Monday, 15 June 2020

Statues and Empire



I once had an idea. Take pictures of all the statues in Edinburgh and then research their stories. Who are these people? How did they come to prominence and who is it that thought so highly of them that they raised the funds necessary for a statue, often in a prime location? Then I was going to stick it all on an app and flog it to Edinburgh’s many tourists as a series of walking tours. Naturally I did nothing of the kind and, with the current demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter, I am kind of glad the effort necessary was put into other projects. Another side of me wished I had done it because I would have been in a prime position to give an informed view on whose monument is based upon the fruits of slavery. 

There are many that say you don’t need statues to tell history. For the history of the individual who is being commemorated, that is perfectly true. We don’t need statues of either Hitler or Stalin to tell their stories. But they are terrible examples to hold up. For one thing, both were being honoured in life as part of a totalitarian cult of personality. Their statues were built on order of the state. The case of Edward Colston, whose image in bronze was torn down by demonstrators on the 7th of June 2020, is far more interesting. That particular statue was not erected until 1895, one hundred and seventy years after Colston’s death. There was no state directive to be obeyed, no one was impelled by the threat of force to do this. What Colston’s statue is is hard evidence that the values of late Victorian Britain held up someone who had build their fortune upon the trading of mass human kidnapping and enslavement as someone whose virtues outweighed these crimes.
Of course, I am looking at Colston’s statue through the eyes of a 21st. Century liberal. It is quite possible that those who erected the Colston statue did not either know of his links to the slave trade or, if they did, that they did not care nor even regard it as a crime at all. 

Now, before I continue, am I outraged that Colston’s statue took a dip in the River Avon? Not particularly. I certainly don’t think anyone should be charged with criminal damage for this. It is clear from media accounts that there was a long-standing local campaign to have the statue removed and that parts of the Bristol establishment consistently vetoed its removal. Throwing that statue into the river is totally understandable. What worried me is what comes next.

“What comes next” has already started. The weekend of 13th of June has seen violence on the street as far-right activists have appeared on our streets “to defend the statues”. The recorded fact that these people throwing straight-armed Nazi salutes and punches at the police who were actually defending The Cenotaph and Whitehall cannot be mistaken for anything else but intimidation, designed to keep Black Lives Matter supporters off the streets. 


A bit more of a genteel example was the gathering in Poole, Dorset, to defend the statue of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts movement.  Anti-colonial campaigners would point out that Baden-Powell was charged with the illegal execution of Matabele prisoners of wars. He was acquitted of any crime but that might well have been a reflection of values of the day and that the the prisoners were black, for they were certainly shot. Baden-Powell’s statue was also a possible target because of his encouragement of the Hitler Youth movement and recorded admiration for Mein Kampf. This did not stop B-P ending up on the Nazi’s infamous “Black Book” list. The truth is always more complicated. The Scout movement has, and continues to do, much good in the formation of young people across the globe. 

So what is at risk here is a proxy war between racists and human rights campaigners, with a new battlefield being over lumps of carven sandstone and moulded bronze. There has to be a better way and there is. It is called education and it is at the heart of Black History Month. It is a profound criticism of history teaching in the United Kingdom that there has to be a Black History Month at all. The British Empire is fundament to 19th Century global history but is only part of the picture.
Naturally one has to be selective about the history taught to children, purely based upon time available but one has to worry about the flow and material. While I was studying my A level in the subject (The Cold War is already being taught in some current syllabi) I pretty well just got modern history 1880 until 1945. There was also options on the Late Anglo-Saxon period and the Norman invasion. All good stuff but apart from the naval arms race in response to German demands for “A Place in the Sun”, empire did not really feature. My daughter’s more recent exposure to history education in Scotland, covered the medieval wars of independence from England, The Scottish Enlightenment, World War Two and the US Civil Rights in 1960s America. Upon checking the BBC Bitsize GCSE history site, the AQA board specifically teaches empire, and OCR teaches immigration. The rest do not. 

Black History Month is more that British and Empire history and that is fine. A lot of black history is British history too. Whether it is the slaves, sugar, tobacco and cotton triangle between Britain, West Africa and the Americas, or the plantation of people from the Indian continent into East Africa, it is really history that everyone in the UK needs to know about. Fortunes were created which went to build up cities like Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Individuals were glorified which brings us back to the statues. 

Not all statues are worthy of preservation but how is that to be judged? Some would say take them all down, others keep ‘em all up. Others say preserve them in a museum. None are perfect solutions and the museum solution could end up costing a lot of money. I have a possible compromise which does not lead to destruction. Monuments dedicated to those directly in the slave trade should be removed. Space for them can be made in a local park - not in a prominent place - and the monuments displayed together with explanations of their history. The history should be the good, bad, downright monstrous and why others thought these people worthy of honour. Such a grouping can be used to educate school parties as part of British and Empire history: that should be part of the history curriculum. The freed up spaces in our city centres can be used to honour later generations.

What of the really famous figures? Nelson who married into a rich plantation family in Nevis and defended the slave trade? Wellington defeated Napoleon but he gained his military experience in India. According to Elisabeth Longford, the sacking of Mysore in 1799 brought the young Arthur Wellesley a £50,000 share of the spoils (equivalent to £5.7million today), paid by the East India Company. This was all legal. Wellesley himself was concerned with the common soldiery looting, having several flogged and four hanged. Churchill was prime minister during the 1943 Bengal famine as supplies were shipped to feed Britain and our armies. Did Churchill set out to kill three million people? Almost certainly not but appears to have been callously indifferent to their fate.  These histories should be known but for their service to the nation, the honour also remains.

The key does remain with education and I suggest that even the controversial monuments have their role in this. Statues erected willingly by choice, as opposed to those erected by totalitarian regimes, have their place. It just may not be where they were originally placed. 

The real issue is that the people of the United Kingdom, all of us, are going to have to face up to our own history. There are times when it was not honourable, never mind glorious and victorious. Some of time we were the downright bad guys and, in terms of human rights, sometimes not so bad. The important thing is that we are taught it, as Cromwell might have said, warts and all. 

Sunday, 14 June 2020

"Boris Johnson Is Unwell"

This morning (14th of June, 2020), a deliberate statement by Paddy O’Connell on BBC Broadcasting House (at 11:45), “Boris Johnson is unwell” went unchallenged by Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood. This caused a fair stir online in the Radio Four Facebook sites.

Instead of joining with the usual sniper shots, I have decided to stand back and consider the trail. 
Boris Johnson is certainly a vote winner. Westminster and London mayor elections confirm this. On this basis, the Conservative Party membership chose him over Jeremy Hunt to replace Theresa May. Johnson delivered a thumping majority in reward of their faith.

Since then, the honeymoon was brief. As Johnson took over, the Coronavirus crisis was already brewing. To be fair, the UK government was not the only European government to be caught short. What does mark us out though was while others were taking lessons from what was occurring in Italy and Spain, the UK government chose to turn Nelson’s eye to events. According to The Times reports, it wasn’t until the 12th of March that the full magnitude of events struck home. Even then though, the government continued to dither. Many companies and bodies had taken their own initiative long before the lockdown on the 23rd March.

Meanwhile, by following their own advice, many individuals in government had been exposed to the disease, the worst affected being Boris Johnson himself. Among the others was Dominic Cummings who, instead of self-isolating with his immediate family, decided to ignore lockdown instructions and remove to Durham.
What has burnt Johnson more than anything politically was his steadfast defence of Cummings’ action in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The upshot of all this is an immense amount of credibility destroyed, with scientists being banned from the daily briefings as very few of them would be willing to defend Johnson’s top aid.

Johnson has never been a master of detail. He is a dreamer: bridges being a particular favoured theme. He was hard hit by the virus (male, middle-aged and overweight [bit like the author]) and might well be still suffering. Add to this an innate aversion to hard work, and a possible case of alcohol addiction and, for an individual it is a perfect storm. The man is unfit, literally, to be prime minister.
In addition to this, because Johnson determined to choose his cabinet based upon ideological purity towards the cause of Brexit, rather than any form of ability, the team around him are unable to defend their own positions, never mind cover for their boss. Word is that Matt Hancock was going to be the scapegoat at the end of the day but, with over 40,000 dead and in global terms the worst performing nation, exceeded only by the USA and Brazil, the rap cannot stop with a single minister. Boris has created a government in his own image and, while that may have worked in normal times, in this crisis it is a disaster for us all.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Corona Virus and the NHS

I am receiving grave concerns from NHS staff as to the lack of preparation for Corona virus. First is testing: there is no testing at UK borders. In hospital testing of patients with respiratory problems is only performed if there is also a history of recent travel.
There is no change in procedures. At ward and community level, it is business as usual. People with breathing difficulties (status unknown because they haven’t recently travelled) are interacting with cleaners, carers, pharmacists and porters as normal.
There is no additional PPE being issued for staff, at whatever level. Cleaners are not being given special instructions when clearing up after patients with respiratory problems. Community health workers and carers could become prime transmitters of infection as they move from home to home looking after their charges. Staff are not being tested either.
Appeals to senior management is falling on deaf ears as they claim that they are following government procedures, who are following the herd-immunity theory. This is NHS Scotland I am talking about but have no reason to think it is different elsewhere in the UK.
Health workers are seriously worried. They want the tests available to check any patient that is presenting symptoms, not just those who have also recently been abroad. They also want to have the PPE to protect themselves and their colleagues, regardless of their status in the hospital or community. Plus they need to be able to test each other to confirm they are not becoming spreaders themselves.
The procedures need to be updated, quickly, to reflect the growing threat. Resources need to increased rapidly: not just money from the government but the actual materials and medicines. This would be similar mobilisation to a wartime emergency. 
Finally they need understanding and help. NHS staff will do their best to help everyone but they also need public support in order to get what they need to help our communities. Who will protect us when NHS workers and social carers become sick? They need our support.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Why are Remainers So Bloody Stubborn?

Another week and another failure of the Conservative Government to deliver Brexit. This sentence could have been written any time since 2018. On this occasion, it is the Letwin amendment, which simply stated that Parliament should see the Johnson deal set down and passed in legislation, before giving it a meaningful vote of support. The fear was not that Johnson deal would pass, but if it did not, then we would be leaving the Eu with no deal on the 31st of October. 

Predictably enough, there are again howls of complains from the rightwing press. Letwin, Corbyn (who has finally agreed to a second referendum) and Speaker John Bercow are the three main villains of the day. One irony of course is that Oliver Letwin said he will support Boris Johnson’s deal. His amendment is to ensure that if the legislation failed to pass through parliament before the end of October, that the United Kingdom would not leave with no deal in place. This is one of the reasons why the Letwin amendment passed: parliamentarians from all sides of the Brexit debate backed it in order to avoid the disaster that a no-deal exit would be, both for the UK and the EU. If the atmosphere had been more calm and rational in the Commons, perhaps the Johnson government would have accepted the point without demur. They did not. 

Grass root Leavers are understandably frustrated with this. “Why can’t we just leave?” they ask. They talk of their anger, and I am certain they are sincere. But I ask Leavers to stay for a moment, pull up a sandbag while I’ll try and explain how it looks from the other side. 

There are some Remainers who will never accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Honestly, I’m almost in that camp, but not quite. My own reason is that the public debate was not long enough: the Scottish referendum of 2014 ran for two years verses the three months for the EU referendum. Unlike the Scottish experience, three months was simply not enough to look in depth for either Leave or Remain cases. That level of examination has occurred since we had the vote in 2016. 
That is my own view, others with have their own reasons, whether to accept or reject the outcome. Let’s get to the basic fact: Leave won.

So, what was the question again? Ah yes: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Right, so Leave won. I wasn’t happy about this but there was a level of leaving I would have accepted. Was I, or any other Remainer asked what this would be? No. Not in the slightest. The debate that followed, both in parliament and in the country, was “Your side lost: shut up.”

Well, no. What did not appear on the ballot paper was how we were going to leave. The Leave side promised many things, none of which they have been able to deliver. Without consulting the rest of us, they continued to argue and bicker as to the nature of their victory. Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU was purely in reference to her own party in parliament. It was only after its failure to pass through the Commons were other parties consulted. By then, it was too little, too late. 

The fundamental issue is that Leave won but then thought it was a winner-take-all game. Not once has there been any serious offer to engage the whole nation as to the nature of our leaving the EU. I would have settled for a Norwegian-style deal. I can see some Leavers being unhappy with that. So am I. But at least I was willing to compromise. Like Norway, it would have addressed the fisheries issue, which to me was the only real gripe the Leave campaign is justified over. What a Norwegian-style deal wouldn’t satisfy would be the issue of immigration from European countries. As I said through, we would all had to have compromise. The UK would have been free to have a flexible and changing relationship with the EU while avoiding most of the hard economic outcomes that leaving entails. 

Such consultations should have began soon after the 2016 referendum. They did not, so we find ourselves in the en passe yet again. I can see why Leavers would be deeply unhappy with the prospect of a second referendum. If you lost, and the polls suggest that you would this time, it is not as if you would shut up and go away either. So where do we go from here? 

As far as Remainers are concerned, what is at stake is the very nature of our nation. Leaving would most probably ultimately split the Union, both with Northern Ireland and Scotland. Leaving would also enable an economic and cultural revolution, with the Conservative Party (and Brexit auxiliaries) leading the change to a US-style Britain and an unregulated corporate society. Neither of these were on the 2016 ballot paper either. That is why Remainers are calling this a coup, a revolution. 

If Leavers really wanted to heal the country, the first thing you should do is stop telling Remainers to shut up and get over it. We will do neither. Hundreds of thousands of people marching through Westminster on Saturday, and 6.5million signatories to the petition to rescind Article 50 are testaments to this. Ah, but what about the 17.2 million you cry? You won the referendum to Leave: you did not win any majority, not even in Parliament, as to how the UK is going to leave. 

It is little wonder then that Remainers continue to campaign to stay in the EU. We have been offered no other alternative. 


At this time, I cannot see anything else but to go for another referendum. A lot of damage has been done and this is not going to heal easily. An election under the current first-past-the-post system will not be democratic enough because all it takes is about thirty five percent to get an effective majority. I am a bit surprised but a blog I wrote in 2018 on the nature of a second referendum, in its basic format of a two-stage question, has aged pretty well. The only difference now is that the Johnson Deal is closer to the Canada-style free trade deal than May’s deal. https://martinveart.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-second-eu-referendum-whats-on-ballot.html

If Leave won again, I would stop campaigning on the issue of EU membership and instead campaign on the future of our relationship of the EU. If Leavers lost, I would welcome their input on the nature of the Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. What is totally clear is that whatever happens, none of us can return to business as usual. As a country we have changed. We really do have to start listening to each other.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Brexit: A Warning from History

Cavalry armies were famous for fooling their opponents through a manoeuvre known as the ‘feigned retreat’. For instance, during the Battle of Legnica in 1241 a combined force of Poles and Moravians fell into the trap of charging the Mongolian cavalry lines who, apparently, fled the field. Except the didn’t. The western horsemen were now separated from their supporting infantry, the Mongolian heavy cavalry turned and light horse archers enveloped the confused knights, now on tired horses. While they took some casualties in the ensuing fight, Mongolian victory was complete. 

What has this got to do with current UK politics, one may reasonably ask? Possibly nothing, possibly everything. The Johnson government has yet to win a victory in Westminster and seem to be in full retreat. Their first feint of going for an immediate election has be spotted and foiled. It seems the opposition is on the verge of victory and the Conservatives are in disarray. 

It is probable that the combined opposition, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and assorted independents and minor parties, will get the legislation through to stop a no-deal Brexit and force a further delay to leaving. Only then will a vote of confidence be called and an election ensue. Job’s a good’un, one may think. One may be wrong. 

The key manoeuvre which alarms me is the apparently suicidal move of Boris Johnson to eject all those MPs who oppose his government’s Brexit strategy. Let there be no mistake: this was a real night of the long knives. Theresa May worked bloody hard to keep her party together so it was a pre-announced and premeditated move of Johnson to purge his parliamentary party of any Remainers, or even people who genuinely want a deal with the EU. This has been achieved so it is doubtful that the Conservatives will leak any further MPs. While now a minority government, this group still are the most powerful unified force in Westminster. 

The battle is about to enter the most dangerous time. Now the Conservative Brexiters are in retreat. From whence are their auxiliary forces to come? If they can be won over, from Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. 

At the moment, the Brexit Party appear to be the final nail in the Conservative Party’s coffin, as they threaten to split the Leaver vote. Since there are no longer any Remainers in the Conservative MP ranks, can Farage be tempted to ally with Johnson before the next general election? 
If the answer is yes, then the Remainer opposition will be in serious trouble. A united extreme right could well win with about thirty five to forty percent of the popular vote. 


What can be done to prevent such a disaster? To be forewarned is forearmed. If there are signs of Farage and Johnson either uniting their parties or forming pre-election pacts, then the best the English parties can do is either do the same (a doubtful preposition with a Corbyn-led Labour Party) or advise strong tactical voting of the Remainer vote to identify the Remainer MP most likely to win in their constituency. If on the other hand, the Brexit Party and Conservatives fail to unite: all with be well. Where they stand, Brexit candidates will split the Leave vote, Conservatives will fall and a Remain-dominated parliament will be returned.  
Note though I said English parties. In Scotland the dynamic is different. With the standing down of Ruth Davidson, it is unlikely that the Scottish Conservatives will survive the next Westminster vote. With the Brexit Party not a hugely strong force in Scotland, the main battle of the EU will be fought over the towns and fields of England.


Everything hinges on whether the Conservatives can be stopped from unifying with the Brexit Party. Stop that and the Battle for the EU will be won. There is now a majority for Remain across the United Kingdom so a second referendum should deliver this. But if a united Conservative-Brexit Party gain a majority in the next parliament, forget it. The barbarians win.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

How To Feel British

Prime Minister-in-waiting, Boris Johnson, said this week that he wants immigrants to feel more British. This was swiftly followed up on Twitter by appeals on how this can be achieved. For instance, a French lady called Martha, currently living in York, made this appeal: “If any of my English followers have any tips on how to ‘feel British’, I’d appreciate receiving them.”

As a native Brit, being half-Irish / half-English, university educated in Wales, a previous resident of the Republic of Ireland and having lived in Scotland since 2000, I should have some insights to offer you Martha. 


One of the first things that an immigrant needs to learn is stop speaking your mind. If something is rubbish, for God’s sake do not complain openly about it, especially to the person responsible. Simply smile, say ‘It’s fine’ or ‘it happens’ and work around it, even if this is at some personal inconvenience. The time to complain is to your friends and colleagues afterwards, when the possibility for fixing the issue has long passed. Phrases like “Can you believe it?” or “what a jobsworth” can then be freely thrown around to anyone within earshot.
Conversely, if something is really good, never offer praise. It might be the most amazing pleasure one has ever experienced in life but the highest acceptable compliment is to nod and mutter “not bad.” If one must, a slight smile is permitted. 

In the workplace, never, ever volunteer or offer constructive criticism. If one can imagine being a sheep, and your place is in the centre of the flock, then just keep that image in mind at times of decision making or crises. Never allow oneself to take on greater responsibility, especially without extra pay. Acceptable answers to requests that should be made someone in a more senior position are “Sorry, I’ll have to speak to my boss” or “Out of my pay scale mate.” The reason for such negativity is that British employers seldom go in for this no-blame culture that is popular across Northern Europe. If something goes wrong, someone must be the cause of it. At best, ownership of a mistake will be a black mark against your record and can lead to something worse. Remember, in the television show The Apprentice, any time a candidate has owned responsibility for a failed task, Lord Sugar has fired their arse. 

Someone schooled in American English might have ended the previous sentence with “fired their ass”. This of course is a mistake and someone who has been educated in US English has to make the effort to adjust their language accordingly. Chips are crisps, not French Fries. Biscuits are not cookies. It is trousers and not pants and no, we Brits do not sit around on our fannies, as they are otherwise employed elsewhere on the female body. Make an effort to match one’s language to the local region and do not point out the glaring inconsistencies in a native speaker’s own usage of American English (see examples within this text). The British are seldom well educated in English grammar, making it extremely difficult for us to learn foreign languages as we usually have little idea what is happening with our own. As Tolstoy said, an Englishman in inevitably in the right because everything he says and does is right. This especially goes for spoken English. 
On a related topic however, we Brits love word play, especially when linked to cultural references. Such games can be downright silly but reduce the Brits to tears of laughter, much to the bemusement of foreigners in the group. As an immigrant, you might never get the joke. Don’t worry about it. English is the most public language in the world so perhaps it is only natural we have made it incomprehensible for our own amusement. My best advice would be just to relax, be happy to see us happy and when your finally do start getting the references, then your have finally cracked the English language. 

Do not take offence to the question “Where are you from?” as it really is a statement which means “You are not from round here, are you.” Owing to never having an East Anglian accent, it was a question that I was constantly asked when growing up in the town where I was born. Except in the largest and most cosmopolitan of cities, Brits has a curious sense of regional identity which is linked very strongly to accents. “Where are you from?” might mean that your accent comes from a town twenty miles away where the local inhabitants tend to have a bit of a funny accent and, therefore they don’t speak proper like we do. Yes, I know it is a pain answering this question and immigrants often feel it is a prequel for something nastier to follow but usually it isn’t. We Brits ask each other that same question all the time. Only when the question is followed up by something like “And when are you going back?” is rudeness or sarcasm justified as a response.

Now, perhaps the hardest thing to achieve for some immigrants is to enter into the British drinking culture. Those who are unable to drink alcohol for religious reasons are at a special disadvantage here. Outside the most formal of evenings, it is socially acceptable for Brits to get so drunk as to be a complete embarrassment to ourselves. Sorry about this but get used to it. Over the decades, many governments have tried to change things through taxation and tighter laws, drink-driving being a good example. Unless they are completely teetotal (a very rare thing for a Brit) or a recovering alcoholic (the only socially acceptable excuse not to drink), at some point you are going to see your British friends pissed - as in the English sense of being drunk and not the American of being angry. One understands that for the younger generation, illicit drugs are a socially acceptable alternative to booze, or even along with it. Either way, once work is done, us Brits love getting off our tits on abusing alcohol, or even several substances at the same time. 

There are many things to love about being in Britain. As an immigrant, that is why you are here. This is also the reason why I have not written about our virtues: they are well known, self evident and it is impolite to boast about such things. Instead I have written about the other side of being British: the negative and sometimes the self harming side. No nationality has a monopoly on either virtue or vice. Remember that it is often geography that forms a national personality and that Britain is a group of islands. Some of us Brits still seem to cling to this notion as some kind of comfort when, in today’s global world, being an island nation is a hindrance rather than any help. To understand the British, one has to see us, warts and all. If after doing so, you would prefer to live by your own cultural values instead of ours, I think most people would understand. I certainly will.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Why are the Liberal Democrats Back?

To the outsider, to those who do not pay attention to politics, the reason why the Liberal Democrats are back on the political scene is pretty obvious. Both Labour and the Conservatives are failing as parties and people are turning towards alternatives: be it Greens, SNP, Alliance, Plaid Cymru or Farage’s Brexit “Party”. Or even, *shudder*, the Liberal Democrats. On one level that is true. On the night of the EU elections, the Lib Dems came second. This could, and is being dismissed as a protest vote. A view from the inside of politics offers a different perspective.

The worse years of being a Lib Dem activist was not with the election disaster of 2015. I remember walking home from the Edinburgh count on a bright sunlit morning, smoking a cigar I had saved for the occasion. My emotions were mixed: sad that Nick Clegg had led the disaster and had stepped down. Sad for the many good Liberal Democrat MPs who had lost their jobs. Irritated that the (understandably jubilant) SNP had swept all but three of the Scottish seats before them. Angry but not surprised that the Conservatives had targeted all Liberal Democrat seats, even the ones that they knew they could not win – like Edinburgh West - in order to be rid as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible. The Conservatives would rather have opposition MPs like Labour, or SNP here in Scotland, than someone they had to risk working with. My main emotion though was one of relief: the axe had finally fallen. Even the folk of the television show Gogglebox had called it: “Nick Clegg, dead man walking.”
It is the popular position to slight Nick Clegg but in reality he is a good guy who, while in government, made some bloody awful decisions. During his campaign for the leadership, he promised to get the Liberal Democrats into government within two elections. He did it first time, and subsequently we paid the price. 
I did not feel sorry for myself though. When I stood in 2015, I knew it was with no hope of winning. In the weeks running up to the 2010 I had written a blog, predicting the outcome of entering a coalition as junior partner with either party. The hardest thing for me to bear was being proved right, so soon after the 2010 election, and to continue campaigning for the Liberal Democrats knowing that we were stuffed. It was difficult to keep motivation up during those years. It felt perverse: Liberal Democrats are in power. We are making a difference: getting a lot of policies though and keeping at bay the worst excesses of the deep-blue nutters on the right of the Conservative Party. Why wasn’t I happy? Because no good deed goes unpunished and so it proved. 
It is natural perhaps that a lot of opponents, especially on the left, were gleeful on our downfall. Poor President Trump if he feels he is being victimised by the press and public opinion: try being a Liberal Democrat. I believed even our own esteemed former leader, the late Paddy Ashdown, described the party as “roadkill”. That should have been that for us. And yet. And yet…

The green shoots of recovery started instantly. As most jeered as they shovelled earth over the Lib Dem coffin, a small section of the UK public looked on with both horror and compassion.  Some of those people joined us and, for the first time in five years, the membership numbers of the Liberal Democrats soared. To the grizzled survivors like me, it felt like a miracle. It was Nick Clegg who later summed it up with a story. A few days after the defeat, a woman shouted across the street at him.  
“Nick, I’m sorry what happened to you and the party.” 
“Thank you. Thank you for your support!”
“Oh, I didn’t vote for you!”
In Edinburgh we had a large number of new folk join us. Most of them stayed and quite a few of our new (and high quality) activists that we have now, joined us since the rout of 2015. Even from the first days, the Liberal Democrat recovery was underway. 

Still, during the years 2016 and 2017, there was no breakthrough. Liberal Democrats campaigned and, slowly slowly, we started to regain lost ground. Although we did not gain many seats during the 2017 snap general elections, I think that one of the unintended consequences that it turned a lot of the new Liberal Democrat activists from raw, if enthusiastic recruits, into campaign-hardened veterans. What was just as important, there were some victories to show for the effort: we got three seats back from the SNP, including Edinburgh West. We Liberal Democrats took the opportunity given and in many areas, continue to campaign on the ground long after the other parties had packed up. The evidence for this was the start of local council victories in unlikely places such as Sunderland. Which, of course, leads us to consider the next reason for the recovery: Brexit.

Brexit is, and always has been, driven by the schism of the right. Although there was part of the Left (as personified by Jeremy Corbyn and before him, Tony Benn) who always objected to the EU on the grounds that it is a capitalist club (it is), the main political force against European Union comes from the economic right of the Conservative Party. It is their implacable hatred of EU regulation upon free market economics that led to the formation of UKIP. By itself, the freedom of billionaires to rip off the public is hardly a vote winner, so in order to gain popular support, the real flavour of the party was disguised by a heavy dose of nationalism and bigotry. Like all disasters, the reason for outcome are multiple. One was the foolishness of David Cameron, who thought that a bum’s rush of a three-month Brexit debate would be followed by victory, the death of UKIP and a return to business-as-usual. Another was that those backing Brexit had done deep preparation for the day that the referendum was called. New techniques of big data were used to target the electorate that felt ignored and did not usually vote. The SNP had used similar techniques for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum but, as I have stated previously, they had given a two-year-long debate so that people had an opportunity to discuss and understand the issues. With Brexit, that opportunity for public contemplation never occurred until after the vote. By heck, it has happened since though.

It is the Liberal Democrat consistency in stating the obvious: before the referendum and afterwards, that Brexit is a terrible idea, which has finally given the party its public identity. Before, the question before was “What are the Lib Dems for?” We have always had well-thought through policies by the container-load. We have always valued human rights over the power of the state. Our focus was upon the individual and families before power-blocks, be they unions or corporations. By itself though, that message is always too nuanced. Now, for good or ill, we have a clear identity: Liberal Democrats are the party of Europe. 

By ourselves though, Liberal Democrats are not yet strong enough to break through the first-past-the-post voting system. The last stage of our return requires the failure of the two main parties: Conservatives and Labour. They are both obliging in a most unexpected way. I do not have to run through the arguments: on her deal, Theresa May failed to consult with the whole parliament until it was far too late. What is truly amazing is the complete and utter failure of Labour to capitalise on the Conservative disarray. Corbyn simply had to say “We have tried: the government is unyielding and Parliament is deadlocked. It has to go back to a second referendum.” But no. Corbyn has steadfastly failed to move on Brexit and instead is sitting on the fence, much to the chagrin of most Labour activists. At the recent EU count of May 2019, held in the same venue as 2015, I was speaking to several senior Labour activists. I was told that Corbyn’s stance made it “like fighting with both hands tied behind your back.” Unlike previous counts, only a handful of Labour people bothered to turn out.
The largest parties to win that night were the nationalists, although neither the Brexit Party nor the SNP got anyway near fifty percent of the vote, important since both are claiming the vote is overwhelming support for their respective versions of nationalism. There is a map of Great Britain doing the rounds which shows that the SNP came top of the vote in all but a handful of Scottish constituencies, and Farage’s vehicle for self-promotion, the Brexit Party came top in most parts of England. An SNP supporter asks “Can you see the border now?” Frankly I cannot. Both the SNP and the Brexit Party are nationalist, popularist movements. I will give the SNP credit in being more decent that Farage but both are very much on the nationalist spectrum. 

The real border is now in people’s minds. Are you a nationalist or are you an internationalist? Do you want to define folk in terms of “us or them” or is there only “us”? The world is facing very real problems: can those problems wait until we have gained our freedom, put our country first, or do they need addressing right now, globally?

Owing to the Liberal Democrats putting people first, not insisting that the nation-state is the greatest good and wanting to address global problems right now, that we find ourselves being defined as anti-nationalist, and in a way that the Conservatives and Labour, with their old conflicts being built on wealth and class, can never do.  The popular nationalism has brought to the fore those who are internationalists. This movement is called social liberalism. The party for liberalism in the United Kingdom is the Liberal Democrats. 
Along with our own hard work, the ineptitude of the main two parties, it is the rise of nationalism and Brexit has brought us, the Liberal Democrats, back from the dead.