GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE : The Dis-United Kingdom

Well that can’t be good.

Over the weekend, The Sunday Times revealed that the UK was at its most likely to disintegrate since…

Well, ever.

According to the ST, 50% of Scottish and 51% of Northern Irish voters want a border poll in the next five years. Not only that, even Wales, lovely, trustworthy Wales, stands at 31% wanting a vote.

It gets worse. 42% of Northern Irish people want a unified Ireland, up to 47% among the under-45s, 23% of Welsh voters want independence, up from the percentages in the teens just five years ago, and, best of all, there is a majority in Scotland for independence. The split?

52 : 48.

And we all know how well that goes.


YOU CAN TAKE OUR LIVES…

For most of this article, I’ll be focussing on the issue of Scottish independence. Not just because it’s the most likely and the most immediate concern, but also because I am a quarter Scottish. I have written about Scottish independence before, and you can find the article here.

I was a bit younger, quite a bit angrier, and I swore more.

The issue of Scottish independence has reared its head before, most memorably in the 2014 independence referendum, in which Scotland chose to remain by 55% to 45%. This margin of victory is particularly irritating. It’s not quite small enough for the Scottish National Party (SNP) to argue that there’s scope for a majority due to turnout, but it’s also not quite big enough to definitively end the debate once and for all.

And now, when you add Brexit, coronavirus and, yes, Boris Johnson to the mix, the gap seems far, far smaller. Look at the polls – while famously inaccurate, they are still giving the politicians in Westminster cause to splutter out their brandies in shock.

Look, Brexit and Boris go hand-in-hand like two lemmings skipping towards the White Cliffs of Dover at top speed. Scotland voted convincingly in favour of remaining in the EU (62%) and the SNP have made rejoining it a cornerstone of their independence campaign. Now that we’ve left and Scottish fishermen are literally driving lorries of rotting fish to Westminster to show how well it’s going, there’s little surprise that this will add fuel to the independence fire.

But Boris seems to be ubiquitous for all things politically shite for the Scots. Before coronavirus was nary a small, escaped germ on the back of a Chinese scientist’s lab coat (possibly, he says for legal reasons), Johnson was already loathed by Scottish people…

And then the pandemic struck. I haven’t minced my words when it comes to Johnson’s government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, but it seems as though the Scots are even more critical than I am. Some more stats from The Sunday Times:

  • 42% think their country would have handled it better were they independent (vs. 23% who disagree);
  • 53% think the decisions should be made in Edinburgh;
  • 22% think Johnson has done a good job at handling the pandemic;
  • Whereas 61% think Nicola Sturgeon (leader of the SNP) has done a good job.

This is uncomfortable reading. The Scottish people clearly think that Johnson has been a useless bawbag when it comes to handling the crisis and blame him for the number of deaths that Scotland has suffered. 37% think that independence is likely if he remains “in charge”, compared to 29% for Rishi Sunak and 27% for Keir Starmer.

Clearly, in Barrowfield that Johnson charm goes down as well as a fart in a ceiling fan.

So what does all this mean? There are local elections in Scotland coming up and the SNP is expected to absolutely mop up. Sturgeon is going to claim that this gives her a new mandate for an independence referendum, which Johnson has explicitly said he will not countenance.

Sturgeon could order a non legally-recognised referendum like in Catalonia in Spain, but also knows that this risks sowing more division than unity in her vision. Additionally, the whispers in Westminster are that the government is planning to have a review into how governance is carried out in Britain, which could feasibly lead to greater devolved powers going to Holyrood or, at least, more money. Add to this the ongoing row within the SNP about whether or not its previous leader, Alex Salmond, sexually molested someone and Sturgeon hushed it up, and nothing is certain.

But it seems as though the case for independence is growing. Not just in Scotland, but in the other devolved states, too. The end of the United Kingdom as we know it could well happen within the next couple of decades. This makes me extremely sad.

But do you know what? I’m not entirely sure I blame them.


RUE BRITANNIA

As I mentioned, I’m a quarter Scottish. This, to my mind, makes me British. Whenever I fill out surveys or forms, I always put British over English. To my mind, I identify as being a citizen of the United Kingdom far more than I do being a citizen of England.

And don’t get me wrong, England is lovely. Beautiful countryside; punching above our weight financially, culturally and politically for our size; iconic locations and a profound aura of history behind us.

But I have to say, I’m proud of being British. I’m not proud of being English.

Britain’s makeup has always favoured England, as it should, to an extent – larger population, larger economy etc etc. But this has taken us to a deeply alarming sense of cultural superiority. Our London-centric democracy has given rise to resentment from the devolved nations, and successive English prime ministers have failed to address it.

This superiority has filtered down to English people, too. Just look at how our national football fans act when following the team abroad. Look at Brexit. Look at increasingly right-wing views on immigration and multiculturalism. Our exceptionalism has become aggressive and overt, based on some antiquated notion of empire and cultural hegemony.

And I despise it.

I know that it’s not all English people, and I know that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but it’s just not me. I believe in a world where borders are there for identification’s sake only, and where we welcome diversity of culture and thought.

But Little England is doing its best to throttle it. Johnson’s 80-seat majority on a platform of small-mindedness and closed borders couldn’t be clearer.

And the Scottish people, and, increasingly, Northern Irish and Welsh people, too, envisage a different future. When I wrote my last article, I called in favour of the union, begging Scottish people to remain a part of the Great British project.

Now, I’m not so sure. The louder the voices in Westminster declare we are “world-beating,” the further I think it to be from the truth. If we can listen to the people from our devolved nations, if the English can stop thinking ourselves so superior, and if we can rally the union to provide a united platform to grow after the pandemic, then our place at the top table of world politics might still be intact.

Otherwise, I’m just not sure we’ll be relevant in twenty years from now. Rich, maybe. But relevant?

We’ll have to wait and see.

clear glass with brown liquid

REFLECTION

Between the Lines started in 2019. At the time, Theresa May was desperately trying to ram her Withdrawal Agreement Bill through parliament, no-one had a damn clue what was going on, and faith in and understanding of politics in the UK was at an all-time low.

I hoped at the time that I could help people understand the seismic changes that were happening to their livelihoods through a dash of reality, a healthy dollop of facts, and a cheery little sprinkle of heavy, heavy sarcasm. Turns out that’s harder than it sounds.

But rather than get stuck into all the hows and whats of where we are, I wanted to write a short piece about why I started Between the Lines.

The short answer is: my dad, who died five years ago tonight.


I idolised my dad. Desperately so.

Despite dad going to boarding school from the earliest possible moment and being from private-school stock, he never once considered himself to be above others. Despite his successes, no-one was beneath him, in his eyes.

One of the most vibrant memories of my childhood was going to an extended-family birthday party when I was thirteen and feeling small, angry and vulnerable. Some of my family members who were around the same age as me were playing rounders with their (in my mind) ostensibly cooler, better-dressed friends from the local comprehensive school. Meanwhile, I, recently accepted to public school and feeling cock-a-hoop, hung around the drinks table, choosing a cool glass of apple juice with a soda chaser as my tipple.

I cannot tell you how much I resented those kids. They struck me as confident, handsome and better than me. And by the way, I was wearing a beige, roll-neck Gap jumper – realistically, on the fashion sense at least, I stood no chance. But rather than face my anxieties of being a chubby little tween, I diverted my ire to those who made me feel small by channelling my privilege.

It would be the first and last time I did so.

A couple of days later, dad was driving me home from seeing a friend, and I decided to speak about those people who I’d met at the party as though they weren’t even worth my time – because, one day, when I was at public school, I’d be better than them.

After I’d said my piece, the silence in the car wasn’t so much as deafening as it was soul-destroying. I felt the palpable disappointment in my dad through the silence.

He didn’t say anything for the rest of the journey. He just let my words reverberate around the car.

When we got home, he cornered me. He told me that what I had said was absolutely disgraceful, and that he was incredibly disappointed in me. In the space of three minutes, my dad taught me that there was no-one, no-one, regardless of upbringing, creed, or colour, who is better or worse than any other. We are all equal.

This conversation, nigh-on twenty years ago, made me the man I am today. I felt so disgusted, so ashamed of myself for falling back on the easy way to define myself, that I never did it again.

It defined who I am, what I stand for, and why I am trying, slowly but surely, to make people more aware of who they are and, especially, to listen to those who disagree with them.

And that’s the way to make politics palatable.


In the last five years, we’ve seen Brexit, Trump, populism, nationalism and a plethora of worrying trends emerge. We might, just, be on the other side of Trumpism, but the sentiment behind it all is still going to be there.

If we agree that the culture war isn’t finished (which it absolutely isn’t), we will not eventually win by hoping that the other side will recognise they’re wrong.

We have to listen. We have to engage.

There is something palpable in the hearts of those who have been ignored by politics for generations – it’s something real, something that cannot be ignored, and something that cannot be “solved” be the sheer willpower of “my ideology being better than yours”.

While we might see Biden as a leading light for what comes next in the UK, we should bear in mind that we are still at least three years away from another general election, and Brexit isn’t done yet. We as a nation are nowhere close to being done with COVID-19, despite the vaccines.

The real change doesn’t come from being lucky that Oxford University created a vaccine, especially given the offerings from Pfizer and Moderna. It comes from being world leaders in thought, ethics, and law.

Which the Britain I know, love and celebrate, is, at its heart.


I have had an immensely privileged life. I am slowly, but surely, trying to turn that privilege into something positive. Between the Lines will continue to play a major part in it.

But, five years on, all I can do tonight is raise another glass of Famous Grouse in honour of my dad.

If nothing else, I know he would be proud of the sentiment (despite the 3.30am writing time).

Where we go from here, we’ll have to wait and see. We would all do well, however, at this time of some hope, to listen to those who we don’t agree with. Even if we don’t agree, we might at least understand our arguments for next time.

And, as my dad instilled in me from a young age – our arguments are no better than anyone else’s at face value. We have to earn trust in our own through hard work and understanding.

Otherwise, we won’t change anything.

God rest you, Dad. You would have found this world that you left behind absolutely fascinating.


Thank you all so much for your readership and support.

Something more on-brand and irreverant to follow (soon).

Matt Underhill

Founder and Editor

COMING SOON…

Between the Lines has been a passion project of mine ever since I started it, way back in the heady days of February 2019. Brexit was in the less-than-capable hands of Theresa May, Parliament was in civil war, and it all just seemed to be one big mess.

My God, what I wouldn’t give to be back there again. Compared to the harsh winds of COVID-19, Brexit feels like a warm summer’s breeze.

But we’re still exactly where we were when Between the Lines first started. A government that’s eroded all trust. A society divided. A political system in turmoil.

Understanding politics has never been more important.

So Between the Lines is back.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be constructing a database of easy-to-understand articles. These will explain everything you need to know about the British political system, our major political philosophies, and the pros and cons of all of them.

Balanced and unbiased, simple and straightforward.

If, like me, you think that politics should be understood by everyone, not just those who study it, then please do consider donating here:

Every donation, big or small, helps to develop our offering, advertise the site, and maybe, just maybe, help make Between the Lines what I dream of it being one day: an education pack, given to schools for free, so that everyone understands the society we live in and how to make it better.

You can’t win an argument by refusing to listen to the other side of it. A shared understanding is vital to a functioning democracy, even when you fundamentally disagree with another’s views.

That is Between the Lines’ mission: to make politics a debate, not a cock-fight.

I hope you’ll join us for the journey.

Matt Underhill, Founder and Editor

Chapter Two

Hello folks.

I wrote last week that posts from Between the Lines would be a little less frequent for the immediate future. This is with good reason: while there is plenty of bluster and overblown predicting of what’s going to happen RE: Brexit, very little of real note has actually happened.

All we’ve really seen is Boris Johnson finally having his long-coveted crack at the whip, and we’ve sort of just been leaving him to it, like a parent just being pleased to have some peace and quiet while their little darling is on the Nintendo.

Once Parliament comes back from its holidays, it is widely thought that all hell will break loose. Rumours are swirling about a no confidence motion being passed that could bring down Boris, Boris refusing to leave if that happened, and even the Queen having to step in and force him to leave…

It’s all going to be pretty exciting.

But, in the meantime, I just wanted to have a quick chinwag with you about Between the Lines.


A New Dawn

When I founded this website, I wanted to bridge the divide between our political discourse. What used to be an ideological debate between socialism and conservatism has metamorphosed into a much murkier battle between hearts and minds.

In order to cross this divide, I try to plonk us slap-bang in the middle, like that one mate you have who always steps between the two drunk morons at a club who are squaring off.

…Sometimes it is quite tricky to be impartial when almost everyone is handling things so spectacularly badly.

But anyway, in order to achieve this I’ve largely tried to follow the following principles:

  1. Look dispassionately at facts;
  2. Report them honestly;
  3. Explain why those facts are important;
  4. Predict what might happen next.

Betting on politics is a bit like predicting the winner of the Grand National if it had 650 horses in it, but so far, I’ve predicted that:

  • We wouldn’t leave in March or June (we didn’t);
  • Theresa May’s first declaration that she’d step down wouldn’t mean anything and she’d stick around for ages (she did for over a hundred days);
  • And that the EU would never reopen the Withdrawal Agreement (to date, they haven’t).

So I do feel like I’m not pissing directly into the wind, at least. Maybe just the occasional splashback onto my shoe.

It is more important than ever that we have clear, unbiased journalism, which we often find lacking in the mainstream media. For Between the Lines, I have sources that vary from other journalists, to politicians themselves, to economists and civil servants.

I am committed to open, honest reporting about politics, and I love writing these articles for you. I hope that you, my wonderful readers find them both informative and entertaining.


But We Need You!

Between the Lines, for all of its use of the Royal ‘We’, is a one-man team. It’s a lot of hard work to maintain the site and keep articles flowing regularly, hence the slight break recently.

Additionally, advertising is almost non-existent due to budget constraints – while some nifty use of social media advertising is helping to grow the readership, it’s still at a glacial pace. I desperately want this to be what I do full-time, but can’t really justify spending the time on it I want to (and growing and developing it) if I don’t earn any money from it.

So, dear reader, I have a request.

In this time and age where we can get everything for free, I am asking for some monetary help, gawd help me.

I set up a Patreon account a few months back and already have a few very kind donors. Their donations have already funded three successful Facebook advertising campaigns.

You can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Being a donor comes with perks like having your named added to the Thank-You page on the site, having personalised political essays written for you, and even performing slam-poetry for you (terms and conditions apply).

But, if nothing else, it means that you believe in what I’m doing and are supporting it, which would be utterly fantastic. I am already so grateful for your readership, so would be beyond grateful for what you could give.

Even a basic donation (£3.80 a month) helps me to be seen in the Patreon algorithms, which would mean the likelihood of getting more donors increases exponentially.

So please, as we begin a new phase of Between the Lines and, indeed, a new phase of politics, please do consider helping me out. If you can pay for services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even a newspaper subscription, then please do consider paying for this one if you think it’s worth the money.

Alternatively, if every reader told one other person who might be interested about the site, it would double my readership.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for already being here. Whatever comes next, I look forward to seeing it through together…

And hopefully finding a few things to have a good old laugh about along the way.

With love,

Matt

Ch-Ch-Changes

When I started Between the Lines a few months ago, everything was on fire.

There was open rebellion in the Commons. Crashing out of Europe without a deal was a constant, looming menace. The Withdrawal Agreement was being constantly thrown back into Parliament, only to have its long-dead corpse whipped a few more times and thrown back out again.

It was absolute chaos.

But then the EU granted us an extension until October, the MPs went on their Easter Breaks and, all of a sudden, a modicum of calm was restored. The news stories since the break, with the exception of Gavin ‘The Gab’ Williamson being fired, have been coming at nothing like the breakneck speed of February.

And so I’ve been taking the time to make a few changes to Between the Lines, and there are few things I want to announce.


Blog Posts Will No Longer Be Daily

I know kids, I know.

I want to write about goings on as much as possible, but Between the Lines was founded on a principle of telling you what you need to know and nothing more. To continue to hash out stories of little import makes BTL no more than an online newspaper, and that’s not what I want it to be.

For instance, I could have written an article today about Andrea Jenkyns sticking the knife into Theresa May during yesterday’s PMQs, but what does that tell you? “MPs within the Conservative Party are not sure about May.”

Y’think?

However, I will continue to do Weekly Wrap-Ups on Fridays and, if anything has happened over the weekend or a big week is to come, I will also write a summary on Mondays. Besides this, I will cover every major political story with real importance on an ad hoc basis, and will also continue to put out regular opinion pieces like:

The Idiot’s Guide To The EU;
Finding Tory;
And Why Voting Is Pointless (Well, Sort Of).

Once the Brexit nightmare gets going again in full, I imagine I will basically be back to daily articles anyway. Something to look forward to, right?

…A part of my soul just died.


MOAR WEBSITE

I’ve been doing my utmost to understand how a website works. I am, first and foremost, a writer, so CSS coding isn’t really my strong suit. However, hopefully you will have noticed that Between the Lines has recently changed to a shiny, new format with a few extra bells and whistles.

I’m also playing around with a new hover function to make information in my articles easier to read!

But over the next few weeks, I’m going to be making further edits and changes to the website to make Between the Lines the sexiest political blog out there. Because politics is sexy, no you shut up.

However, to do this, I also have one major request:


Please Do Support Us!

I have absolutely loved writing for Between the Lines since I founded it, and to see how everything is looking in just a few short months makes me feel so optimistic for the future. But now it’s time to push on further!

My website upgrades and Facebook ads have been paid for through the generosity of a few Patreon donors (mostly friends and family thus far). My dream is to expand my reach much further, and to try to engage people from all sides of the political spectrum in rational, reasoned debate about politics… and even try to make it fun, where possible.

If you have been enjoying Between the Lines, then please, if you can spare it, any donation at all to my Patreon page would be hugely, massively appreciated. You can find it here:

https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Even the smallest donation helps with the Patreon algorithms to promote my page further, so for just £3.78 a month you could actually be helping Between the Lines to get far more funding down the line.

Additionally, please do spread the word – recommending us to just one other person massively helps, but you can also help us by:

  • Liking, commenting on or even sharing articles;
  • Following or recommending us on Facebook;
  • Following us on Twitter;
  • Or following Between the Lines via Email.

Finally, please do sign up for Inbox Insights. Due to the lack of major political developments this has been underused recently, but if you want the major news stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox and explained in a succinct way to make you look knowledgeable at the water cooler then please do consider signing up. We will never spam you.


And Finally…

Thank you. Thank you all so much for your support. We’re still right at the start of the Between the Lines journey and I am so grateful that you’re already on board, just by virtue of reading this post.

I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

Matt x

Jules “F*ck The Rules” Assange

Having pumped out an article a day for the last few weeks, this writer took the weekend off. In all honesty, I didn’t think about Brexit once, and it reminded me of a simpler, happier time.

Once MPs come back from their holidays next week, all that will change. For now though, Brexit is just a discussion of hypotheticals, with the only notable developments being:

Forty more years of Bercow it is, then.

Today, however, I will be writing on something other than Brexit. I know, it’s weirding me out, too. But a strange, bearded vagrant has just been forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy, and I think it would be prudent to answer the following question…


What’s The Deal With Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is one of those mythical names that everyone sort-of knows, but doesn’t particularly know why.

He’s that weird hermit who lives in an embassy, which the Met Police spent thousands of pounds guarding in case he ever tried to leg it. He’s like Edward Snowdon, only he hasn’t gone to live in Russia. He looks like a Scandinavian detective who’s investigating a gruesome murder on a Sunday-evening BBC1 thriller, but is actually Australian. Yes, really: he’s an Aussie.

So why was he ever famous, and why is he back in the news now?

Back in 2010, the “freedom-of-information”-championing website called WikiLeaks delivered its first massive story. Through Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, WikiLeaks uncovered a massive story around military brutality during the second Iraq war. It was desperately unpleasant reading: soldiers were murdering and raping Iraqi citizens and more senior military personnel were sweeping the stories under the rug.

Manning passed on a huge trove of data to WikiLeaks to reveal the story to the world, which it summarily did – Julian Assange was the founder of the company. 

Because of the clandestine nature of how WikiLeaks got its sensitive material, the US set out to arrest Assange for whistleblowing on its military wrongdoings. At the same time, two Swedish women claimed that Assange had raped them while he was in Sweden, so Swedish authorities also sought Assange for questioning.

It was at that point that Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy – according to reports, he had met with the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa the week before and been told he was welcome to seek asylum there.

Correa probably didn’t expect Assange to rock up at his embassy with a travel-bag, but that’s exactly what he did. He was granted asylum and allowed to remain indefinitely in the embassy.

Seven long, lonely and claustrophobic years later, and Assange was doing his absolute utmost to make living with him an utter hell. Supposedly he:

  • Stole embassy employees’ food;
  • Threatened and hit said employees (it is unclear if this was over food-theft allegations);
  • Set up webcams in the embassy and tried to spy on the officials’ work;
  • And reportedly went completely Broadmore and started smearing faeces on his walls.

He was cooped up in basically one room for seven years, but that’s still a pretty ropey list of past-times. Take up crochet, Jules, for God’s sake.

And so, last week, the Ecuadorians said “No mas,” and opened up their doors for the UK police to arrest him, which they did. He did not look well.


OK, So He’s Now In Policy Custody. Why Is All Of This Important?

Mostly because of the discussion around what the real definition of journalism is.

Many argue that Assange is something of a saint, with WikiLeaks consistently identifying and illustrating governmental corruption, wrongdoing or general skullduggery. The 2010 files were an international sensation of a story, but he found those files through asking Chelsea Manning to essentially commit treason (which could still be punishable by death in the US).

The fact that the US will be pounding on the door of the UK police and asking them to extradite him across the pond for a trial will be a real diplomatic headache for the UK. The UK police do have every right to detain him themselves for avoiding arrest all those years ago, and there is arguably a moral argument against sending him to the US – he did help people through WikiLeaks.

This situation isn’t helped by Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, those darned Trotskyite troublemakers, both publicly declaring that he shouldn’t be extradited because he has committed no crimes through his form of journalism.

It was quite quickly pointed out to them, however, that rape is definitely a crime.

Sweden also want Assange extradited, but not to the US – they are considering reopening the investigation into those rape claims to see if there is any validity to them. While all the claims are so far are allegations, not convictions, the Swedes want him in their custody to make sure he doesn’t flee again.

So, what are the Brits to do? Hold him on their own charges? See him extradited to the US for a trial on crimes that helped prevent military wrongdoing? See him extradited to Sweden for unproven rape allegations and thoroughly piss off the US, a country which we might need to rely heavily on for trade post-Brexit?

Whatever happens, the general consensus seems to be this: Assange managed to do a considerable amount of good with his 2010 document leak and helped a lot of vulnerable people in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, good people can do bad things, and some good things are done by weird, egotistical, allegedly sexually-aggressive wankers.

I feel like this situation is more column B than column A.


A REQUEST

We at Between the Lines have had a ball getting it up and running over the last few weeks, but now we are looking to expand our readership and our voice in the industry – exciting times!

If you have been enjoying what you are reading, then please do consider supporting us. You can do this by:

  • Following Between the Lines on social media or by email (on desktop – to the right of this page, or on mobile – scroll below, after the comments section);
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  • Or giving a monthly donation to our Patreon page, which can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/betweenthelinespolitics

Any donation, whether large or small, would be massively appreciated.

Thank you so much for your help in advance!