In the coming weeks the United Kingdom is going to slip chaotically into the deepest political and social crisis it has experienced since the outbreak of the Second World War. The very existence of the British state, given the conditions of an “Apocalypse scenario” Brexit crash out, will be on the line. Civil disorder caused by food shortages and lack of essential medicines will bring matters to a head in England, Scotland, Wales, and those parts of Ireland still under British occupation.
This is the temple before the altar of which another Rebel could intone: “I say to my people’s masters: Beware! Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people who shall take what ye would not give.” And this is, at least in part, the meaning of Wolfe Tone’s grave; that its incompleteness is the promise of completion, that this is not over – that Ireland’s enemy should take heed. Something “is coming.” This grave in Bodenstown is not pretty. Its symbolism and meaning are dark – nightmarishly dark, but they are necessary.
Realpolitik is the business of practical politics, based on the ever-changing conditions of the political weather than on idealised notions and ideas based on ideology. We may have independence as our immediate political goal, but the weather systems in which we must navigate a course to that end are in a constant state of flux – meaning, quite simply, that grand strategies and masterplans seldom, if ever, actually exist. So, we are left to deal with day-to-day contingencies, and, when it comes to the current state of Brexit, those are coming at us thick and fast.
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.
The counter-voice – such as the political voice of the SNP, Sinn Féin, or Plaid Cymru – is the modern equivalent of the pillory or the stocks. This is where the enemy is presented, carefully framed and expertly mitigated, so as to make it serve the purposes of the state. We may hear the voice and see the face of Nicola Sturgeon, for example, but the narrative – the most important element of “the news” – is always that of the British state. No BBC broadcast featuring a counter-voice will leave the audience in any doubt as to dangerous nature of that voice.
As royals of the same royal family that did this to Ireland, it would be different had they come to apologise for the barbarity of British rule on this island and for the part Queen Victoria – “the Famine Queen” – played in the utter ruin of Ireland during the Great Famine, but they didn’t. Harry and Meaghan came – as British royals – to play the part of international celebrities, stars we were all expected to flock to see. They didn’t seem to notice how empty the streets were, how so few people turned out to welcome them.
As Britain hastily cobbles together a black history of Britain the coming of the Windrush generation is being framed as an invitation. It was nothing of the sort. The British Empire was imploding. In order to offer a lifeline to its predominantly white imperial ruling caste in the colonies it granted citizenship to former subjects, not thinking that the native populations and the decedents of former African slaves would take up the freedom this citizenship offered with such relish.
Brexit is merely the latest development of this ugly racist British nationalism. In the past two decades ethno-nationalism and racism have played a growing part in British politics, forcing both the Conservatives and Labour to lurch to the nationalist right to win support from an entire section of the British public that has had its mind and soul poisoned by a really horrible and bitter angry nationalism. We might even be correct in seeing in Brexit a completion of what was begun in 1982 with the limiting of British citizenship to those “born here.”