Author and S&C Contributing Editor Gareth Rees asks whether, given the current political climate, the United Kingdom can survive as a united kingdom. And if not, might we finally start to deal with a few nostalgic national myths?
When you leave your village and go abroad, you not only learn about another part of the world, you find, when you get home again, that you see the old country in a different light. I returned to Britain after a year away and felt dismayed that the country was half asleep in an egocentric version of history and repressed by a caste system which held back the flowering of so many of the people.
Despite this, new shoots of life cannot help but burst through the gaps in the paving stones, the Beatles for example, lifting spirits here and abroad. And isn’t this a great thing to do, to bring to foot-tapping life rather than to feel great by deploying the means to intimidate on a vast scale with nuclear weapons or to ride with the hounds on a mission to dismember foxes?
As for this General Election, the old narrative appears to be heading for victory but it could turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. You know that dubious feeling when you’re saying to yourself, ‘I’m worth more than this. I want out‘? And yet, after the severance, you wake up and find your life strangely lessened rather than enhanced. Instead of promotion, you find yourself relegated and grateful for an affair with anybody.
I wonder if Britain is going this way. It could be that Scotland will become increasingly disconnected and maybe in ten years or so the nuclear submarines will have to look elsewhere to park themselves. Pembrokeshire? That might produce votes for Plaid Cymru. Cornwall. Well, they’ve got issues with central government, haven’t they?
And then there’s Northern Ireland where I’ve heard word that economic considerations might trump ancient identity issues and a united Ireland will come about sooner rather than later.
And what about Great Britain? Will we be left with just England and a one party state? And does it feel safer and stronger for that?
Maybe it will be like waking up and suddenly feeling naked and vulnerable, last night’s dream of grandeur just that, a dream. And then, as in the Battle of Britain, you realise you won’t survive without the Polish pilots and the sergeant pilots, the machine operators, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, cultivators and artists to revive the memory of humanity instead of the locations of money chests buried under the sands of the Cayman Islands.
Photography by Moshe Tasky