On the wireless this morning, Jacob Rees-Mogg referred to the DUP as the guardians of all things British and said he would not abandon them during the coming parliamentary shenanigans.
Just before Rees-Mogg said this, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, gave a speech to the European Parliament, declaring that he would not expect UK representatives there to abandon the millions of people who do not under any circumstances wish their country to leave the European Union. For, he said they too are Europeans.
They may feel that they are not sufficiently represented by the UK Parliament, but they must feel they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans.
Tusk referred specifically to the nearly 6 million who have signed an online petition demanding that Article 50 be revoked, and to the estimated million who marched in London last weekend. Before he came to the bit about the DUP and Britishness, Rees-Mogg of course disputed these numbers, offering the opinion that “remaniacs” were scurrilously exaggerating the figures. The facts are plain, he said; the number marching in London was more like several hundred thousand, online petitions give a false picture of general opinion and often there are ways of fiddling the figures.
For 22 years I lived in The Netherlands. When I first arrived, in 1991, I had to declare myself to immigration police in order to get permission to live in the country. The unit of currency was the Guilder. When traveling across the continent it was necessary to pass through customs posts, to be subject to scrutiny by border guards and to be in possession of cash in the currencies of the countries passed through. By the time I left to come back to live in Scotland, all borders between continental countries were open. The only possibly necessary other currency was the Swiss Franc but most ordinary transactions were electronic.
The border of Europe has been drawn far away to the east, along the Mediterranean, up the Atlantic coast and through the English Channel. For the time I lived in NL, the border into the UK was the only border in Europe that remained manned by police and secured by customs regulations. During the years I traveled back and forth from NL to Scotland, I saw in fact an increase in security, a tightening of the control of bodies and their possessions through the gates, and a more visible armed police presence, usually in the person of two coppers with machine guns and body armour, in my face as I passed into UK territory.
The continuing integration of European regulations and administration is regarded by some as proof of further European domination and interference, more being told what to do by powers far away. Some regard it however as a sensible way of doing business in an increasingly complex international market. Whatever may be believed of it now, as it struggles to cope with Perfidious Albion’s desire to inhabit a fantasy world where it leads the way in the world with its natural superiority, the European Union’s foundations lie in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the ruined European nations promised each other never again to go to war, but instead to cooperate in peaceful free trade.
One of my most profound experiences living in The Netherlands, was my first Remembrance Day – Herdenkingsdag. At eight in the evening of May 4th, the whole country falls silent for two minutes of reflection. The first time I experienced this, I was immediately aware of a great wave of emotion emerging from behind the ambient city cacophony, spreading over the land. All traffic seemed also to have stopped, birdsong rang out. It was a feeling of total grief, absolute desolation that such a thing could have happened, that the neighbours to the east were able with such ease to invade and impose their wickedness, that in the face of such military strength there had been little choice but to capitulate, that so many in the country conspired with the invaders to maintain their power, that so many died during the occupation, starved, murdered or just faded away.
After the silence, bevrijdingsdag – Liberation Day begins, unofficially, and in typical Dutch style, everybody goes out onto the streets to party. As the years living in the Netherlands piled up, after the introduction of the Euro, as I began to feel the benefits of travel, commerce and the fact of there being no border controls between nations, the experience of remembrance day became much less intense. Partly I had become accustomed to what it meant for Dutch society always to remember the precise moment of Nazi withdrawal, partly history had moved into a new phase. The Second World War had changed from being a reminder of what we no longer want to do, to become the kind of thing that is now ruled out structurally.
It is now simply impossible for European powers to go to war with each other without destroying that upon which they are all dependent. The European Union is in this fundamental sense the absolute negation of warfare, built into a complex assemblage of interstate institutions and markets. How this is judged is entirely a matter of taste; how it operates and for the benefit of whom is always going to be a matter of contention, but it has at last established a common experience of being European, a more profound, fluid and enduring feeling than simply being a member of a club.
In The Netherlands I experienced my life as a European, a Scot living in Europe with friends in neighbouring countries, fluent in Dutch, with a smattering of German and French. I had neighbours, friends and colleagues with many different cultural and national identities and origins, and many skin tones. We all mixed together, pragmatically getting through the day, going about our business.
This is what the extreme right hates. This mixing together of cultures and nationalities dilutes the purity of supremacist identity, threatening the universality of exclusive ideology.
The archaic, exceptionalist opinions of Rees-Mogg and his ilk demonstrate precisely what it means to be British; his commitment never to betray narrow-minded British nationalism in the north of Ireland should show us quite unequivocally that being British means pandering to sad, besuited, quasi nazis. At the same time, Tusk’s concise summary of the current state of relations between the British government and the European Union encapsulates precisely what it means to be European, to be open and pragmatic in pursuit of mutual interests, working together without prejudice for the common good.
The lines of engagement are clear; this is a fight against fascism, not in another country on the other side of a border, but at home, within the borders of this benighted kingdom.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the only way forward for Scotland is to extricate itself from the chaos, to distance herself from the petty British nationalism that continues to frame debate, and by proactively engaging with European sentiment, to take control of her own affairs.
I said before that a grand assembly of Scottish representatives should be called, and that diplomatic overtures made to Brussels. It seems now clear from the tone of Donald Tusk’s remarks that Europe would be sympathetic to such moves, and offer support.
Time now to act.