Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Is there a case for the Union? 2: Great British Values


One of the favourite arguments of unionists is that the UK is held together by a strong set of uniquely British values. On closer examination, these turn out to be not uniquely British at all. Precisely what these values are is generally left vague, but it seems to include things like democracy, rule of law, fair play, and linking rewards to merit. That there is nothing uniquely British about any of these should be obvious, but somehow seems not to be to many. Worse still is that the claimed values aren’t even adhered to much of the time. Earlier this week, in response to the government’s decision to drastically reduce aid to Yemen, Jeremy Hunt said that "…abandoning a forgotten country and people is inconsistent with our values”. Whilst it’s true that it goes against what he wants us to believe the UK’s values are, it is in fact entirely consistent with the UK’s practiced values. It isn’t the first time that the UK has abandoned a forgotten country and people, as the Kurds, to name just one example, could readily attest. Yesterday, we saw the former president of France sentenced to a term in jail for dishonesty in office - can anyone seriously imagine that happening to the UK's current cabinet, where the rule of law is also supposed to be the norm?

It isn’t just in the field of foreign policy that the UK’s stated values and its displayed values are at odds.  We know that the majority of the UK’s lawmakers are unelected and hold their positions by dint of government appointment, heredity, or high office in one particular English Christian denomination. We have a compulsive and inveterate liar at the head of the UK government, and ministers who breach the law with impunity. Bullying is acceptable, and awarding jobs and contracts to individuals and companies with no open procurement process has become almost the norm. Inequality is significant and growing. More resources are devoted to tackling benefit fraud than tax avoidance and evasion, although it is the latter which has the greater cost.

An objective observer would rapidly conclude that the following are closer to being key British values than those generally claimed:

·        Autocracy is better than democracy.

·        Lies are worth more than honesty and truthfulness.

·        Poverty is the fault of the poor themselves, but those who already have plenty should receive more whether they work for it or not. And money made through speculation against the interests of the majority of citizens is the most highly-prized of all.

·        Inequality is a good thing, and the more unequal people are the better.

·        Obeying the law is optional for governments and the privileged, and not paying taxes is acceptable as long as you’re rich. Donating lots of money to the governing party can help with both of these.

·        Foreigners are to be looked down on and kept out.

·        Awarding jobs and contracts to friends is easier than assessing merit.

·        Britain is superior to all other countries in all respects, and others should know their place.

In fairness, most of the above list (apart from the last) aren’t actually uniquely British either, but the combination does more to define the 21st Century UK than the pretend values so often mouthed by its leaders. If I were looking for a strong argument for the union which would appeal to those currently inclined to support independence, I wouldn't try and base it on some vague reference to abstract and theoretical 'British' values which aren’t even the ones by which the country lives.

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