Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Big boats for rich people

It has seemed from the outset that many of those arguing for Brexit were harking back to what they see as the ‘good old days’; a time when Britannia ruled the waves, natives elsewhere were suitably deferential, and if all else failed, then a gunboat or two could be deployed. 
But it’s hard to think of a better example of that sort of thinking than this story about those who are seeking, in a very literal sense, to get Britannia back on the waves.  The call for the UK to either recommission the royal yacht, or else commission a new one, has it all.  Symbolism of global Britain and a good dose of nostalgia; these are key elements of the Brexit mindset.  The USP for this little proposal is clear – ‘do business with us: we can’t offer you access to the single market, but we can offer you a chance to sign the contract on a very big yacht and maybe even meet one of our royals’.  That obviously trumps the mere economics of any deal, doesn’t it?
It will be costly, but not to worry; one of the instigators of the scheme doesn’t want the taxpayer to fund it, oh no.  Instead, an appeal will be launched for donations from across the Commonwealth (another throwback to the imperial past) from people who will be only too happy to contribute large sums to provide a new boat for one of the UK’s richest families.  Can’t you just feel the genuflection oozing through the population as we all joyously contribute our few penn’orth as well?
These people really do dwell in the past, a place which has rightly been called ‘another country’.  They can happily spout the utterly meaningless phrase that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ without understanding the rather more meaningful statement that ‘the past is in the past’.


Anonymous said...

I think you have a rather individualistic view of British history.

When I travel the world I hold my head high and am rightfully proud of the achievements of the British Empire. It's when I return home to Wales that I get depressed.

Still, each to their own.

John Dixon said...

Thank you for illustrating the point.

Jonathan said...

This depends on whether you think that the United Kingdom is, or is not, at the end of its glory days. I answer this by reference to the best historians I can find. Norman Davies (loosely Welsh) thinks that the UK is at the end. But there is a catch. ENGLAND is not at its end. Step forward Brendan Peter Simms who is an Irish historian and Professor of the History of International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Phew! He has written a book call "Britain and Europe: A Thousand years of Conflict and Cooperation". He makes three points
1. England has had 1000 years of fixed borders and centralised rule, giving it financial and military potential (not actual power) much greater than European States who do not have these foundations.
2. UK/England is "exceptional" ie is already in the top 4-5 powers in the whole world, and
3. UK/England (a la Churchill) can and should save Europe, recreate it - but NOT JOIN IT!
What can a poor Welsh Nationalist possibly do about this? Recognise the 800lb gorilla, that's what.
I saw "Britannia" make her last visit to the Pool of London, moving under Tower Bridge, on which I stood.Any boat-lover like me (West Wales roots) will think that, if you want your monarchy, you need another "Britannia" if you're going to do it properly.
But what if you want a free Wales with a Republican Constitution, like me? Nothing but nothing will work until we find ways of paying for our own Welsh State. Then the world will listen and not before. Start looking for £15bn a year or we may as well give up.

John Dixon said...

Some interesting points there, but not having read the book to which you refer, I don't know on what basis he draws those conclusions; so I'm not going to debate them here.

I'm not convinced that to do a monarchy properly you need a yacht; I'm sure other monarchs manage quite well without. It probably depends on what you mean by properly. But bear in mind that the argument being put forward for having a yacht in the story to which I linked was nothing to do with 'doing a monarchy properly'; it was more about an alternative strategy for attracing business to replace membership of the single market.

Oh, and as I've pointed out many times on this blog, the figure of £15bn which is regularly thrown around has nothing at all to do with the question of independence. It follows that finding £15bn cannot be a precondition for independence. But I've debated that elsewhere on the blog, and I'm sure that I'll return to it in future as well.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan 15:04, Very, very interesting.

I think there are increasing numbers, like me, who wonder why Wales has performed so poorly over the last twenty five years or so. And especially so when compared to England which just seems to get richer and richer, more bountiful and more bountiful.

Perhaps it's just a Tory versus Labour governing thing. Either way, I suspect we'll see more and more Welsh talent fleeing to England in the years to come.

John Dixon said...


Why restrict your view to the last twenty-five years or so (during which period, as it happens, the UK's government has been split almost equally between the Tories and Labour, which sort of works against part of your comment)? The problem pre-dates that, surely? And a simplistic comparison between 'England' and 'Wales' means that you're comparing two totals and losing a lot of very important and relevant detail in the process. There are parts of England whose economic performance is worse than that of parts of Wales (although perhaps, on your analysis, that's because they vote Labour too?). What we have in the UK is a state whose economic performance is skewed very significantly towards one small corner (and sadly, the Welsh Government often seems happy to repeat that phenomenon in Wales, as long as the 'average' goes up).

Turning it into a simplistic Wales v England comparison almost makes it sound as though you believe that the English are inherently clever and the Welsh are inherently stupid. But then, perhaps you do believe that.

Anonymous said...

John Dixon, 08:16

Inherently clever? No, absolutely not.

Better educated? Yes. Absolutely. But you don't need me to tell you that, just ask the 'international rating agencies'.

How and why have we allowed this state of affairs to arise?

John Dixon said...

"Better educated? Yes. Absolutely." Another gross over-simiplification, I fear, based on considering overall averages. Neither England nor Wales are homogeneous in this context.

"How and why have we allowed this state of affairs to arise?" I doubt we'll ever agree on this, but any analysis has to be based on comparing apples with apples, not with oranges. There is a strong correlation between income and educational attainment, on which basis one would expect Welsh educational attainment, on average, to be below that of England, on average. Arguably, there is a vicious circle here - low income begets poor attainment begets low income. The question is how we break that cycle; and anyone who believes that there is a simple and easy way of doing that is deluded. I'm not the sort of nationalist who believes that taking control for ourselves is a magic bullet which will instantly break the cycle, but I do believe that, in the long term, we're more likely to solve the problem for ourselves than have it solved for us by some kind external benefactor.