Jude Brimble’s indignation on behalf of shipbuilding trade union members at the British government’s betrayal of the industry may be justified. But I am surely not alone in recalling how, only a few years ago, these trade unions were quite prepared to sacrifice their members’ interests in order to aid the British state’s anti-independence propaganda effort.
This is a timely reminder that the British establishment isn’t just a bunch of men-in-suits sitting in Westminster and Whitehall and The City and Oxbridge. The British state is it’s structures of power, privilege and patronage. The British establishment has a presence wherever power can be exercised; wherever privilege may be gained; wherever patronage is effective.
Broadly speaking, there are two process by which established power responds to actual or potential challenges – attrition and absorption. Challengers are either worn down, weakened, undermined until they are no longer a threat, or they are drawn in and made part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage such that they cannot break those structures without destroying themselves.
These processes of attrition and absorption can, and generally do, operate in tandem.Some elements of a challenge will ground into powerlessness while others will be lured with the bright baubles of promised reform; tempted with the tawdry trinkets of status; intoxicated with the heady liquor of illusory power. Thus captivated and captured by established power, the challengers are then turned against their former fellows. The absorbed become agents in the process of attrition.
It’s the age-old strategy of divide and rule. a strategy so ubiquitous that people may become oblivious to it. A process so familiar that some are contemptuous to the point of denying its existence or, at least, its effect, A process so relentless that many feel helpless in the face of it and resign themselves to its pernicious influence.
Elsewhere, I see people being dismissive of the growing campaign to defend ‘Scotland the Brand’. They see the creeping Britification of Scotland’s produce as a trivial matter. They think little or nothing of the erosion of the Scottish brand. They consider it of little or no consequence that the symbols of Scotland are being replaced on packaging and in advertising materials with the emblem of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. They fail to recognise that this is part of a larger process of attrition.
However unimportant it may seem to some, be in no doubt that this gradual obliteration of a particular facet of Scottish identity is part of established power’s response to the threat that Scotland’s distinctiveness poses to the British state. The twin ideologies of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism and austerity economics depend crucially on convincing people that there is no alternative. Scotland’s increasingly distinctive political culture and diverging economy threaten to give the lie to established power’s assertion that there is no other way.
What does this have to do with shipbuilding and associated trade unions, I hear you ask. Not much! But it is highly relevant to my point about the nature of the British establishment and the way it operates. Through the processes of attrition and absorption, much of the trade union movement has become part of the British establishment, serving the interests of established power. Likewise British Labour. For all Jeremy Corbyn’s posturing, his party is inextricably part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The British political elite has absorbed its supposed opponents.
If the power of the British state exists in places where, at an intuitive level, it might not be expected – such as trade unions and the nominal political opposition party, how much easier is it to accept that its reach extends to the activities and operations of commercial enterprises such as supermarket chains?
There is no conspiracy. None is needed? OK! David Cameron did summon the bosses of the major supermarkets to Downing Street for the purpose of enlisting them in Project Fear. But he really didn’t have to. His call to the captains of retail was really nothing more than a gesture by which Cameron hoped mollify a panicking No campaign accusing him of not doing enough to fend of the rebellious hordes in her majesty’s northern dominions.
In reality, Cameron knew he could rely on big business to back the British Nationalist side. Because big business is part of the British establishment. It is part of those structures of power, privilege and patronage. It was bound to defend those structures. Nobody had to conspire. None of them even had to think about it.
Conspiracy is an emergent property of the functioning of established power. All that means is that for there to be the appearance of a conspiracy there is no necessity to have a clique of powerful people convened in the offices of the British Prime Minister. All that is needed is that there be a distributed informal network of a sufficient number of individual actors with sufficient influence and sufficient commonality of interest and what will tend to emerge is something indistinguishable from a conspiracy.
The trade union leaders representing Clyde shipbuilding workers didn’t have to be invited into some devious plot to frustrate the evil separatists. They didn’t even have to be aware that they were aiding prevailing power while continuing to pose as agents of countervailing power. They are so thoroughly and completely absorbed into the British establishment that they can no longer distinguish between their own interests and the interests they are meant to challenge.
Similarly, nobody convened a meeting at M&S HQ for the purposes of helping to deal with the ‘Sweaty’ threat by contriving a cunning plan to eradicate all references to Scotland on the drinks section of their website. Senior executives from Tesco and Asda and the rest didn’t get together at some secluded retreat to spend an expenses-paid weekend figuring out how they might coordinate their efforts to sweep away the Saltire in a tsunami of Butcher’s Aprons.
It just happened! It happened, not through malign intent, but because such is the nature of the British state. It will continue to happen so long as Scotland is bound to the British state. Until Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is restored, the process of attrition will continue to erode any distinctiveness. Until we break free, established power will continue its project to totally and irrevocably absorb Scotland into the dour conformity of an indivisible, indissoluble and utterly alien ‘One Nation’ British state.Views: 5970
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