Troubled waters ahead for Britain as the separatist Scottish National Party pulled 56 seats in the recent election. Now Scotland seems likely to go alone. From time immemorial Britain’s coat of arms bore the lion on the one side, the unicorn on the other; England the lion, Scotland the unicorn. Now, with the threat of Scottish secession, the abyss falls into view.
The Washington Post’s columnist Anne Applebaum is blunt: “The End of Britain as we know it.”
But if we are today seeing the “end of Britain” is it not possible that it is only our perception of Britain that is changing and what we saw before was only imagined all along, and what in essence is occurring now is a resurgence (resurrection?) of England, like a dancing Shiva, rising dramatically over the corpse of old, musty centuries; of shadowy myth and undefined abstraction, used up, worn out and broken relationships, transitional arrangements and archaic and irrelevant law? And awakening again to a new and vital creation? Even the Acts of Union of England and Scotland, signed on May 1, 1707, must first fall away for the new life can occur.
Not everyone in London is terribly upset by the news of Scotland’s victory, Ms. Applebaum writes. “I never really felt ‘British’ anyway,” a friend told her on election night. “I feel English.” And the English do not seem to be putting up much of a fight.
‘This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system,’ Lawrence Summers, Secretary of the Treasury and advisor to President Obama wrote on April 5, 2015.
In 1996, the Stone of Scone, which symbolized England’s relationship to Scotland and sat since 1307 under the British Coronation Chair to indicate that the king of England would be king of Scotland too, was unceremoniously sent back to Scotland. So you have to wonder how much the relationship really meant to England toward the end.
There had to be the suggestion that England no longer cared. The Stone of Scone thing was anachronistic. Britain had new friends, better and more contemporary friends, like Canada, Australia and the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, not the least of which, India, has a population of 1.2 billion people. Not to mention us, first among cousins, the United States. And I’m sure they noticed in the Hong Kong demonstrations last year when the young Chinese demonstrators told the press that they did not relate to China. They related to England. Hong Kong was a British Crown colony less than 70 years ago.
Here, in this election year, the world may coincidentally be seen to have begun again. And it has been suggested that Britain, not America, has taken the initiative.
“This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system,” Lawrence Summers, Secretary of the Treasury and advisor to President Obama wrote on April 5, 2015.
What happened was the rise of China to sudden global relevance with the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a direct challenge to American interests throughout the world with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Against all warnings from American leadership, the world’s nations flocked to it.
Most commentary implied that China’s rise would advance in opposition to America. But it should be noted that the flock of world nations, including France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other Western nations, was not random. They followed Britain’s initiative, most within hours of Britain’s decision to ignore American warnings. If history reads 1956 as the end of the old realm—when British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan sent his famous, enigmatic three-word telegram to President Eisenhower, “Over to you!”—it might in time recall this as the pivotal moment of Britain taking it back.
“Some events are epochal,” wrote Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “The decision by Great Britain to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was one such event. It may have heralded the end of the American century and the arrival of the Asian century.” And Britain opened the gate.
It may all be fairly arcane. I tested it out on some of my relatives and they said they weren’t sure what the difference was between England and Britain. But Ms. Applebaum brings it all back home with this domestic comparison, telling us to “imagine that quite a few people in the rest of the country — perhaps in the Democratic Party — had, after years of arguing back, finally begun to think that Texan secession really might not be so bad and were beginning to calculate the electoral advantages accordingly.”
It puts in context, as it was Tea Party insidious rumblings gone public in April, 2009, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry addressed a crowd at the Alamo with this cry from the heart: “States rights, states rights, states rights!” And separatism suddenly appeared on the horizon again as a political vogue in Britain, across Europe and in the Unites States.
And if Scotland goes, so it will raise the stakes and status of such intentions everywhere, including Venice, Catalonia, Quebec, Cyprus and to be sure, Texas.
Bernie Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children.