In her speech to the Tory conference Theresa May promised the Brexit revolution which would bring power back to the UK. She declared “change is going to come” in what she described as a “quiet revolution”. The “roots of the revolution run deep” in Britain because this was “a revolution in which millions of our fellow citizens stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored anymore”. (1)
“All revolutions begin with a rejection of the old order, and the elites and institutions that preside over it” says Jeremy Warner (2). He asks if the “Brexit revolution be Glorious or bloody?” Will it follow the French and Russian revolutions or “the profound but quiet change epitomised by Britain’s very own “Glorious Revolution” of 1688”.
He concludes that “Brexit doesn’t match either of these two models. It is of altogether smaller magnitude. But as an act of rebellion against the established elites….it is an historical rupture none the less and could still go either way”. So yes it too early to say what the outcome of the ‘Brexit revolution’ will be. For Warner, it depends on the fate of the Governor of the Bank of England. He is still in his job and there is no sign of the peasants storming Threadneedle Street.
A Great Rebellion is not a revolution. It has shaken the ruling class and hence the institutions of the Crown. It has divided the two major ruling class parties, Tories and Labour. I agree with Warner it “could still go either way”. Under the slogan “Brexit means Brexit” the Tories moved very swiftly to take over the rebellion. With the promise of jam tomorrow, the UK would adopt a ‘new’ policy of aggressive free trade.
Boris Johnson, the Brexit Foreign Secretary, outlined the new liberal imperialism. Free markets, gunboats and high moral values are nothing new. After a speech in which he expressed his “profound concerns …about the suffering of the people of Yemen” he went on to describe London as the “eighth Emirate” and declared “Britain is back east of Suez”. He promised £3 billion on military commitments in the Gulf over the next ten years. (3)
In 1649 Gerard Winstanley condemned the deceit and cunning of the counter-revolution. “O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and holds the People as much in bondage” (4)
There was only one outcome of the Tory referendum with potentially revolutionary implications: if Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to remain in the EU and England voted to leave. It did not quite happen but it was near enough. England voted 53.4% and Wales voted 52.5% to leave. Scotland voted 62% and Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to remain.
This, and only this, result threatens the constitutional settlement of 1688-1707 on which the United Kingdom and the British Empire were built. Until recently this has only been challenged from Ireland. The Irish revolution (1916-22) raised the long struggle for democracy to the level of a battle between the forces of the Unionist Crown and Anti-Unionist republicanism. In Northern Ireland (1968-1998) a campaign for civil rights and equality became a revolutionary struggle against Unionism.
In the last ten years Scotland has mounted its own assault on the Union culminating in the Scottish referendum in 2014. More than anybody the Tories instinctively understand the threat to the Tory state. So while Theresa May promised to satisfy the Great English Rebellion, she “blasted divisive nationalists such as the SNP”. She repeated her vow to keep the UK together in the face of Nicola Sturgeon’s threat to hold a second independence referendum. She said: “We are one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland – I will always fight to preserve our historic Union.” (5)
It is possible, if not yet likely, that the Great English Rebellion will bring about the birth of the Scottish Republic. Certainly ending the 1707 Act of Union is a revolutionary act against the United Kingdom and a democratic act after the EU referendum when the Scottish people voted to remain. In 2014 Scotland’s democratic revolution was defeated perhaps for a decade or a generation. Now it is game on again.
After England voted out, we need a militant republican party ready to fight for Scotland’s republic. Such a party has to unite the progressive sections of the working class in Scotland and England. Recently Left Unity, largely based in England, adopted an Anti-Unionist position. Rise, a political alliance of Scottish anti-Unionist socialists, has agreed to begin talks with Left Unity on possible co-operation. This is good news for those seeking a progressive democratic and internationalist answer to the chauvinist ‘Great English Rebellion’.
(LU and RISE)
(1) Sunday Express Greg Heffer 5 October 2016
(2) Daily Telegraph 27 October 2016.
(3) Daily Mail 9 December 2016
(4) Gerard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced.
(5) Sunday Express Greg Heffer 5 October 2016