Murdoch by other means: the SNP’s strange crossover

I have already written – here and elsewhere – about Rupert Murdoch’s desire to isolate inconveniently semi-socialist outposts from the core of the Anglosphere and separate them geopolitically so as to provide much less inconvenience to him.  I suspect nobody is more pleased at the thought of the SNP leaving the UK in response if it leaves the EU; the West divided into a United States of the Anglosphere and a United States of Europe, with the United Kingdom partitioned between the two, would be the conclusion of his life’s work.  But the SNP have, to a very substantial extent, brought this unholy alliance on themselves; specifically, they have not fully realised how similar – even if they espouse it for different reasons – much of their rhetoric is to classic Murdochian ideas, and do not really have the right to complain that they are being used for geopolitical reasons, promoted and pushed so as to help other forces within a Great Game which, at root, has very little to do with Scotland.

I do not dispute that many SNP members and voters are genuine Scottish patriots; I do not dispute that many of them feel a genuine revulsion at neoliberalism and all its works; I do not dispute that many of them feel they have the best possible intents at heart.  I do not challenge the fact that the British state and its institutions have often treated Scotland appallingly, as much on the Left as on the Right.  I may disagree with them about whether or not their aims can be achieved without disastrous effects on the very existence – the very right to exist in their own country – of a very substantial number of people who know no country but England, but I do not doubt their sincerity in what they claim to believe.  But, and it is a very big but indeed:

National self-determination has to include a cultural element or it is nothing, and it also has to recognise where the main threats to its nation’s cultural sovereignty come from – and just as importantly, where they don’t come from (even if they once did).  And the SNP at times remind me of the owners of the Croke Park GAA stadium in Dublin in an era which already seems far distant, who before they allowed soccer and rugby to be played there (leading to one of the key reconciliations of 2007), still forbade “English sports” but happily allowed American stadium rock bands to perform there.  Both have suffered from a tendency to fight old battles so long and so far that they have lost sight of where the real intrusion is coming from now.  And in that respect they are very useful and convenient for Rupert Murdoch, much of whose drive and determination comes from the exaggeration and perpetuation of a mythical “establishment” long after it has actually ceased to exist, and appealing to Anglo-British (increasingly, openly English nationalist at least in rhetoric, though Anglosphere nationalist in practice) populist patriotism while selling a wholly foreign culture draped in the Union Jack or, increasingly, the Cross of St George, and trusting in the ability of the lumpenproletariat not to know the difference.

If others do something alarmingly similar elsewhere, just dressed in a Saltire, who can blame Murdoch for lending them his fervent support, the better that they can be used for a deeper geopolitical goal?  More specifically, the SNP and Murdoch share a profound enemy: the BBC.  The SNP will make maximum levels of political capital out of age-old resentments – many of which undoubtedly existed historically for huge and justified reasons, and may well still do so in some cases – about an institutional bias against Scotland and specifically towards south-east England.  I do not doubt that the BBC, in common with other London-centred old-establishment institutions, has in the past treated Scotland poorly and contemptuously on occasions, perpetuating nasty, played-out, unfunny jokes and stereotypes.  But attitudes are fundamentally different now; even if largely by default, the BBC has become far more committed to areas which it relatively ignored in the past (which was part of the reason why ITV tended to do better the further you got from the south-east in the duopoly days; Scotland has at least, and very much unlike northern England, retained the mass-audience commercial channel which “hammocks” the big English or globally-rooted hits with its own output, though not everyone in northern Scotland has been happy with Grampian’s absorption, something which Sky of course rendered much harder to avoid).  It is wholly unfair, in my opinion, to suggest that there is as great a cultural bias and disapproval as almost certainly existed for much of the BBC’s history.

Most importantly, the obsession with the BBC as the sole and only threat to Scotland’s cultural self-determination does not simply play into Murdoch’s hands – even if its origins are different, and even if it would keep the principle of public broadcasting alive in a way he would not, and even if the SNP’s idea of public broadcasting could be far more blatantly state-controlled because Scottish definitions of Leftism were never really influenced by libertarianism as English ones were in a way which pushed elements in the English Left towards their own kind of “same means, different ends” ambiguity about Murdoch – but it ignores the, by any standards, far greater threat to the things a reasonably culturally conservative social democratic nationalist party is supposed to defend by the proliferation of deregulated broadcasting, a door which he largely pushed open and has continued to gatekeep.  Are Scotland’s Historic Market Towns (where romantic nationalism was once strongest, but which came through for the Union when they had to) and its former heavy-industrial areas (where the new nationalism has its strongest core of support) really full of people adopting the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality (and there is another irony: the BBC’s roots are very substantially in a kind of Anglo-Scottishness which England and Scotland have abandoned in about equal parts and revolted against in directions which may seem oppositional in every sense but which are brought together by Murdoch’s desire to use them both) such as have been greatly compromised even in their longest-lasting heartlands in the same era which has seen Scotland gain ever greater autonomy (and which indeed declined largely under the influence of the same government which authorised that autonomy) or the speech, manners and dress sense brought through the global tide of deregulated media, which have far fewer historic ties to Scotland and far less meaningful connection to any idea of Scottishness, but which – as in Ireland – are sometimes embraced as a “lesser evil” (The Stage and Television Today digital archive confirms that at a time of intense frustration and anger in Scotland in the wake of the rigged 1979 referendum and the effects of Thatcherism, Dallas was more likely to be the BBC’s most-watched programme in Scotland and Northern Ireland than elsewhere, which undoubtedly reflects the fact that the BBC’s own output had more of a Home Counties vibe at the time than that produced by the ITV companies combined, but also reflects an outlook which, if transferred from the closed broadcasting environment of 1982 to that which exists in 2015, is every bit as pseudo-anti-establishment as that of Murdoch himself) and which, every bit as much as in England, you can’t get on the wrong side of if you want the most circulated newspaper to support you?

And that is before we even get to the effect of Sky on how even the leading clubs of Scottish football have fallen so far behind financially in modern times (I am wholly aware of the problems built into the Old Firm’s existence, and I would not wish the way Rangers have been treated by successive owners even on that part of the working class, by far the most problematic for people like me throughout history, and I think the Scottish top flight has probably been better off without them, though it would be better off still if the team rooted in an equally ahistoric, and now deprecated, view of Ireland rather than England-as-Britain, could be challenged seriously for the title, but the fact that Rangers, and to a lesser extent at that point Celtic, once had a comparable income and financial clout to even the leading clubs in England, and well above that of the middling and lower sides in what was about to become the Premier League, seems almost unbelievable now, and it isn’t the BBC which has caused that situation).  Worse, there might even be a tendency within the SNP which thinks Murdoch is really Scottish simply because of his surname and ancestry, and feel that his struggle with the old paternalistic English establishment – which he has perpetuated in his mind long after it ceased to exist out of sheer fear of being exposed as an establishment titan in and of himself – is also their struggle, equates the two in its mind (just as Welsh nationalism generally and Plaid Cymru specifically are stunted at birth in most of Wales by the basic inability of any movement which says “we were here first and the English are really German” to make any moral claims to be above those in England who say “we were here first and people of Pakistani descent who know no country but England are really Pakistani”, you can’t really condemn English Murdochians who effectively say, with the usual racial inferences of that kind of Anglosphere nationalism, “all white Americans are really English” if you’re willing to make similar claims yourself when it suits you).

Show Murdoch anyone who makes their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, the mythical enemy of BBC / Home Counties Englishness (which has in reality been utterly compromised and weakened for three decades – when I happened this week to re-read Philippa Pearce’s Minnow on the Say, a book I wrote about, sort of, in a former online life fourteen years ago, I found it harder and harder to believe that it seemed relatively normal to me as a child, something that I could imagine happening at least the day before yesterday, just as I find it harder and harder to believe that Eleanor Graham’s Puffin Book of Verse, a book which among much else clearly articulated Reithian Anglo-Scottishness, seemed comparatively unremarkable and almost easy to get my head round – in line with the silent and almost entirely unacknowledged, but of course intimately Murdoch-led, transformation of Toryism into neo-Whiggery) as if 1955 had never ended, and he’ll love them in a heartbeat and never let them go.  Show him someone who recognises the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty (in any nation, anywhere in the world, and in this context both to the United Kingdom, for those who still believe in it, and to its constituent parts for those who believe in those in and of themselves) and he’ll make it his life’s work to freeze them out and isolate them from any kind of power, permanently and for good.

The SNP have done the former obsessively for decades, vastly exaggerating its power, strength and potency in the modern day in exactly the same way that the incarnation of The Sun which painted Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of Communist holding the country to ransom continues to do, arguably more than the version of the paper which hailed her as a conquering hero.  It has never lifted so much as a little finger to do the latter.  I have no doubt that its wariness on that point comes from a desire to seem as inclusive and right-on as it can, as indeed do many tendencies of thought in modern England which in the end, in the harsh geopolitical realities in which we live, come out as implicitly and accidentally pro-Murdoch.  I have a good deal of sympathy for the argument that any feeling on the SNP’s part that a return to the BBC/IBA model in an independent Scotland would be implicitly totalitarian and quasi-fascist comes from a place far closer to the soixante-huitard English deregulators of the Left – Marxism Today when Sky launched from Astra, basically, and it could still be imagined to be what Marx thought mercantile capitalism could be – than to the full-on cynicism of the Cameron/Osborne position.  But facing the Anglosphere, from its core to its fringes, as it is as opposed to how everyone who thinks like me wants it to be, how can the SNP, truthfully and honestly, complain when the global oligarch of neoliberalism sees it as a force he can work with?

If the SNP had realised that their central aim, however well-meant and however well-thought-out in and of their own terms, could so easily be used by forces which I have no doubt that many of its members and at least its longer-term supporters despise, and had sensibly and empirically adjusted some of its tactics in response – placing more emphasis on the damage done to a putatively independent Scotland’s cultural sovereignty by the scale of the global mass media, and moving away from the absolute, unrelenting emphasis on attacking the BBC out of a sensible realisation that there were stronger and more powerful anti-BBC forces against whom, if it came to a battle of anti-BBC positions, the SNP would have no chance whatsoever – I could admire it with far fewer doubts and far fewer reservations.  As it is, the party is fatally compromised.  Undoubtedly honest in what it believes, and undoubtedly genuine in some of its ideas.  But still fatally compromised by Salmond’s Faustian pact with forces which could make mincemeat of the party if they wanted to, which could in the end render it as desperately trapped as those in England most likely to feel an affinity with it as long as they are unaware of that pact’s full implications.  Which is the ultimate extreme definition of being desperately trapped, I think anyone could agree.

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England, Scotland and the inadequacy of charts alone

The argument that Scottish independence would greatly damage the acceptance of the music and culture often euphemistically called “urban” in England is exhibit A for the case that mere charts, mere lists of self-selecting, fairly narrow popularity, are not enough in themselves.  Music in this style is invariably less popular in Scotland in terms of pure sales (and now, presumably, streams), sometimes very markedly and conspicuously so (the general rule is that artists of the black Atlantic sell less well unless they do Eurodance-style songs, hence why Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” was a Scottish number one without topping the UK charts, and that acts from mainland Europe sell better unless their songs have an “urban” flavour, hence Oliver Heldens’ “Gecko (Overdrive)” bucking the trend by failing to replicate its UK number one status in Scotland).  There are many reasons why this might be: a less multiracial and multicultural demographic even in urban Scotland, less pressure to like it for post-colonial reasons among people outside its core audience because Leftism stuck to its pre-68 self there and so could remain a mass, socially conservative phenomenon (if ’68 had never happened, I don’t think I personally would ever have taken to it, half a lifetime ago), a general sense where whatever is small-town music in England (currently, the David Guetta continuum, seemingly on the racks but now with its umpteenth new wind) is big-city music in Scotland, whereas Scottish small towns and villages, to some extent, actually are what their English equivalents are fondly, delusionally imagined to be by the Dorset Echo and its ilk, in terms of not being wholly dependant on global mass culture.  But surely, those who take popularity polls in isolation would say, if it is less popular in Scotland, then Scotland being in a separate state would strengthen its cultural share in England, push it further up the charts by removing the sales of sceptics, give it a measurable demographic boost?  This, I fear, is a classic example of ignoring the wider social context which charts, unless it is absolutely unavoidable (and it rarely has been in recent times), by their nature leave out.

Charts can often shine a light on the world around them, of course; the Rolling Stones’ 2005 album A Bigger Bang (the one with “Sweet Neocon”, an unexpectedly accurate dissection of the dilemma an entire generation found itself in by this point, just in the slipstream of Katrina) narrowly missed the long, late years of TPL by literally a handful of copies, the difference made entirely by its low sales in Northern Ireland which may reflect the fact that, out of the generation that would still have been interested in what the Stones might have come up with by then, a disproportionate number in Northern Ireland (of both traditions) prefer folk and/or country over rock.  Marcello Carlin has already written about a similar situation in Scotland being a reason why there was never a “Clydebeat” to compare with Merseybeat and indeed what happened in London, when Glasgow was one of the very few other places to have comparable access to black American music through being an Atlantic port, but in that 2005 situation where Northern Ireland kept an album out of TPL (and also prevented the same act having number one albums consisting wholly of new recordings over a span of over forty years, something which has never in fact come to pass) there is another intriguing element; the album that stayed at number one in the UK because it stayed at number one in Northern Ireland, just on the brink of the “heir to Blair” speech, was James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam.  The fact that this was just after the IRA had finally announced an end to its armed campaign … the idea of people from strongly Catholic or nationalist backgrounds buying an album by an Old Harrovian with a background in the British Army at such a moment, in terms of pop’s reflecting the shifts around it, is almost too carmodic to be believed.

But that is a context that everyone gets and understands; it was impossible to live in Britain for most of modern history and not get some grasp of it, however it was filtered.  One thing which is, conversely, hardly being discussed at all in the wider talk about the possible effects of Scottish independence hinges on an important difference: that between London as seat of feudal-turned-neoliberal power, and London as centre of global pop-cultural hybridisation.  The two are entirely distinct, two Londons fundamentally at odds with each other, but some Scottish independence supporters don’t appear to know the difference, as has been shown by the regrettable blurring of the edges between criticism of London dominance couched in terms of the global plutocracy and financial elite (which, always assuming it doesn’t blur over into “hidden hand” anti-Semitism, I could support wholeheartedly other than for reasons which, I know, will come over as selfish to many I’d like to love) and criticism of London dominance couched in terms of cultural fear of diversity (the other, less admirable face of Scottish nationalism which some on the English Left still don’t want to admit exists).  They are two entirely different Scottish nationalisms, and if there is a Yes vote they will rapidly fall out and hate each other as viscerally as they are now linking arms enthusiastically; they have utterly oppositional visions of an independent Scotland, which even the absence of ’68 as a divisive factor splitting the Left could not hold together if Scotland had to fend for itself.

But if you add the two Londons which feed into the two anti-Londons, and think of the fact that only in London, north-west England and north-east England (pretty much the regions with the least stereotypically “English” identities) did Labour beat UKIP in the European elections within England, you can imagine a little-discussed counterpart to the well-discussed idea of secessionist movements in northern England aiming to join Scotland; a kind of London nationalism (actively encouraged, as nationalisms often are, by one of its great enemies, in this case Peter Hitchens) opposed to the rest of the south of England, which it has often resented for living off the city’s wealth yet dismissing its diversity, taking but not giving back, and to some extent opposed both to the residual elements of feudal power in that city and its recent takeover by the global super-rich.  Like the good bits of Scottish nationalism – in a sentence, those which attack “London” as a concept for its elite rather than its mass – it would have many positive and admirable elements for those who could be truly part of it.

But that very exclusivity and exclusion – all a knock-on effect from other secessionist movements – would make me seriously worried for how my own life might end up.  Even in an age of always-on global media, when it would obviously be wholly impossible to block “urban” streams and confine my life to what those of a feudal bent would consider “appropriate”, there would still be other practical restrictions (not in terms of what could be heard on a superficial level, of course, but in terms of identities and freedoms that could be taken on, absorbed on a meaningful level which affects your judgement and understanding of the world around you), deeper resentments and fears which a barely-reformed feudal state perversely holds in and controls, renders milder and less obstructive than they might be otherwise.  In present circumstances, it is comparatively easy for me to be culturally metropolitan while still riding horses and walking on the cliffs.  If surrounded by a regressive, reflective nationalism defined against multiple others/Others, it might not be so.  Where is all this leading?  To the point that the acceptance of “urban” pop and the wider culture in England, at least in such parts of it as I live in, is dependant on multiple outside factors which have no direct connection to pop and its casual consumption or to the wider social concept of youth ritual, and that if you remove the safety valve of a place where it appears to be less widely accepted among pop’s core audience, you can open the floodgates for resentment from an “outside” audience being stronger in a place where those most intimately close to pop are more orientated towards it.

To simplify, there have always been two main approaches to pop and its place in modern history; that shaped wholly by Gambo/Rice Bros, Alan Freeman (but not his rock shows), Simon Bates, Dale Winton, Tony Blackburn und so weiter (including, for a long time as it was taking shape, the child molester), and that defined principally by John Peel and the post-punk culture which has now been struggling for the best part of twenty years to cope with its offspring suddenly being mainstreamed (which was in fact, when it happened in my teenage years, the development that led me to hip-hop).  The former has, of course, been deeply shaken and traumatised by the revelations and trials of the last two years; the latter hasn’t been immune either – even if Roy Harper isn’t found guilty, the ’68 generation / PIE connections will leave their own stain – but still feels empowered and vindicated by the discrediting of those it always saw as a State safety valve for pop and youth ritual (it would be interesting to see if such self-aggrandisement among soixante-huitards could survive a guilty verdict in the Roy Harper trial; one possible effect of such a verdict might be to reverse the rapprochement with “pre-77 Peel” which has gained strength among his post-punk audience in recent times).

The former has ignored the wider context surrounding the lists and names and numbers it treats as gospel truth; the latter has, to some extent, ignored the wider context within which its cults existed, and universalised its own experiences (a post-68, and especially post-77, dichotomy which perhaps can be most accurately described as “turning the Mirror into the Mail“).  What I have tried to do, over something like fifteen years now (fumblingly and with half-knowledge, if that, at the beginning) is to bring the two together; describe both the context of the charts and the charts of the context.  To come at Guinness with the perspective of the cult-studs academic – to flesh out the mass consciousness with the legacy of Raymond Williams and all who followed him – and simultaneously to use data so often trivialised by anoraks, and sometimes dismissed as unnecessary and implicitly Tory by the CCCS graduates, to shine a light on the context in which cult-studs developed and formed itself.  The separation of these knowledges so institutionalised by the wider class-based feudalism and tribalism of, at least, England, and especially the division between those who absolutely need strict divisions between the two parts of their lives (people educated at the “old” universities are quite often worse for this than those with no advanced education at all), and those educated in the newer, broader traditions has created a deep, profound distrust of each area of knowledge in the “other” field; a belief among exponents of both that knowing the other is a betrayal, a compromise, a sell-out.  I was given that world; I didn’t make it.  All I’ve ever tried to do, not necessarily all that well until recently, is bring the knowledges and understandings together, to know what people governed by fear – whoever and whatever that fear is of – will have trained themselves not to know.  And if I’ve failed, I can at least say that the institutionalisation of those fears is such that it might not be entirely my fault.

The thing most ignored by those who take charts in total isolation – whether they’re presented by Alan Freeman or Jameela Jamil, Tom Browne or Marvin Humes – is that the most important people in the wider context of each wave of pop and its tolerance and acceptance aren’t the people who choose to listen to it, but the people who don’t, the people whose choices are, precisely, not reflected in the charts from week to week.  And they are the reason – especially in England – why separating a place where a music and its surrounding culture are less popular won’t necessarily improve its fortunes in every respect in the place that is left behind.  And should anyone doubt what I have written above – and the reasons why people who want to live as I want to live in such a place as I want to live like it have to oppose Scottish independence, however ruefully and regretfully and even if it is with the same sadness we feel when we reconcile our huge admiration for the principles on which the Open University was built and the social good it has done with the fact that Tom O’Carroll and Peter Righton worked for it – they might ask themselves a question that only has one answer: why, when they do not have a vote on the matter and would ostensibly (so we are repeatedly told) not be directly affected by it, do Simon Heffer and Roger Scruton – people who have dreamt for decades of eliminating all hybridised modern culture from England – support Scottish independence?

Some thoughts on Scottish independence

It was reading Yvonne Ridley’s tweets on this matter which finally got me to write this. It isn’t the absolute, definitive text I’ve been promising for years, but it’s probably the best you’re going to get.

The one thing that matters about Scotland, the one thing from which everything else comes and to which everything else returns, the one thing that is always ignored by people who think they’ve found the key to this conundrum, is this: 1968 never really happened there, and therefore neither did its principal legacy in the rest of Europe (but especially England), the separation of economic Leftism from social and cultural conservatism, the rendering incompatible of these two once-allied forces. This is why England can’t be Scotland (and why Scotland can’t be England, for those soixante-huitards and Black Atlanticists who would find Scotland unsettlingly folksy and homogeneous). In the end, that is all it is, and whether or not an English Leftist supports and sympathises with Scotland’s claims to nationhood depends entirely on what sort of Leftist he or she is, which criteria (1945 or 1968, basically) he or she considers most important. Maybe that’s all I need to write.

But it isn’t quite, of course; I have to write something more because I am in equal parts both kinds of Leftist; my basic inability to take sides (in itself a very English thing rather than a Celtic thing, as detailed further below) has me taking in equal parts from the 1945 and 1968 traditions, and thus from traditions with fundamentally oppositional views of the merits and worth of Scottish independence. Yvonne Ridley, of course, is the ultimate anti-68-er (on a scale of one to ten, with the most hardline soixante-huitards rating ten, she’d be way, way down minus one); not only has she allied herself with forces of extreme social and religious conservatism (as much of the international Left has admittedly done), she has actually joined up with such forces herself, become not merely an ally of convenience but an actual believer (which the great majority of the Western Left has not) and moved to Scotland because within it her sense of the Left – the most extreme form of a world where 1968 never happened – seems to her to be protected and preserved. And there is nothing more unpleasant and extreme than the zeal of the convert, with which she is infected on two subtly-related fronts. Her take on Scottish independence is not the most appealing; there are others rooted in far more humanistic values, an approach to the world far closer to mine, which may be critical of the Israeli state but does not share her aggressive paranoia. I can easily forget it when reading Ridley’s religious self-assurance, but there are plenty of visions of Scottish independence which evoke a world in which I could happily live.

Except that that is not my grounding, and somehow it never can be (if I had taken it up as my own quasi-religious conviction, I suspect it would sound every bit as artificial and desperate as Ridley, every bit as far from its many genuinely progressive elements); I am caught between multiple worlds every second of my life, and never have I felt it so keenly and irreconcilably as over this. The most traditionalist parts of both Right and Left in England share a conspiratorial mindset, a belief that the entire modern world represents a conspiracy against them and their approach to life; reading about the Traditional Britain Group, which represents a quasi-fascist, Third Positionist undercurrent which in my worst nightmares exploits the instability of England after Scottish secession to create a totalitarian state from which Puerto Rico status seems like a positive relief and national saviour, I could not help thinking of elements of the old Left in England, lost and homeless and yearning for what their Scottish counterparts can cling to in hope of escape, the belief that everything has been permanently corrupted and the only way out is a total retaking and restaffing of all institutions (John Pilger’s sense of the entire media saturation of the present age as a grand-scale lie, an organised delusion from a deeper truth, has more than a little crossover with this part of the Right). There is a shared hatred for both economic and social liberalism, each hating the one their broader side has loved in my lifetime just as passionately as the one their broader side has hated. Both yearn for a moment in history when everything was perfect, uncorrupted: it’s just that for one that moment was a notional pre-capitalist mediaeval state of being, and for the other it was 1945; one calls the world that is out to get them “cultural Marxism”, the other calls it “neoliberalism”. But both share an elemental romanticism which has been a far stronger political undercurrent among both mainland Europeans and Celts than among the English (Searchlight notes with some accuracy that the European intellectualism of the Traditional Britain Group may very easily turn off many of the sort of people in England they are aiming to turn on).

And both, in their own ways, are trying to find answers to the question which Scottish independence, or not, asks for their neighbours, and inwardly screaming (it can only be inward: they are, after all, English) that no comparable question can give them in turn something to live for. Living alongside something so seismic is so hard to take in isolation that it can only be that very English distrust of elemental romanticism which stops both old Left (the current New Statesman editor has traces of his precursor half a century ago, in terms of feeling, with a hint of envy at Scotland where such views never came to be seen as suspect on the Left, a certain wariness at young people creating their own forms of cultural expression lest it weaken the sense of a common culture) and old Right from being far stronger forces in England than they are.

In the Scottish referendum every argument from either side can reasonably be counterbalanced by the other: the Yes campaign can say with total justification that, if you can’t block out whatever is channel 865 on Sky then you can’t block out BBC1, and the inference by some in Westminster that you could is, like so many other stances taken from that end, stupid and counter-productive (if you believe the Westminster government even want Scotland to remain in the Union; I am not averse to the conspiracy theory that certain elements within it do not). The No campaign can respond, equally reasonably, that if you can’t control the global spread of media and you don’t even attempt to, then the point of secession is negated and undermined. The Yes campaign can say, quite reasonably, that Scotland’s role in Europe is being held back by people and institutions far more sceptical of the EU and its purpose than the general Scottish population; the No campaign can respond, also with a good deal of truth behind it, that Hollywood and rock’n’roll have been as important, as foundational, to proportionately as many Scots as English people (certainly there is a tendency on the part of some Yes supporters either to deny this or almost to infer that a Yes vote could eliminate it, wipe it from the folk memory, and in the process to divert too far from the far more universally applicable economic reasons for independence; if there is a narrow No vote, this would probably be the biggest reason, just as the unfounded scaremongering, which might well partially be driven by a desire to eliminate politically inconvenient socialist tendencies from the Anglosphere, would be the main cause of a narrow Yes).

The Yes campaign can argue with some credibility that the Daily Record supports the Union because it is more concerned with the interests of its big brother the Daily Mirror, i.e. achieving a Labour government at Westminster by any means necessary, than with the interests of Scotland itself.  Simultaneously the No campaign can counterargue that The Scottish Sun‘s long-term sympathies with the SNP, and flirtation with a Yes vote, have nothing to do with Scotland and everything to do with its proprietor wanting to take as much of the United Kingdom as possible into a de jure United States of the Anglosphere, but knowing that the Scots would never accept it so wanting them out of the way to make his vision of England easier to achieve in practice.  People in my position frequently, with some justification, accuse the Yes campaign of selfishness (and also of hypocrisy, since they see themselves as above and separate from the drift in such a direction in post-1979 England) – of being concerned purely for their own social democratic idyll and of being indifferent to the fate of the rest of us. The Yes campaign can respond, perfectly reasonably, that we are the selfish ones for wanting to use others to give us what we cannot give ourselves.

Or maybe it is a matter of tone, a fundamental psychological difference between the English and the Celts (I am putting myself, in terms of my cultural grounding and emotional upbringing, wholly in the former category here; had I been closer to my father’s side of my family it might have been different)? Over and over again I find myself agreeing with the basic meat of what Scottish independence supporters have to say, but being turned off by what often (although by no means always) comes over to me as a rather arrogant, combative, dismissive tone to it. It was once said that, to understand Enoch Powell, you had to be conscious of his Welsh ancestry because it was the source of his “un-English, but Celtic, passion for going all the way”. And sometimes it seems to me that, much as part of me wants to, underneath it all I fundamentally don’t have that passion, I respect the ideas but cannot fully identify with the more emotive and exclusive elements of their application. I get on with Celts, on the whole, better than the rest of the English because I sense and feel their lack of shame at emotion: I envy them for being able to let out what I must keep in. But I still must keep it in. I look at others but cannot take what they have.

Does this mean that, underneath it all, I’m a Tory as well (at least in the gentle, diffident shire sense that Powell, the proto-Thatcherite child of a great industrial city, very definitely wasn’t part of)? Some people would say yes, no doubt, and yes I can hear all the jokes about moderation to excess starting already. But I prefer to think of myself as a liberal humanist – in TPL terms, in the tradition which runs from On the Threshold of a Dream to ELO’s Time, and the pieces about them, not the vast, unedifying swathes of proto-Cameronite muck to come. Psychologically, I’m far more German than English (I’d love to say more Scandinavian still, but I’m not sure that’s quite the case). But I do – despite myself and despite itself – cherish the English liberal humanist tradition which has been so eroded and threatened in recent times (the cabinet reshuffle pushes it further towards death’s door, and strengthens the feeling that a desperate, morally bankrupt Tory party is looking to Scottish independence as its only real hope), and I don’t want it to be weakened still further, turned more than ever into a defensive, bull-headed nationalism, defined far more by what it is against rather than what it is for, which bears disturbing resemblances to Serbian nationalism as it developed in the early 1990s. Scotland has its own traditions, and they can no doubt thrive better apart. What worries me is the survival, or not, of the liberal traditions I myself was brought up to inherit, which I fear need the help of others to thrive now because those theoretically brought up for them increasingly don’t really understand them.

The frustration caused by the gulf between my identification and sympathy with some aspects of Scottish independence aspirations – my basic belief that it represents a positive, progressive social model for those who can be part of it – and the way I must live, the way I am confined to live, is a cause of almost unbearable pain. In the end – for the purely emotional side of me, for the 1945 side of me – “I want the one I can’t have”. That Morrissey – precisely the sort of English Leftist who could only have thrived and really been understood if England had been Scotland – could be a wise chap, when he wanted to be.