According to the Telegraph, Theresa May’s Government is going to make preserving the Union central to Brexit negotiations, with all decisions monitored to ensure they will not bolster the secessionist case.
Talk about not being able to see the wood for the trees.
Many things have fuelled the fires of secessionism down the years: the decline of confessional Protestant belief; the collapse of Empire and the subsequent loss of national prestige; militant Irish republicanism; Britain’s entry into the EU; the 1970s North Sea oil boom; the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of multiculturalism.
However, in recent decades a major driver has been the rise of the London City State and the overwhelming concentration of economic, cultural and political wealth and power within it. Its dominance is immensely resented, not least because it is in reality a global city rather than a just a national capital. Aloof, arrogant and often culturally alien, its governance has at times seemed almost colonial in its attitudes. Britain may have lost an Empire, but London acquired a new one.
The fact that the Government has it in its power to decide all Brexit decisions – monitored or not – is precisely what is bolstering the secessionist case. It should never be forgotten that voting patterns in the European referendum were as much a rejection of London’s quasi-imperial rule as it was a rejection of the European Union.
Scotland and Ulster voted Remain because many resent that rule so deeply they prefer to swap a Brussels-based empire for what they see as a London-based one. In voting to Leave, England and Wales were also in their own way rejecting the arrogant rule of the metropolitan elites.
The Brexit revolution was bottom up, and as such should be owned by the people, whether they voted Leave or Remain. Rather than a dry, top-down technocratic and legalistic exercise, it should instead a galvanising force for national and local renewal.
Central to it should be the rapid devolution of power so that local areas can imagine a Brexit future in line with their own local strengths and traditions: Brexit should look different from Belfast to Bristol, Glasgow to Grimsby and Leeds to Liverpool. It is only when our nations, regions and great industrial cities at least see the potential to regain their lost self-respect and salve their wounded pride that will secessionist fervour subside.
In essence, Brexit must both be and perceived as a shared national project that all, great or small, can play a part in. As part of that project, we will need to construct a new national story that can help unify our people, and here social conservatives who love the Union also have a major role to play: for decades, unionists have been on the back foot, essentially being able only to appeal to little more than nostalgia, narrow economic self-interest and the inertia offered by the status quo.
A sense of nationhood must ultimately be much more than that: it is, as the great conservative philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, a contract between the living, the dead and the not yet born. As such, it is up to us to make Brexit a romance, as the rebirth of a great maritime trading nation unified by our historic love of the sea. It is up to us to summon up the ghosts of the great traders, explorers and writers, to frame Brexit in the context of both great past and future endeavours.
Modern Britain often appears, and is, a fragmented and unhappy place, but in fact there has never been a better time to make the case for the Union and renewed sense of national unity to replace both bitter nationalism and the failed multicultural experiments of the liberal elite. History will not forgive us should we fail to make it.