Still Divided?

When I came to write “The Divided Kingdom,” July’s Forum Lead, what I produced reflected the fact that I’m a lawyer. I gave everyone a ConLaw lesson, explaining why we are where we are. However, I perhaps forgot that law is only ever a framework. It is always full of other things.

Anyone who tries to fill an entire society with law, leaving nothing outside it, is in danger of engendering a horror akin to the murderous regimes made when people try to fill entire societies with politics, or religion, or science.

This is why getting responses from a psychiatrist, a philosopher, and an historian who moonlights as a journalist was so revealing. To that end, pointing to non-legal things highlighted by each respondent (and which I found particularly striking) forms the basis of this short Forum conclusion.

There is method in my madness. I want you to read all the pieces, to go away provoked, but also to be better informed.

Samuel Gregg’s essay showed me the strength of Scottish involvement in the British Empire, and how it knitted the two peoples (English and Scots) together. After the disaster of the Darien Scheme, Scotland’s great and good got behind a people (the English) who were better at the colonial sort of thing and then proceeded to demonstrate how, without Scottish input, the British Empire would not have gone as far and as fast as it did.

Gregg’s piece also gives the lie to nationalist claims that the English somehow engaged in a disastrous military occupation, or that the Jacobites were members of a sainted multitude. That is not how history works. It is useful to be reminded.

Theodore Dalrymple brought home to me the role of resentment in emergent nationalism, even the benign, civic sorts of nationalism. Setting as he does the three smaller Home Nations—and especially Wales—alongside an account of Flemish and Catalan nationalism is instructive. It is particularly instructive because it shows how resentment can have real roots. Yes, it often comes across as moaning, and can also feed a destructive sense of victimhood, but it remains true “that the Welsh are still regarded condescendingly by their English neighbours, often in a very wounding way.”

Another iteration of this phenomenon is playing out again for the rest of the world to see in East Ukraine, forming as it does the basis of much support for Russia in the now ruined Donbas. This resentment (at finishing up in the wrong country) seems to have persisted until Russian-speaking Ukrainians realised the Putin-backed breakaway statelets were hives of pure gangsterism, and that Russia’s February 24 invasion was making everything worse.

Beware of resentment; it will provide nourishment to Poison Trees sufficient to grow vast over multiple lifetimes, and then kill everyone who eats of their fruit.

There has been a great deal of news since the first of July, when “The Divided Kingdom” ran in these pages. Boris the greased piglet was finally snared by a combination of prosecco and cake in time of covid, lost by-elections, and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Relatedly (at least on the Ukraine point, and probably more widely), Daniel Johnson’s discussion of NATO, Trident, and the Scottish National Party’s support for unilateral nuclear disarmament provided the sort of gritty foreign policy lesson we all need from time to time. It is not pleasant to be reminded that proponents of Mutually Assured Destruction at the height of the Cold War were right, but there it is.

When I lived and worked in Scotland, I can remember from that period nationalist friends calling Trident “nothing more than a dead man’s switch.” Their claim seemed plausible as Russia flailed around, unable to do anything much, hawking oil and gas (which Scotland also had in plentiful supply). But Russia did not listen to anti fossil fuel environmentalists while Holyrood and Westminster did.

Now it is the nuclear deterrent on the Clyde that stares down Vladimir Putin in his Moscow lair while the European Union begs Spain, Portugal, and Greece to cut their natural gas consumption by 15 per cent to help Germany.

“Unlike other countries, Spain hasn’t been living beyond its means in energy terms,” says Spain’s Energy Minister, his tongue no doubt lodged firmly in his cheek. I will be completely unsurprised if Spain, Portugal, and Greece adopt “turning Germans into popsicles this winter” as official government policy.

Another thing: there has been a great deal of news since the first of July, when “The Divided Kingdom” ran in these pages. Boris the greased piglet was finally snared by a combination of prosecco and cake in time of covid, lost by-elections, and the Northern Ireland Protocol. By the time September 5th rolls around, the UK will have a new prime minister, one of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss or former Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Meanwhile, government has gone into a state of suspended animation for the August silly season, where, by long established tradition, the country snoozes amiably in the summer sunshine, watches cricket, and both schoolchildren and the Westminster Village go on holiday. Boris has done his last PMQs.

Except prices are going through the roof, inflation is at a 40-year high, and like everywhere else, we are looking down the barrel at a full-blown cost of living crisis.

Salad days.