There’s a deep valley between the true makeup of British values and the parties that are supposed to represent them. There has been a crude attempt to rectify this by the invention of the Brexit Party, contributing to the general consensus that this coming general election is fundamentally between Remainers and Brexiteers. This only solves half the problem. Even amongst the Remain and Leave crowds, there are convoluted jungles of values.
Amongst the Brexiteer lot, for example, are fundamentally different ideas of what the European Union actually is. Some people think it’s fundamentally a liberal project that is attempting to impose multi-cultural, cosmopolitan aspects of globalization on the population. Others see it as a fundamentally anti-liberal project that is anti-capitalist, bureaucratic, and run, just about, by radical leftists hellbent on destroying free enterprise. This, in part, explains why the Brexit Party seems to have attracted converts from all sides of the political spectrum so far.
The problem of ill-illuminated cultural representations of Britain is beautifully illustrated in a recent discussion with Billy Bragg and Peter Hitchens about Englishness. In this Newsnight interview, Bragg, a leftist bursting with clichés about the dangers of international capitalism, pitches his idea for what decentralization means.
If Scotland can have successful devolution, and Scottish independence is seen as a good idea by most right thinking young people, why not allow those devolutions to come to England, too? He is nobly attempting to shift the perception of secession away from the reactionary connotations that the UK Independence Party have unfortunately perpetuated.
Bragg sees globalization as a capitalist problem in which the Scottish and English people are beholden to global corporations. He says free trade costs jobs and quality of life for its citizens. These are ideas that have great purchase amongst UKIP crowds too, as it happens.
Peter Hitchens, coming from a more conservative background, has an oddly similar perspective. He has written extensively on how the idea of Britishness has for decades been attacked on all fronts. This comes culturally, through the liberal libertine consensus, and politically, through the European Union’s attempts to gain more and more control over political decision-making in Britain.
Independence movements happen to fall into this, Hitchens says, because they’re fundamentally confused. Scotland has been calling for devolved powers, and has succeeded, yet its leaders oppose any suggestion that power from Brussels might be devolved too. He doesn’t believe that Scotland’s drive toward independence is grounded in reason for as long as after breaking away from the United Kingdom, they hand most of their powers back to the European Union. It’s like divorcing your abusive husband to go join ISIS.
The discussion is interesting on many fronts. First of all, it’s the old crossover between traditional pro-labor leftism, and traditional British conservatism. Billy Bragg’s and Peter Hitchens’ values are not too dissimilar. They’re both sceptical of free market capitalism. The difference with Bragg is in his preference for the idea of Britishness as opposed to Englishness.
Here is what they get right: Leaders are more accountable when they are close to the people they rule. Having culturally dissimilar elites far away from the citizenry means that they’re hampered in their ability to give the government a good kick up the arse when they need to. Moreover, when things are decentralized, there is always the option to move, if necessary. Under a monolithic government, the options, if one feels that their values are not being represented in their government, are few. The right of a people to secede and bring back the decision-making power to the people on the ground is sacrosanct.
Bragg gets it wrong because he is insufficiently concerned about the European Union, which represents a centralist authoritarian power many times the force of anything that could come from the British Parliament. He is also misguided if he thinks there is something sinister about the global free enterprise system. The free market, absent state meddling and manipulation by special corporate interests, is benign. An independent England and then independent Scotland with trade barriers, nationalization, and a throttling of free trade, would be a severely strangled society that would get left behind in the global economy.
Hitchens seems to think that a strong, centralized British Union outside of the European Union may allow them to become a strong power again. Or, at least, he hopes for a time that the gradual sacrifice of sovereignty might be halted. That may well be the case, but decentralized Britain could still be a strong force in the world without the need for absolutism. Singapore does not have a problem with not being a part of an all powerful militaristic union.
True and sustainable decentralization means the dismantling of monolithic states, and the opening up of trade and cooperation. This is a fundamental right of peoples, and also produces the best outcome for those who favor peaceful systems of human interaction.
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