It's about Service to Humanity, not "Freedom from the English"

The fifth C-17 at RAF Brize Norton Monday 7 April 2008. Image from the Ministry of Defence and used in accordance with the Open Government Licence.

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Separatists have a vision of "freedom", for themselves, from the UK, and England and the English in particular.

We have a vision of the people of the UK working together to serve each other and the world, says Alistair McConnachie.

Updated on 8 September 2014 and posted originally on 16 November 2012.

Right: The RAF has eight massive C-17 transport aircraft which are vital for humanitarian aid missions, operated by 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. A separate Scotland would have none. (Image from the Ministry of Defence and used in accordance with the Open Government Licence.)

Nationalists shout about "freedom" for Scotland from the UK (although they really mean, from England and the English).

They say this will give them the political freedom, to "choose". Cue a long list of things they'd like to "choose" - no Trident, no "illegal" wars, no austerity measures, more windfarms, a fairer society - and so on.

Actually, they already have the freedom to make these choices. They just don't have the freedom to get their own way all the time - which is a different matter, and which is what they really want.

They want a separate Scotland so they'll be "free" to get their own way all the time.

Nevertheless, "freedom" can be an effective rallying cry.

If the separatists have a vision of "freedom" for Scotland, then what is a vision for Britain?

We can look to our history to guide us. What have been Britain's "visions" in the past which have animated its behaviour?

For Britain, especially during the Empire years of the 19th and 20th century, our vision was one of "service" - the ideal of service to others. 1

How Girls Can Help to Build up the Empire book (Thomas Nelson and Sons, May 1912)

That was the purpose which underpinned the Empire during that period. One can see it in literature in the first half of the 20th century. Children were encouraged to see themselves in life as helping others, which, at the same time, helped the Empire on the world stage.

With this vision, there developed a sense of national purpose, a sense of national mission. The Empire was seen as a means of Britain, and Britons, giving service to the world. "Doing good" on the world stage.

Cynics today might scoff, but they would be wrong. The ideal of service was a genuinely-held value, strongly believed and supported.

To be British was to have a moral endeavour on the world stage. The phrase, "that's not British" came to be used as a way of saying "that's wrong".

This was, and is, placing a moral value on the British identity and on Britain as a nation. This was, and is, Britishness as moral concept.

Indeed, it is one of the reasons that a lot of people identify as "British" today. It is seen - or felt only at a subconscious level - as a moral good thing. It is often a moral identity as well as being a national identity - in a way that other identities simply are not. This also explains why some people might recoil from it because they think it is too much associated with bad things.

Although we do not have an Empire any more, that national vision - that animating principle - of giving service to the world, remains a valid and important one.

In that regard, it is far easier for Scotland to serve the world as part of the UK. Within the UK we have greater reach and greater impact. Outside the UK we would have virtually no impact for good upon the world. We would always be hanging onto someone else's coat-tails - hitching a ride in someone else's vehicle, quite literally.

For example, how many Air Force cargo planes is Scotland going to have to deliver humanitarian aid to stricken places? How many helicopters is Scotland going to have, to ferry supplies back and forth from (non-existent) aircraft carriers? You get the picture!

The vision of service, and the national purpose it brings, has worked for Britain in the past and it can work for us again.

The world would be better off if the UK remains as one.

Angel Gurria is the current secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. He, like many of us, knows that "the world would be better off if the UK remains as one."

And just a word here to the gloom and doom-mongers who imagine Britain's greatness "is in the past", and our destiny is now inevitably downhill.

All of that is absolute nonsense because it does not reflect the reality of life. The reality of life is that, personally and nationally, we create our own destiny. The story of our life, whether personal or national, is waiting for us to write it.

Furthermore, those who measure Britain's position today by our position in the past are not comparing like with like. As far as things today are concerned, Britain is still one of the world's foremost nations, by any measurement.

Our destiny was not to have had an Empire and then become small and confused forevermore. 2

Rather, our destiny is to have had an Empire, to have lost most of it, but to create great new things from our present position - new things which may not yet even be imaginable - which may surpass that which has gone.

The UK world's second most powerful nation in 2014

For example, a Report published by the think-tank European Geostrategy, on 7 January 2014, measured a nation's power in terms of Economic Strength, Military Reach, Cultural Pull and Diplomatic Influence, and found that today the United Kingdom is the second most powerful nation on earth. It is the world's only Global Power. There is one Super Power and the rest are Regional or Local Powers, unable to project power world-wide (see its Table, left). 3

Many nationalists are motivated by "freedom" - freedom from the English, freedom to do their own thing, freedom to get their own way all the time.

We are motivated by the concept of service - service to others, and the knowledge that together, we are better able to serve our fellow man.

A vision of service to all, is more attractive than a parochial obsession about "freedom" from others.

Let the nationalists shout about their "freedom" to do their own thing, and to get their own way.

We speak about how much more we can achieve together in service to each other and the world.

Together we are better able to be a force for good for all humanity.

(1) This view of Empire - as a means of enabling the British to serve humanity - started to become fashionable after the 7-year trial of Warren Hastings (1788-1795). As Jeremy Paxman has written, "the impeachment of Hastings marked the point at which Britain became the first of the modern empires to mount a detailed interrogation of what was being done abroad in its name. It was part of a wider moral awakening in the dying years of the eighteenth century, of a piece with a growing revulsion at the cruelties of the slave trade." Jeremy Paxman, Empire, (London, Penguin paperback, 2012), pp.83-84.

(2) We wondered if Paxman was holding to this peculiar and erroneous view of "destiny" at one point in his book when he wrote "How much better it might have been [for Britain] to have had the chance to devise another destiny." As if we don't have that chance right now! Ibid, p.14.

(3) See

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