We’d be getting a little nervous at the moment if we were citizens of Northern Ireland who wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom. Because over recent weeks and months, the concept of the UK has been increasingly pushed aside, in favour of that of Great Britain. (A construct which, of course, excludes the entire island of Ireland.)
The home team at the London Olympics, lavishly celebrated at the Labour conference yesterday, was branded “Team GB”, rather than “Team UK”, and although there are three devolved administrations and parliaments within the UK, only two of them were featured at the same conference’s “Better Together” session.
The situation in Northern Ireland is none of this site’s concern. But it’s not just the Unionists across the sea who ought to be worried. Because on the strength of what Ed Miliband said in his keynote speech yesterday afternoon, Scotland and Wales face a future of being absorbed, in every practical sense, into a Greater England.
Last week we linked to an excellent piece by Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Speaking of the apparent insanity of Scottish Labour’s policy shift against universal benefits, it contained a passage that’s worth repeating here in its entirety:
“But what is most awful of all is when you explain this strategy in simple language. Lamont wants to unite Labour by cancelling devolution. That’s the only way I can read this. She has systematically gone through every area where the Scottish Parliament (largely through the actions of Labour itself) has differentiated itself from Westminster politics and she has abolished the differentiator.
The big selling point of devolution was Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Scotland’s biggest problem has been that it really likes a strong welfare state and adheres to the principle of universalism. It has voted this way over and over. Yesterday it seems that Lamont called time on this experiment. She has signalled her intention to pull the party in line with the UK Party, means testing everything, breaking down universalism, championing fiscal conservatism.”
(Our emphasis.) It’s a notion we’ve highlighted before on this very site, but Lamont and Miliband’s speeches, as well as the visual design of Labour’s conference, has thrown it into sharp focus. Take a look at the image at the top of this post, which shows the Union Jack as reimagined by Labour this year. (We’ll gloss over the fact that the colours have been somewhat pastellised to ensure there isn’t a single bit of red to be seen anywhere at a Labour conference.)
The dark blue of the Scottish Saltire has been faded away to a pale, insipid shadow of its proper self. The narrow red bands of the Cross of St Patrick have been inexplicably turned to blue – a blue so faint it’s invisible except under very close, brightly-lit scrutiny – and the image is cropped so closely than almost nothing of either can be seen anyway, leaving an implication of only the St George’s Cross of England. (The Union Flag already had no representation of Wales, of course.)
Many representations of the flag at the conference, including the most prominently-displayed one (the one on the speakers’ lectern) don’t even include the faded blue bastardisation of the St Patrick’s Cross at all. They are, in fact, a washed-out and stylised version of the flag of “Great Britain”, expressly meaning England and Scotland alone, of 1606. The Labour conference version of the flag has quietly airbrushed both Northern Ireland and Wales out of the UK, and only a fading trace of Scotland is left.
But much more importantly, as noted in the pieces linked above by both ourselves and the Reid Foundation, it’s not just in the field of graphic design that Labour is blurring the whole of the UK into England. Political differences are being actively eroded too. Johann Lamont, as well as refusing to commit to seeking significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament, has repeatedly refused to rule out handing currently-devolved powers back to London.
Under a future Labour government – should such a thing ever exist – it’s becoming steadily more clear that Scotland will not be permitted to set an example of a social-democratic alternative ideology to the current English neoliberal consensus subscribed to by all three parties. Scottish Labour has already announced that most of the popular benefits of devolution will be scrapped, and that it will adhere without deviation to the policies of English Labour, using the oft-aired justification that it “cares the same about children in Motherwell as in Manchester”.
(Welsh Labour is still clinging to its few scraps of individuality, but we’re confident pressure will be exerted on it soon, and of course there’s no Northern Irish Labour.)
In reality, the referendum will not be a choice between independence and greater devolution, or even between independence and the status quo. Instead it’ll be a choice between independence and a rolling back of devolution, to the days of Thatcherite governments in Westminster imposing their will directly onto the rest of the country, with the devolved parliaments merely acting as rubber-stamp proxies.
All four nations will become – as Ed Miliband explicitly said no fewer than 46 times yesterday as he spoke of unity and of his “faith” – one nation. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will cease to meaningfully exist as anything but sports teams (if even that). Which nation that one nation will be is plain beyond any rational doubt. The colours, quite openly, have already begun to fade from the flag. England will prevail.