It’s time to ignore the gloomsters and celebrate buoyant Britain’s reasons to be cheerful
WHICH Britain do you live in — is it the oppressed country shackled to an uncaring Tory government that prevents us from fulfilling our destiny?
Or maybe it’s the peripheral nation cast aside after our withdrawal from the European Union — lost in the margins as big decisions are made elsewhere.
Either way, these are the two bleak visions that increasingly hold sway, and indeed meld together — insular Scottish nationalism, combined with post-Brexit self-loathing.
After 15 years of being told we’re trapped in a failing partnership, the last six of them in voluntary exile from the EU, it’s easy to be cowed by the doomsayers.
But there is another Britain, and it’s the one that’s actually closest to reality — one where there should be no room for these dark and defeatist narratives to grow.
Last week the UK was ranked second in a league table of the top soft power players in the world after the United States, and first in Europe, ahead of Germany.
This comparison measures cultural and economic power as opposed to military heft — it’s a good indication of our global status and influence.
Compilers of the index said its composition had been influenced by how well nations have managed their recovery from Covid, with the UK one of four countries, along with the U.S., Germany and China, which have helped to tackle one of the biggest public health crises in history.
That was achieved largely by the rapid production and roll-out of life-saving vaccines — though China’s botched immunisation programme means it is now in reverse gear as infection rates rocket.
Brand Finance, which puts together the index, said the UK has ‘rebounded strongly from the tumultuous environment that Brexit and Covid had created in recent years’, meaning we moved up to second position from third between 2021 and 2022.
Its chairman, David Haigh, acknowledged that the long-term impact of Brexit is still to be seen, but the ‘immediate result has been that of finally introducing some clarity and stability to the political and economic situation following years of conflict and uncertainty’.
Brexit was a tortuous process but even the most committed Remainers would have to accept that some of the more apocalyptic forecasts about the split with the EU haven’t come to pass.
The war in Ukraine has shown again how Britain can lead world opinion, rallying the West to turn Russia into an international pariah.
Boris Johnson has displayed a surefootedness in diplomatic relations that he has struggled to muster on the home front, though he never planned on leading a government during a crippling pandemic.
Invoking Brexit in the context of Ukraine at the weekend was an ill-advised move by the Prime Minister, and he is now said to regret it.
Then again, some of his SNP detractors have spent the last few weeks engaged in a similar exercise, seeing an affinity between Ukraine’s struggle to withstand Putin’s forces and Scotland’s own alleged plight as prisoner of a cruel, dysfunctional Union.
Providing sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees has been slower than it needed to be, but it is under way, while the UK has also provided safe harbour for tens of thousands of people from Hong Kong, fleeing China’s repressive rule.
Britain has shown compassion and resolve, and it hasn’t been all about soft power, either — we’ve also dispatched weapons to Ukraine and trained its soldiers, bolstering the country’s ability to stand up to a ruthless tyrant determined to redraw the map of Europe.
Our tough approach has forced Europe to get its act together on sanctions, which may have been a factor in persuading Russia to enter peace talks, contemplating compromises that would have been unthinkable when the invasion began.
The cost of living is spiralling out of control, from household bills to petrol prices, but these problems aren’t unique to the UK, and we’re not as heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas as some of our European neighbours.
Putin has compelled the West to look again at energy production, and fracking is at least back on the table for further discussion, with a renewed focus on nuclear and the under-utilised North Sea.
Many countries have had to re-think defence budgets and energy security, showing that pragmatism is vital in the face of adversity.
But the SNP Government refuses to budge on fracking, oil, or anything else, sticking to its anti-Trident agenda, while its Green ministers publicly undermine Nato.
Meanwhile, the British economy, against the odds, is in the midst of a remarkable ‘V-shaped’ recovery, and experts think we’re on track to outpace every other nation in the G7 for the second consecutive year in 2022.
The economy grew by 7.5 per cent overall in 2021, even taking into account a 0.2 per cent contraction in December as the Omicron variant caused carnage, and for now recession — two consecutive quarters of GDP drops — looks unlikely.
There are reasons to be cheerful, but it’s sometimes hard to locate them when the Scottish Government under the SNP pursues a relentless drive to highlight and exaggerate the faults and deficiencies of its UK counterpart.
That’s not to say there aren’t any, but equally it’s hard to escape the conclusion that doing so draws attention away from the Nationalists’ own long track record of failure on educational reform and fixing public services.
The SNP has to push the line that the UK is a rotten entity and that we are chained to its declining fortunes, and it has had a surprising degree of success in that endeavour, but only by relying on copious spin and straightforward deceit.
You may have noticed that while the SNP is paying lip service to the independence crusade, and will never give it up, there is a certain lack of enthusiasm among its hierarchs.
One former senior adviser has warned that a referendum isn’t on the immediate horizon, and the polls show no enthusiasm for forging ahead with one.
This is partly because it is also getting harder to portray the UK as the bogeyman the SNP desperately needs it to be, particularly at a time when Mr Johnson is spearheading the diplomatic offensive against Putin’s gangster state.
It was often said ahead of the 2014 referendum that the pro-independence side had the positive arguments, though those of us who were called ‘quislings’ on social media for backing the Union might have missed of some of them.
In fact, the SNP’s steady diet of grievance and parochialism is an entirely negative force, and one that is beginning to lose its allure in volatile times — when it’s clearer than ever that independence is a one-way ticket to austerity and geopolitical irrelevance.
Scotland is the prisoner of a failing regime, but it’s not the one that runs Britain, a country bouncing back from a turbulent period and ready for the challenges ahead — it’s the dismal, inward-looking SNP Government in Edinburgh.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on March 22, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant