The Great British Lie | Jake Scott

For constitutionally-minded conservatives, devolution has been an unmitigated failure. It has entrenched division, and eroded the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty that made the British polity so successful throughout history. Rather than ameliorating the tensions between the different countries of the United Kingdom, it exacerbated them, resulting in the high-point of this quasi-federalism with the emergence of the idea of Great Britain and Northern Ireland being ‘four nations’. 

It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I heard that the Conservative Party intends to try and row-back this development by scrapping the use of the phrase ‘four nations’ in any diplomatic communication. Whilst this will not address the structural problems of devolution, this might – might – go somewhat towards changing our casual attitude towards the unity of this nation. Indeed, it was a rare yet welcome surprise when Theresa May scolded Ian Blackford in the Commons for not valuing ‘our country which has existed for three hundred years’. 

The Conservatives, as ever, have made a mess of this. On the 25th June, they are ‘encouraging children to sing’ the most teeth-grindingly bad song I have ever heard. Well, I haven’t listened, but I read the ‘lyrics’ enough to know that I didn’t need to. The song, called ‘One Britain, One Nation’, is part of the new ‘Union Unit’ initiative that aims to overcome the division caused by rising nationalism in the constituent countries of the United Kingdom alongside devolution. 

Even the name ‘Union Unit’ is indicative of the endemic managerialist newspeak that plagues our government, but the song is, somehow, worse: ‘We are Britain, and we have one dream/To unite all people in one great team’. It’s childish, and not in the right way; it doesn’t play on joy and humour, it’s bland and embarrassing. 

Of course, all of the educated fools came out to suggest that ‘OBON’ was redolent of the Hitler Youth. I don’t recall learning that the Hitler Youth stressed ‘our shared values of tolerance, kindness, pride and respect’, but that doesn’t matter these days; anything that suggests nations exist, never mind are historically and ethically valuable, results in the kneejerk reaction of the chattering classes stretching the facts of history to find something, anything, that might make their ideological opponents to look like ‘literally Hitler’. 

None of this even touches the fact that Britain does not have a ‘proud history’ of tolerance, kindness, or respect, as the governments of the last two decades seem desperate to prove – pride, maybe, but I don’t think the current government means it in the way I understand. Britain has a chequered and difficult past, and the erasure of the bad parts of our history – the expulsion of the Jewry in 1290, the repression of Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries, the chemical castration of homosexuals until as recent as sixty years ago – is just as misguided as the erasure of the good – Britain’s deployment of one-sixth of the Royal Navy to end the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the global moral leadership we provided in the nineteenth century, and the defeat of fascism in the mid-twentieth. 

If our history is something to be proud of because of ‘tolerance, kindness and respect’, then our history began in 1997, or maybe even 2001. But it did not. Britain’s proud history comes from our remarkable political stability under consultative parliamentarianism, entrenched culture of entrepreneurialism, respect for the principle of property, our family-minded charitable nature, development of a robust and organic rule of law, and the enduring value of monarchy that really is, or should be the shared focus of our national identity. 

Our shared national identity should not come from bland, identikit slogans that belong to a cosmopolitan class that does not see itself as loyal to any particular political entity. Moreover, reading contemporary values – which are not even that widely held – back into history is extremely treacherous footing. What happens when our current values fade away? We will not value ‘tolerance, kindness and respect’ forever; what happens if future generations see these as weaknesses, and not virtues? 

Aesthetically speaking, we already possess beautiful hymns that do genuinely speak to the history and identity of this nation, rather than the artificial, kitsch propaganda you see above. What happened to God Save the Queen, Jerusalem, or I Vow To Thee, My Country? The latter of which, it must be remembered, was played at the funeral of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip earlier this year; would this not be a better strategy, to unify the nation around a song that already exists, is beautiful, and is laden with meaning associating it with the monarchy? 

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