Barry Turner

Columnist

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.


“And now the end is here, and so I face that final curtain” goes the opening line to the song immortalised by Frank Sinatra. They have now become the new national anthem of the United Kingdom as it slips inexorably towards dissolution.

In real time reality the United Kingdom has already gone. While it hangs on as a polity it has long ceased to be a nation, an anachronism at best and a relic of empire at its worst. Like many of the pluralistic democracies of the world it continues in its zombie state because of the fear of change and the mistaken belief that past glories offer a workable substitute to a promising future.

The four nation United Kingdom is on simple observation in the same condition that the old British empire was at the end of its decline, struggling against political corruption and facing populations who have lost all faith, not only in the political parties but in the political system itself. There is no solution ahead in maintaining the status quo, nothing short of a revolution will effect any change at all. This is not a matter of repair but of tearing down the ruin and building anew.

At the political party level we have two ossified and defunct entities both long dead in terms of ideas and integrity. To paraphrase the journalist Peter Hitchens the only reason either of them is still standing up is because it is leaning on the corpse of the other. Quite simply, the problems the UK is facing are not ever going to be resolved by a general election, or for that matter by some Farage style maverick with a set of tap room wisecracks.

The UK needs root and branch reform and that includes dissolution of the Union as it still stands. Time and time again we have heard politicians talking of what they will do when they are in power and time and time again they have let us down. Switching the current Conservative in name only government for a Labour in name only government will achieve nothing if they are elected into the current system.

And what about the system? The UK claims to be (one of) the oldest democracies in the world. We have in effect only been a democracy in the true sense of the word since 1928 when The Equal Franchise Act of that year gave women equal voting rights with men. Not quite a hundred years then. The UK as a political entity is also a lot younger than our colourful history suggests. The Act of Union 1707 post-dates many of the suggested ‘origins’ of Britain by some centuries.

It is however old enough to call time on it, time indeed to put it behind us and move on to a prosperous and fair future for all the nations that currently constitute the United Kingdom. It’s time to become nations of the 21st century not of the early 18th or for that matter the imperial power of the late 19th. A democracy where a citizens’ vote does count and where government is about governing for the benefits of the citizen, not the vested interest and certainly not for the benefit of the political elite.

Dissolution of the Union could bring this about. It is inevitable that both Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the UK in the near future. It might be during the tenure of the current Prime Minister if his own party don’t stab him in the back first. It is a fact that one of that crowd of 650 MPs now sitting in the House of Commons will be the Prime Minister that presides over the dissolution of the UK. That is oddly something that most of them fear, they should embrace it instead.

This dissolution of the UK would bring great opportunities. The root and branch reforms our society needs cannot be delivered by the current system. Dissolution would give all four of the nations opportunities that the United Kingdom never can. England will not be a loser in this it will benefit in so many ways. The new independent England can be freed from the ossified historical theme park it currently inhabits.

The Bill of Rights of 1688 can at last be rewritten into a modern constitution. The monarchy can be abolished as a political entity, the House of Lords, perhaps the most preposterous institution that could ever exist in a country that calls itself a parliamentary democracy could be totally scrapped and replaced with an elected second chamber. Regional governments could be given executive power in a federation rather than governed as medieval fiefdoms from Westminster

Why wait for Scotland to declare independence and for the population of Ireland to vote to unite with the Republic? A UK government should take the initiative and go now.

The irony is that Brexit was the final call for the UK. Leaving the EU did not preserve the Union or strengthen Britain’s role in the world, it hastened its demise as a political entity giving Scottish nationalists and Northern Irish pragmatists all the encouragement they needed. The Brexiteers voted the UK not only out of the EU but very soon out of existence.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

As the United States Congress gets ready to impeach the President for the second time in his first and only term in public office, the liberal media is, all of a sudden full of silly debates about the decision of Facebook, Amazon and Google to prohibit Donald Trump from broadcasting his hate-filled pronouncements that last Wednesday resulted in an incursion into the very seat of the United States government.

Now all of a sudden the danger is an attack on free expression. The hypocrisy is breath-taking! They themselves have been calling, almost since the day of Trump’s inauguration for his tweets and online conspiracy filled rants to be controlled.

It is also astonishing that those who have finally blocked this rabble rousing incitement, albeit rather late and now Trump is a lame duck, are now the target for criticism for doing so.

On a third note it should not have been necessary for Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter to have made these decisions, the US government and its law enforcement officers should have done this a long time ago.

Under the imminent lawless action test determined in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment if the speaker intends to incite a violation of the law that is both imminent and likely creates a clear and present danger of such incitement.

Trump egged on his supporters to invade the Capitol building with tragic consequences, knowing that such consequences were likely. It was not the first time his inflammatory language had led to circumstances where people were killed and seriously injured, and following the outrage, not the first time he had expressed sympathy for the actions and justification for what had happened.

So now the press is complaining that the likes of Dorsey and Zuckerberg have too much power to censor, as if they themselves have not controlled the information we get to read for literally centuries.

They talk of the dangers of too much power in the hands of private companies and a few billionaires, as if the world’s leading press platforms were publicly owned civic services of some form of democratic co-operative accessible to and accountable to all.

Could it be with the imminent departure of Trump, with undoubtedly more drama and tragedy to come, that the media needs a new set of bogeymen to replace him. For over four years now the press and media have told us that Trump is a threat to democracy. Once he has gone they will need a new one and Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google fit the frame nicely.

Nature we are told abhors a vacuum. So it appears does the press. Donald Trump abused the right to free expression and made the Constitution of the United States itself a laughing stock.

The government and its law enforcement arms made no effort to curtail the caustic and dangerous rhetoric coming from Trump and his allies, and it is very true that the social media platforms themselves used the Trump MAGA cult as a very profitable source of revenue.

It is hardly surprising, even if it is hypocritical, that the tech giants and the social media now take the opportunity to do so. So did the regular press and media, and now they want to protect free speech against the tech giants and social media censorship.

The new Democrat administration with its control of the House, Senate and White House now need to really define and determine free expression for what it is and what it is for.

The legendary American judge Oliver Wendell Holmes did this in 1919 when he declared in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) that no one has the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre if that is meant simply to cause panic.

Donald Trump abused free expression to do just that, and he is rightly prevented from doing so as a result of Wednesday’s riot. It remains disappointing that private for profit companies were the final arbiter of that decision and it may very well be disturbing that they hold so much sway.

If however that is a problem for the government and the judiciary, they can easily fix it. Not by censorship, licencing and regulation, but by acting within the already well established law and constitutional system that is already there.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

The 1st of January 2021 will, according to those who have fought so hard for decades, be our independence day. The day we took back control, the day Britain began to mightily prosper again. But hang on, it’s over. We can drop the hyperbole and the jingoism at last.

There is no doubt that the changes will be profound, not only for those in the UK but for those who remain in the EU too. The European Project never quite made it and General de Gaulle was proved to have been right about Britain after all.

But is the saga really over? Have we really heard and felt the last of the longest divorce in history? Of course we have not. Britain is now facing a new relationship with our closest neighbours and trading partners, but if we continue the marital metaphor, with our own family too.

The referendum told us many things about Britain. It told us that we are a proud and naturally independent people. A people that never really fitted into a union. It told us that in more ways than one. The electorate in Scotland and Northern Ireland took a very different view of the EU to those in England and Wales. They showed just how independent they could be too.

The United Kingdom is now on borrowed time. Even the most ardent unionists know that it cannot be held together for much longer. Brexit has not united the kingdom, it has split it asunder. The four nations that constitute it are now little more than the remnant of empire, one that has been long consigned to history. The parliamentary system and anachronistic constitution have been battered by infighting and factionalism to the point of atrophy.

Those who read the history of the latter half of the 20th century will know that the UK was in pretty poor shape before it joined the European Economic Community in the early 1970s. With its derelict industrial base ruled by all powerful and dictatorial labour unions and a management structure fixated by antiquated practices, the UK was on its last legs. Struggling with massive debt, going cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund for bailouts, a total basket case.

We have no need to fear a return of those times. Our long membership of the EU, and in particular what Britain brought to the EU, was well reciprocated. The hard line Brexiteers might dream of returns to a bygone age, but they should be careful what they wish for. In any case, our time with Europe proper taught us to be European. There was little about pre Common Market Britain that many would want to return to.

So what does the future look like for the UK, or more to the point does it have one? We know that Scotland will soon be demanding a new independence referendum of its own. At the moment, while the language may be harsh, Scotland has only asked for one. It is obvious that the Westminster government cannot resist that indefinitely. The referendum is coming, and coming soon.

It is only a matter of time before the Border Poll is called in Ireland. Those who drafted and implemented the Good Friday Agreement always knew that the eventual outcome was a united Ireland, and it still is. It will not be long before Scotland and Ireland have gone — and with that the UK will be gone.

It is not so much the two nations leaving the UK, but the UK being dissolved in its entirety. Not only will Scotland become a new independent nation, so will England and Wales. Ireland will become part of the Republic and the EU automatically. The United Kingdom, Britain, will be gone as a political entity, it will cease to exist as a nation.

The deal just done with the EU will cease to be in force and will have to be renegotiated because the UK will no longer exist as a state.

So here’s the rest of the deal to come. England will regain its independence and there will be no justification for the Westminster Parliament. A small federation of autonomous regions will be more democratic.

England will not be a part of NATO or any other international treaty and neither will Scotland. As new states, they will have to renegotiate membership of all international and supra national organisations.

The British military will be dismantled as the Scots and Irish regiments will no longer be a part of a British Army. The nuclear submarine base at Faslane will have to be either moved or closed. The North Atlantic will no longer be patrolled by the RAF, so Russian reconnaissance aircraft will have a free rein between Norway, Scotland and Iceland.

The role of the Monarchy will need to be totally redefined and much diminished as part of the constitutional democracy.

All maritime resources including much of the current UK fishing grounds will go to Scotland and Ireland, as will what is left of North Sea oil and gas.

The last remnants of empire will be gone for good. When the curtain comes down, it is time to leave the stage. Merry England can then step down from its self-perceived world role and begin to operate like Sweden or Norway.

Those who planted the independence seed in their desire for a ‘free’ United Kingdom set free the independence genie from the union bottle. No amount of bluster or panegyric will put it back

I Iook forward to obtaining my English passport without a care at all what colour it might be.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

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