The “Great” is no more in Great Britain

…..This week the British embassy in Washington decided to hark back to Blighty’s glory days….picture of a sparkler-bedecked cake “commemorating the 200th
anniversary of burning the White House”….embassy quickly retracted: “Apologies for earlier Tweet. We meant to mark an event in
history & celebrate our friendship today …. Today UK-US
celebrate #specialrelationship”…..

Whichever way the September 18th vote goes for Scottish independence, one thing is for sure:
after 112272 days (starting 01 May, 1707), Scotland will no longer count as a willing partner in
the Union.
Truth be told, this breakdown started during the Thatcher
years triggered by the hated poll tax. However from what we read in the
papers and based on accounts by friends, even most of Northern England (Yorkshire and even the Midlands)
is in a different planet compared to London and the South-East England.

There is essentially a sense that London- a truly global city and home of the super-affluent – does not care much about the poor cousins “oop north” and imposes out of touch policies and unwanted migration on the rest of the country. 

Thus while the upstart (and popular) parties are polar opposites – Scottish National Party (SNP) is left-liberal and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is libertarian-paleocon – they are in agreement that London is bad for the country and harmful for the future. In the words of the wag, there is no better-together (pro-union campaign slogan), only bitter together.

How should we feel about all this as Indians? We note that the article gives credit to the British for giving Indians the gift of democracy. There are other folks who would say that India would not even exist as a nation but for the British. Thing is, if you choose to take credit for the good things, you need to own up to  the bad things as well (the Victorian holocausts, the Bengal famine,…).

Also something which is almost never emphasized, it was the British-Indian army that helped maintain order in the far reaches of the empire and which also played a significant role in the World Wars and countless other wars. If Britain gave birth to a new India, the British empire was sustained through Indian blood, sweat and treasure. Not for nothing, India was known as the crown jewel of the empire. The moment Britain lost India, the empire gig was up.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain had dominion over so
many portions of the Earth it was said, famously, that “the sun never
set on the British Empire.” Since the end of World War II, however, that
sun has been steadily dipping toward the horizon. Today, sundown is
truly at hand.

On Sept. 18, the voters of Scotland will go to the polls to
determine whether their nation will declare independence from the United
Kingdom after 307 years of union with England. Polls over the last 18
months reported by the website What Scotland Thinks
show a gradually rising tide for independence even though advocates of
remaining in the U.K. still lead in the surveys. But many Scots have
said they are undecided—and thus they hold a key to the decision. 

Economist magazine has suggested
that Scots voting with their heads will choose to stay with England,
while those voting with their hearts will opt for independence, but “it
is the nationalists who have fire in their bellies.”

undecided Scots also hold the key to the final dissolution of one of the
greatest empires in history. The British Empire brought profound
changes to the world—but in the decades since its rapid decline after
World War II it has become a kind of a historical joke, sometimes in
poor taste. 

This week the British embassy in Washington decided, for
reasons only known to itself, to hark back to Blighty’s glory days and
tweet a picture of a sparkler-bedecked cake “commemorating the 200th
anniversary of burning the White House” during the War of 1812. 

newspapers got wind of the tweet, the embassy quickly retracted it,
tweeting: “Apologies for earlier Tweet. We meant to mark an event in
history & celebrate our strong friendship today …. Today UK-US
celebrate #specialrelationship & work together shoulder to shoulder
across the globe.”

But even that assessment is somewhat self-delusional. Since the
beginning of the Cold War, America has done the lion’s share of the
shouldering. Britain, the colonizer of America, has become in some ways
the colony (or lapdog, as some self-deprecating British wags put it).
And now it’s about to get even smaller.

The downsizing process
has been long and hard. At its most extensive, the British Empire
comprised 57 colonies, dominions, territories or protectorates from
Australia, Canada and India to Fiji, Western Samoa and Tonga. From
London, the British ruled about 20 percent of world’s population and
governed nearly 25 percent of the world’s land mass, according to
calculations by British researcher Stephen Luscombe. 

The spread of
British influence, including the English language, gave birth to the
United States, the world’s only superpower; the world’s largest
democracy in India; and, perhaps inadvertently, disseminated British
concepts of freedom, democracy and common law around the globe. On the
negative side, Britain once corrupted an entire nation, China, with
opium purely to extract drug revenues, and its haughty, racist dominance
of subjected peoples left generations of rage in its wake in many
countries (not least of which are some of those closest to home, like

Today that empire has been reduced to 14 scattered
islands such as the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean and Pitcairn
Island in the South Pacific. The Commonwealth of Nations founded before
World War II and revived after the war comprises 54 former British
territories but is little more than a monument to the empire. Now the
wave of dissolution is lapping up against the shores of the British
Isles themselves.

Of course it’s been many years since Britain has acted like
an empire, though some former provinces still experience “colonial
cringe” at the sound of upper-crust British English. London’s imperial
might began to crumble during World War II after Japanese armies marched
to gates of India and the shores of Australia, breaking the back of
Western colonialism before Japan was defeated in 1945. A nationalistic
surge ended the colonial era, beginning with the withdrawal from India
and Pakistan in 1947.

Some would say the empire officially came
to an end in February of that year when—utterly drained by the two world
wars—the British cabled Washington that they no longer had the money or
troops to defend Greece or Turkey as the Soviet Union threatened to
extend its influence in the early Cold War. …

“The British are finished,”
Dean Acheson, soon to be Harry Truman’s secretary of state, was said to
have remarked when he read the cable. The United States quickly
displaced the United Kingdom as the main stabilizing power in the West.

decline of British power hasn’t come without a fight. In 1942, Winston
Churchill was famously quoted saying: “We mean to hold our own. I have
not become the king’s first minister in order to preside over the
liquidation of the British Empire.” 

But his successors have been
liquidating ever since. Over several decades, Britain withdrew from East
of Suez and from their possessions in Africa; Hong Kong, the city-state
that reverted to China in 1997, was among the last to go. There has
been one exception: In 1982, in a desperate effort to hold onto the
miniscule Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, the U.K. fought a
brief war with Argentina—which it won as a kind of imperial consolation





Brown Pundits