Rory Stewart OBE, Tory MP (born in Hong Kong, raised in Malaysia, education Dragon school, Eton and Balliol college, Oxford - Deputy Governor in two Iraq provinces for the armed US/UK Coalition that illegally invaded Iraq. He served briefly in the Black Watch. His family originates from Crieff in Perthshire).
Asked if the break-up of the Union, compared by Paxman to a marriage, matters -
“I think it matters very deeply, I think we’ll miss it terribly. It is something it is very easy to imagine you can tear apart, by I think like any relationship - any intertwined thing - once it’s gone, we’ll miss it and we will never forgive the government that tore it apart.”
This is emotional nonsense, with highly coloured, pejorative terms, delivered by a privileged product of the British Establishment, colonialism and Empire. He believes what he says - why wouldn’t he, with that background? He talks of the voluntary ending of a 300 year-old political treaty by democratic means and negotiation as a tearing apart, and the we he refers to, although he the thinks of it as the people of the UK , is in fact his own tiny, powerful, privileged class.
That class will miss the Union - you’d better believe they will! They owe all they have to it - it has delivered for them, while marginalising, impoverishing and killing the rest of us in large numbers, especially the Scots.
And never forget, that historically, that class has always included Scots who were willing, indeed enthusiastic agents of British imperialism and the betrayal of the economic and social interests of their own people. And they’re still around …
Asked pointedly by Paxman what ‘we’ would lose, he replies
“I think it’s a mistake to think we would lose economics (sic) - you can make economic arguments, you can make political arguments - you lose an idea: an idea of union, an idea of what was great about Britain - of England, of Scotland. And those are things that all of us feel.”
In the turgid emotional and now stagnant pool that is the unionist mind Britain, instead of being a geographical term for an archipelago - a group of islands - is conflated with a political entity, one that didn’t exist when the union with Scotland - a political and economic union - took place. He’s right - Great Britain is an idea, and its time is ending. If it’s any comfort to the Rory’s of this world, the Union of the Crowns - a much older pragmatic idea - looks set to continue.
Joan McAlpine, talking hard sense, leavened with humanity as usual, attempts to reassure those about to cry in their warm ale over the impending ‘loss’. Peter Davies, an English Democrat would like to return to the status quo ante, i.e. reverse the devolution process, rightly pointing out the self-serving political motives of Labour in using it to consolidate their Scottish hegemony (it didnae work, Tony!) but he is a realist, albeit a disgruntled one, about where we now are, and wants out.
Prompted by Joan McAlpine’s analysis of the real reason for devolution, Rory Stewart reluctantly concedes that “probably, in the end, it reflected the desires of the Scottish people. I think it would have been dangerous to fight it forever. But I think at the same time, Scotland and England can be independent … and Scotland is more independent in the Union than out of it.”
He goes on, however, that it is “reckless and unnecessary …” He is interrupted at this point by Paxman saying that it can be done. Rory acknowledges that it would not be a cataclysm, but “a crying shame …”
Faced with the English Democrat asking why the English are being discriminated against in the devolution settlements - as they are, in my view - he patronisingly tells his countryman (in Rory’s English persona) that he is “falling into the trap that the Scottish nationalists are setting - they are trying to make you feel that you are being discriminated against” to which he receives the robust rejoinder from Peter Davies “We are!”.
“Everything that they are doing is designed to try to make you feel resentful - you don’t need to …” This is half-Scot Rory talking about a large number of his countrymen and the elected Government of Scotland. Peter Davies rejoins that he is not resentful, but old Etonian Rory is in full patrician mode now.
“You can be confident and proud of being British.”
Peter Davies, an Englishman, is more practical, and rejects the patronising tone. “I want what they’ve got - that’s not resentful.”
Gaun yersel, Peter, I say, endorsing his feeling that he is being discriminated against, because he is. Tam Dalziel said so, and since I am now from West Lothian, I support that other product of empire and privilege, the Laird of the Binns. At this point, Joan McAlpine made more relevant, hard economic and legal points, but Paxman prefers to stay with the emotion and the discrimination issue.
He questions the audience - do they feel discriminated against? He raises the nonsensical proposition that the English should be allowed a voice in the referendum, which some of the audience do. Could the English force the Scots to stay, even if they wanted to leave? This leaves the unfortunate audience member being prompted by Paxman looking confused, as well he might be, and asking that the question be repeated.
But Paxman gets little comfort - good old, English common-sense is prevailing. One of them recognises that some Scots actually may have more reservations about independence than the English.
Paxman seeks for Scots to answer his question, but yet again gets a robust answer from an Englishman, that it is a matter for Scots, not for them. Paxman then finds a straight-talking Scot, who says that all that will happen is that the English will lose a few more Labour MPs, and is sanguine about Scots continuing to get on well with the English, since they do so under “the pseudo independence we’ve got now.”
But Rory will have none of it - we are “in danger of turning friends into competitors, and opening up rivalries and crises of identity that none of us need or want.” He remains oblivious to the fact that this exists only in his mind and the minds of his narrow privileged class, not among the ordinary people, who recognise that the UK and the Union are not operating in their interests, but in the interests of Rory’s class - the British Establishment.
The Scottish audience member who spoke earlier points out gently to Rory, and cites former British empire members Canada, Australia and Ireland, where contacts, family ties and social relationships and economic ties are just fine.
Rory ignores this courteously stated point, and falls back on his Dad in Crieff, who is proud to be Scottish and British, and claims, with no evidence, that this represents more people in Scotland than the audience member represents, a discourteous, impertinent and unsupported statement.
I have little to say about the last few minutes of the discussion - it’s all there in the clip for those who want to analyse it.
I leave the last word on the UK and the Union to the distinguished historian, Norman Davies, on pages 870 and 871 of his magisterial work The Isles. I have selected quotes that seem highly relevant to me.
(1) The United Kingdom is not, and never has been, a nation-state.
By the terms of its inception in 1707, The United Kingdom has been prevented from developing either the federal or the unitary structures which have elsewhere fostered homogeneity.
It is essentially a dynastic conglomerate, which could never equalise the functions of its four constituent parts, and which, as a result, could never fully harmonise the identities of the national communities within its borders. The UK, for example, has no one established Church. (It has two of them.) It has no unified legal system, no centralised education system, no common cultural policy, no common history - none of the institutional foundations, in other words, on which nations states are built.
Like all ruling elites who wanted their citizens to form a coherent national community and to identify themselves with the interests of the state, the British establishment deliberately confused the concepts of citizenship and nationality. Indeed, in British usage, citizenship actually came to be called ‘nationality’, whilst citizens - or rather subjects - were called ‘nationals’. This linguistic manoeuvre did much to create the false impression that everyone who carried a British passport was automatically identified with the same national group.