As David Cameron stood in Westminster pretending to apologise for the actions of British soldiers in Derry in 1972 he kept his lips tightly sealed about Ballymurphy. Few, even in Ireland, outside the Republican movement have ever heard of what happened from 9-11 August 1971 in the Belfast housing estate of Ballymurphy. I’ve been to Ballymurphy. My friend, Fr. Paddy McCafferty, is the parish priest at Corpus Christi parish on the estate, and I had never heard of what the British Army did there. The Channel 4 documentary the other night was an eye-opener.
Britain is not a nation. It is a vicious imperial political construct that has been imposed upon us, but it has power over us only for as long as we accept that it has a valid claim on us. We of course have to accommodate ourselves to some extent to this imposition by having a foreign royal and imperial insignia on our passports, by being UK citizens, and such like – we can’t function in the world without these things – but nothing of this means even in the slightest that we are British.
Every confidence trick has its mark, and every mark has to be reeled in with a story – this is the prose or the narrative of union. Over time the prose of the union has changed but the purpose has always been the same, to keep us in the game. It was once about benefiting from England’s other colonies. Yes, we benefitted alright. We got progress: The Clearances, emigration, industrialised poverty, a metropolis in London that soaked up our best and brightest. If being bled dry was our objective, we did alright out of the union.
Britain can’t die like this! For all we – Scottish independentistas – may dislike being “British,” with that identity stamped all over our passports – quite literally for the whole world to see, Britain has been, for the most part, a worthy adversary. Sure, if this is how it ends I’ll take it, but I think it deserves better. The romantic in me wants to defeat Britain in a final bloodless Bannockburn, where we get to see the last heroic charge of the redcoats mown down under the mighty artillery of Scotland’s democratic spirit. We know how much the Brits love their glorious failures.
The referendum we were granted in 2014 was an anomaly. We would never have been given the opportunity to vote on independence if those in power in Westminster thought for a single moment that we would elect to leave. They were banking on our defeat, and they expected a defeat so humiliating, so utter and comprehensive it would, in a single blow, send our smouldering hope flying off into the abyss of history and ancient and half-remembered lore. But we took up that gauntlet and we bloodied their nose. Our defeat then was the pallid victory of the swindler...
This is the thing with derivative western political culture – something Britain’s Tories have taken to whole new depths; it gets progressively worse and less convincing with each new generation. Gone are the days of a marbled Gaius Octavius Thurinus as Caesar Augustus – vultus bonus, ut me addere – pointing the way ahead for Pax Romana. Now we don’t even have an effete William of Orange on his gee-gee. We have been reduced to this: Middling civil servants accidentally promoted – through the rigours of last man standing – to leadership, poised as though bracing to release excess gas.
After April 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and at the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour experiment, a window of opportunity opened for the old imperial flag. With “peace” in Ireland and a refreshing post-Conservative era flourishing over Blair’s New Britain, it was felt that the union jack too could be rebranded and sold at home and abroad as the hallmark of brand UK – a neoliberal whitewashed advertising strategy that has been developed through a number of more recent permutations including “Team GB” and “UK OK.”
David Leask’s job isn’t to spot lies. He may want to convince himself that this is what he does for a living, but he’s deluding himself. Mr Leask can’t even spot the lies in his own paper. He hasn’t commented on the astronomical number of retractions The Herald has had to publish in relation to its coverage of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish government (see the pattern?). Retractions on page 12 a week later, as The Herald knows, don’t correct the damage done by a lie published in bold on the front page – and that’s how it works.