Inspired – if that’s really the appropriate term – by this monstrosity, I posed the question of just what it would be like to attempt one of those oh-so-very-amusing “what if those strange jocks voted for independence” thought experiments, only from the perspective that it would be England, rather than Scotland, which comes up short post-Union. What follows is a litany of offensive stereotypes, half-truths, and tired clichés, painstakingly echoing the pieces of work by such luminaries as Allan Massie and Harry Mount.
Because frankly, while I think the English (and Welsh and Northern Irish, but let’s face it, 85% of the UK’s population resides in England) absolutely have the right to informed opinion, it’s starting to get a little tiring seeing the Scots being the butt of jokes in the Scottish Referendum debate. So I’m sure the folks who make Fried Mars Bars jokes won’t object to some like-for-like, eh?
No tea, no cricket and no grass. What a strange independent England King George will oversee from his tax haven in 2027, predicts Al Harron.
London, 2027: 10 years after the English voted “Ya” to independence, the country’s capital seems, at first glance, utterly unchanged. The Palace of Westminster still looms majestically over the Old Smoke. The ladies of Notting Hill retain their precise Hyacinth Bucket elocution. And they still haven’t sorted out the constant fires.
But follow the Ghost of England Future through the city, and you’ll gradually notice the seismic changes that swept across the country after it became independent in 2019. For a start, there’s not a cup of tea to be seen.
“Dear me, no,” said the Ghost, “We only ever drank that rot to show we were different from those Sweaty Socks, Micks and Welshies. Don’t need all that English rubbish any more. The same with those silly hats. They were hell to wear — doffing it when a lady came by revealed a rather messy ‘do, to be frank.”
Surely all that other stuff goes on? Morris Dancing? The Queen having guests at the Royal Variety Performance?
“Ah yes, old Brenda? King Charles succeeded her yurs ago after she seemed a trifle less than enthusiastic about the Great War Centenary Celebrations. Then he had a bit of a tumble on holiday abroad – Cardiff, I think it was – and we have our lovely King George now.”
So he just comes to Buckingham Palace on his holidays now?
“Buckingham Palace?” said the Ghost, “Ah! You refer to Synerdyn Systems’ call centre. No old chap, after our Dear Leader For Life Lord Cameron privatised every public service, he saw fit to extend that to the Royals too. King George’s current residence is a tourist attraction built to bring in the Harry Potter fans – they love all that, dontchanow. All proceeds written off for tax reasons, naturally: can’t be too careful in this environment. Every guinea counts – every shilling, too!”
The Ghost tossed me a coin. A familiar face like a melting blancmange stared gormlessly out. There was a big gothic G on the other side.
Glancing around the shops on Soho — “Kitchener Street, you mean?” said the Ghost — it suddenly became clear. In every window, gone were the pound signs, replaced on the price tags by the big G and a lower-case s. The “Andy Murray, Grand Slam champion 2020” commemorative biscuits were reduced to 9 guineas and 19 shillings a clove.
“Oh, of course we went back to the old system,” said the Ghost. “We decided that since the Empire was long behind us, we should hold on to anything remotely imperial we can take.”
Surely part of the dispute between Scotland and England was ownership of the pound?
“Very true – but after the Dear Leader attempted to renege on allowing Scots their fair share of assets while still demanding their share of the £1.2 trillion debt, the Scots abandoned the pound. Without Scottish trade revenue from oil, whisky and renewables, the pound became worthless. So he decided “well, if the Guinea was good enough for Palmerston, it’s good enough for me, chaps!”
But the money saved from the Barnett Formula must have made England a few quid — I mean, guineas?
“Jolly right, those billions came back” said the Ghost, who turned out to be quite the economist, “but Cameron didn’t account for the Scots’ tax revenue, and most importantly, Trident. Without Faslane, there was nowhere for it to go in the UK, so instead of scrapping it, he sank trillions of guineas into building a new facility to house the replacement.”
The Ghost paused outside St Paul’s Cathedral as he ran through the list of things promised by the Prime Minister: continued protection of banker’s bonuses from the tyrannical EU; stricter border controls from opportunistic refugees; an end to the benefit culture which was destroying Britain from within; a continued plan of austerity to encourage the workers of England to better themselves by sacrificing basic necessities in order to serve their betters.
“We still get all the best English television programmes — especially Benefits Street, now running its 34th series,” said the Ghost. “Just a shame Lying Disabled Scumbags didn’t run so long, but the numbers of disabled people in England mysteriously plummeted, so pretty soon there weren’t any at all. Goes to show it’s working, what ho!”
A chilling curtain of rain came sweeping up the hill from East Anglia, as the list of promises went on and on: decreased benefits and tax thresholds; the abolition of universal suffrage; new fracking and workfare schemes, as part of Cameron’s promise that the workshy of Britain would be eliminated one way or another.
“That hasn’t quite happened,” said the Ghost, pointing to a lone green patch in a desolate wasteland, surrounded by fracking stations, belching black clouds into the air. “And it didn’t help when those rowdy students occupied Trafalgar square. A few of BoJo’s water cannons sorted that out sharpish.
“Still, good old Vlad sent in a few of his former KGB pals to settle their hash. Even in his sixth term as president, he won’t turn down a chance to brutalise young people, wot wot? Turns out Theresa May studied Putin’s Munich Speech and the Victory Day Moscow Military Parades speech for her history highers. They often Skype each other. Only politicians are allowed access to the internet, of course.”
What about all that austerity, then? Wasn’t that the stuff that greased the whole agenda, the fuel that powered English independence? Didn’t the Conservatives predict that England would be overrun with foreigners unless we acted?
“It might have worked,” said the Ghost, as we walked back down Kitchener Street, “but eventually the ungrateful oiks started to leave England in droves. Entire towns were emptied. Just as well we paved them over for some lovely new Amazon warehouses. I think that nice Miliband boy works there now.”
Ed Miliband, it turned out, had led the Labour party to its most crushing defeat, as the disenfranchised working class voted for UKIP in droves, while the better-off went to the Conservatives.
Like all his friends, the Ghost was technically out of work, but since he looked at the job centre from across the road one day, he was technically classed as employed under the dramatic new additions to the workfare scheme. Of course, there are no foreigners here, having been forcefully expelled in 2021.
What about if you’re from Wales? Or Northern Ireland? “You mean the Republics of Wales and Ulster?”
Oh yes, they got independence, too. As did the Basques and Catalonia. The Walloons took Flanders, Normandy and Britanny became autonomous, and northern Italy became Padania, currently run by Prime Minister Sabrina Ferilli. Spain fractured into half a dozen nations, though Madrid retained the name of the former nation.
So what happened to the EU? “Oh, it’s still going strong,” said the Ghost. “We wouldn’t have been allowed back in even if we wanted it – which we totes don’t, by the way – because we didn’t pass the basic human rights tests. Scotland, Wales and Ulster did, poor sods. And your prime minister, that Salmond chap — the one who’s partial to a game of golf — he took our place on the Security Council. Sweden, Finland and Denmark didn’t get back together; and Vladimir Putin’s still there. So that left Germany and France in the EU. Oh, and Belgium. And pretty much all the others, except England and Spain.”
“Come with me,” said the Ghost, “I’ll show you what happened to the rest of England.”
We continued down the hill towards the national parliament, which was emblazoned with the huge new English coat of arms — A great bulldog standing triumphantly on a pile of dead workers, immigrants and children.
At the main entrance, a beefeater paraded up and down, looking marvellously robust in the driving rain.
“Aye, the English army is a marvellous thing,” said the Ghost, gazing at the soldier with pride, “No one can say we didn’t pull that one off!”
So Cameron had fulfilled his great promise: a replacement for Trident that would ensure they could continue “punching above their weight” on the world stage. “Well, not quite,” said the Ghost, a little crestfallen. “That splendid fellow” — the Ghost pointed at the strutting soldier — “is the Trident replacement. After all the money we spent on HS2 and building the nuclear facility, we didn’t have any money left over to actually build the new weapons. All our other boys are out in foreign countries shooting brown people, of course. But he’s truly formidable quality, works weekends and knows how to handle a bottle. Don’t you, Joffrey?”
The marching soldier beamed back with the subtlest of nods, as he stomped over to his sentry box.
And what about the intelligence and security agency? “Ah! Well, after a top agent left a dongle with all our state secrets on the tube, we decided to start over,” said the Ghost. “Crafty move, that one. So we just get the NSA to do all our spying for us. They don’t share any intel with us or tell us anything at all really, but they seem to know what they’re doing, right? Joffrey helps out, too. We’ve given him a few semaphore flags, an instant camera and a carrier pigeon. Gets it all done in the evenings.”
But England stayed in NATO, didn’t it? “Sad story that,” said the Ghost. “Bloody Yanks. Said we couldn’t stay in unless we agreed to become the 51st state. Joffrey offered to emigrate to South Dakota to see John Barrowman, didn’t you?”
Joffrey nodded again, almost imperceptibly, from inside the sentry box.
“But there was no way he could get over to the west coast, and be back in time for tea with his mother in Croyden. I mean, we couldn’t get a ship up to Scotland back when we had a navy, so you can imagine the difficulty we have now that our proud navy consists of ten water taxis, the Hull ferry, and sixty-three rubber duckies.”
The English had moved their nuclear missiles to Devonport, then? “Goodness gracious me,” said the shocked Ghost. “There’s no way the Kingdom of Dumnonia would put up with that nonsense! The Grand Duchy of Cantia didn’t want them either. So the MoD keep the missiles in a shed in the back garden of Downing Street — they put the subs in a marina near Battersea.”
The Ghost led me down the hill to Portsmouth. Gone was the great port city of old which was the pride of the British Empire, and the Morris dancer which greets visitors to the station.
“Oh, he got rid of his tatter-coat yurs ago — wears a sharp pinstripe suit these days,” said the Ghost. “Doesn’t bother with the hankies either — terribly distracting, I always thought. So without anyone to annoy, he just gave up.
“By the way, you have your Glorious Imperial English Passport? Norsefire can be rather bull-headed about this sort of thing. You certainly won’t get past the Channel Tunnel without it, on the way back.”
It wasn’t just the railways that had been privatised. As we passed the rusting hulk of a Morris Minor in the station car park, I received a text from AlbioNet. Welcome to England, it said, all calls are free except to or from anywhere outside England.
“Ah, but neo-liberty is marvellous, isn’t it? One cannot put a price on that!” said the Ghost as we settled into our seats. Seating classes had been abolished by the English national equality directive, instead preferring to prohibit access to anyone below a £100,000 a year wage to public transport.
“Remember to set your watch to York Mean Time,” said the Ghost cheerily as we headed north. “We’re an hour ahead of London Treat ‘Em Mean Keep ‘Em Keen Time.”
“God Save The Queen,” “Jerusalem,” “There Will Always Be An England,” “Three Lions,” and “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?” came over the PA on permanent repeat.
“A snifter?” The Ghost gestured to the trolley rattling down the aisle, piled high with tins of lager and bottles of Lambrini. After an hour on the train I felt like a cup of Earl Grey tea.
“A cup of Mandarin, you mean?” the Ghost said, with a hollow laugh. “I’m afraid Dear Leader was forced to give back all our tea in reparations to China after that whole Opium Wars palaver, when we started running out of things to privatise.”
I settled for a strong tea and stared out of the window. Off to our right, a mighty wind was whipping the sea into high peaks of snow-white foam. To our left, you could just make out the now-desolate wastelands of the Midlands. The only people to be seen for miles around were a “scroungers” searching desperately for food and water. They could take away tea from the English; but they could never take away England!
“Erm, except they did,” said the Ghost, a little shamefaced. “Again, there are only so many things you can privatise, eh? But, rest assured, we got a great price from the Chinese. New Manchuria isn’t all nuclear power stations! Well, it is — but we held on to London, Greater London and any built-up area where the effects of austerity haven’t decimated the local economy. So, erm, just London, then.”
As we heard “And did those feet in ancient times…” for the 12th time, I dozed off and began to dream of fish. I woke to a terrible smell of boiled cabbage. The train was pulling in to Nottingham: anywhere north of the Humber became the Kingdom of Northumbria. The ghost smiled triumphantly.
“A little something to nibble, mayhap?” he asked. “Dear Leader never did say in 2013 what would happen when the benefits cheats and scroungers were dealt with. Well, now you know. While there is still more money to be wrung, there’ll always be an England!
“There’s no fish & chips any more — that went with the tea. Or try our national dish. Blood pudding, from the laziest of workshy peasants. Goes well with the tears of children in poverty.”