The writing is on the wall for ‘Britishness’

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

On Monday one of Tony Blair’s former doormats, Jack Straw, was waffling on again about ‘Britishness’ - what it is, how it can be strengthened and developed.

He reckons there is need for a stronger ‘British story’ that everyone in Britain can identify with and feel part of.

What he said on Monday was in fact a shortened repetition of a lecture he gave in Oxford in January.

He cited examples such as Magna Carta and the civil war where people were fighting for ‘British values’ like freedom and fair play. Total rubbish.

For a start, the civil war was an English civil war in which the Scots intervened and secondly, anyone who associates Oliver Cromwell with freedom and fair play must be nuts.

As for Magna Carta, again it was an exclusively English matter, a deal King John made with his barons to stave off civil war and which he repudiated as soon as he left the scene of the deal.

Who knows why Straw comes out with such unhistorical nonsense? Maybe it’s part of the desperate thrashing around in the British Labour party to find a fig leaf to cover Gordon Brown’s very obvious Scottishness, now generally believed to be the single biggest reason he’s going to lose the next general election.

It may also be that Straw has timed the repeat outing of his sole idea on the subject to coincide with the Scottish elections which take place tomorrow.

Perhaps he was trying to help Brown, who looks as if he is going to be seriously embarrassed in those elections by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party.

All the polls point to the SNP becoming the largest party and Labour being too small to form a coalition with the Lib Dems.

It’s clear that people in Scotland feel Scots and not British, whatever that means.

Perhaps Straw and Gordon Brown, who has also made an eejit of himself proclaiming his Britishness, don’t realise it but regularly trying to find ways to describe Britishness simply shows that people don’t know what it means or what constitutes Britishness.

Few will ever forget Brown’s pathetic attempt to ingratiate himself with the English electorate, who will reject him in a couple of years’ time, when he said his favourite moment in sport was Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in Euro ‘96. Yuk. All he managed to do was to disgust his fellow Scots.

What is equally interesting is that no-one, but no-one, tries to include the members of the poor lost tribe here, who are the most vociferous in protesting their Britishness.

Sadly for our diminishing number of Union flag-wavers here, when Jack Straw and Gordon Brown and their ilk talk of Britain, they mean England, Scotland and Wales, excluding Norn Irn, which is a semi-detached part of the UK now firmly attached to all-Ireland bodies in a North-South Ministerial Council and run by the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council.

Needless to say, no politician in GB wants to remind anybody of the sort of ‘Britishness’ that manifests itself here. All they will say is that it has no place in modern British society: not much consolation for unionists.

Tomorrow’s election results in Scotland are going to increase the isolation of unionists in Ireland even more.

Scotland was the place most northern unionists closely identified with, some even wearing tartan on special occasions. Many still even read Scottish newspapers like the Sunday Post. Tomorrow it seems most Scots will vote for a party which wants a referendum on independence from the rest of Britain.

For many who will vote that way their vote will not necessarily be a vote for independence but will certainly be a vote to assert their Scottishness, and reject Britishness.

Do unionists here realise that they have also voted for structures which emphasise their separateness from Britain, that point them towards the rest of the people on the island they live on?

Next month the first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council for several years will drive home that point.

Can it be long before unionists are sitting in the NSMC with Sinn Féin ministers from both north and south? Can it be long before unionists support SF’s demand for representation in the Dail?

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