Karl Johnson is a freelance writer with an interest in politics and history. He also works as an illustrator in Buckinghamshire.
One of the most common detractions levelled at unionists by Scottish nationalists is that the United Kingdom is an “artificial” body, fabricated to suit convenient political ideas.
But surely this is the point of the Union? The identities of the home nations are doubtless important to those that belong to them, but they are ultimately based on ethnic groups. The distinctions between them may be cultural or linguistic but are most often based simply on blood.
It was realised by the unionists of 1707, at the dawn of the Age of Reason, that a man-made identity would be a better vehicle for commerce, and the transmission of values across borders and generations. There is no British race as such, and that is the whole idea. Without a fabricated sense of nationhood, the extraordinary impact of the British Isles on world history would not have been possible.
This style of unionism is not an aberration unique to our part of the world, but is in fact a global trend, one of the defining experiences of modern European political thought. States broadly similar to the UK in their constitutional apparatus can be found all over the world. One of the most durable legacies of the British Empire in Asia and Africa has been a patchwork of European-style nation states, constructed out of nothing, many of them covering a certain fraction of two or three different ethnic groups.
These states are also constantly under fire, on grounds that their borders are incorrectly laid out, or that they obstruct a particular group’s right to self-determination, and although these are legitimate concerns, they are outweighed by the opportunities given to the people of these regions by allowing them to define themselves outside of tribal boundaries. It’s harder to encounter persecution when citizenship fundamentally stems from a matter of paperwork, laws and treaties rather than ancient tribes and misremembered battles.
Furthermore, it stands to reason that a state formed entirely to serve the interest of a single racial or cultural group is unlikely to have much to offer to the rest of the world. The great hegemonic powers of history have all been multinational to some degree; The British and Ottoman Empires, Austria-Hungary, and of course, the United States. All of these entities were designed for a purpose, rather than growing organically, and all demonstrated their ability for centuries to outmanoeuvre simplistic regional nationalist movements. Although not an empire in the historical sense, ‘Britain’ has nonetheless proved a fundamentally outward-looking place.
Many people might question if we really have a need to influence the rest of the world in a post-Imperial age. However, it is often a case of “lead or be led.” The ability to exert soft power abroad is important for attracting investment, ensuring security and building lasting partnerships with other countries, but above all it is a prerequisite of having your own agenda.
It might be tempting to assume that an independent Scotland could rely on the EU for this sort of thing, but the EU is steered by the larger and stronger member states. Observe how a reunified and resurgent Germany is presiding over affairs in Europe, and how Spain and Italy, which both have organised separatist movements, are not. Separatism is not responsible for the travails of either of these countries, or of Britain, but is standing in the way of recovery by damaging the constructed framework of civic nationhood that grants precedence to pragmatism over flags or ethnicity.
It is for these reasons that British unionism may be considered to be holding a logical and responsible position against separatism in the political climate of today.Share on Facebook