Losing Cultural Unity

Telegraph (my added emphases):

Tony Blair has admitted his government made a “mistake” by failing to do enough to ensure that devolution of powers to Scotland did not undermine the United Kingdom’s national identity.

The former Prime Minister insisted that he still believes he was right to create national assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff in 1999, arguing that resisting demands for the devolution of power would have stoked up demand for outright independence.

But, in a new book entitled British Labour Leaders, he acknowledged that he did not understand at the time the importance of maintaining cultural unity between the different parts of the UK…

Mr Blair said: “I did feel that we made a mistake on devolution. We should have understood that, when you change the system of government so that more power is devolved, you need to have ways of culturally keeping England, Scotland and Wales very much in sync with each other.

“We needed to work even stronger for a sense of UK national identity. But I don’t accept the idea that we should never have done devolution. If we had not devolved power, then there would have been a massive demand for separation – as there was back in the 60s and 70s.”

I’m a bit surprised at Blair fretting over British ‘cultural unity’. It wasn’t with devolution that Blair undermined British cultural unity. He did that with the smoking ban, which dealt a shattering blow to cultural unity, dividing society into valued and included non-smokers and reviled and excluded smokers, and turning friends against friends, husbands against wives, sons against fathers.

Cultural divisions are probably the most visible when they are experienced as an earthquake in one geographical location – like Scotland. By contrast, the deep cultural divisions created by smoking bans were experienced equally and everywhere, at more or less the same time, and didn’t show up on the political seismographs. In fact, the UK smoking ban was probably counted as a great success simply because there wasn’t rioting on the streets accompanying its introduction on 1 July 2007.

Also, much of the damage was invisible. Friendships are invisible and intangible bonds between people, and the snapping of ties of friendship entails the fracture of something invisible which have no immediate direct effects comparable to the snapping of a geological fault. And since the smoking ban had been deemed a great success from day one – no riots -, it was easy to find other explanations for the closure of thousands of pubs than the fact that smokers were staying away from them, or the rise of UKIP as millions of smokers shifted their political allegiances.

The political class counts smoking bans among their few successes. There seems to be a conviction that a valuable and irreversible change has been made in British culture. This is probably one reason why the UK government has followed up with further extensions to the smoking ban in the form of tobacco display bans, plain packaging, and car smoking bans. They were all more of the Same Good Thing.

But I think that, despite its apparent success, the smoking ban will one day come to be seen as a catastrophic mistake, compounded by several further mistakes. It was true that there was no immediately visible damage after the ship hit the reef. It did not begin to start to list or settle in the water. Reports from below decks did not seem to indicate any hole in the hull through which water was pouring. The sudden coincidental abandonment of the bars and cafes on the lower levels was put down to a new preference by passengers for the bars on the open decks. And so the captain ordered full speed ahead, and continued on his course to the open ocean. But the impact had left the ship deeply structurally compromised. Invisible beneath layers of paint, thousands of the rivets that held the ship together had fractured. Entire bulkheads and trusses had lost much of their strength. And as the ship proceeded out into the open ocean, the ordinary stresses induced by the deepening swell gradually caused further rivet failures, and lengthening hairline fatigue fractures traced paths from rivet to broken rivet. The ship had become as fragile as an eggshell, and it was steadily getting weaker all the time. The end came quite suddenly, on a sunny day in calm waters, when the captain ordered a sharp turn to starboard – and the ship slowly folded in half, the decks collapsed, water came pouring in everywhere, and it sank within minutes.

The ship, of course, is the ship of civil society, and the rivets that hold it together are the numerous invisible ties between people – family ties, ties of friendship, work ties, ties of many kinds.  And when a great many of these ties have been broken, the entire ‘cultural unity’ of society is compromised. And if the damage is progressive, society is held together by fewer and fewer ties, and disintegration gradually becomes inevitable.

I don’t really understand why Scotland now seems set to secede from the Union – some Scot may care to enlighten me -, but I’m quite sure that the social fragmentation wrought by smoking bans has weakened Scottish civil society just as deeply as elsewhere in the (dis)United Kingdom. And having lost in the process many of the rivets that tied Scotland to England, the ship may now be folding in half. And Tony Blair is looking at the wrong piece of legislation as he tries to explain Britain’s mysteriously lost cultural unity.


About Frank Davis

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20 Responses to Losing Cultural Unity

  1. cherie79 says:

    I am a Scot albeit living in England and I don’t understand it either! My friends say the SNP is more like a cult than a political party, worrying.

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    Nationalism it appears is on the rise. A good sign for freedom maybe unless those in charge are worse than whats already in charge.

  3. Joe L. says:

    O/T: An article on e-cigarette bans in Australia. Seems like they wanted to keep it fair and balanced, because they spoke with Simon Chapman AND Stanton Glantz…

    E-Cigarette bans warranted amidst scientific uncertainty

    • John Watson says:

      They may just as well have negotiated the cessation of Murder, Rape and Pillage with Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan for all the fairness they would get from Chapman and Glantz!

  4. John Watson says:

    That is an interesting analogy Frank, especially when you bear in mind the facts that Brunel’s SS Great Britain was not only too expensive to run but also ran aground before being withdrawn from service! As a society we are rapidly sailing to the same destination.

  5. Barry Homan says:

    OT, a nice thing happened last week. I found a replacement barber here in Aalborg, a real backwards/retro/old school barber boutique, oh man! It dripped with that atmosphere of grand-dad hair tonic, sleazy decor, old-fashioned sinks and spigots; the barber himself was past 70, his own coif looked like a throw-back to those pompadour styles of the 1930s, when Victor Borge was just a kid – you get the picture. My clothes still reeked of his whole shop a day afterward, but it was worth it.

    He lets me smoke! Happy day, he also didn’t do a bad haircut – at half the price of my old hair-styler. Little things count, it’s a small victory for this smoker.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      My Barber smokes along with nearly all his customer base. We sit around his shop shoot the breeze,talk treason and drink coffee………..while the stylist hair shops sit with one or 2 cars outside them he stays busy all day long.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Unfortunately I can’t say the same about ANY hairdresser I visited. So I decided to give them a wide berth and see what the Indian women do. I must say, it works a treat!!!! I have the longest, healthiest hair I’ve ever had!!!!! And I save a lot of money.

      Every cloud has a silver lining. The tobacco control riddled government told my former hairdresser to remove the ashtrays…… I no longer need a hairdresser as I no longer need to go on shopping trips.

      The customer is king. You do NOT kick a king out your doors, do you?

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

  7. beobrigitte says:

    I’m a bit surprised at Blair fretting over British ‘cultural unity’. It wasn’t with devolution that Blair undermined British cultural unity. He did that with the smoking ban, which dealt a shattering blow to cultural unity, dividing society into valued and included non-smokers and reviled and excluded smokers, and turning friends against friends, husbands against wives, sons against fathers.

    And, Blair is proud of it.

    Blair isn’t fretting, it’s all going fine for him. And what politician gives a toss about people, anyway?

  8. smokingscot says:

    Scottish Independence.

    Instead of launching into a great long diatribe – with my own bias that’s resolutely in favour continuity – let’s get one thing real clear right now.

    55.4% voted against independence and that’s very impressive when you understand they allowed people aged 16 to vote. As well as all EU citizens resident in Scotland. And quite a number of recent immigrants who qualified to vote, but don’t quite grasp the lingo, so lots of “their” helpers went out of their way to ensure they fully understood the rules, then very kindly assisted them make out a postal vote!

    And all Scots living outside Scotland, even those living in England were denied a vote.

    Take away all that froth and you very quickly grasp that amongst the Scots, born and raised and actually living in this country, there was little support for independence.

    In fact it could be argued that they weren’t that keen on devolution either as only 60% of registered voters actually bothered to turn out on the day in 1997.

    Of those who voted, 74.3% wanted a parliament and 63.5% wanted that parliament to have tax raising powers.


    Moving on to today, the greatest hook the SNP had was our oil reserves – and they hammed that up something foul. Now the price of oil has dropped, even their highly optimistic figures simply do not begin to hold up to scrutiny.

    But independence means we get all MSPs elected by proportional representation and that Frank means it’s entirely feasible for a whole bunch of pretty sordid outfits can manage to crawl past the 5% threshold. In other words it’ll be a job for life for quite a number of people who are union people – even if they call themselves or their party socialist or whatever.

    And they’re not going to let this thing go away.

    So it was that in August 2015 they held their march in Glasgow and there was Tommy Sheridan as well as his wife Gail. Now you may know that Tommy was proven to be a little bit of a fibber and his wife had a habit of nicking unused miniature bottles from aircraft when she worked as a stewardess.


    However the whole bash was – ostensibly – organised by a certain Mr. Neil Mackay. And it seems he’s the subject of this less than flattering analysis.


    I see that Mackay would like to re-establish the ancient Celtic empire of Dalriada.

    Just in case you’d like to see exactly what he’s yabbering on about, here’s the link:


    So as things stand, it’s a minority of the 44.6% who voted for independence who are acting in a way that we’re all familiar with. Tobacco control. Or Blowfish. Little bitty things with attitude (and in the case of TC (as well as our Indie’s) lots of other people’s money).

  9. Clicky says:

  10. Scot says:

    Like the Poll Tax, us Scots were once again made the guinea-pigs for the draconian smoking ban, (26th March 2006), following this the English and Welsh elected arseholes slavishly followed suit. This rape of individual freedom and property rights was first proposed by the father – Stewart Maxwell MSP (SNP), then championed by the midwife Andy Kerr MSP (Lab) and the mother was, after a stage-managed PR stunt Damascene conversion led to the agenda by “lucky” Jack McConnell MSP, (Lab) and First Minister at the time, after a weekend trip to Dublin (2005) to see how their ban was “working”, or how they implemented it by force of fines and imprisonment morelike.

    Mc-Con-all was once happy to smoke 40 a day, unfortunately, like many ex-smokers he had a vision of the promised dystopia of smoke-free and proud, and the act was passed.

    The grandstading during the errr, cough, so-called “debates” during the bills passing were never greater than when the talking shop debated an amendment to allow real smoking in theatrical productions etc, Kerr proudly stood up the chamber and whipped a talcum powder “cigarette” out his pocket and puffed powder out, to re-inforce the utter ban.

    I feel your pain in England and Wales subsequently – but please remember us north of Hadrian’s wall had it imposed MORE than a year before anywhere else in the UK, and next year it will be 10 years since the first UK smoking ban – up here under our benevolent leaders, and no doubt there will be much state and fake charity imposed celebrations of the the tenth anniversary.

    I’ve no trust in any of those cunts since 3-06, when they think they got away with it…

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