|'The prospect of independence in Scotland has largely been|
dismissed by politicians in England.’ The All Under
One Banner independence march in Glasgow last month.
Within Britain, any references to “national character” remain spectacularly English. The Conservatives have done little to thrash out an image of how the UK can expect to define its post-EU identity – other than vague invocations of sunlit uplands – because they cannot yet fathom how to properly exit. But most politicians and members of the public who are heavily invested in Brexit tend to speak of English exceptionalism as the trait that will pull them through.
If the poorest areas of the UK expect to suffer further as a result of Brexit, why not 'take back control'?
It is notable, though, that Tory politicians have been frequently careful to refer to their group by its full name: the Conservative and Unionist party. That they do so is a kind of over-compensation, because it is increasingly obvious to anyone watching this slow-motion car crash that, for all the talk of taking back power from Brussels, the project is all about moving it to London, rather than incorporating Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast. Attention has been paid to the problems involving the Irish backstop, but the focus has been on trade and goods, rather than the rights of individuals to move across the border freely, and how border infrastructure could revive the tensions and demons of the past.
The prospect of independence in Scotland has largely been dismissed by politicians in England, even while the arguments there rage on, inflamed by the looming exit deal and the even more extreme possibility of no deal.
|Border Communities Against Brexit protesters |
near Newry, Northern Ireland, in March.
Will the Conservative members preparing to vote for Johnson even care if Brexit ends up leading to the dissolution of the union? Last week’s YouGov survey of Tory members revealed just how far the card-carrying zealots will go, revealing the majority were happy to see Scotland and Northern Ireland leave the union as long as Brexit was delivered. The majority of members are English, and when patriotism is discussed in the British media, it is English nationalism that is discussed, even when people claim to be discussing a “British” identity. The cultural uniqueness of Scotland or Wales is a matter of indifference. The Conservatives are happy to see almost anything happen to secure any form of Brexit whatsoever.
When Brexit happens, the pressures leading towards a political breakup of the United Kingdom will become intense.
Why wouldn’t every other country abandon England? If the backstop continues to threaten trade and people in Northern Ireland don’t feel listened to, what is to be gained by being tethered to Westminster?
The argument against Welsh independence has always been economic, and the Scottish independence referendum was plagued by fears over currency reform, banking and the economics of natural resources, leading to the narrow no vote. But if the poorest areas of the UK can expect to suffer further economic hardship as a result of Brexit, after already being ravaged by the architects of austerity, why not – to steal a phrase – “take back control” and at least steer your local economy in a decentralised direction that acknowledges the geographic challenges?
Ultimately, the Conservatives don’t care enough to recognize the risks. But right now the breakup of the union looks extraordinarily likely, if not inevitable. It means if Johnson does indeed become the next UK prime minister, he may also be its last.
Dawn Foster is a Guardian columnist