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All’s Well in Blighty


All seems to be well in dear old Blighty this fine spring morning. 

The British economy is recovering rapidly after a prolonged slump.  Employment is rising.  Inflation is low enough to be inconsequential.  Interest rates are low.  The housing market is booming.  The traditional rituals of summer – ‘The Season’ – will shortly be upon us, reassuring reminders of an ancient continuum.

But all is not quite as it seems.  The isle is full of noises and many of them, unlike the Bard’s ‘sweet airs’, are discordant. The isle’s more fretful citizens, this writer (vaguely) among them, detect an underlying sense of unease that approaches the brink of foreboding. 

Identifying the reasons is difficult.  It would be easy if, say, the Russian armies were advancing westward across the central European plain and threatening invasion – as the Wehrmacht was doing in 1940.  But Britain is not at war, nor likely to be in the foreseeable future, with Russians, Germans or anyone else. 

What troubles the Anglo-Saxon spirit is, or at least ought to be, not being able to work out the consequences in the event a couple of looming political events take a turn that might necessitate a radical redefinition of the country.

The first is the Scottish vote on independence.  The defection of Scotland, apart from requiring the United Kingdom to call itself something else, would cause manifold inconveniences, from reconfiguring Parliament, to working out who owns which oilfields, to redefining the flag.  Doing all that would have to be done and would be a mess – a needless and expensive mess, for which English taxpayers would doubtless foot most of the bill. 

The defection of a tribe of hairy, paint-daubed, chip-shouldering malcontents would not in itself bring me troubled days or sleepless nights.  But if the Scots do quit the Union (and, incidentally, I’m far from convinced that they will be so stupid) then such an event might beget others in the name of Celtic nationalism. The thought of the Irish ‘troubles’ flaring up all over again, or the Welsh agitating to join some new Celtic federation would be, at the very least, an irritating distraction from more pressing issues.

And then there’s the vexing issue of Britain’s relations with the European Union. The next government, regardless of which party or parties form it, may well feel obliged to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership, and there is every reason to believe, on the evidence of recent opinion polls, that British voters would choose to leave.       


Britain is separated from Europe by a strip of water that many people can swim, but it seems that’s enough to convince some islanders that it’s the Continent that is cut off.  The question is not whether Britain can survive outside Europe, but whether it can thrive.  I’m damned if I know the answer.  But haven’t we been through all that Splendid Isolation malarkey?  And where, in the end, did it get us?

The consequences of the prospective dislocations being incalculable, why cause them.  Doing the necessary calculations may not be beyond the wit of civil servants eager to perpetuate their careers – but what a waste of their time and our money.

Does Britain, or whatever we call it, emerge stronger, or safer, or more affluent, or more resilient?  Does Scotland?

I’m only asking.  But I’m not hearing too many answers.   



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