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‘Know-your-place unionism’ threatening the future of the UK says former senior civil servant

30 Dec 2021 3 minutes Read
Photo by Matt Milton on Unsplash.

A “know-your-place” unionism that treats Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as “possessions” is threatening the future of the UK, a former civil servant in the Cabinet Office has said.

Ciaran Martin, now a professor at the University of Oxford, said that adherents of “muscular unionism” – including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson – were now working towards a “single, British nationalist vision of the future” that only required “an English electoral majority to deliver it”.

Even though a kind of British nationalism, “muscular unionism is emphatically (though not exclusively) Anglocentric,” he said.

“Because it sees the UK as a unitary state, and because of the dominance of England within it, a simple majority in England is usually enough to win a UK-wide majority,” he said.

“This means the entire UK can – and should – be governed entirely on the basis of that majority. Fiscal transfers are a price worth paying to keep the territory of the UK intact and avoid the national humiliation of its break up.”

Writing in Political Insight, he said that the opposition to a legal path to Scottish independence meant that this form of British nationalism was a “quintessential ‘know-your-place’ unionist position”. Brexit and the “extraordinary constitutional land-grab” of the Internal Market Act were other examples, he said.

“That it risks, over time, changing the nature of the Union from one based on consent to one upheld by law, appears not to trouble the muscular unionist,” he said.

Ciaran Martin was previously Constitution Director at the Cabinet Office at the time of David Cameron’s government, and helped to agree the framework for the Scottish independence referendum.

‘Consent’

The danger to the UK in muscular unionism was that while it aimed for “squashing separatist sentiment and restoring a strongly British identity throughout the UK” it also “appears not to be very popular”.

“Devolution continues to enjoy strong support in Scotland. Whatever the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people is, it is not muscular unionism,” he said.

“In Wales, the Abolish the Assembly Party did not secure a single seat in May. Even in Northern Ireland, however unsettled unionism is over the Protocol, a significant constituency, notably Doug Beattie’s progressive and increasingly popular Ulster Unionist Party, sees real electoral peril in being seen to bring down Stormont.”

That would leave devolution-supporting Unionists outside England politically homeless, he said.

“At a time when British nationalism is standing firm against a second referendum choice for Scotland, they are reframing that choice, when it eventually comes, to a binary one between leaving the United Kingdom or staying in a highly centralised, very nationalistic, British state,” he said.

“If muscular unionism changes the basis of British government in the way it intends, where is the political home for those outside England who are comfortable with complex and multiple identities, and prefer a strong degree of national autonomy within a multinational state?”


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Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
6 months ago

Let’s call ‘muscular unionism’ for what it is – right wing english nationalism! A right wing english nationalism which treats the nations of Wales and Scotland with contempt and which will lead to the break up of the british state

Last edited 6 months ago by Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
6 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

If that’s the best line of debate the xenophobic ‘rule brittannia’ sycophants can come up with the british state is in a even more desperate state than i thought 🤣 PS. If youre going to level groundless insults at people at least have the courage to do so under your real name 😉

Last edited 6 months ago by Leigh Richards
The Uncomfortable Truth
The Uncomfortable Truth
6 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

fine one to talk about groundless insults though I suspect without them you could not post any comment whatsoever.

Aubrey Roberts
Aubrey Roberts
6 months ago

Wishful thinking with the xenophobia accusation. England is the most diverse country in the Union . It’s people student foreign languages at school and university ten fold more than Wales. There key government roles are held by Asians. What have we in Wales. Plaid Cymru going backwards at the ballot box. YesCymru members leaving by the 10,000. The top commenter on this site being some krank who types “Kick English out of Wales.” What are we left with? A handful of people who hate that English people and hope they die in a pandemic to prove them right . No… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Aubrey Roberts

Are we talking of the England, where English fans boo the England team for showing respect for each other before a game, and then go on to post threats to a young German girl on social media, and boo opposition teams national anthems. Sound like a very “inclusive ” place.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Aubrey Roberts

What a load of rubbish! England might be diverse but that’s only down to Empire building. Race & religious hatred is rampant in England, fuelled partly by Brexit. So stop deluding yourself that its a land of milk & honey and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, because they are not. Only recently you had the Windrush scandal when Whitehall & England unjustly deported members of our Afro-Caribbean community that were in the 1950s invited to Britain to work. And you call us Welsh Nationalists intolerant. Oh, and don’t tar everybody with the same brush because one poster… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
6 months ago

Just when i thought the quality of your contributions could not get any worse 😂. Still waiting for you to put your real name to your groundless insults – or are you a coward as well?

Paul
Paul
6 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Typical right wing bs, pulled out of page one of the English supremacist manual to suit your own hate fuelled views.

Arwyn
Arwyn
6 months ago

Nail on head there. Not often I agree with Conservatives ond mae’r boi yn lygaid ei le.

Arwyn
Arwyn
6 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Presuming he is Conservative of course!

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Northern Irish Protestant, GCHQ and cyber security chief, head of intelligence in the Cameron cabinet office? Probably no official political allegiance but rather closer to authoritarianism than pinko radicalism.
That an insider to Tory government thinking makes this warning should be significant. Since the current powers that be inside the Conservative party are closer to Fascism reduces the impact somewhat.

Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
6 months ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

Northern Irish Protestant who went to a Christian Brothers school and played Gaelic Football? (Wikipedia) I don’t think so. As an Ulsterman myself I can confirm Mr. Martin’s instincts on “Muscular Unionism” are correct. The understanding is in our genes, whatever community we come from.

j humphrys
j humphrys
6 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Yes, but it’s not OUR welfare that concerns him.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones
6 months ago

So is the solution to muscular unionism stronger muscular separatism?
Sounds about right to me

David
David
6 months ago

10 comments BUT only 4 allowed to be read.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

Speaking hypothetically as a supporter foremost of Welsh independence. If the ones with the mindset that our sovereignty lies in England’s hands, and we must
be its obedient subjects in its nano English empire, is it no wonder the Union it is dying.

And if Britain was truly a marriage of equals, which it isn’t, with all four nations being represented within a federal system, it wouldn’t be in its current death throws.

.

j humphrys
j humphrys
6 months ago

Independence for Cymru and Alba are a “national humiliation” for UK (England).
Reminds us of the “national humiliation” for death of USSR (Russia).

Rob
Rob
6 months ago
Reply to  j humphrys

Actually the Soviet Union collapsed because Russia under Yeltsin declared their independence from it. This meant that Soviet Republics became independent whether they wanted to or not.

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  j humphrys

I lived in the former Soviet Union the mentality of the tories is similar to Putin’s Russia on many fronts including corruption

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

Your username is quite apt. Truth hurts.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
6 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

In this context, I wonder how the UK might ‘break up’. Would Scotland hold their referendum without the consent of Westminster and then declare UDI? I personally don’t think that the SNP would do that as one of the things that they are keen to do is to show that they are law abiding unlike the De Piffle Regime. So what about Ulster? A Border Poll looks to be the only way that they could break free and that is legislated for already. Thus it strikes me that re-unification of Ireland might be the start of the process. Here in… Read more »

David
David
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

See BARBADOS.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

Whitehall cannot deny Scotland a second vote on independence when they have a mandate from the Scottish people and Unionist promises of Devo-Max & EU membership were reneged on with the 2014 Brexit vote and more recent Conservative Scottish parliament power grab.

Last edited 6 months ago by Y Cymro
defaid
defaid
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

Fully agree with you: 30% is a failure. We have to show possible futures that the majority will buy into.

There’s a lot of work to be done. Plaid have given us one coherent (if badly promulgated) vision in the Independence Commission’s report but really, Llafur are going to have to do the same.

If the public think independence won’t work for them then they won’t agree to it.

Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

Don’t hold your breath on a border poll in Ireland. Despite Sinn Fein’s polling in the Republic there is a lot of concern about the financial cost of replicating the North’s NHS and other public spending.

Richard
Richard
6 months ago

I shared a few weeks ago a meeting I was lucky to have in Dublin in the 1980s when attending an EU Conference for local authorities. I met a former TD in very old age with a mind as sharp as a needle. He had been a representative and if I recall correctly a member of the old Irish Home Rule Party that fought for “ Dominion ‘ status for many years and held a large number of seats at Westminster. He was fighting he said on two fronts – the Republicans in two or three local forms but also… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Richard
Arwyn
Arwyn
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Spot on. An excellent perspective.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago

“Know your Place” indeed…Heads of the Valleys road £110 million overspend and 3 years late…’Llanbedr’ By-Pass…Where?

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

110 million sounds a lot, then you compare, 37 Billion on a covid app that failed miserably , 110 billion and counting on HS2 that has had part of the route cancelled, know your place indeed.

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

And of course, we should be glad it was only 110 million overspend on the road, as, if it was more, our Gov may not have had the money to purchase LFT kits, and be in a position to ” lend” 10 million to England, along with the 20 million pieces of PPE they have had, as well.

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