Remainer Rage Sends Former Pro-UK Novelist to Dark SideTweet
Alistair McConnachie studies a speech by a former pro-UK journalist, now turned pro-separation, to figure out what sent him to the other side, and whether we should be worried. Published on this site on 24 August 2017.
Pic: George Street, Edinburgh, named after George III. The statue is of George IV. Copyright Alistair McConnachie.
When we launched our Campaign on 21 March 2012 we looked around for suitable articles to populate this Website, and we found one which had been written in 2007 by Scottish-born, London-based novelist Andrew O'Hagan. We liked it so much we put it on the site where you can still read it.
In it he states:
Scotland has benefited from the Union in ways too numerous to name, and it continues to do so in a style that would have wiser small nations staying shtum and counting their blessings...The United Kingdom is a beautiful idea - to bring these nations together in such a way as to improve their economic chances while preserving their differences was a stroke of genius, a spirited moment of inclusion whose 300th anniversary we should be celebrating on all fronts.
("shtum" means "quiet")
So we were puzzled and shocked to find that he delivered a lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival and came out as a supporter of separation. It was published the next day in The National (17-8-17). 1
It's our job to study this sort of thing. So we went through it carefully to find hints of what changed his mind, and to see if he has any lessons for Unionists.
O'Hagan begins by describing his childhood in Ayrshire and describes himself and his family as "immigrants" – which is possibly not strictly correct, since his Irish forebears may have come to Scotland at the same time as all of Ireland was part of the UK. Anyway, they must have thought of themselves as "immigrants", for better or worse.
Today, he makes his living as a novelist and that shows through his speech. However, among all the poetry and words, we can discern a couple of concrete reasons why O'Hagan has been turned off the United Kingdom.
Firstly, it is clear that O'Hagan voted to stay in the EU.
Most people have moved on. Not O'Hagan! The Leave vote is clearly at the root of his turning against the United Kingdom.
He is one of those sorts who is now very angry that the United Kingdom is leaving. He is angry to the point of using silly clichés, such as referring to young people being "sold out by their grandparents", and being "more profoundly in touch with Scotland's intellectual traditions."
If that is not enough, he claims this is "not at base a political argument" but "a humanitarian one, an ecological one" – at which point we realise, disappointingly, that we are in for a lot more of this sort of waffle...with another 4 and a half pages to go!
When you read this sort of language you know immediately that you're dealing with a True Believing Remainer – part of the London-dwelling, metropolitan elite; the sort of people that many Leave voters were thinking about when they voted against!
His anger at being defeated by these Leavers – who he presumes don't like his sort – is now directed into tearing down the British Nation-State, in order to spite these Leavers. He couldn't get his way in 2016 so now he's going to throw a fit and try to destroy the very United Kingdom which he believes these Leavers love so much.
We should emphasise that he doesn't say that in as many words, but we divinate it in the discharging spirit which rises out of the pages.
There are quite a few of his noisy sort. Unfortunately, because many of them are artistic Luvvies, they get a platform to promote their rage at their self-indulgent get-togethers like the Edinburgh Book Festival.
In that regard Prof Tom Gallagher (author of the exceptional Scotland Now: A Warning to the World) has said this about the Edinburgh Book Festival:
It gets substantial funding from both the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council, run by a Labour-SNP coalition [AFFG writes: Now run by an SNP/Green council] But there are few critical encounters and genuine debates. The event is playing a major role in creating a new cultural establishment that is subservient to nationalism. In other words, doing away altogether with inter-island cultural unity and bringing closer the political partition of Britain. 2
MISUNDERSTANDING the CONSTITUTIONAL NATURE of the UK
Secondly, he does not understand the British Constitution, and this misunderstanding leads him to claim that it was a "shattering moment" to witness the Supreme Court rule that the Scottish administration did not have an ability to veto Article 50.
Actually, that was the very obvious Constitutional position to anyone who understood even the very basics of devolution within the British State.
What is all this about?
EXPLAINING THE SUPREME COURT DECISION
On 24 January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that:
1. Devolved parliaments do not have any veto over Brexit because the Sewel Convention (whereby Westminster "would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament" - eg Brexit negotiations) is ultimately a matter for the British Parliament, not the devolved parliaments, to decide, and it is not justiciable (that is, it cannot be argued in the Courts); and
2. by 8-3 it ruled that the High Court's Article 50 ruling was to be upheld. That is, the Supreme Court ruled that Article 50 had to be presented and passed by Parliament, rather than by the Royal Prerogative exercised by the Prime Minister alone. 3
A Force For Good believes these were the correct decisions which reflect the proper nature and location of sovereignty in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, they bring a degree of constitutional exactitude into the otherwise ad hoc referendum process. We wrote about it at the time.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Sewel Convention reaffirmed our Unitary nature. That is, that the UK is a Unitary State – a Nation of Unions – an incorporating Union; as in, "out of many, one".
The UK is a Nation of Unions, built through the centuries. A remarkable coming together of unions – tribal, economic, regal, political, familial – all coming together into the Unitary State and One Nation which we know today.
The United Kingdom is the work of centuries; "The Great Work of Time". More than a "Family of Nations"; quite literally a Nation of Families.
We're not just a "union of nations". We're not just a "partnership". If we were simply some sort of loose partnership between different countries then the ScotNats would have a point when they complain that Scotland is not being treated "equally".
However, the UK is much more than some sort of loose partnership, some sort of mini-EU, or some sort of Federal State. Rather, the UK is one Nation State. We are one Body.
The devolved institutions are still arms of one British State. They are not sovereign, independent bodies in their own right – much as they might attempt to masquerade as such.
See our Graphic here, which describes the Constitutional Relationship.
ScotNats don't want to believe all this – if they understand it at all – and that is why they won't accept the Supreme Court judgement which vests sovereign power in the one British Parliament which collectively represents everyone in the UK.
ScotNats don't believe the authority lies with the British Parliament because they don't accept that Britain is a Nation with a Collective Constitutional Centre.
However, if we accept that Britain is a Nation then we understand that the British Parliament has the ultimate authority, the perfect right and the absolute duty to maintain it as one.
O'Hagan appears never to have understood all this in the first place! Therefore, his Constitutional Misunderstanding, on top of his Remainer Rage has led to his consequent anger, even to the point of claiming that the Union is "corrupted".
In the same vein, he writes that "Brexit gives the lie to the notion that Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland have sovereign force within the system of power at Westminster".
But nobody (other than him and ScotNats) would claim that in the first place because that's not how a Unitary State works. That is how a Federal State could work, but the UK is not a Federal State!
So, his is a straw-man argument based on his Constitutional Misunderstanding of the UK as some sort of loose Federal Union, rather than one cohesive Unitary State.
THE UNITARY STATE IN PRACTICE
What does being a Unitary State mean in practice?
It means this...
In 2014, Scotland voted to stay in the UK. We did so knowing that this would bind Scotland willingly to agree with whatever the UK – which is to say, all the British people acting through their democratic Parliamentary processes – decides.
This includes, for example, electing a Parliament and Government for all of the UK, or abiding by the decision of UK-wide referendums, or accepting whatever the British Parliament through its democratic processes, votes to do.
That is what being part of the UK means for all of us. That is what we voted for on 18 September 2014. That is how it worked before the 23rd June 2016. That is how it works now!
The fact, which we cannot deny, is that the UK voted to Leave the EU.
Scotland will respect that vote. It is now the duty and responsibility of Scottish politicians – within the democratically-endorsed United Kingdom – to work to deliver the best consequences of a Brexit, not only for Scotland but for everyone in the UK.
As they work to do so, they should respect all the people who voted in Scotland – whichever way they voted – and be bound, and abide, by the stated intention of the voters of all the United Kingdom collectively on 23rd June 2016. 4
So what else can we discern from O'Hagan's speech which enable us to understand his "conversion"?
Nothing else that we noticed!
Although he uses a phrase "when the imagination awakens to something better...what then for the old guard?"
An interesting phrase which suggests that he sees "the imagination", and the vision for the future, as being the possession of the separatists, rather than the unionists.
What is O'Hagan's imagination telling him, and what is his vision?
In that regard, he spends an inordinate amount of words on his imaginative insight that – he believes – Social Media is breaking down national boundaries, changing fixed identities, and creating new opportunities, and somehow this will all be to the benefit of an independent Scotland.
He goes into quite some detail about his vision, and in a way which is not necessarily attractive to everyone. His appears to be an Existentialist view of the world – where we are all infinitely malleable, rather than existing in an Essentialist world where we all have certain, fixed and defined God-given characteristics. Indeed, he speaks about Scotland as "a progenitor of new conceptions of the human."
So his imagination and vision is very much an acquired taste.
However, here's the strange thing! This idea about the digital age is basically what he said – albeit more concisely – in his pro-Union article which we link to on our site. In that article, originally published in 2007, he saw this exact same process as an argument for the United Kingdom. In that article he stated:
Young Scots are already living in a globalised, post-nationalist context, where identity-mongering and parochialism are redundant. The parcel of rogues for today is those who would seek to drag us back, to glue Scotland's future to an old and remote and tragic dream. Those days are gone now, long since replaced with bigger hopes and better days.
But now he sees the digital age as an argument for an independent Scotland?
In other words, he has just taken this idea – which previously he used to justify one point of view – and bolted it onto the exact opposite point of view.
What else in this article? He appears also to be a republican ("now in the independent republic of Scotland"), he doesn't like Donald Trump or Theresa May, and he calls The Daily Mail "odious".
Safe to say we won't be inviting him out for a drink any time soon – even if he converts back to Unionism!
To conclude: At the end of the day, it is mainly his Remainer Rage, with a Misunderstanding of the British Constitution used as a technical justification, which are the two reasons for his change of side.
Lessons for us? It is important to have imagination and vision – but not just for the sake of it.
In that regard, it is difficult to see how O'Hagan's vision about Scotland being a progenitor of "new conceptions of the human"; or his talk of "super-intelligent machines that will in time demand rights as well as responsibilities", has anything to do with an independent Scotland as opposed to a United Kingdom.
Even less do we see how such notions are going to swing anyone other than himself to separation!
Andrew O'Hagan, "Scotland Your Scotland", The National, 17-8-17, pp.1-7
Tom Gallagher, "Narrow Petty Nationalism Lowers Scotland's Cultural Horizons", 23-8-16
You can read the Supreme Court's 96-page judgement at:
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