Bristling Brock speaks out...
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The SNP seems inexorably plugged in to the pursuit of Scottish Independence, the Welsh look on and wait to see what happens there whilst Northern Ireland continues to wrestle quietly (for the time being) with the intractable challenges of Irish nationalism. The English ? Well, the English just grumble about everything - it's something of a national past-time to search for an issue about which the letter writers, the social media bloggers and the media pundits can have a good old moan about. Glass half empty - you bet !
Beneath this caricature of the United Kingdoms internal trials and tribulations is, however, something far more fundamental. The nation state. The very essence of the United Kingdom is spelled out in its name - 'United'. It's foundations are, of course, historical but in truth the UK as a constitutional entity is less than a century old, only in 1922 did it come about with the independence of the Irish Republic. Before that we have a near 2,000 year backdrop to how the component parts of the British Isles slowly morphed into an homogenous national bloc. It was perhaps inevitable that one of those groupings would emerge as the more powerful partner and that, as history shows, was England. And there has been resentment at that by all the other component nations almost continually since.
Yet there is some strength to be gleaned from national unity (as distinct from the attempted unity of different ethnic and social nations that the EU represents). Britain's distinction derives almost entirely from its island geography, a separate landmass that has been developed and influenced in its growth by a plethora of pre-nation cultures - Roman, Saxon, Nordic, Norman - and in different ways by our lineage with the French. All these have shaped the British and, in particular, the English (insofar as England was subject to all these influences consecutively whilst Scotland, Wales and Ireland were subjected to a lesser number of external cultural take-overs). Our four nations are, as a result, very culturally different. Yet today, we still squabble over sovereignty and the urge for independence and this almost tribal desire to go-it-alone and determine a solo future.
The bald reality is that economics plays a significant part in any quest for independence. Politics and faux nationalism may be the flag waving and chanting front rank of their armies but economic inter-dependence is now ingrained in our joint financial affairs. Money and wealth, as ever, is the glue that hold it together. Without a sensible realisation of that, the individual nation states can chant and scream forever and, should they ever bring their independence about, would quickly find that life was not going to be suddenly transformed into a Garden of Plenty. In world affairs (and we are everywhere inextricably bound into the capitalist, democratic ethos of the West), the UK is a small but still influential political and economic grouping. Some would argue that we don't need to be a global influencer, or a player in the Big League and in some respects it would be better if we weren't aspiring to that status - BUT - we cannot avoid global economics. Our development, our wealth and our joint sovereignty all rely upon global investment - particularly at this time following the worst of the pandemic - and our businesses need to trade internationally from a position of economic and political stability and growth. If we accept the burden of capitalism then we are committed to the search for economic growth. All of the UK's four nation states are utterly beholden to that creed even if they think that being independent will somehow magically launch them into some imagined New Age of prosperity.
It's a sad fact to concede, but money, wealth and prosperity all rule - and have done ever since recorded history began. It is part of the human DNA which requires cooperation, collaboration, shared interests and objectives. Nothing can prevent us from supporting our birth state and using this for competitive advantage, but for the United Kingdom, unity is the key to survival in a world where tribalism has shown us nothing but war and strife.
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Hindsight offers that wondrous capacity for reflection, does it not ? All the mistakes of bygone times, the misinterpretations, the lost and failed opportunities, the successes and milestones - all stand out in stark relief when viewed through a 50 year or so rear-view mirror.
Such things are not, of course, any great new wisdom, they are merely the mechanism through which we can see what we have become over passing time. And that applies not solely to individuals but to communities, governments and nation states - nothing can escape the scrutiny of time honoured reflection.
COVID-19 has delivered - and continues to deliver - some stress upon all the factions that make up Britain and our behaviours and responses to it to some extent tell a tale of 50 or so years back. What was created back then has come to fruition in the intervening period, some of it fantastic and wonderful, some of it much less so. Looking at social behaviour through a very wide angle lens, we might argue that our sense of wellbeing and affluence has increased many fold and that we enjoy the fruits of living in the best country in the world and gaze around at others with a sense of innate snobbery as to their ways of conducting the democratic process. A more careful look nevertheless reveals some fault lines in our social 'geology'. We still have significant social and wealth divides, we are vexed by a plethora of new issues relating to gender, faith, discrimination, countless equalities and so called rights and perhaps overarching above all these the constantly fluttering and uncertain moral compass of our society's values and core beliefs.
It is natural for a society to adapt to changing social and international forces if it is done in a way that is genuinely progressive and achieved in a way that factors in everyone's point of view. Now we all know that that is fanciful and that sometimes (or maybe most times) we cannot please everyone all of the time but we are not and have not yet learned how to appreciate that which we created way back and the impact that is now having on our social and national behaviours. COVID is partially responsible for the apparent increase in anti-social behaviours - but certainly not exclusively - but we might wish to look back and consider how the generation that is perpetrating this unpleasant presence was brought up and educated by previous generations who commonly took little time to consider their responsibilities and accountability in parenting the young of the future. No child rearing process is easy and it is always varied, but along with that tasking comes responsibility and accountability, for making decisions and choices that shape and prepare the next generation, to impart values, beliefs and boundaries to the meaning of right and wrong - not just in law, but also in society.
Now BB will be the first to say that there are many in our current younger generation who have been eminently well prepared but equally, there are many - and we feel the presence of this societal bloc disproportionately - who have either never been given that upbringing by virtue of circumstance or sheer bad parenting or have failed to appreciate the significance of behavioural norms. And we are plagued with a self-interested, inward looking and significant part of our society by the agenda's of government in their attempts at equalising and balancing many of the divides that afflict us - social engineering would not be an out of place term to use here. A worthy attempt, you might say, but the reality is the spread of a social contagion that we have yet to find a proper solution for. Thus far, history tells us none of our forebears found a solution either, so we remain transfixed by an almost fundamental 'Berlin Wall' built through the middle of our national psyche. Governments have limited capacity to 'engineer' solutions here - it is down to us, as individuals and families to accept the responsibility (and sometimes the pain) of creating a better and well seasoned future generation.
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The impact of COVID-19 still lingers on, quieter perhaps than at its peak in April and May but still capable of a twitch that sends ripples of renewed fear through our establishment. Therein lies something of an oddity - the establishment versus the populace - and the reactions to 'twitches' by the perfidious virus.
Perhaps a majority in the population now see the virus threat as receding. Folk are cheesed off with hibernating in splendid isolation, losing income and not being able to freely move about or associate with others. The relaxations of lock-down have emboldened the view that the danger is rapidly passing, albeit with an occasional, waspish re-appearance at local levels. So it is probably no surprise that we see more and more people on the streets, businesses back up and running, traffic at almost pre-lock-down levels with only a token recognition of threat through the wearing of face masks. By contrast, the establishment, principally government itself, is still treading with enormous and often knee-jerk caution over the relaxation of freedoms that the country as a whole is generally seeing as being back in swing. When COVID-19 twitches, the government react like a stung mule, itself twitching in all directions and without any clear sense of purpose or co-ordination. Their fear of COVID far exceeds the fear that throughout the population is lessening day by day.
But is this true of all of us ? Seemingly not, for the emerging outcome of this pandemic is a significantly changed cultural landscape with society quite prepared to shift into a new mode of socialising, working, travelling and spending. What existed before is unlikely to re-appear, the virus has created an attitudinal change to just about everything we took to be normal at one time, but likely no more. Within this change, positive as it sounds as an aspiration, there are countless casualties, not least those who have lost their lives to this plague like intruder. Businesses have closed, jobs have been lost and livelihoods crippled, public borrowing has soared to an eye-watering level of debt that is difficult to see being redeemed within a generation. There will be a legacy to this episode in our history and, as always, there will be winners and losers. It will be a testament to our new society as to how we manage this legacy - with steely fortitude ? with frugality ? with a renewed bullish attitude toward investment and growth ? or, perhaps, a resignation to the fact that the divisions amongst our communities will appear more pronounced, defined and intractable as camps of 'I'm all right, Jack' protect themselves from the camps of the ruined and dispossessed.
There clearly are no absolute rights and wrongs and despite the whiny voices of some opposition politicians (who generally complain about everything and anyone) the government need to settle down on the new course to get the country back in action in as equitable a way as possible. It's a gargantuan task and, as with COVID-19, mistakes will be made, judgements incorrectly drawn and seeming injustices promulgated alongside many others that will be necessarily and rightly made to mitigate the effects of the virus upon recovery plans. Nobody in living memory has been here before, there is no rule book and there is no wise old sage sat on a cloud to guide and direct. The government need some leeway in this. They will make some bad calls but they'll also make some good ones and we as the population of Britain need to accept that as things edge towards significant social, economic and political change there will be some ups and downs, some painful, some less so. But there is little merit in constantly whining and sowing the seeds of negativity. If we carp about our governance at this time we will slow the process of government down, slow down the change and slow down any chance of some resumption of economic well being. The government should always be held to account, but for the next few years, let us pray that the harbingers of doom are kept firmly in a dark corner somewhere and that the spirit of recovery wins the day.
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