What is it about Labour leaders and Britishness? Remember Gordon Brown’s embarrassing attempt to redefine it?
Well, this week it was bettered by an excruciating Ed Miliband. Even at his most convoluted, Gordon Brown never tried to deny me my right to an identity. But this is exactly what Ed Miliband seemed to suggest when he said that the referendum would be a choice between Scottishness and Britishness.
Not only is this ridiculous, it is geographically impossible. That is, unless Ed Miliband intends to take his party’s obsession with “separation” to a new level by building a channel across the border after independence.
Look Ed, it’s quite simple – I am British because I live in the northern part of the island of Great or Greater Britain. I am British in the same way that someone from Stockholm is Scandinavian and in the same way that you are also British because you live in the Southern part of this island. It’s basic geography and it is astounding you are unaware of that. You also have absolutely no right to tell me what I can call myself after independence, when I will, of course, still be both Scottish and British.
To be charitable, what Ed, in his confusion, was perhaps trying to suggest, is that I would no longer be “culturally” British because I would be changing my nationality from UK to Scottish.
This is a basic failure to understand what independence is striving to achieve. What independence will mean is that Scotland will leave the UK state with the return of currently reserved powers to the Scottish Parliament. The referendum on independence will be – or at least ought to be – about where power should reside. It has absolutely nothing to do with Britishness or Britain, just as the UK state also has nothing to do with Britishness.
Given their confusion over all of this, let’s see if we can help our Unionist friends with some basic Britishness.
First of all, cultural Britishness is a good thing. It is a necessary social construct designed to describe the joint relationship of all the peoples and nations of these islands. With political union within the UK it meant a certain thing; with independence, it will mean something different. Britishness is a fluid concept – effectively meaningless but also immensely important. It can mean just about anything and that is why it is so difficult to define, hence Ed and Gordon’s excruciating attempts.
Secondly, and just as importantly, Britishness is also what we have shared together on these islands. It is everything from the industrial revolution, to standing together in the world wars, to the welfare state to our fantastic rock and pop bands. All of this is as much mine as the most battle hardened unionist from the southern shires, and none of this can be un-invented. This is the social union part of Britishness and it is this that we will always share.
I actually believe that Britishness will be improved with independence because we can put a new energy into our British cultural and social ties. For example, maybe we can persuade Ireland to participate more fully in a larger idea of British isles’ “Britishness”. We will be building these relationships from a shared position of equality and mutual respect.
Ed Miliband, like so many other unionists, is becoming increasingly obsessed with identity, flags and nationality, and in being so, is seeking to deny us our geography and our shared culture and heritage. If this is the territory upon which the unionists want to fight the campaign, then, I’m afraid, they’ll be fighting with themselves.