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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Surrey with the Fringe on Top
Sometimes I imagine a conversation with a Friendly Alien:

Alien: July seems to be a popular month for national days, doesn't it? The US commemorates the Declaration of Independence on the fourth, France commemorates the storming of the Bastille on the 14th, and UKasians, I presume, celebrate the founding of their nation on the 22nd, the day on which the Treaty of Union was signed in 1706. No doubt the fireworks are magnificent.

Me: Not in the least. In fact, I doubt whether one UK citizen in a thousand is aware of that date.

Alien: Really? I am surprised. After all, that is every bit as much the founding document of the UK as the Declaration is of the US. Well, never mind, probably the UKasian nationalists go all out for 1st May, the date on which the Acts of Union took effect the following year? I notice that 1st May is a holiday in your country.

Me: They don't do that either. May Day is important to Socialists and Pagans, but not at all to UK patriots. In fact, quite a few Conservative MPs - all of them Unionists - would like to stop that day being a holiday at all.

Alien: How strange! Still, I expect you all had street parties to celebrate the tercentenary of your nation in 2007, yes? Especially as Gordon Brown - already Prime Minister in waiting by that time - was so keen on promoting a sense of shared British values?

Me (slightly irritated): I suspect you know very well that the event passed wholly unremarked except by a few constitutional geeks. Oh, and UKasian isn't a word, by the way. We don't have a word for being... er, what we are.

Alien: That is really very odd. If I didn't know better, I would suspect that the UK isn't a real country at all, so much as an administrative convenience.

Of course, my alien friend has a point. The UK has its roots in a hostile takeover, in which an indebted nation gave up its sovereignty in exchange for a bail-out from a rich one - and more than 300 years later is still trying to get it back (take note, Greece!); but it was certainly convenient as a basis on which to build up the British Empire. Now that the Darien Scheme and the Empire are both the stuff of history, however, what is the UK for?

I don't actually feel strongly about the continued existence of the UK, one way or the other. I do, however, feel very strongly about its constituent parts, and am sure that the UK - along with other, earlier forms of intra-British imperialism - has had a strange and unhealthy effect on them. (And I'm not even going to think about Ireland in what follows.)

I've already written about this in respect of the English, whose attitude to the rest of the Union is deeply screwed up. On the one hand, there are people who really do think of the UK as Surrey with a Celtic fringe (and many of them appear to work at the BBC). On the other hand, the English habit of confusing England with the UK has led them not to notice (or care) that they have far less self-determination than any of the Union's other members. This isn't a theoretical issue either, but one that costs English families many millions in university tuition fees, prescription charges, care for the elderly, etc etc. Even this isn't enough to wake them from their dogmatic slumbers, however. As long as they labour under the delusion that the UK Parliament is a sort-of English Parliament, that's not going to change.

With the Welsh of course, the rot goes back way past 1707, to an earlier Act of Union in 1536. There are now two Waleses: the country proper, and the place I call Nwales [pronunciation tip - think Joshua Nkomo]. This is the place you hear about in the phrase "England Nwales": it is England's vestigial twin, growing painfully from its Mercian midriff. This is the place that wasn't enough of a nation to get onto the Union Flag; that was subjected to a campaign of cultural extermination lasting almost half a millennium. It's the place where you can't travel by train between north and south without leaving the country, where the infrastructure has been designed to facilitate the extraction of natural resources for the use of the English. And while the Welsh have survived as a nation - miracle enough in itself - many seem to have internalized the belief that they are too small a country to survive alone, even though there are some 60 countries with populations smaller than theirs with seats at the UN.

Then there are the Scots, who (like the rest) seem to have two personalities. One is swaggering, confident, a Celtic tiger in waiting - and this is the image Alex Salmond likes to project. But three hundred years of being ruled from London has had its effect, and psychologically no less than nutritionally the Scottish motto seems at times to be "Chips with Everything". The Parliament has done much to build up the Scots' self-confidence, but on the debit side of the account, Salmond's earlier talk of being like the Republic of Ireland (oops!) or even Iceland (double oops!) sounds increasingly bombastic. Celtic tigers are now extinct the wild. Will they proceed with the release programme?

Well, I'm sure I've now managed to offend everybody, but I do look forward to the next few years. Will the demise of the UK happen, and if so will it be a step on the road back to sanity for the nations of Britain? I can't wait to find out.

I love your post title!

If the Union did come apart, I wonder what my local citizenship would be. Decided by place of residence, I suppose.

I love your post title!

Thank you!

I assume it would be place of residence too. That seems to be the criterion for the independence referendum, anyway, and it's hard to see how else it could be done.

By the way, as someone who took the Citizenship Test not long ago, did you have to learn a lot about the events of 1706-7?

Nothing whatsoever about 1706-7. It was probably in the history chapter of the Life in the UK book, but that chapter isn't covered on the citizenship exam. (And, as a historian, thank goodness, I say. It's a terrible potted history of the UK.)

Not necessarily so, apparently. My other half is a Scot long resident in England, but Salmond (with whom he was at uni- don't get him started on Wee Eck) has stated that he'd give citizenship to expats.

That could get interesting- on great great grandparental connection, I'm a Scot- an Anglo Italian, Breton, Latvian Jewish, Roma Scot, but even so.......:o)

(no subject) - steepholm, 2012-02-08 09:01 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2012-02-08 11:33 am (UTC)(Expand)
'Bought and sold for English gold'

You forget another cultural extermination- the one that commenced in 1066..............

According to Sellar & Yeatman there are only two memorable dats in Enlgish history (three if you include November the 5th! :o)

You forget another cultural extermination- the one that commenced in 1066...

It's much in my mind, don't worry - but that's another post!

Your alien friend forgot Canada; they'll be so hurt!

many seem to have internalized the belief that they are too small a country to survive alone, even though there are some 60 countries with populations smaller than theirs with seats at the UN.

I think (from a short period of observation, admittedly) that a fair bit of this comes from the aforementioned taking resources to England. Wales could, mind, be in a very good position to start some infrastructure from the ground up--but, well, some things never change, and they spend a lot of time arguing amongst themselves. :p

I'm mortified! Apologies to the population of Canada.

(no subject) - ashkitty, 2012-02-07 08:30 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I have a curious fondness for the terms United Kingdom/UK, the latter being the one I produce when asked for my nationality. My mind perceives them as more graceful than Great Britain; I'm not quite sure whether it's recoiling from the grossness of Großbritannien, or just unable to shake off the hijacking of the term "British" by the far right as I was growing up.

I put UK as my nationality on legal forms, because that's the legal situation. But I feel more British than Ukkish, and considerably more English than either.

If it's any comfort, 'Great Britain' derives not from any nonsense about our perceived superiority, but simply to avoid confusion with what was once call 'Less Britain' -- Brittany. It's all about the square footage.

(no subject) - kalypso_v, 2012-02-08 03:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Ah, but When Was Wales? It's a very important question and one that is all too often elided in all narratives of Wales and its history. What we are told depends on a set of vested interests from the 9th c, resurrected in the late 18th c. There are other versions -- as there are other versions of those tales of Englishness, Scottishness, Irishness.
We're all very mixed up: it's just that some of us have stronger sets of narrative determinism than others.
(I define as British, or Anglo-Welsh if someone really insists I'm not allowed to be British -- yes, that happens. It's the closest I can get to the truth as known of my ancestry. One thing nearly all of us on these islands cannot claim is pure descent from any one of our many tribes. And that's before we get into the John Hines argument about the cultural mimicry practised by the inhabitants of sub-Roman Britain).
Early mediaevalists: saying 'yes but...' all the way back to the 2nd c. c.e.

Try being married to a mediaevalist!

My guy is a Scot of partly English descent while I'm English of, um, very complicated descent! :o)

It's true though that pure descent-ism is a real issue as very few 'British' people can claim it (I certainly can't and tend to identify as Anglo Italian, although as you'll see from above my descent is a heap more complex than that!)

I also find, as a historian that Scottish and Welsh eyes glaze over if I mention King David II or Prince Owain Gwynedd and I can recall Irish High Kings other than Brian Boru..............

My other half sympathises.
Owain Gwynedd is at least a member of the 'right' dynasty. Try asking about Owain Cyfeiliog. And the trouble I got into when I raised questions about Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's sexuality...
I don't subscribe to the High King thing at all: Armagh propaganda, aimed at gaining advantage from their near neighbours. But yes, I can name other 'high kings', too. Diarmait mac Mael na mBo, anyone?

(no subject) - steepholm, 2012-02-08 01:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 02:28 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2012-02-08 02:23 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 02:38 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2012-02-08 04:48 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 07:11 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2012-02-08 08:00 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 11:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2012-02-08 11:05 pm (UTC)(Expand)
All fair questions - culturally, linguistically and genetically. For what it's worth, although I identify as English with a side-order of Welsh, I am by descent an egregious British mongrel, as are many of us. Perhaps I'm really from Rheged.

But this post is really about what the fictional (though legally real) nation of UK has done to the various mixed-up nations of Britain, rather than an attempt to unmix them, which I wouldn't even wish to do. The short answer, in my view, is Nothing Good.

(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 02:27 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2012-02-08 02:40 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2012-02-08 04:56 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_, 2012-02-08 07:13 pm (UTC)(Expand)