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“So do you still feel British? Now you’re Irish?

April 22, 2017

Answering this question involves three separate terms:  Britain, “Britain”, and Britain.  And of course their derived adjectives: British, “British”, and British.  To talk of Britain would mean to talk of a nation which casually and unproblematically exists – like France or Italy.  Britain doesn’t exit.  “Britain” on the other hand means an idea of a Britain which may or may not have existed in the past – which is unrealised in the present – but which does at least have the virtue of internal consistency.   Britain is the current polity that waves those union jacks so vigorously.  Britain negates its premise at the moment of its very articulation – undoes itself as soon as it is shouted out loud and it is promoted by people who doing everything they can to destroy the nation they claim to be defending. When I describe Britain in the here and now, I feel I can only describe it sous rature.  Dead polity walking.

So, do I feel less British-“British”-British?

One thing I should point out is that yesterday Judge McMahon, the very man who administered the oath of allegiance to us, pretty much ordered us not to abandon our nation of origin.   He took the view that nations are more interesting and valuable if they can accommodate the heritage of and experiences of a wider world.  And he told us this not after but before he administered the oath, making it feel something like a pre-condition.

But apart from being ordered not to by a senior legal authority figure, I have other reasons for not wanting to jettison all traces of a “British” identity.  For one thing, I cannot stand destructive, joyless, tedium of the myopic tribalists who are poisoning the political culture of the world right now.  To utterly expunge my “Britishness” would flatter the destructive zero sum logic of the most horrible people in Britain.  The idea that you can’t love more than one nation, that you must always put your one nation “first” and that assimilation requires repudiation is at the heart of why Britain is so horrible at the present time.  It’s the belief that love is a pie of finite slices – the more you distribute further afield the less you have closer to home.  Indeed, “[INSERT NATION] First” is a slogan for the sort of miserable people who actually think “Charity begins at home” is a phrase found in the Bible.

I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t cherish the belief that love is a muscle, expanding with exercise.  The way to challenge Britain is to retain the belief that feeling loyalty to more than one place is actually healthy and interesting.

All those years thinking of myself as “British” – what did I think I belonged to?  A nation that never existed?  Quite possibly.  Perhaps “Britain” was always Britain – a version of Little England that effaces meaningful “union” at the moment it asserts it – a lopsided abusive sham marriage.   I’ve never been a Little Englander.   I always liked the idea of Scotland as distinctive but not foreign.  During the 2014 independence referendum, I always felt troubled by having to think of Scotland as a foreign country.  As a ten year old, I cheered for Scotland in the World Cup, thinking of Scotland as a “home” nation and when Archie Gemmill scored against the Netherlands my cheer, though less orgasmic than the cast of Trainspotting, was nonetheless sincere.  Britain, on the other hand, despises Scotland.  The prospect of the SNP having a share in the government of the UK helped the Tories win the 2015 election. Britain reminds me of someone who asserts that “I have a great marriage – I just hate my wife”.  If “Britain” is the idea of a group of nations who stand in a familial relation to one another contributing to a creative and complex whole then Britain is the opposite of “Britain”.

Furthermore, yesterday, by copper-fastening my European citizenship, I have a chance of continuing to stand in a familial relation to Scotland.  A reformed EU has a chance to do what Britain spurns – which is to allow people to travel to new places and feel that they are still at home – to create a homely aesthetic within which “different” does not mean “foreign”.  If Ireland and an Independent Scotland are both in the EU, then I will have retained a sense of union with Scotland.  Paradoxically, in this critical respect, by becoming Irish yesterday, I became more “British”.  I would therefore suggest to many of my friends that securing an EU citizenship by any legal means at their disposal constitutes one of the most authentically “British” things they can do.

“But isn’t there the potential for a conflict of loyalties?”   Why yes.  It is impossible to live as a adult without the potential for conflict of loyalties.  And conflicts of loyalty are only unbearable if you subscribe to an absolute “my country right or wrong” mentality.  If, on the other hand, you wish to exercise critical and moral intelligence and live without a fork in your brain, then you will sometimes have to admit that your country or countries is or are wrong.  My loyalty to Ireland and/or any other nation is not so absolute that I won’t exercise an individual right to disagree with edicts issued in its name when I feel I have to.  Those who assert versions of “national interest” as an absolute imperative have a very narrow and selfish definition of the nation they claim to serve.  A nation that only ever looks to serve its own people and has no sense of international responsibility is too small and selfish to merit love or loyalty.

So… to finally finally answer the question.  Nobody is British.   And since yesterday I actually feel far far less British and rather more “British”.   In the meantime, I’m still feeling a strange sense of warmth and belonging attached to an Irishness which is and is not new.  Be assured – you people who haven’t seen me in twenty years – that this new citizenship is not just a flag of convenience.  It is assuredly convenient, but it is also who I am.  Feeling good.  Feeling human.




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