Tag Archives: Scottish nationalism

AFTER THE VOTE

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The pollsters, the pundits and the commentators all got it wrong!

The British election was not a close call.

All the experts predicted the need for a coalition government, that neither the Conservatives nor Labour would get enough seats in parliament to form a government without the help of at least one other party.   There were warnings of a “hung parliament” and a “constitutional crisis.”   Even the Queen left town, advised that her services would not be needed for a few days, that nobody would be ready to accept her appointment as prime minister.

But the Conservatives easily won.

Consequently, three rival party leaders all resigned within the same hour, an historic first.

While David Cameron is pleased with the result, Nicola Sturgeon is likely more pleased.   Her Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.   Independence for Scotland is back on the table.   56 out of 59 does not mean that the majority of Scots want independence.   What it means is that the SNP candidate in each constituency got more votes than anybody else.   This will not, however, deter the SNP from taking the opportunity to bolt as soon as it presents itself.

Labour was the big loser, losing big in Scotland, where it previously held most seats.   Ed Miliband, Labour leader, said his party faced “a surge of nationalism.”

One newspaper described it as “an electoral tsunami” (Independent).   Of note, Mhairi Black defeated a Labour heavyweight and became, at age 20, the youngest Member of Parliament since 1667.

In fact, the single most significant development in the election was Scottish nationalism.

English nationalism was also evident.   Although the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) only won one seat in the new parliament, they received 13% of the popular vote.   That means that more than one in eight voters wants the UK to leave the European Union.   That’s not all – the Conservatives are promising a referendum on the issue.   Many of their supporters also want to exit the Union.

Nick Clegg, outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, summed up this rising tide of nationalism by saying, “Fear and grievance have won.”

The Stock Market soared at the news that the Conservatives are back in power and, this time, without the need of support from the Liberal Democrats.   The Conservative – Lib Dem Coalition of the last five years took a near bankrupt economy, turned it around and made it the fastest growing major western economy.   The surge in support for David Cameron’s Conservative Party likely came from voters who didn’t want to risk a return to the economic disaster of the post-2008 crash.

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COUNTDOWN TO DISUNITY

Scottish Nationalism

Paul Johnson, the prolific British historian, made the following very perceptive observation about his own country:

“Disunity has always proved fatal to the Offshore Islanders.”

The offshore islanders he was referring to were the British. He wrote a book of that name in 1972, the year before Britain entered the Common Market (now the EU). The book was a history of Britain’s relationship with the European continent.

Great Britain is facing that same disunity in exactly nine days.

September 18th is the date of the Scottish referendum, when people residing in Scotland have an opportunity to vote on independence from the United Kingdom. The vote will be legally binding.

It’s a countdown to chaos.

This all started with “Braveheart,” a movie about William Wallace, a Scot who was executed by the English in the late thirteenth century, over 700 years ago. The fact that the movie has been labeled the “most historically inaccurate movie ever made,” with 87 historical errors, doesn’t alter the fact that it stirred emotions in people of Scottish descent around the world.

When the new Labour government led by Tony Blair took over the reins of government in 1997, they gave both Scotland and Wales their own national assemblies, a parliament that was designed to appease the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. The British of all people should know that appeasement never works – all it did was fuel the nationalist fires, particularly in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party is led by Alex Salmond, who has been described as the most brilliant politician in Britain. He has seen opinion polls progressively move in his favor – the vote is set to be really close.

Only residents of Scotland can vote. Sean Connery, the first James Bond and an ardent supporter of Scottish nationalism, cannot vote because he now resides in the Bahamas. However, 120,000 people from various EU countries can vote because they live in Scotland. This includes thousands of Germans who may see an opportunity here to take Scotland into the eurozone and orient it more toward Germany and the continent.

16-year-olds can also vote. These are more likely to be influenced by the emotion of the movie and have no personal experience of history and the benefits of the Union.

Only nine days before the vote, there is still no answer to the big question of money. What currency will Scotland use? A preference has been stated for the British pound but London says this will not be possible as it would mean that two national governments would be trying to control the currency. The logical alternative is the euro. An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the EU and all new member countries must adopt the euro. This could mean instant austerity as Scotland depends on England for 10% of its expenditure.

A precedent here is the Republic of Ireland, which broke away from the UK over 90 years ago. For some time it had to maintain close financial ties with London but today Ireland is very much a part of the eurozone. Ireland’s national government is increasingly subject to Berlin, which calls the shots. Even road construction signs have “Achtung!” at the top, reflecting closer ties with Europe’s new superpower.

“Don’t let me be last Queen of Scotland” ran the banner headline in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, a British national tabloid. The Queen is said to be very concerned about the kingdom breaking up. Following the announcement of the Duchess of Cambridge expecting a second child, Prince William said he was mostly concerned at the international and domestic situations at this time, a clear reference to ISIS and Scotland, two separate issues.

The Scottish leader professes to want to retain Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. But this may not last. When southern Ireland broke away from the UK in 1921, the Irish Free State retained the British monarch as its own king. But, in 1949, they severed the tie with the crown and became the Republic of Ireland. In more recent years, it has been able to distance itself further from London, thanks to closer ties with the EU and membership of the euro currency.

Independence for Scotland is the logical, though sad, end to the British Empire. In the last 70 years the British have given independence to over 50 countries. It’s as if history is in reverse. Following the full union of Scotland and England in 1707, the British Empire grew in leaps and bounds. In the last seven decades it’s fallen apart even more rapidly. Now Scotland seems set to leave the union with England, with potentially disastrous consequences for both.

Even if the vote is to stay in the UK, it will not be long before there will be a demand for another vote. The nationalists won’t stop until they achieve their goal, which is complete and total independence.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AND THE SLAVE TRADE

Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch Film "Sherlock"

Benedict Cumberbatch is a British actor who is famous for his radical portrayal of  “Sherlock Holmes.” 

More recently, he has narrated an IMAX documentary on “Jerusalem” and starred in the critically acclaimed movie, “12 Years a Slave.”

The producer of the documentary, interviewed on CBS, revealed that, at the end of making the documentary on the 3,000 year old city, Cumberbatch asked:  “Why didn’t they teach us all this in school?”  I am not surprised that British schools no longer teach the basics of Christianity, another casualty of multiculturalism.  So Cumberbatch shouldn’t feel too bad about his historical ignorance on the significance of the ancient city.

He would, however, not be wise to venture into further comments on history.

He recently made the film “12 Years A Slave,” which tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York, who was kidnapped prior to the Civil War and taken into slavery.  While the story is tragic, Cumberbatch was ingenuous when he apologized for his ancestors’ role in the business of slavery.  His apology only fuels the frequently raised demand for financial compensation.

How can we apologize for our ancestors?  The world was a very different place two centuries ago and we cannot sit in judgment of those who came before us.

Slavery was universally practiced throughout history.  It wasn’t just a black and white problem.  In the eighteenth century, one million white people were held as slaves by Muslims across the Middle East.  Considered property, they were called “White Gold.”

To my knowledge, the Muslims have never apologized for this, nor have any of their descendants demanded compensation.

According to a book on the origin of surnames, my family name “Rhodes” owes its origin to the island of Rhodes.  The Rhodes’ were apparently Jews on the island, expelled when the island was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1522.  I would very much appreciate it if the Turkish government would apologize for confiscating our family property and offer compensation, adjusted for inflation, of course!

Perhaps the British government should take up the cry and demand the Italians apologize for the Roman occupation of their island that lasted almost four centuries.  As the Italians are currently rather broke, they might have to take an IOU to be claimed at some future date.

As stated, slavery was a universal condition throughout history.

What is significant, and Cumberbatch should know this as a Brit, is that Great Britain was the most progressive of all the major powers two hundred years ago when it abolished slavery.  The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was a major step forward in liberating mankind from this great evil.  But a change in the law did not change everything.

The Royal Navy was then given the job of stopping ships on the high seas and freeing slaves, white or black.  The famous missionary and explorer David Livingstone went into Africa determined to stamp out slavery.  He was well aware that African chiefs were selling their own people.  The expression “sold down the river” dates back to this time.

The slave trade in Livingstone’s time was carried out by Muslims, who took Africans to be sold in the Middle East.  The Arab slave traders were aided by Africans themselves.

The Royal Navy patrolled the West African coastline throughout the nineteenth century in its determination to end the trade.

Sadly, according to the UN, five decades after independence, slavery is back in every African country!  Only one African leader has apologized for it – former Ghanaian President John Kufour, who recognized that his own people were actively involved in the slave trade – and explained that slavery continues in his own country (a fact further publicized by Oprah Winfrey on her television program).  His apology coincided with the two hundredth anniversary of the British abolition of the trade, sponsored by William Wilberforce.

Actors need to be careful venturing into history.  Mel Gibson made two of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made, “Braveheart” and “The Patriot.”  After making the second one, he snapped at a film critic who challenged his interpretation of history, making it clear where he stood.  As I remember it, he said:  “We’re not in the business of teaching history.  We’re in the business of producing entertainment!”

This, of course, does not mean that movies aren’t influential – “Braveheart” has been very influential in fueling the fires of Scottish nationalism, which may result in Scotland leaving the UK in September of this year.  Few voters will have read that the movie contains a record 87 historical inaccuracies (that’s not my figure, I only realized three – but you can Google it).  (You can also Google “To Kill a King,” described as the most historically accurate movie ever made.)

Let’s all remember when we watch an historical movie to realize that it’s first and foremost entertainment provided to make money; and let’s also realize that no actor is qualified to comment on history any more than a historian is qualified to act.