Opinion

John Lloyd

‘Braveheart’ they’re not. What’s Scotland’s problem with a United Kingdom?

John Lloyd
Aug 19, 2014 15:04 UTC

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The collapse of empires has been regarded as a good thing for at least a century, much strengthened by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s efforts at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War One, where he sought to inscribe into international practice and law the right of all peoples to achieve a national state.

The lifting of the incubus of Soviet Communism in 1991 from the states of Central and Eastern Europe was opposed only by a few worried political leaders and rather more dispossessed Communists, but even they either put on a smile or kept their heads down. George H.W. Bush, in the White House when the Soviet center would no longer hold, tried to stem the communist tide by embracing his new friend, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to avoid chaos in the east — in vain. Nationalism, which the Soviet Union’s ideologists had regarded as one of the cardinal sins and had filled the gulags for decades with those suspected of harbouring its sentiments, triumphed.

Now comes Scotland’s turn. The residents of Scotland, on Sept. 18, will vote on the simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Scotland? What’s the problem?

Though Scotland has been and remains a great creator of myths about itself, it has strained to make a strong case that it has suffered much under the domination of the English. For a few years in the late 1990s, it hooked itself  to the Braveheart phenomenon – the surge of anti-English nationalism unleashed by Mel Gibson’s gory piece of adolescent fantasy – but even Scottish nationalists are now embarrassed by that. The nation (no one doubts it is that) is the third-richest region in the United Kingdom, with a booming oil business and a financial sector that is still – even after the financial crash that almost finished the overextended Royal Bank of Scotland — the major such center after London.

It’s been part of the United Kingdom since the two parliaments were voluntarily joined in one – at London’s Westminster – in 1707. Indeed, that union is the reason why the country is called the United Kingdom because they were the only two parts of it that had developed a monarchical state. Vital to the union was that Scotland, then and now by far the smaller partner, would retain control of education, justice and, most important at that time, religion. It has done so since, and in the late 18th and 19th centuries, Scotland became rich as the British Empire – in which Scots were disproportionately active and prominent – made the United Kingdom the world’s greatest power.

If Prince Charles becomes King Charles, will his kingdom leave him?

John Lloyd
Jun 19, 2014 10:22 UTC

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla arrive for the second day of the Royal Ascot horse racing festival at Ascot, southern England

Could Prince Charles finally get his crown? And if he does, could it mean the end of the United Kingdom?

Abdication in favor of the younger generation seems to be something of a trend in Europe — if two cases can be considered a trend. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated last year so that her son, Willem-Alexander, could bring some youth and vitality to the largely ceremonial role.

More recently, King Juan Carlos, widely credited with having assisted the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain in 1975 and with puncturing a rather feeble coup attempt in 1981, vacated the throne in favor of his son, Felipe. The announcement was followed by large demonstrations calling for an end to the monarchy entirely, with Cayo Lara, leader of the United Left Coalition, quoted as saying, “We are not subjects, we are citizens.”

The UK’s paradox of faith

John Lloyd
Apr 23, 2014 14:32 UTC

When David Cameron recently proclaimed in the Church Times — the organ of the Church of England — that he was a Christian, that his faith helped guide him through life and work and that Britain is a Christian country and should be proud of it, he was met with a wall of disapproval.

When a European leader says he’s a Christian and that he lives in a Christian country, he’s asking for trouble. The approved political position in Europe is that religion should be commended for its sterling values when it cares for the poor and condemned when it is used as a rationale for terrorism. Otherwise, politicians should steer clear and leave it to the clergy.

European states are not the United States, and thus not “nations under God,” (though only since 1954, when the words were added to the pledge of allegiance). EU states are nations under constitutions that prescribe secularism. They say that all faiths may (peacefully) flourish and that none shall have priority.

Princesses and their paparazzi

John Lloyd
Sep 18, 2012 20:42 UTC

When the editor of the Irish Daily Star, Mike O’Kane, was asked about his decision to publish a few of the topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William – a future king of Great Britain, the crown perhaps descending from his grandmother’s snow-white head to his own prematurely balding pate – he replied: “Kate is not the future queen of Ireland, so really the only place where this is causing fury seems to be in the UK, and they are very, very tasteful pictures.”

Alfonso Signorini, editor of Chi (“Who”) magazine in Italy, answered the same question by saying, “first of all it is a journalistic scoop … surely it’s unusual to see a future Queen of England topless? I think it’s the first time in history, so it deserves an extraordinary edition.” (He has 200 pictures of the couple and plans to do more.) Chi is the top gossip magazine in Italy, and like Closer, the original publisher of the pictures, in France, is in the magazine division of Mondadori, owned by Silvio Berlusconi.

Signorini, a former classics professor, is also a TV host and did his boss great service last year when he interviewed, with almost paternal sympathy, Karima El Mahroug, otherwise known as Ruby Rubacuore (“Heartstealer”), an exotic dancer in a Milanese nightclub. Berlusconi is alleged to have paid her, while she was under 18, for sex at one of his “bunga-bunga” parties when he was still Italian prime minister. The charge, of encouraging underage prostitution, is now being heard in a court in Milan. Signorini’s interview, dwelling on her tough childhood and her gratitude to Berlusconi for his wholly platonic friendship and financial assistance – “He behaved like a father to me, I swear” – was itself a journalistic scoop: the first time a prime minister of Italy had been revealed as one who gave selfless succor to a penniless young exotic dancer.

Not all are jubilant about the Queen’s Jubilee

John Lloyd
Jun 5, 2012 17:09 UTC

The last few days of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration have prompted the outpouring of patriotism and affection. But it did not faze Britain’s most determined protester. Peter Tatchell generally campaigns against homophobia and for gay rights: In one of his many (and one of his best) public projects, he tried to make a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe when the latter came shopping in London in 1999, drawing attention to the president having called gays “pigs and dogs”. (London’s finest arrested Tatchell, not the dictator, for that episode.)

He was out again this weekend, on a wet, cool and blustery day as a flotilla of boats sailed down the Thames to salute the monarch. Just by Westminster Bridge, he and fellow leaders of the British republican party rallied a crowd of like-minded folk and some hecklers, who heard him say that though he thought the queen was personally quite nice, she was at the pinnacle of a pernicious class system, possessed hundreds of flunkeys and hundreds of millions of pounds, and must now stand aside to let the British people elect their head of state, as people should in a democratic country.

This wasn’t popular, but my respect for Tatchell, already high, went up. It’s a cliché but also a truth that a democracy is tested by its tolerance for those people and things that majorities can’t stand, and certainly the majority can’t stand the message that the republicans were shouting as they stood across the river from the Mother of Parliaments and the Mother of the Nation passed by in her specially prepared barge. The majority, in varying degrees, love the queen.

No Union, please, we’re English

John Lloyd
Dec 29, 2011 18:30 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

In France, it is les Anglais. In Germany, die Engländer. In Italy, gli Inglesi. In Russia, Anglichane.

The peoples of the United Kingdom, for most other peoples, are habitually “English.”

Not unnaturally. The English part of the UK accounts for close to 90 per cent of the country’s population; the language is English; the capital is London, long the English capital; the accents heard are overwhelmingly English; the long-held stereotype of the country is an upper-class English gent, snobbish, prudish and insular.

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