The flowers for Jo Cox lie beneath a martyr’s statue no-one notices. They should. It's to Birstall's Joseph Priestley, chemist (he 'discovered' oxygen), educationalist, radical. In 1791 his support for the pre-terror French Revolution led a 'Church and King' mob to burn his chapel, home and laboratory in Birmingham. In 1794 he left for America, to be welcomed by Washington and Jefferson.
As to France, A J P Taylor once wrote that many historians could give you the facts about the revolution. Only Thomas Carlyle could take you there, with his cinematic language. Being dependent on data, logic, persuasion, I am unmoved by the social media innovation – what Carlyle called schwarmerei/ swarming would now be 'tweets' and 'likes' – so am I disqualified from writing the following?
Maybe...But there's another extreme: the 358 small-type, unindexed pages of Gordon Brown's 'Britain: Leading Not Leaving'. Much interesting material in researcher-capsulated form, but compare with Paine’s 'Rights of Man', Keynes’ 'Essays in Persuasion'? Generals survive by analysing their defeats. There is no mention of 'light touch' and 'Scotland': no learning curve visible. Scotland's scunner – largely at the banks – was mobilised by 'swarming' and stormed Labour's fortresses.
Think about the Brexit Tories, and John Redwood. 'He'll go down in Wales like a rat sandwich!': Dafydd Wigley got a laugh when Redwood was installed by John Major as Welsh secretary in 1993-5. In the 1997 reckoning the Welsh Thatcherite Neil Hamilton, who had furthered Al-Fayed of Harrods' ambitions in return for cash in envelopes, crashed out to Martin Bell – 'the man in the white suit'. My friend and publisher, the late Kate Jones, was Bell's agent in Tatton, achieving the all-time record in constituency swings. Now Hamilton is back as a Ukipper in the Welsh Assembly, in post-industrialised regions vulnerable to Brexit propaganda.
I ran into Redwood himself in 2009, advising Guernsey operators about protecting their status as offshore financial fixers in the aftermath of the crash they'd helped create. What's remarkable is the rapidity with which such people (often Scots: think Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Michael Forsyth) on the Tory hard right – have been granted credibility on the issue of immigration, through eurosceptic alliances which would be a very hard sell on their economics. Only months ago IDS was the man behind the bedroom tax: Steve Bell’s Guardian amalgam of Gradgrind and Dracula...
Leaf through the Brexit websites, and what impresses is their slightness. The official 'Vote Leave' campaign is Tory Party and low-key: BoJo and Gove wall-to-wall, the fetching Priti Patel; behind them Matthew Elliott, late of the Taxpayer's Alliance. Look in vain for the F-word: no Nigel in sight. But he doesn't have to appear to be effective... 'Leave UK/Grassroots Out' has fringe finance folk, some farmers, retired-this and-that. Borisite 'Business for Britain' isn't much stouter, the ideology of the Institute of Economic Affairs being prominent. I know it for ecophobia and primitive transport policies and no, I don't want to tear up the rail lines we've restored to please the 'Sell your Granny' folk. 'Historians for Britain' are those you'd expect. David Starkey of course, hardly anyone from Scotland or Wales; Andrew Roberts: his huge 'History of the English-speaking Peoples since 1900' has one index entry on Scotland, sprays venom on the Irish.
Remember that in 1989-90 the eastward extension of the EU was a Thatcherite ploy, aimed at widening and weakening the Franco-German core. So you can bet that the Cityboys (plentiful in our rustic version of Docklands in the Scottish Borders) will have fun. Toreadors from pre-2008 Edinburgh will ride their 4x4s on and off the shares-and-cash carousel when the crisis hits. Cometh the hour, cometh the city dealer – what else cooked up 'the fortunes of Nigel'? – and those of the hedgies who have kept a low profile since 'light-touch' went off-road in 2008? Not one of the rascals who ruined our banks has heard the cell door clang behind him.
'Migrant hordes' (I've been in one since 1980: a German academic gastarebeiter) is a quick-burn bogey that currently combines economic uncertainty with the horrors of Jihadism and its disruptions. In 2015 Ukip reaped votes if not seats in failing industrial areas. Last week BBC interviewers found Sunderland folk who didn't want more migrants, but didn't know any.
Yet cash for Jihadi extremists came out of conservative Wahabis among our Saudi arms buyers, good business at the time. They, and Russian oligarchs, got welcomed in London. Petrodollars, and cash looted from the old USSR, helped power 'light touch' Britain. More fun – for London – than 'making widgets', this perpetuated a poorly-qualified workforce and a drop in manufacturing from 30% to 10% of GDP, 1990-2010. It showed both main UK parties have had their chance, and failed. I documented that in 'Broonland' (Verso, 2010), but didn't foresee how rapidly Brown's Scottish fortress would collapse.
What happens if Brexit wins? Parliamentary endorsement doesn't follow. Most MPs are against. The old rules made short work of a narrow Scottish 'Yes' vote on an assembly in 1979. After 24 June there will be three years of stasis at least – even the Brexies admit. A big chance for their city friends who will fight boredom by betting hour by hour on currency movements, cleaning up personally whatever the outcome.
In Fabian Tract 484 'Against Metropolis', 1982, I sketched a federal Britain on West German lines. Might it have stabilised devolution? (The Fabians left Scotland off the cover map and didn't number the pages, so dream on...) I noted the role of precarious 'illegals' and tax dodging in boosting the runaway growth of the 'United Kingdom of London' (UKL) – aided by the absence (unique in Europe) of a registration system. Today, add the East European 'push factor' of Putin's Russia thinking itself back into Romanov expansionism, and the city's linkages with our treasure Island tax havens.
Tract 484 actually went back to the early Fabian William Clarke's forecast in 1893 of 'a nation of waiters', positing a servitor capitalism that empowered key groups in 'Metropolis', disadvantaging others. Such a 'high-wage hard left' will fight its corner in the UKL – and like the Brexie Mick Cash of the RMT – pose a tough problem for Jeremy Corbyn, initially diffident against it.
But this is where a positive European manufacture/training policy, and welfare exchanges with the Mediterranean ought to work. Would-be skilled workers coming inwards for training, our own pensioners on winter vacations boosting southern training and jobs, should loosen prejudices and spur innovation. Such regional resources exist – as the German Greens have shown in gender fairness and eco-hi-tech manufacturing success. Baden-Wuerttemberg, level with Scotland in population in 1900, and with lower GDP, now has 11 million people and over three times our manufacturing. This energised my own students, who know the meaning of 'workers by brain’ – and how to innovate in practical, economic, terms. Can the vacuities of social media, boutique booze, fantasy footie compete with Patrick Geddes' 'making, moving and mending'?
This hasn't been matched by any UK party – including the SNP – but it could be, if we can by-pass London, ally with regional Europe and create bodies to exploit the high-energy/low carbon resources of the northern seas. Now, surely, is the time to develop 'sea-regions' for what Geddes would have called the geotechnic age, expanding conventions to create the informal independence of a Scottish Free State: creating an external affairs ministry that, along with Ireland, cuts deals for us.
It was a Scot, Edinburgh’s prof of 'the Law of Nature and of Nations’, James Lorimer, central to George Davie's democratic Intellect, who first proposed a European Federation in 1884. My much-missed friend Neil MacCormick tried to give the EU a constitution in the 1990s. We are guilty as charged and I am proud of it: as Hamish Henderson warned in his 'Elegies':
We must build for the living
Love, patience and power to absolve those tormented,
Or else choke in the folds of their black-edged vendetta.
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