Alex Massie

Cry Heffer for England and St George...

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Happy St George's day, English readers. To mark the occasion, the Telegraph offers us Simon Heffer, the would-be John Wilkes of our times, to declare the Union "as good as over". And this, according to Heffer, is a fine thing since it ensures that England can finally be free from Tartan oppression. Apparently there's been a conspiracy to to prevent the English from being, well, English:

St     Patrick's, St David's and St Andrew's days were decreed as the moments when the oppressed proclaimed their identity and possibly even their liberation.

The only thing the English could possibly do on St George's  Day was to reflect upon their centuries of evil, so it really was best not to make a fuss. Anyone seen sporting a red rose or a cross of St George on the day itself was clearly mentally ill, and worthy only of pity.

The Left, though, has other reasons now to keep its jackboot on the throat of England's national identity. Despite the inroads made by Scottish nationalists, Scotland remains crucial to the Labour Party; Wales scarcely less so.

The exercise of power over nearly 50 million in England is enabled  by Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs sitting in the United Kingdom parliament.

Having the toy of England to play with does not merely provide jobs for a number of them, most conspicuously the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It also ensures a flow of subsidy - about £11 billion a year to Scotland alone - from England to the client state that Labour has created in those parts. In short, it facilitates gerrymandering of the most grotesque sort...

...Just as there were silly, blimpish men tottering around the corridors of the Tory party in the 1960s and 1970s blithering on about an empire that no longer existed, now their grandchildren, equally absurdly, drivel on about "the Union".

The Union is as good as over: and its demise represents the best opportunity for the Tories to seize serious power that they are ever likely to have again.

Labour, too, used to believe in England, and saw no shame in it: but that was in the days before it had dealt the mortal blow to the Union through devolution, and before a Scottish prime minister needed to legitimise himself by banging on robotically about "Britishness".

In the early years of the last century socialists in England used to sing a hymn about their liberation from exploitation and under-representation: its title and opening line serves as the perfect envoi today. "England, arise! The long, long night is over!"

Stirring stuff. But also perfect tommyrot. The English are as welcome to St George's day as we are to St Andrew's. the real reason St George's Day is smaller beer than the other national saints days is largely because rather a lot of Eglish folk don't see much, or any, difference between Englishness and Britishness. (That attitude, of course, is a major contributor to a kind of girning Scots chippiness that does us little credit. If we could be a more relaxed bunch we could afford to be more relaxed about this. But we're not and it irritates us.)

Still, my paternal grandfather for one would have laughed at the notion that St Andrew's Day had anything to do with "liberation" or, for that mater, "oppression". As a rubber planter in Malaya before the war he considered himself British, "except on St Andrew's night when we were Scottish first". That was in the days of Empire Glue of course. And even these days St Andrew's Day is such a festival of liberation that a) it's not even a public holiday and b) I doubt more than 60% of the population could tell you it falls on November 30th.   

Still, the niceties of the West Lothian Question and the matter of who subsidises who aside, Heffer's analysis betrays a considerable misunderstanding of the forces that led Labour to support devolution. Home rule for Scotland was designed to strengthen the Union, not weaken it. Despite all the Scottish Labour party's blathering about Home Rule being what Keir Hardie wanted, the party was only converted to the cause by the SNP's success in 1974 when the nationalists sent a football team of MPs to Westminster.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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