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Opinion

‘Muscle suit unionism’ is the worst of all worlds for Conservatives hoping to keep the UK together

21 Aug 2022 5 minute read
An image of Liz Truss, as part of a mural on Hill Street in Belfast by Ciaran Gallagher Art. Picture by Liam McBurney / PA Wire

Ifan Morgan Jones

Whatever you might think of Michael Gove, his announcement yesterday that he was effectively retiring from the UK Government was a blow for unionism.

Perhaps because he was himself Scottish, Michael Gove was the only one in the Boris Johnson administration that seemed to understand the best strategy for keeping the union together.

Unlike others in the Conservative party, he did not advocate a ‘muscular unionist’ approach of making a show of centralising powers and not caring what Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland thought about it.

Instead, he advocated at least giving the devolved nations the impression of caring what they thought, involving them in decision-making, and making them feel valued and part of the team.

There was nothing new about this approach. It was historically how the unionists have thought of and approached how the UK should be run.

The dominant form of British nationalism in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has been the ‘contributionist’ form which images the UK as a team of valued equals working towards a common goal.

‘Muscular unionism’ undermines that and all that the strong-arming involved is likely to achieve is to rip the UK apart by making voters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland feel that they are not valued.

Despite Liz Truss’ time in Paisley as a child there is no indication that she, like Gove, understand what has made unionism work historically or what makes Scottish (or indeed Welsh) nationalism tick.

Her claim that she would simply “ignore” Nicola Sturgeon, the elected representative of the Scottish people, might player well with Tory members in SE England but couldn’t send a stronger signal that the devolved nations aren’t considered England’s equal.

As a result, she is already doing her bit to boost independence in Wales and Scotland – and she isn’t even in post yet.

Lord Frost meanwhile took things a step further, saying that Wales and Scotland shouldn’t even be treated like nations at all.

He was, at least, completely, if perhaps unintentionally, honest about what the nub of the issue was: “I urge people in England not to give in to the ‘let them go’ argument,” he said, “ because the break-up of the country would be a massive national humiliation”.

Flex

What is even worse about this strategy for the UK Government is that you can be virtually guaranteed that it will amount to threats and posturing but no action.

This has become a government of making big, bewildering announcements and then not following up on them.

Just in the last few days, they have suggested that cyclists will be forced to buy insurance and use number plates, and that people will need to visit their GPs for help paying energy bills.

These things won’t happen. Because they’re just as ambitious as they are bonkers, and there is nothing in the record of the UK Government over the past few years that suggests they are able to deliver even basic functions like providing people with passports.

The same is true of their grand attacks on Welsh and Scottish devolution. If those parliaments and governments thought they had the wherewithal to act on their threat, there may be some room to worry. But just as likely they will huff and puff and then not do anything.

As such, it may be best not to call this ‘muscular unionism’ at all. Because they would imply some kind of action, of force being applied.

We haven’t seen that. The UK Government keeps threatening to do terrible things to the Welsh and Scottish governments in particular. But they either don’t seem to know how, are too incompetent to pull it off, or just aren’t really bothered.

This is actually ‘muscle suit unionism’ – they flex and pose but without the force of actually doing anything.

But it’s the worst of all words for the future of the UK because it still involves all the political damage of annoying the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but without doing anything concrete to draw them into the union.

If the UK Government really wanted to secure the union, they would do the entire opposite – love bomb Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and shower them in investment while slowly and imperceptibly undermining the power of devolved administrations in whatever way they can.

This was a strategy they seemed to have come around to a few months ago.

But based on what she had said at the Conservative leadership hustings so far, Liz Truss seems to lack the Govian guile to pursue it.


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CJPh
CJPh
1 month ago

Good. We should wholeheartedly back these unwitting (and un-witted) accelerationists. Keep on keeping on, gang. You’re proving us right time and time again. These unmasked unionists are honest, feckless and mockable. My vote goes to Truss!

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago

I think it would be just a bit naive and unwise if the Devolved nations were to just sit back and do nothing, relying on the incompetence of the Westminster cabal to collapse into the void is not a good idea, However useless Westminster is, Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland need to be proactive if we’re serious about independence.

George
George
1 month ago

Gove endorsed Badenoch before Sunak, Ben Wallace has gone with Truss and not changed his mind despite what she’s said during the campaign, Jeremy Hunt wanted Ester McVey has key part of his campaign. These “sensible” Tories want a job in the cabinet rather than to do what’s best for the UK. All of them would back “muscular unionism” despite it’s massive flaws. I still think independence, if it ever happens, should be on the basis that we could stay part of the UK, we could leave the UK an we’ve decided the latter is better option but we leave… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
1 month ago
Reply to  George

Perhaps Wales should be putting more effort into links with Scotland. Joint action on the various anti-devolution projects run by Westminster would certaily be more effective than simply complaining individually.

Kenneth Vivian
Kenneth Vivian
1 month ago

Only England counts if Frost thinks the UK will be humiliated if the devolved nations leave. Protect England whatever it takes.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Expecting to make sense of the utterings of Frosty is an indication of madness if you ask me, just as looking for truth in something written by Fat Shanks is a fools errand. These are people who slide from fantasy to delusion and back while picking up 2 to 3 grand a week for selling us Brexit. A chauffeur driven limo complete with bodyguard at our expense regardless of the hateful drivel that pours from their mouths. Their words have the substance of soap bubbles, the ravings of opium eaters and cocaine sniffers that rise like blobs in a lava… Read more »

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

A well written and thoughtful piece for certain catching many of the key and current streams in the ‘ Project UK ‘ section of the Tory party.

Goves departure from his role as ‘ our man in the colonies ‘ is a real blow to them and those Tory ‘ regional ‘ leaders who wish to work in the devolved set ups.

It seems the ravings of Lord Jac Frost and his fellow travellers plus the Ruth D and ArlenenF are now the only games in town.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
1 month ago

I think they’re quite serious about wanting to actually destroy devolution; and I believe they are perfectly capable of enacting such a policy. They will continue their verbal assault, with two aims in mind: to sap the will of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and to test the water in order to see how such assaults go down with the people of Scotland and Wales. It’a a high risk strategy, based on the premise that those countries will bottle out of choosing independence and will eventually get back in line. It could go either way.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago

English people will probably reject anything other than policies to aid the economy, and if someone says Indy for England will be good for their comforts, they’ll vote for Indy.
Same goes for Cymru; Indy will be good for our comfort and culture. Most people in these islands seek a quiet life, not Churchillian blood sweat and tears.
I believe Truss is just a nasty hiccup.

Last edited 1 month ago by I.Humphrys

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