Neill Oliver and Britishness

There is a reason why many Scots are ignorant of their own history…Image Martin Laird

By Alasdair Galloway

For many people Neil Oliver is a zoomer. Even the National Trust couldn’t put up with him. Someone though must think he’s ok though even if it is just his mammy and GB News.

This is a classic Oliver defence of the Union. But he makes several points that even though I don’t agree with him, remain important.

First of all, there is his view of the “Scottish connection”, which seems to take the form of the Queen dying in Scotland as a reflection of the significance of Scotland’s place in that Union. Even a cursory consideration of that – the Queen knows she will die, so she dies in Scotland to protect the Union – shows you how mad it is. But still they (ie not just Neil Oliver) repeat it.

But, its after this that he really gets interesting, when he speaks of “most Scots think the Union is strong”, because at one time he was probably right. For instance in 1955 Scotland voted Tory (well Unionist and National Liberal/ Conservative), and in 1951 the seats were equally shared with Labour. In 1949 Winston Churchill filled Ibrox at a political meeting. I remember when at Secondary School in the late 60s, there were about 800 of us, and one of them (Duncan something – can’t remember his surname) was known as “the SNP guy” for he was the only one of 800 who supported the SNP. For most of us independence wasn’t so much something that we didn’t support. It didn’t trouble our consciousness at all. It wasn’t something that many people thought about.

Of course, things are (very much) different now. I think most would agree that the constitution is the defining issue in Scotland. For some, of course this is a good thing, while others would be much happier if it would just go away. Oliver is clearly among that group.

One of the things that is noticeable about much of their public contributions is the growing sense of anger and unease in the Unionist community. As such there is little surprise that they have a need to blame someone for where we are now because they are quite clear we really shouldn’t be here. Their hearts desire is to get back to the 50s, when we voted for the Union, and the distinction was between a somewhat paternalist Conservative Party and a Labour Party which said it was Socialist.

Oliver for instance bemoans that “Nicola Sturgeon had the microphone to create an illusion” for which there is no basis – ie that the Union is in peril when the reality is that it is not. Evidence is not needed any longer. You just say what you have to even if that is just to tell lies. As Cochrane admitted in his book about the 2014 vote, lies could be told for the cause. I used to do a sort of personal review of the unlamented David Torrance’s weekly articles in the Herald. This usually took the form of pointing out that what he had actually done was to work back from his conclusion (usually SNP bad, or independence horrible) to link up (backwardly) to the question he appeared to start from (even though in his thinking he started at the end) torturing the evidence as he went (sort of sentence first, verdict afterwards). That wasn’t good, but at least there was some evidence, and the scope was there to offer a counter argument, or just to take the argument apart. It had some content. Now very often all we are faced with is a load of lies, or just a line of slogans, which is a great deal worse than anything Torrance ever did.

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think we can all find any of these bar, of course, the last of these. The first four can be seen in the above extract. Denial takes the form of claims about a silent and unseen majority, kept in hiding because “Sturgeon has the microphone”, and that one day it will come back. Anger, as well as the above manifestations, is often on wide display on Twitter, or almost any letter by Jill Stephenson to the Herald (or many other newspapers). Bargaining usually takes the form of “how about federalism?”, or some variant of this. Anything to maintain the Union. Then we have depression – the sadness and longing for the 1950s which we desperately want back, even though we know they won’t be – unless we can get enough others to see sense (their idea of sense).

We then go on to claim that the grief displayed by many at the passing of HMQ is evidence that most Scots remain glad to be part of the Union, but these people have been “out of sight” and not able to raise their voices. Yet the SNP keep getting elected! Support for independence is usually at, or somewhat above where it was in 2014. I have no doubt that there are “shy Unionists”. For instance, on the day of the referendum I was looking out our front window and saw this old lady (well about 10-15 years older than me), done up like she was going to Church. I turned to my wife and said “I’ll bet she’s going to vote No” and I would bet the same today. Much of the No vote is invisible – Oliver is right there – but the size of it is nothing like what he thinks. Moreover, it IS dying off. But perhaps most important, which side is politicising HMQ’s death? All manner of claims with little or no evidence have been made about what the reaction by some (though it has to be said large numbers) of the public, meant. But don’t mention independence or republicanism. The whole process was a festival of Unionism.

This is taken up by the interviewer who suggests that those who are “ashamed of their Britishness” (are we?) have been blown “to smithereens”. As in my previous intervention, I suspect the death of HMQ will have profound consequences, but these will be temporary, particularly once the new occupants of Downing Street really get going. But in the remainder of the clip we get the usual guff about the “British family” as though for instance there is something shocking about Finland, Sweden etc because they are all Scandinavians. Moreover 62% of Scots think of themselves as “Scottish only”.

But the whole thing really becomes a car crash when Oliver gets himself into the whole sovereignty debate. He speaks as though the Scottish tradition of the people being sovereign, albeit with the monarch at the top of it all, runs throughout the UK, when the fact is that it does not. In England it is the monarch who is sovereign and the folk who live there are his subjects. This is an important distinction, and one that becomes more important with the passage of time, for if the people are sovereign then there should be no question other than the government delivers what they voted for. Thus, if that is the case then, having voted in a government, clear that there would be another independence referendum that should be the end of it. However, my bet is the Supreme Court will point to the House of Commons, and the “Monarch in Parliament”. With that view of how power works, Unionism doesn’t need to bargain!

In short, Oliver confirms again (as if confirmation were needed) what a clown he is, but he also gives some helpful insight into the current Unionist psyche.


8 thoughts on “Neill Oliver and Britishness

  1. I think it is interesting that the narrative that has been put forward about the significance of the Queen dying in Scotland is how it (and the pomp and circumstance around it) will make all of us independence supporters love the UK again. However, there is the opposite narrative that can be made from this surely, namely, that the Queen’s death and everything around it in Scotland has been a good reminder of Scotland’s status as a historic nation (it’s own Royal Standard, it’s own titles, church, legal system etc. – which other parts of the UK have them?) and therefore its right to once again choose to be independent. Scotland’s profile as a historic nation was raised and given a clear and distinct status to that of the rest of the UK. Many unionist commentators like to blur the distinctions between the four nations (if not completely deny them) however the events surrounding the Queen’s death was a timely reminder that they are real and actually gave them a place.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. ‘”. there is the opposite narrative that can be made from this surely”: I agree with you Cherson. I reflected on some of this on 12 September, writing btl on another pro-indy blog site:

      ‘I watched quite a lot of the BBC’s streaming of proceedings in Edinburgh today and later, watched ITV news coverage of same. Whilst I would wish to have the monarchy replaced by something akin to an Ireland-style presidency in an independent Scotland, some aspects of today’s events were notable.

      ‘The references to Scotland as a ‘country’ and a ‘nation’ by the corporate media and the BBC were frequent. The pre-Union historic traditions (pre both Unions) of Scotland were evident: for those that value such traditions, we don’t need or rely upon England or the UK. We had evidence of the roots of our very own on (impressive?) display. There could be no doubt today that Scotland is NOT just like Lincolnshire (recalling the words of a Tory MP?) and NOT just like any region of England.

      ‘And while the carefully choreographed display of aspects of a distinctive Scottish nation were being shown in Edinburgh – and indeed effectively ‘accepted’ by the Windsors – the BBC and ITV would report in one sentence on the nation/country of Scotland and/or on the UK consisting of different nations but then, sometimes in the very next sentence, revert back to the UK as ‘one nation’ – which is of course also a Tory, political concept.

      ‘I suspect we will never hear phrases uttered such as: ‘the king will address the nationS of the UK’ or the ‘PM will address the nationS of the UK’ or the BBC consistently refer to the nationS, or specify which nation (e.g. England) when it uses the singular. Without a mindset which can even accept such basics, there is zero chance of substantial constitutional reform in the UK short of dissolving the Union.

      ‘Whether a constitutional monarchy or not in an independent Scotland is for my children’s generation to sort out. For now it’s enough to settle – on this and other matters – who decides!’

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I agree Cherson. I watched some of the coverage over the last week (though not the queue interviews) and I was continually reminded of the difference between Scotland & England in particular. I listened to the Westminster Hall ceremony just to hear the claim of right mentioned. I listened to the St Giles service just because I preferred the relative simplicity and straightforwardness of the hymns and readings compared to the pomp of London. The scenes from Balmoral and the hearse progress made me feel lucky to live in Scotland and even the folk lining the street didn’t seem as over the top as some interviewed in London. I know I am biased but I really did feel the whole shebang highlighted difference and the sense of Scotland as a nation in its own right

      Saying Neil Oliver at least lets us glimpse the unionist perspective is possibly the kindest thing I have read about him in a long while! Thankfully we have many more voices now to listen to for a different view of Scotland past and present. Even Michael Portillo in his latest Alaskan train journey doesn’t shy away from mentioning the damage caused by Britain the coloniser imposing restrictions on language, dress and beliefs of indigenous peoples. This programme will be watched by many unionists who might not relate this knowledge to Scotland but might still have their ideas shunted into a more questioning approach to the guff we’ve been fed for so long

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Oliver had some traction when involved with normal TV programming, even when his views were simply historic tripe.
    Now he looks like George Best in his desperate, later years, and works for an Alt-right conspiracy outlet, whose views are anathema to those who never bought the Sunday Sport.
    When at school and then in the Royal navy (joined 1965) it was normal for most Scots to be pro-independence, in a general what-if manner (and never voting for it).
    I recall my parents and friends being resentful over Macmillan and “you’ve never had it so good”, when Scotland hadn’t done at all well that decade (or throughout that century).
    Pro-independence fervour has waxed and waned from the late 1960’s, always gaining a little more on its peaks, than it lost in its troughs, until it is now getting to be the “settled will ” of many Scots.
    It is noticeable pro-independence sentiment has grown to as majority within the long life and regality of Queen Elizabeth, the same monarch whom Unionists have called out in aide of the Union in recent days.
    It’s a catch-22 for Unionists, surely.
    Civil servants compromised their impartiality during the 2014 referendum by releasing partisan information–a conclusion by the Public Administration Select Committee.

    I am not sure in the Supreme Court will jump exactly as British nationalists think it will.
    The Scotland Act that Westminster is depending on for its “Westminster sovereignty” argument is only a couple of decades old. Against that, is an internationally recognised legal obligation for the “right of self-determination for peoples”–a right already granted within the architecture of the UK constitution.
    However, it jumps, the legal conclusions will make interesting reading.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I do worry about Neil Oliver – with his every appearance on GB News ( ? )

    His windswept but interesting persona , with the carefully position scarf
    ( cravat ? ), has morphed into that of a latter day religious hermit , with the hair , the beard , the hang-dog expression and his depressing End -of-the World message about Scotland and the Scots .

    Poor man ! What next – sackcloth and ashes ?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Neil Oliver loves the Union cause he has made his fortune pedalling the tails and
    lies of our stolen past for the BBC propaganda machine, rewriting the narrative for our colonial masters is how he get his piece of eight .That sacred isle that coercive Zombie Union does it not just bring a tear to your eye.
    Dissolve the Union.


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