Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A further response to Ian James Parsley

 I've been neglecting writing for a little while due to a bout of flue and an exam. Hence I wasn't aware that Ian had posted a response to my critique of his federalist position until I got a message about it on Twitter. I've since brought myself up to speed and will respond again. 

 However, this isn't going to devolve into a fisk-fight, with Ian and I posting increasingly long line-by-line rebuttals of each other's positions. Instead, I'll simply provide a succinct presentation of my views on the various issues Ian raises here.

Edit: The succinct thing got lost the moment I hit the thorny issue of 'Englishness'. 

 First, I would like to clarify that I do not believe that a Conservative government can reverse devolution, nor do I think I argued thus. What I do believe that unionists need to do is hijack devolution and change its shape. Instead of the 'devolutionary centralisation' of the SNP and Plaid, where they simply seek to claw as much power as possible to the national assemblies, we should be advocating more radical localism. Local councils, elected mayors and so forth can all be used to sate people's lust for localism without boosting nationalism.

 Ian's point about adopting a make-or-break option to the nationalists is one I completely concur with. The Scots have a right to decide whether they're in the UK or out of it, but if they choose to be in it then they must negotiate that position with the rest of the British. The idea that the SNP can simply cherry-pick their relationship with the UK is as ridiculous as the belief that the UK can do such with the EU.

 The 'Greater England' point is one which Ian and I are not going to agree on. Put simply, it is all a matter of perspective. Ian sees an over-mighty English bogeyman squatting at the heart of the union because he insists on viewing the union through the prism of the home nations. I take the position that whether or not you are Mancunian, Brummie, Glaswegian or from any other corner of our country, you are British and that in order for Britain to continue to warrant existing we must be governed as British.

 This is what lies at the heart of my argument that unionists need to start fighting for the conscious British identity. Labour first started undermining it when they adopted anti-English posturing in Scotland in the Eighties, and the nationalists have piled on that bandwagon since.

 Ian says that at a recent event the idea of 'Northern Irish' as a primary identity went unchallenged. That's fine. Unionism is not about choosing whether or not you are Northern Irish or British, but about being Northern Irish AND British. The understanding that you can be both is one of the things that makes unionism superior to nationalism, with its worship of a primary identity.

 His very focus on 'England' serves to undermine Ian's argument. He is right to note that England and Scotland have diverged economically, but that masks the true story. The north of England is economically and politically very much like much of Scotland (sans the nationalism). Any story about the 'divergence' of the areas of the UK should be about how the capital-driven, well-connected and prosperous south has increasingly left behind the post-industrial, remote fringe. 

 But that narrative doesn't fit into the arbitrary lines of the Home Nations. Given that the North of England has suffered a similar fall from industrial grace as Scotland, Ian's treatment of England as a single unit is no more legitimate than my belief in Britain as one, and his statements about how unconsciously recent policies have represented 'English' interests are thus wrong. If anything, they represented Southern interests. 

 England's lack of identity does not mean that British identity is English. Ian commits the fundamental flaw - common amongst ideological nationalists - of assuming that 'England', as a cultural unit with convergent economic interests, has to exist. But this isn't the case - the only thing making Scotland's relationship with the South different from the North's is the lack of a border. The English nation is a cartographical fiction, and Ian's adoption of arbitrary national boundaries rather than actual regional politics and economics demonstrates the anti-unionist world view that underlies his argument.

 Finally, I maintain that Scandinavia was an absurd example for Ian to use in his first post, and his explanation confirms that. He is right to say, in his counter-rebuttal linked above, that a Scandinavian model is where a lot of Scottish and Welsh nationalists would like to end up. I don't doubt that. But Ian was using it to illustrate an apparently 'unionist' argument. And as an example of an end point unionists are supposed to find desirable, pointing to Scandinavia is a bit like pointing to Austria-Hungary.

 In short, my original position is unaltered. The frame of reference Ian uses when he forms his world view really shapes his conclusions before he starts. He adopts the Home Nations as the fundamental building blocks from which an argument must be formed despite the fact that 'England' is just as arbitrary a construct as 'Britain'. He continues to play down the role of 'Britishness' and explicitly states that Britain is not a unit. 

 This is an entirely honourable world view for a nationalist to adopt. But it is a very strange one for a unionist, because it holds that Britain is a fundamentally illegitimate concept. The idea of deciding policy on a British level is seen as 'doing what England wants'. If you view the Home Nations as fundamentally sovereign then the Union simply doesn't make sense. If Ian thinks like that, I'd be interested to know whether or not he actually considers himself a unionist.

 For myself, I continue to believe that unionism requires a believe in the validity of the British state and conscious identity. The assumptions behind nationalism, including those behind Ian's argument, are at heart arbitrary. Pan-British democracy could be viewed as doing what England says; but it could be equally said to be doing what the South and Midlands say or even just what the majority say. Choosing 'England' rather than one of the latter two is the product of a fundamentally nationalist view of the world where those lines have some special importance.

 Unionists - the best unionists, anyway - hold that no particular line on a map holds some sort of mythical, fundamental importance. That's why I'm proud to be one.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure exactly what you mean about centralisation by the SNP. To the best of my knowledge every "centralising" policy by the Scottish government - council tax freeze, single police force, single fire service - has been backed by your party.

    The only major centralisation policy - at the moment shelved - opposed by your party is the local income tax plan of a unitary rate.

    "We believe in real devolution, devolution to communities and individuals" is one of the old Tory records that used to come out into play up until the referendum in 1997.

    Whilst this was the party that was merrily going the length and breadth of the UK centralising power for itself in London. As John Cole grumbled in his memoirs "As it seemed to me" - the Tory party went around emasculating councils and centralising powers for itself claiming that it was doing so in the name of the individual citizen or a term used increasingly over the years - the consumer.

    It was the Tories who centralised business rates, it was the Tories who scrapped the metropolitan regional council systems in England, it was the Tories who transferred water in Scotland from council to Scottish Office control in great attempted gerrymander of the 1990s--------

    If you believe in empowering communities, do you think the UK should adopt the Danish system of local government finance when the rate for the bulk of one's income tax is set by the town you live in rather than by central government. for example in Denmark income tax rates vary from town to town from apparently 23% to 28%. I can hear the CBI howl at would be real financial devolution for communities and the funding to make real decisions :)))))))))))))))