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Some Scots may be loyal to Scotland and to the United Kingdom but the English are loyal only to England for them there is no distinction between England and Britain-it is all just England 

BBC Journalist Gavin Esler

A Scot living in England Gavin William James Esler was a journalist, television presenter and author. He fronted Newsnight on BBC2 from 2003 until 2014 when he took on the role of Chancellor of the University of Kent. A confirmed Unionist he stood for election for the pro-remain party, Change UK in the 2019 UK General Election

In November 2013, at the University of Kent, he delivered a lecture on the subject of a programme he produced for the BBC. This article is taken from that lecture:

There are those who believe that Britain has had its day. There are now four significant parliaments or assemblies in the United Kingdom: Edinburgh, Belfast, sometimes Cardiff, and London. The monarchy and those other great British institutions – the Military, the Churches, the National Health Service, the BBC, the nationalised industries – have been eroded or forced to change, or they have gone completely. Now we have a prospect of a common European currency and greater power going to Brussels. But is it really UK RIP?

I spent last year trying to find out. I started in the Scottish Highlands and went via Glasgow, Ibrox Stadium, Edinburgh and the new Parliament down to Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells, then over to the Welsh valleys and Northern Ireland. One thing that really struck me was how lucky we are.

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‘Brits’ caused quite a stir when, at the beginning of last year, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw told me that in his view, ‘the English are potentially very aggressive, very violent and of course, we have used that propensity to subjugate Ireland, Wales and Scotland and then we used it in Europe and with our Empire.

You have within the UK three small nations under the cosh of the English. These small nations have inevitably sought expression by a very explicit idea of nationhood. You have this very dominant other nation England, ten times bigger than the others, which is self-confident and therefore has no reason to be explicit about it.

I think as we move into this new century,’ Mr Straw went on, ‘people’s sense of Englishness will become more articulate, and that’s partly because of the mirror that devolution provides us and partly because we’re becoming more European’.

After the Scottish referendum.

Why did these remarks cause such a furore? Jack Straw was born in Essex. He represents a Blackburn constituency, and in many ways seems the quintessential Englishman. Yet he was called anti-English by quite a few newspapers.

It may have been more politically wise to tone down some of the phrasings, but wasn’t Mr Straw merely pointing out the obvious? – that the English didn’t conquer the world just by playing cricket and having cucumber sandwiches. And the Scots or Welsh or Irish have frequently joined in this great enterprise and profited greatly from it. Complaints about the disproportionate number of Scots in the Cabinet have a history going back 200 years!

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While making this radio series I would ask English interviewees to tell me the date of St George’s Day. Most people had no idea; I was even assured by one group in Tunbridge Wells that it was 17 March (St Patrick’s Day.) The only two people I met for the series who did know the date for St George’s day were Jack Straw and a columnist for the Daily Mail called Simon Heffer who then wrote articles about why Jack Straw was an idiot!

In North London, I came across a counselling group of intelligent, well-educated, middle-income, left-wing English men and women. They spent some of their time, in this counselling group, discussing problems they had with their English identities.

They all found it easy to think of negative stereotypes of England: the lager lout, foreigner-haters, imperialists. I reminded them that whatever their flaws, the English had, for example, started the RSPCA; they were uniquely tolerant of immigrants, and they had an extraordinary cultural history.

Jack Straw told me, ‘we should stop apologising for being English and celebrate the country’s huge achievements – the industrialisation of the world, the development of institutions, the literature, music and poetry we have brought to the world. At the same time, we should recognise the downside of being English – this aggressive, jingoistic streak – and try to eliminate it.

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Some of those English people I interviewed about their sense of identity, strangely to me anyway, spoke of the United Kingdom in the past tense with a sense of loss. Britain or the United Kingdom was dead, they suggested, thanks to the Scots and the Welsh.

This attitude was summed up by Sir Roy Strong who had just completed a book on the cultural history of Britain, ‘In Scotland and Wales, Sir Roy said ‘you have the National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Museum of Wales, the National Gallery of Wales, but there is no National Gallery of England. You see the word English attached to very little.’

It is worth reminding ourselves of some of the reasons why the historian Norman Davies and others have concluded that Britain is ‘in a terminal phase’. Britain was an invention after the Union of Crowns in 1603 and has been re-invented repeatedly in the Union of Parliament in 1707, after union with Ireland in 1801, when the Irish Free States seceeded in 1922 and then around the Welfare State in the 1940s.

Historian Linda Colley said that what kept us together were three things that don’t seem relevant to most people now: Protestantism, Empire and War. You could add, in this century, the national industries the Coal Board, British Steel, British Rail and the great Unions.

Now the nationalised industries have gone, the Unions have lost much of their power and that other glue, Socialism, which knitted together working-class people from Glasgow to the Welsh valleys has also cracked apart.

There is, as we all know, no shared British football team or football league. There is no common legal system, no national British church, no national anthem. Nonetheless, I am unconvinced of the inevitability of the break-up of the United Kingdom.

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Professor of Government at Oxford University Vernon Bogden told me, ‘Britishness is not an artificial construct, but something deeply organic. It would need more than devolution to undermine the attachment to the British state. We are the most Euro-sceptic country in the EU. That’s a sign of the organic sense of Britishness that still survives.’

What else? There is a certain nostalgia. In a British Legion Club in Cardiff a wonderful World War II veteran, Tony Jones, explained to me why he ripped up his exemption papers to fight Hitler, ‘not because I was Welsh,’ Tony Jones said, ‘but because I was British. We were defending this island – Scots, Welsh, English. We were all the same when it came to the last war.’

Britain is not unique in questioning its continuing status as a nation-state. In the case of the former Soviet Union or Indonesia or Yugoslavia, ‘nation state’ means not a lot. But many other nations are re-inventing themselves in ways that do have a parallel for us. A generation ago Spain and Ireland both had appalling images of backwardness with poor, agriculture-based economies. One was a semi-Fascist dictatorship and both were bastions of traditional Catholicism.

Now Ireland, as we all know, has re-invented itself as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and Spain has obviously thrown off the Franco image. In Barcelona where the Mayor’s office carries three flags; those of the City of Barcelona, the region of Catalonia and the Spanish national flag. The Mayor, educated in Edinburgh, suggested to me that it was a British notion that devolution meant the country would fall apart. He believed that the result would be exactly the opposite.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, one of the most prominent and outspoken Unionists in Labour, put it to me this way. ‘A lot of this debate is based on a misapprehension that without an institutional formula the UK could break up.

But Britain exists because people want it to exist. Gordon Brown and William Hague believe that all kinds of values – fair play, tolerance, self-reliance, decency, inventiveness, enterprise, a sense of personal privacy, love of the eccentric, a sense of humour – somehow keep Britain together.

As I travelled across the country quite often I’d hear the same complaints. Too many Scots in important positions; it was unfair for Scottish and Welsh politicians to vote on issues affecting them in devolved parliaments but also to vote on issues affecting England. Disproportionate amounts of taxpayers’ money were being spent on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Let me point to what I think is more important than all this: something which does keep up altogether and that’s a shared sense of British culture in its wider sense. This has been reflected, it seems to me, by the Tate Gallery, which in March this year split into two: Tate Modern and Tate Britain. I suggested to Stephen Dukar who is the Director of Tate Britain that to some people Tate Britain might seem a daft idea because if Britain really is dead he has named his gallery after the corpse. He responded that it was a perfect moment to engage in a debate about what British art might mean, whether Britain was any longer a valid concept and how it was changing. He saw Tate Britain as contributing to the new debate in the 21st century about the relationships within these islands.

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Modern British culture is so diverse and inventive it stretches from John Le Carré to Bryn Terfyll to Dwight York, from the Royal Opera House to your local Balti house, from Glasgow Rangers to Chelsea. Fans from Northern Ireland travel every week to football games in Glasgow, in Manchester, in Liverpool. TV sets in the Irish Republic will tune in to the BBC. Eastenders and Coronation Street, English soap operas, remain British institutions in Glasgow and Cardiff and Belfast. Even the historian Norman Davies, one of those who said that the British state was on its last legs, concedes that British culture, in its widest sense, will remain robust.

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What is it that has kept the idea of Scotland as a nation alive for 400 years and does it offer a clue about Britishness? Why do most Scots, including myself (despite the fact I’ve lived outside Scotland for longer than I’ve lived in it), still feel Scottish in one way or another – despite the power of the greatest empire the world has ever known, the British Empire, despite the drift of so many Scots southwards to help run that Empire, and despite the superior cultural power of England.

Each of these three smaller nations was never completely overwhelmed by England or by the British State because in some small corner of our hearts most of us retain the belief that we were still Scots too, or Welsh or Irish even when we were British.

The question for the future it seems to me is whether the idea of being British will continue to reside in some small corner of our hearts. If it does, Britain will somehow be reinvented. If it ceases to be important to us, then no matter what constitutional arrangements we make, Britain will die. https://www.kent.ac.uk/alumni/pdf/kent36.pdf

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Sometimes the truth is the biggest threat when exposure threatens a certain group. Such groups could be guilty of subverting the rule of law and this brings with it the possibility that someone will be going to jail over the truth and it shouldn’t have been Craig Murray

The judgement of Lady Dorrian

The arbitrary judgement of Lady Dorrian introducing a division of accountability between journalists of the “new media” and “mainstream media”, needs to be challenged and set aside since its retention as a legal judgement will establish dangerous precedence in Scottish law. The glaring flaw in her pronouncements is that control of media is retained by Westminster and online safety legislation is clearly at odds with her views.

Extract: Craig Murray’s report on his appeal hearing 23 February 2022

Lord Matthews said that the protection quoted in the ECHR case extended to investigative journalism and this was not investigative journalism. It said this applied to press offences, but was this a press offence? Was I a journalist?

Lord Woolman asked whether, if I could be called a journalist, did that mean just anybody could be a journalist who published on social media?

Dunlop replied anybody who was fulfilling the role of a public watchdog, according to the European Court of Human Rights.

Lord Pentland said that particular judgement appeared to refer to NGOs rather than individuals.

Dunlop said it specifically included bloggers.

Pentland said he thought it mainly meant NGO but they would look at it.

(https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2022/02/your-man-with-the-petition-my-appeal-against-imprisonment-for-journalism-23-february)

Comment: Dearie me!!! and this lot sit in judgement!!

2021: The online-safety-bill-journalism-safeguards

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that citizen journalists will have the same protections for their work as professional news providers. (https://pressgazette.co.uk/online-safety-bill-journalism-safeguards)

2014- Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

The High Commissioner stated that sound, bold and independent journalism was vital in any democratic society. It drove the right to hold and express opinions and the right to seek, impart and receive information and ideas; it ensured transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs and other matters of public interest; and was the lifeblood that fuels the full and informed participation of all individuals in political life and decision-making processes.

The Security Council, in its resolution 1738 (2006), the General Assembly, in its resolution 68/163, and the Human Rights Council, in its resolution 21/12, had all condemned attacks against journalists. They had called upon all States to act on their legal obligations to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists so that they were able to perform their work independently and without undue interference.

States must create an enabling environment in which the rights of journalists and other members of society could be fully respected, with clear and public agreement by officials that issues of public interest could, and should, be examined and discussed openly in the media.

On the question of who could be considered a journalist, the High Commissioner confirmed that, from a human rights perspective, all individuals were entitled to the full protection of their human rights whether the State recognized them as journalists or not; whether they were professional reporters or “citizen journalists”; whether or not they had a degree in journalism; and whether they reported online or offline. In this context, she reminded the Council that the Human Rights Committee had, in its general comment no. 34, defined journalism as “a function shared by a wide range of actors, including professional full-time reporters and analysts, as well as bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the Internet or elsewhere”.

When fear prompts journalists to self-censor, the free flow of information is impaired, and the public is deprived of reliable, critical and independent information. States had both a duty to respect and a duty to protect journalists, who should be able to carry out their work unhindered and without fear. Governments were called upon to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists, online as well as offline, so that they could perform their work independently, without undue interference and without fear of censorship, persecution or prosecution. This required political will, as well as legal and judicial measures, but also the fostering of a culture of respect for the critical role of the media in any democracy.

Speakers noted that bloggers, online journalists and citizen journalists played an important role in the promotion of human rights. Threats and attacks against such actors, including through their unlawful or arbitrary detention, were condemned. Delegates stated that the protection of journalists should cover all news providers, both professional and non-professional. (https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/regularsessions/session27/documents/a-hrc-27-35_en.doc)

Comment: Sometimes the truth is the biggest threat when exposure threatens a certain group. Such groups could be guilty of subverting the rule of law and this brings with it the possibility that someone will be going to jail over the truth and it shouldn’t be the Blogger.