesses, a political culture that rejects Alister Jack and his party, would be laughable were it not for the fact that this ignorant arrogant patrician is supposed to speak up for Scotland’s interests at the highest level of the British Government.

This collection of lightweight opinion pieces doesn’t just fail to make the case for the United Kingdom, it illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of Conservative opposition to Scottish independence. It fails as it is trying to argue that two contradictory things are simultaneously true, that the UK is both a single nation and a union of four nations that remain distinct. It tries to paper over the yawning chasms in this argument by appeals to British exceptionalism which only seem convincing to the likes of Andrew Bowie.

If this is the best that they can come up with as a case for the Union, the UK is already over.

There won’t be a blog update tomorrow as I have a physiotherapy appointment in the morning and as usual I’ll be wiped out afterwards.

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