By Gerry Hassan

It has been a week of momentous events. The unfolding Egyptian tragedy, the restarting of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, and in our corner of the world, the first Scotland v. England match in over a decade.

It feels inappropriate and insensitive to mention a mere football match in the company of such historic events. Yet, I think with that caveat the game mattered because it offered a glimpse of future possible arrangements. Two neighbours and friends with a rich, shared history, but who have slowly drifted apart. And in this slow semi-detachment, they have begun to appreciate each other in a new light. At least, that’s what I thought about the football.

Much of the Scottish debate and sentiment seems at times to not connect to wider dynamics and factors, from the state of British politics to wider global issues. Clearly the same can be said about some of the central delusions which have a vice like grip on British politics.

One of the defining factors in Scottish sensibilities is the state of the pan-British institutions which used to contribute towards the expression in both popular will and institutional form of a collective sense of modern Britishness.

These are the BBC, the NHS and monarchy, and just as Scots identity used to be supported by ‘the holy trinity’ of the law, education and kirk, these could be seen to make up ‘the holy trinity’ of modern Britishness. Until fairly recently, we would have added the armed forces to such a list, but they have been reduced to such a pitiful size, that they are much less relevant.

Two of the three are not in the greatest shape and have currently an uncertain future: the NHS (in England) and the BBC. The NHS south of the border is in multiple crises, facing funding pressures, along with demographic trends and popular rising expectations. All of this could be said of the NHS in Scotland, but added to this mix in England is an ideological onslaught on its very idea.

This entails the fragmentation, outsourcing and corporatisation of huge parts of the NHS. This is being undertaken by a government with no mandate to make such changes, but which justifies it by using the deceitful rhetoric of talking about ‘putting power in the hands of GPs’. In reality, it is empowering the likes of Virgin Healthcare and American and Australian private health care companies.

The BBC, post-Savile, has faced controversy and scandal about the ethics of management and accountability and how it understands its own mission. If that isn’t enough in the wake of Leveson, it faces another fundamental challenge with Maria Miller, Tory culture minister, having a major review in the run up to the BBC’s Royal Charter renewal in 2017 look at issues of media pluralism and ‘voice’. Many media insiders see this as a ploy after Leveson for the government to bring the BBC down a peg or two, consider shrinking its remit and role, and win the plaudits of the Murdoch empire.

There are common threads in the experience of both organisations, the NHS and BBC. One is the decline in trust by the public in these once patrician, profoundly liberal ‘we know best’ bodies. Too often British politics has involved Labour and the left defending paternalism and such bodies against what they see as attack from the right.

The other commonality is the existence of a Tory marketisation dogma which since Thatcher has reshaped much of Britain and certainly England. It has an inexorable logic to it, of undermining the public realm and acting as a whirlwind through national institutions: witness the impending privatisation of the Royal Mail.

It seems an ideology that Labour is in retreat in the face of, and incapable of offering, despite having thirty years to attempt to fashion (and more than a decade in office), an alternative version of the public good – one less paternalist, more diverse, democratic and decentralist.

This is all a far cry from Macmillan’s ‘conservative nation’, but we are a very different kind of society compared to then. All of this leaves us with the unifying institution of the monarchy. As a body, personified in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it has enjoyed a new found lease of life and popularity.

But for how long? The era of Charles beckons. Given his luggage, personal peccadillos, record of consistent interfering in matters of government, and setting up of a virtual mini-parallel state of organisations, it seems highly possible that the only way for the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth is down. At least for a period.

We have been here before. The long reign of Queen Victoria (63 years) witnessed a period of popular monarchialism which was followed by one of more unease as the Edwardian age tried to accommodate the ideas of monarchy and democracy. The same is highly possible in our post-Elizabethian times, and while observers will note that until now these moods have moved cyclically, what is different now is that royal advocates such as David Starkey seem to be predicating the continuation of Britain on the popularity of the monarchy.

This brings us to the state of modern Britain. What binds us together? Once we had common causes, songs, battles and even enemies, but no longer. The last British good war that is uncontested is the Second World War, the nearest we seem to have to a British foundation myth.

Does this matter? Maybe not in the short term, but in the longer run it surely does. We can possibly stumble along for a while, maybe even a couple of decades, but eventually people will want more from their national imagination, their polity, and state. In short, they are going to want to be more as a people.

Could this realistically happen at a British level with a reimagination of the United Kingdom as progressive, liberal and European? I would like countless other Scots like to think so, but it isn’t going to happen is it?

More likely, whatever Scotland’s big vote next year, we are going to have to, all of us, in Scotland and across these isles, imagine a world after Britain.

Courtesy of Gerry Hassan –


2013-08-19 07:40

I wish I knew what crystal ball you were gazing into Gerry, certainly isn’t the same one I am staring at.
Think September 2014, think new politics, think for once about hope and aspiration for this ancient nation of ours.
The UK in the form of the British Establishment constatly itching to go to war with someone, anyone so that they can beat their sinking chest and tell everyone just how Great they are and how important on the world stage.
You here no such thing in the Scots Parliament so silent it is on such matters yet in a little over a years time, it will have to take a position whether they like it or not.
The BBC can forget their charter as far as Scotland is concerned for there might be no BBC here unless by subscription. Who unless a communist state, needs a state propogandist anyway ?
Think positive Gerry, think Independence in fact Gerry, put your cards on the table and stop lammenting your starry eyed vision of old Labour, that has gone too.
2013-08-19 10:47

It is the responsibility of ALL governments to enhance the lives of all their population, this is the core problem of the UK. Which remains directed by an unfair Westminster who remains committed only to the well being of the South East of England.
They have neither the ability nor the will to make the UK, the country it should be, where wealth is spread to each corner of the land.
Westminster is corrupt and will not hear of this despite their sound bites.
This is the core of the inevitable disintegration of the “United Kingdom”.
They cannot recognize this and never will.
If Scotland votes YES, I fully expect the North of England to become even more disenchanted with Westminster, they may even decide to join Scotland, never say never!
2013-08-21 22:58

Just remind me how much more is spent on welfare per head in Scotland than in England… The claim that the UK government is only committed to the well being of SE England is risible.
2013-08-22 10:49

I don’t just want welfare, I want investment in infrastructure and in sustainable industries to provide the jobs and opportunities to lift people out of reliance on welfare.

I want resources to be distributed evenly throughout the country. But with the sheer density of population in the south east that is never going to happen in the present UK set up.

Welfare is an essential safety net but it should not be the height of our ambition for Scotland.
2013-08-23 23:31

Not sure what point you’re trying to make here.

Welfare as a percentage of GDP is less in Scotland than in England and Wales, for example.

London is the most subsidised part of the UK and receives higher benefits payments than Scotland, thus the main reason for the Bedroom Tax to counter the higher costs of housing benefit there.

Snowthistle makes a good point, though. We should be aiming higher than the current level of dependency for our nation.

Staying in the Union because of the ‘wonderful’ benefits we receive is a pretty poor argument for doing so.

It’s about time we saw a living wage alongside a living benefit, as part of a much fairer redistribution of the nation’s wealth. There is too much wealth in too few hands, leaving less in the economy to invest in the people.

The Unionists offer no solution whatsoever to the inequality we see on a daily basis.

2013-08-19 12:19

Ah, bliss, a future without Britain.

A future where Scotland can be her own mistress, making her own decisions.

A world where we in Scotland no longer have to put up with dictat from the self-serving bunch in westminster.

2013-08-19 20:30


Why are you so focused on the past?

Britishness was imposed to destroy our true identity. We were ridiculed for speaking in Scots or Gaelic. The history taught was English history. Yes we had a role in building the empire. We contributed people and intellect to the “new nations” and of course we were excellent cannon fodder.

Your article is on a par with a unionist Braveheart speech.

The majority of us are looking forward to what could be, not dwelling in the past. History is just that – accept it and move on.

Answer me one question – do you think Westminster is treating us fairly in the independence debate?
I won’t insult your intelligence by asking about the BBC.

The union is on a par with the Labour party in trying to live off past glories instead of facing today’s challenges.
2013-08-19 20:37

“What binds us together? Once we had common causes, songs, battles and even enemies, but no longer. The last British good war that is uncontested is the Second World War, the nearest we seem to have to a British foundation myth.”………

The second world war was the last nail in the Empire’s coffin. Britain relied heavily on it’s many dominions for resourses and in the end showd just how week Britain (UK) actualy was without the power of an Empire that lets remember was built on slaves and heroin……Not to mention imposing the British will as seen fit.

For 410 years ‘Britain’ has paraded around the globe sticking our noses in where it’s not waranted. “Enamies” we (Britain) have only ourselves to blame.

Westminster’s Britain still has the old empire mentality and still want to project a false perseption of power (Trident).

Whether we Scots want to admit it or not Scotland has played a massive roll in every way that is BRITISH.
2013-08-19 21:25

Did Upspake and Clootie read a different article? I don’t understand their comments on a piece that states fairly
clearly that Britian is dead.
2013-08-19 21:37

There never was a British state.
The white paper published by Westminster earlier this year made it clear that Scotland ceased to exist in 1707 and was replaced by Greater England.
The Greater English political parties continue to support this view in which Scotland does not exist and hence that Scottish votes in a Westminster election are simply
IrreIevant (mostly).
The problem for these English based parties is what future will they have in a country where the government is no longer elected by English votes.
However,Cameron on signing the Edinburgh Agreement,expos  ed all this propaganda as the lies it truly is.
By agreeing that Scots can determine their own future through the ballot box,he was agreeing that Scotland is a distinct country and has the right to self determination.
This,at the stroke of a pen,cast the Greater English parties adrift in Scotland.
They no longer have any credibility and will need to be replaced after independence.
2013-08-19 21:39

“British values” happen to conveniently coincide with English values and interests, in which we are invited to participate as paying spectators.
Always provided that we cough up, sit down and shut up.
No thank you!
2013-08-20 01:27

I am not sure I grasp this articles point. Is it that “failing” historical institutions on their knees is Britishness? Nostalgia comes before progression? The establishment before society?

If that is the case I agree, it clearly describes Britain and all the woes that cannot be fixed by being part of it. Every single one of these institutions needs reformed in Scotland and will be post 2014. Let England keep Britishness we don’t want or need it; it never included us anyway.
H Scott
2013-08-21 13:20

Whilst we share a monarchy and Scots are probably mostly monarchists, our idea of monarchy is different from England’s. I think we thole them rather than get moved by them. I also think even that monarchism is because the Union has arrested the political development of our republicanism. I think a republic is a better fit for Scotland emotionally and ideologically because we are at heart a republican people.
call me dave
2013-08-21 14:49

McLeish: Latest.

Last night, Labour peer Lord Foulkes said Labour’s “anger” over Mr McLeish’s views was giving way to “resignation”.

“There have been a lot of raised eyebrows today and shrugging of shoulders,” Lord Foulkes said. “A lot of people have been using Twitter to ask why he doesn’t go the whole hog and join the SNP.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Salmond has told him that he is more useful to them remaining in the Labour Party.”…/…

Henry not completely in the tent, nor completely out the tent yet, but p&sh;&ng; mainly in the tent I think.
Good old Henry!
Many labour Fifers will follow his lead!
2013-08-21 17:31

I was checking a few twitter accounts last night and I have to say I am deeply saddened for Henry McL.

The attacks on him by his fellow party members was nothing short of scandalous. Personally I think Labour went downhill after McL resigned, his successor wasn’t a patch on Henry, and I see no-one coming through of Henry’s calibre.

If these tweets accurately reflects the standard of the party today they deserve to lose the referendum and 2015 Westminster election.

call me dave
2013-08-21 17:31

Listen to him (McLeish) at the link below.…/…
2013-08-25 13:41

The NHS, of course, is NOT a “pan-British institution” like the BBC or the monarchy. The four nations of the UK have separate independent health services. The Scottish NHS has been independent since its inception in 1947.

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