Monday 26 October 2020

How can we be so ungrateful?


The fact that GDP per head is lower in some parts of the UK than in others is not inevitable. It is not an accident, nor is it the consequence of mysterious uncontrollable forces, it is the result of a seriously unbalanced economic system which sucks talent and economic activity to the ‘centre’ and concentrates administrative and government activity there as well, impoverishing the periphery in relative terms as it does so. London and the South East of England haven’t become richer than the rest of the UK solely on the basis of their own abilities and actions, they have done so as a result of London-centric government, and it isn’t just Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which have paid the price, it is also large swathes of northern England. The fact that it isn’t a result of the special economic talents of the residents of one small corner hasn’t stopped them from claiming that it is, and that the rest of us are relatively poorer due to our own failings. Far too many have believed them, but the biggest problem is that they’ve also convinced themselves that the wealth which they’ve accumulated at our expense belongs to them and them alone.

Toby Young may be an extreme case (as he is on most things), but his complaint that the Welsh and Scottish people are showing a lack of gratitude for what he sees as the ‘subsidies’ which the South East provide is an open expression of an attitude which lies behind the words and actions of the current UK government from the PM down. It’s true that there is a degree of fiscal transfer from the centre back to the periphery, but whether this is generosity personified or a grudging return of just part of that which was sucked out by an unbalanced economy in the first place is entirely a matter of interpretation. It’s a big gulf in perspectives; what he sees as ingratitude can also be seen as a complaint that those outside the centre haven’t all gone full Stockholm Syndrome.

An important feature of that particular type of English nationalist who denies being a nationalist at all is the idea of superiority. They don’t simply believe themselves superior, they ‘know’ it to be true, and the refusal of others to accept their superiority merely confirms the truth of it. It’s a belief which, it seems, nothing can dent. The loss of Empire was down to the folly of lesser people believing that they could ever govern themselves; the failure of the EU to give the UK everything it asked for just shows that the Europeans don’t know what’s good for them; and demands for independence from Wales and Scotland simply prove that the people making those demands are fundamentally stupid. But the real stupidity for Wales and Scotland is the degree to which we readily accept that view of ourselves.

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