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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
17 days 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 17 days ago by Leigh Richards
Arwyn
Arwyn
17 days ago

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

Arwyn
Arwyn
17 days ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Presuming he is Conservative of course!

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
17 days 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
17 days 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
17 days ago
Reply to  Arwyn

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

Philip Jones
Philip Jones
17 days ago

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

David
David
17 days ago

10 comments BUT only 4 allowed to be read.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
17 days 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
17 days 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
17 days 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
16 days 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
17 days ago

Your username is quite apt. Truth hurts.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
17 days 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
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

See BARBADOS.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
17 days 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 17 days ago by Y Cymro
defaid
defaid
17 days 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
16 days 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
17 days 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 17 days ago by Richard
Arwyn
Arwyn
17 days ago
Reply to  Richard

Spot on. An excellent perspective.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
16 days ago

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

Gareth
Gareth
16 days 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
16 days 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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