The English dreaming of Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens, the conservative contrarian who hates to be called a contrarian, has decided that Brexit isn’t enough to restore greatness to England as it still leaves England encumbered with Scotland and Wales, countries which he appears to see as lesser nations which sap the glory that rightfully belongs to England alone. Hitchens has published a column in the Daily Mail in which he argues that England should give up trying to persuade Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to stay and instead secede from the United Kingdom, leaving the ungrateful Celts to get on with it by themselves. England, he tells us, should leave the UK to embrace “a golden future,” a future which judging by recent behaviour would seem to consist of being stroppy and ripping up treaties which it had itself negotiated, deporting migrants and asylum seekers, bollocks to everyone, and flags everywhere, sticking it to Europe with two world wars and a referendum.

The piece reeks with the exceptionalism and claimed victimhood which are the contradictory twin characteristics of modern right wing English nationalism. Hitchens is at pains to stress that his proposal does not mean that England would declare independence. Hitchens’ England is far too grand and glorious for that, declarations of independence are what lesser dependent nations do. England, he tells us, has never depended on the other nations of these islands. So we must have been imagining how it was Scottish oil revenues that paid for the massive development of the city of London in the 1980s. It was just a dream that Irish labour built the railways or that Welsh coal kept the steam trains running.

The way in which Scotland, Wales and Ireland were bled of resources, talent, and capital in order to help build the modern English economy was just the Celts paying their dues for the privilege of England allowing us to be ruled by that parliament and government which Hitchens tells us is English already and has simply, “given hospitality to others during the long adventure of the Union.” No, he really did write that, presumably in all seriousness. So when the Conservatives foisted their hard-line ideologically motivated Brexit upon Scotland and stripped us all of our rights and privileges as European citizens, they were just being hospitable. Aren’t you glad that Hitchens has cleared that up for us. I’m sure it comes as a huge comfort to those EU citizens resident in Scotland who have had to apply to a cold-hearted Home Office in order to remain in the communities where they have made their homes.

Hitchens says that England would not be declaring independence, his England has always stood gloriously apart, and needing no one, an island nation except for the uncomfortable fact that it has to share an island with ungrateful and lesser neighbours. This is the England of whose empire, Hitchens writes, approvingly quoting the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana “never since the days of heroic Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master.” He briefly concedes that “no doubt many wicked things were done by our empire”, glossing over the slave trade, the Irish and Bengal famines, the genocide of indigenous Australians, institutional racism, colonial exploitation and appropriation, to name but a few, but still says of England’s Empire “ours was better by far than any that has ever existed.”

What he calls for is not independence, instead he calls it the “Restoration of England” because he implcitly believes that England is being prevented from achieving its full potential and sense of itself by those Celtic nations which hang on to England’s coat tails and hold it back. You see, England is the real victim in this UK, selflessly sacrificing itself for smaller nations which don’t appreciate all that England does for them.

Santayana’s most famous aphorism is : “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Hitchens and other right wing English nationalists cannot or more accurately will not, remember the many sins of the British Empire, its racism, its exploitation, its contempt for “lesser breeds”, its rampant theft and corruption and the abiding sense of entitlement of its white Anglo-Saxon masters. The modern Conservative government repeats the past tragedies as farce.

Hitchens does not think that there need be an English independence referendum. Instead he believes that any party which put English secession in its manifesto for a General Election would win a resounding majority. Note that the English nationalists who insist that Scotland should only be able to hold another independence referendum with the permission of a parliament at Westminster which Hitchens asserts is English already also believe that England should be free to secede from the UK without even consulting the other nations, never mind asking their permission. That is a very telling double standard.

Of course Hitchens is merely being his usual contrarian and attention seeking self in making this proposal, but he does speak for a growing constituency within England. For decades opponents of independence have insisted that Scotland is financially dependent upon England, people in England have absorbed this message too, and naturally wonder if they would not be better off if they ditched what they believe to be the ungrateful financial millstone that is Scotland. An opinion poll in 2019 found that 75% of English Brexit supporters would be willing to “let Scotland go” in order to ensure that Brexit was done.

In 2020 a YouGov poll found that less than half of voters in England, just 46%, thought that Scotland should remain a part of the UK. What this, together with Hitchens kite -flying article, tell us is that a significant part of the English electorate, and particularly Brexit supporting Conservatives, are not strongly motivated to keep Scotland a part of the UK. This means that a Conservative Government could easily position itself as the champion of English interests by agreeing to a Scottish independence referendum, although what is far more likely is that post Brexit English antipathy towards Scotland means that in a future referendum Scotland will be told that no further devolution or “special treatment” is on the table, and the choice for Scotland is either independence or to accept its status as a “region of the UK” with no greater status than Yorkshire or East Anglia.

Personally I feel that one of the greatest advantages of Scottish independence is that it means we would be able to secede from Peter Hitchens and the cancer that is the Daily Mail.

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