It’s probably fair to say England & Wales haven’t been their best in the past few weeks.
This is in stark contrast to Scotland, which I think it’s fair to say has been at its best:
It’s easy, and entirely understandable, to be angry at the state of England and Wales today – whether you are English or Welsh, Remain or Leave, British or not. We certainly shouldn’t normalise those who commit these crimes and abuse. There are not 17 million xenophobic bigots in the British Isles: the only people who would say that are those who are empowered and emboldened into thinking their views were endorsed & vindicated by the EU Referendum result. People voted Leave for a variety of reasons beyond curtailing immigration – indeed, the most commonly cited reason was actually the UK Government’s austerity policies:
On 23 June 2016, the British electorate voted to leave the European Union. We analyze vote and turnout shares across 380 local authority areas in the United Kingdom. We find that fundamental characteristics of the voting population were key drivers of the Vote Leave share, in particular their age and education profiles as well as the historical importance of manufacturing employment, low income and high unemployment. Migration was relevant only from Eastern European countries, not from older EU states or non-EU countries. We also find an important role for fiscal cuts being associated with Vote Leave. Our results indicate that modest reductions in fiscal cuts could have swayed the referendum outcome. In contrast, even drastic changes in immigration patterns would probably not have made a difference. We confirm the above findings at the much finer level of wards within cities. Our results cast doubt on the notion that short-term campaigning events had a meaningful influence on the vote.
– “Who Voted for Brexit? A Comprehensive District-Level Analysis,” Sascha O. Becker, Thiemo Fetzer, & Dennis Novy
The problem, as ever, is the vacuum. The case for a progressive, forward-thinking Leave negotiation was cast to the wayside in the early hours of the 24th of May. The hope that the victorious Leave campaign would be magnanimous and accommodating to the millions of Remain voters was dashed as triumphalist British Nationalists paraded around the European Parliament and derided the “Remoaners.” The possibility of a soft Leave ground to a halt at the UK Government’s party conference. And this is not in isolation, but just another step in a decades-long campaign of extremist propaganda perpetuated by successive governments and out-of-control media tyrants.
Contrary to what straw men some folk may construct to distract us from the UK Government’s appalling actions, Scotland is not perfect. The people of Scotland are not perfect. We have our racists, our bigots, our xenophobes, our hatreds. But the difference is we elected a government which not only rejects racism, bigotry, xenophobia and other hatreds, but is active and vigilant in doing so. This is because Scotland is not innately immune from these hatreds – far from it. There is not a nation on earth which does not suffer from these insidious corruptions which seek to pit us against our fellow humans. If Scotland is more tolerant than England and Wales, then it is not because we are inherently superior, or England & Wales inherently inferior – it’s because we have worked damned hard to foster tolerance, understanding, and love over intolerance, ignorance, and hate.
It’s easy to be a saint in paradise. Scots are no saints, and Scotland no paradise: we have to fight vigilantly to challenge the ills which have blighted our nation in the past, and which always risk returning. This is acute to me, as a resident of the West Coast of Scotland. I can remember a time when sectarianism was an unspoken horror, ever-present, but never discussed – for fear that it would erupt into open violence. With anti-sectarian initiatives like Gie’s Peace, Nil by Mouth, and more, we are not letting old hatreds fester and brood in the dark, but flinging open the curtains to the streaming light of day.
No, hate crimes didn’t fall in Scotland following the referendum because of some magical Brigadoon forcefield that dissipates feelings of nastiness – it’s because we acknowledge that ensuring tolerance and understanding prevail is hard work. And even though the UK Government, the tail that wags the dog, and the most pitiful excuse for an opposition in recent UK Parliament memory all continue to either fan the flames or meekly allow them to burn, the power to change things is still in the people of Englands’ and Wales’ hands.
Wales voted Leave by 52.5% – but that didn’t prompt its people into legitimising the xenophobic rhetoric of the second largest party:
Likewise, while a comparatively slim majority of the people of England voted to Leave, there remain many people who defy the neoliberal power trip the new Prime Minister and her party are on:
Wales is the nation of Robert Owen, Margaret Haig Thomas, Aneurin Bevan, Betsi Cadwaladr, David Lloyd George, Elizabeth “Merch Myrddin” Hughes, Leo Abse, Elaine Morgan, Gwynfor Evans, Gwendoline Davies, Bertrand Russell, Megan Lloyd George, Hugh Owen, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Dic Penderin, Augusta Hall, and many more social reformers and campaigners. While it seems like independence for Wales is far away, a July poll showed that excluding undecided voters, no less than 35% of Welsh people would support Welsh independence. It wasn’t so long ago that support for Scottish independence was “only” 35%.
Likewise, England is the nation of William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Paine, Emmeline Pankhurst, Caroline Norton, James Oglethorpe, Josephine Butler, William Beveridge, Margaret Bondfield, Granville Sharp, Annie Besant, John Wilkes, Millicent Fawcett, Charles Darwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. The people of England routed fascism in their midst before, as we saw eighty years ago at Stockton-on-Tees and London: it is in the people of England’s power to do so again.
I, and many other Scots, have given up on the United Kingdom as a method or tool of reform. An independent Scotland has all the potential in the world to follow a different path; Northern Ireland has its options, too. But, crucially, so does England and Wales. Far from being the sad coda to a glorious empire, the breaking of Britain could end up the making of our nations.With an independent Scotland showing that there is an alternative to the madness of the UK establishment, the nations of these isles can build a new Britain – one not bound into a phony union by the rusted shackles of imperialism, but a free community of allied, independent countries, who see foreigners as friends instead of strangers.
The far right, the xenophobes, the bigots, would have you believe that the intolerance, jingoism, and violence we’ve seen is England, is Wales – is Britain. It’s up to all of us to prove them wrong.