Broken Britain: The Border Skirmish that Threatens the Fragile Union

In the same way as a man being repeatedly punched in the face eventually no longer feels the pain; I’ve long since stopped being shocked by the state of public discourse in Scotland and across Britain. Like the columnist Peter Hitchens, I too no longer think we’re a particularly serious country and, like the culture critic Theodore Dalrymple, I often look forlornly around the ruins of our culture.

Usually, this comfortable pessimism serves me well, allowing me to be either pleasantly surprised or correct, but sometimes something happens that manages to make even me feel bleak.

Nearly six years since the emphatic, conclusive, and (allegedly) “once in a generation” referendum on breaking up the United Kingdom into even less significant parts, we’ve just had an intra-Union conversation about shutting the border between Scotland and England to halt the flow of COVID-19… which was, apparently, just pouring over the border.

It was further proof, if proof were needed, of our cultural decay.

This turgid chatter was kicked-off by First Minster Nicola Sturgeon who, when asked, refused to rule out the possibility of pulling the big lever in Bute House that activates the border, presumably causing it to pop up like she was playing geographical Mousetrap, and cutting Scots off from England.

Of course, she didn’t.

Why would she?

She’s a nationalist.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and Scottish Secretary reacted as one would expect. Boris said something that sounded good but wasn’t particularly accurate and Alister Jack talked about how “divisive” and “reckless” Nicola had been. It was a lovely little storm in a cracked and stained tea cup.

There was also a Survation poll kicking around that showed 73 per cent of Scots to be in favour of implementing border restrictions but given that it was commissioned by Wings Over Scotland, the homophobic InfoWars in a kilt, it’s as helpful as a chocolate teapot.

The usefulness of a policy preventing people from moving around on these islands is one that deserves debate and must be the subject of public scrutiny, and extensive inquiry afterwards.

We can, and should, expect the public inquiry into the measures taken to fight COVID-19 in Scotland and across the United Kingdom to be long, detailed, arduous, uncomfortable, and ultimately produce results. We’ve handed over too many of our freedoms, and what prosperity we have left, in voluntary sacrifice to not, at the very least, be given that participation medal.

However, what is immediately apparent is that the damage to our culture has been done and was, if we’re honest, probably irreparable beforehand.

For instance, to take the issue at hand, if when discussing the effectiveness of prohibiting travel between Scotland and England, the conversation had revolved around respecting the individual jurisdictions, having them work together, protecting people on both sides of the border, and looking after each other, then we might have had grounds to be proud of ourselves.

Instead, we found evasive manoeuvres from those in charge and a sea of nasty, vitriolic, xenophobic, constitutionally-motivated dribble from people who have the sheer nerve to boast about how inclusive their politics are.

While it was dressed up in the usual boring business-speak, the conversation around the Anglo-Scots border essentially boiled down to wanting to keep those dirty, infected English out of our clean and bonnie land. All that was missing were bright red ‘See You Jimmy’ hats with even more absurd hair and pithy, stolen, slogans on them.

As our American friends recover from their Fourth of July celebrations and enjoy the long-weekend, hopefully some of them will reflect on how much their country, the result of the only successful revolution in world history, has given to the world.

Let’s hope that none of them think about the country that they won their freedoms from because, if they care to look, they’ll find a set of islands whose inhabitants have forgotten the fine tradition of liberty that they exported to the new world and who have spent the last week thinking about how a line on a map can stop a virus.

In 2007, David Cameron, referred to “Broken Britain” when discussing our social and cultural decay and was derided as being hysterical. Who would have thought that 13 years, and one easily imposed national house arrest, later his words would continue to ring so uncomfortably in the ears? We’re broken… and nobody seems to care.

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