“Confusion Now Hath Made His Masterpiece”, by Duncan Sutherland

Guest post.

Dear Paul,

I’m rather fond of Shakespeare myself, not least Macbeth. With reference to your post on Boris Johnson and the tragi-comic events which are unfolding in England on a daily basis, I think it is as well to bear in mind that intense existential national debates are now under way on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border. The debate in Scotland differs from the one in England, of course. The English are divided on the question of whether they are European or not, whereas we Scots have no doubt that we are European but are divided on the question of whether UK citizenship is worth losing EU citizenship for. The debate in England is full of sound and fury, whereas in Scotland all is calm, the calm before the storm, perhaps:

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble […]

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.” (Macbeth, Shakespeare)

In the great existential debate leading up to the union between Scotland and England in the eighteenth century, an English agent and propagandist, none other than the novelist Daniel Defoe, was despatched to Edinburgh to argue in his Essays at Removing National Prejudices, which were distributed as pamphlets, that the best favour which the Scots could possibly do for themselves was to cease to be Scottish. Thank goodness we did not do so. We adopted British identity instead, keeping our Scottish nationality tucked up our sleeves in case we might need it again. The English, on the other hand, never truly adopted British identity, as their sense of the superiority of English identity made that quite impossible for them. You see it still today.

In the present melee in England there is a tussle going on between those who still cling to the old notions of what it is to be English and somewhat more enlightened citizens such as those who marched through the streets of London today demanding that the result of the EU referendum be set aside, while in the corridors of anglo-power those who should be giving leadership are slugging it out among themselves in fratricidal power struggles on both sides of the traditional political divide. And all of this is transpiring at a time when it could not be more important or more urgent for strong leadership and clear direction to be provided in the conduct of the affairs of the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom, what a misnomer! I am reminded of an insightful intervention which was made by a member of the House of Commons when the legislation giving effect to the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England was being debated in 1707. No objection, he said, could reasonably be offered to some form of association between the two states, but no incorporating union between two such manifestly incompatible entities could possibly endure indefinitely. Sooner or later, he argued, armed force would have to be used to hold such a union together, and, even if that succeeded for a time, the union would eventually fall apart.

So up in Scotland we sit here calmly mulling things over, wondering if that moment has come, interrupted only by the Queen of England, as you call her, urging us at the opening of the new session of the Scottish Parliament today to . . . calmly mull things over. Well, thank you, your Majestic Elizabethness. You’re a dear old lady, and we wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, but kindly direct your remarks to the powers that be in England, if there be any powers in England at this bizarre moment, with confusion reigning as never before in modern times:

“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” (Macbeth, Shakespeare)

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