WHILE COVID-19 appears to impact primarily the old and those with pre-existing health problems, the long-term ramifications of lockdowns will disproportionately impact the young. This week we learned that the UK unemployment rate rose by 0.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent in the three months to September, with the jobless rate among 16-24-year-olds hitting 14.6 per cent.
This comes at a time when property tax holidays yet again beefed-up house prices – putting home ownership even further out of reach for most aspirational young people – and while many students have been treated as virtual prisoners across the land.
Never mind ‘levelling up’ the UK (and fat chance of that given the disproportionate impact lockdowns are having on the poorest parts of the country), Britain seriously needs a ‘catching up’ strategy to help a potentially lost generation.
Meanwhile, at just the time when the Conservative & Unionist Party should be bringing the country together, it seems to be doing its best to leave deprived areas further behind, while going along with a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which effectively partitions the UK, and doing precious little to counter the demands of opportunistic nationalists in Scotland.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Far from retreating into the Little England of Remainer tropes, the true internationalist option and obvious future for Britain is a closer alliance with those countries with which it shares a head of state, most notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In fact, data suggests all parts of the UK – including Scotland – support freedom of movement across the ‘CANZUK’ countries. Looking outward to the world (and not just to Europe) could well strengthen the UK internally, as the country regains a common purpose and vision.
Indeed, if Joe Biden proves to be less amenable to Brexit than President Trump – and given America’s increasing (and understandable) unwillingness to unilaterally carry the Western alliance, and given the EU’s incoherence and inability to fill America’s shoes – CANZUK can show it is less about nostalgia and more a necessity, as the UK navigates its role in a changed post-Cold War reality.
Developing closer economic ties and opportunities between the CANZUK nations therefore makes more sense.
Don’t fall for the lies on Brexit when it comes to the UK Nations either. Brexit offers upsides for all parts of the UK – only you rarely hear about them in Scotland. Why are Scottish Conservatives not making more of having opportunities from managing fisheries by calling for new rules on the make-up of crews or the landing and processing of catches so that Scottish communities benefit? An EU court ruling (the Factortame case) allowed foreign owners to buy up British quotas and operate under flags of convenience – now we have the chance to rewrite the legal criteria under which quota-buying is allowed so UK-registered foreign boats cannot just scoop up the fish in Scottish waters, land their catches in the continent and get the benefit from the processing. We need to repatriate the opportunities and bring the jobs and profits back to our shores. It’s not a policy the SNP can advocate.
Nearly 4 out of 10 Scottish voters (over a million voters), as well as over 4 out of 10 Northern Irish voters, opted for Brexit. This compares with just over 5 out of 10 voters in England and Wales. Indeed, it’s my guess that of those who have an objection to ‘union’ the majority of such people in Scotland and Wales never state an objection to being in a union with one another, or England’s north and midlands. I sense the difficulties began with the perceived relationship towards London and its eastern and southeast doughnut, (especially since de-industrialisation, which disproportionately impacted areas outside the M25).
Meantime, Brexit has been used by secessionists to fuel separatism – but there was no perceptible change on the independence question until after this Spring when Coronavirus was weaponised by the SNP.
The Government is doing precious little to stop fragmentation along generational, regional and national lines. The Coronavirus pandemic meanwhile affords an opportunity to remake the UK, much as the Korean War catalysed South Korea. Britain – with the best higher education system on earth outside of the US – should be in pole position for this new world, while CANZUK is another opportunity for post-Brexit Britain.
It is time those who believed in Britain reclaimed the narrative from declinists. The young are the future – and without them, the UK is sunk. Meanwhile, the real division in the UK is not between England and Scotland, but between the M25, its doughnut – and the rest.
The Cold War is over, the US is understandably no longer willing to be the West’s military sugar-daddy, EU foreign policy is incoherent and not in the UK’s interest – and hence CANZUK is becoming a necessity. In the past year the Conservatives have already vacated the political space of fiscal responsibility. But if they vacate the space of patriotism and unionism, they will never be forgiven.