By Neil Oliver
Published: 23/04/2022- 18:28
Updated: 25/04/2022- 12:20
Trending on GB News
Surely it is time to stop apologising for Britain and for being British. For years now the message being pushed most fervently is that Britain is bad to the bone – toxic to use the modern parlance. Incessant has been the apparent determination to run Britain down in every conceivable way, always to name Britain as the villain with the longest charge sheet in the world.
Our history – thousands of years of it – is read back to us now as a litany of wrongdoing at home and around the world. Our heritage is condemned too, as anachronistic and somehow inappropriate. So too our culture. More and more we are expected to accept that we are born of a version of original sin, that we are tainted by association with our predecessors – those individuals with the seeming misfortune to have lived and died in other times, when ideas about morality, right and wrong, other than those of the 21st century, prevailed.
There can be no doubting that the object of the exercise has been to leave those of us who love Britain feeling demoralised, self-doubting and ashamed. Recently on this show we talked about a bid to take down a statue of David Livingstone from outside Glasgow Cathedral. This was on account of him having worked, aged 10, in a mill that made use of cotton harvested by slaves. David Livingstone gave his life to trying to better the lives of people in Africa. He was a pioneer who believed in the dignity of the human spirit.
That the rubbishing of our past has come for a man like David Livingstone is a clear a sign as is needed to show the iniquity of those who would tell us nothing good ever came from Britain.
Personally, I’ve had more than enough of the message.
It is no accident that our past, our shared past, is being used as the stick with which to beat us. To seek to do as much is a well-worn tactic. If a people can be made ashamed of the figures from their past – those who, by their efforts and endeavours, brought us to where we are today – then the moral legitimacy of the present is undermined and then destroyed. It is in this way that those of us who take pride in Britain and Britishness are made to keep our heads down and to shut up.
Today is St George’s Day, of course. St George, patron saint of England, was from territory we know now as Turkey. He died in Palestine and is also the patron saint chosen by the people of Georgia, the Lithuanians, the Maltese, the Portuguese and the Venetians.
He was a Christian martyr but most clearly he stands for the necessity to face adversity in defence of the innocent and helpless. Symbols matter, and as a symbol, George is a good one. I like to see all of the patron saints remembered and celebrated – Andrew, Patrick and David too.
I am a Scot, but a British Scot. I have said this many times and I will keep on saying it. Because it is the whole of Britain that I love most dearly of all. It is all one place to me, united and made whole by a history that is deep beyond the reach of memory. Long before there was an England, or a Scotland, or a Wales there was a long island called Britain, or at least a name that sounded a lot like Britain.
Few places have histories longer than ours, histories as rich and complex. This has been a consequence of how much our predecessors achieved. Few nations even attempted to reach so far around the world. British history is long and convoluted on account of how much was accomplished. There is no denying the dynamism of Britain and the British. That those who went before us did so much to shape the modern world means our history is, inevitably, riven with good and with bad – with achievements and with mistakes. So much has been done in our name. And there has, let us not forget, long been a substantial and necessary body of opinion heartily and enthusiastically criticising our own past behaviour. This has been appropriate, but it is worth pointing out that we were rightly critical of ourselves long before the present campaign to tear the old place down in its entirety.
More by luck than good judgment, and mostly by means of the magic carpet provided by making television, I have seen a great deal of Britain. I have been around the coast many times. I have been back and forth across the interior. I have seen the landscape from the sky, from the cockpit of fighter jets, vintage biplanes and microlights. I have been on its encircling waters in kayaks, battleships and just about anything in between that floats, and under its waters in scuba gear and a nuclear submarine.
I have had a thorough look around. Long before the end I realised it was all one place, that the national borders drawn across it had no meaning for me and were invisible anyway.
I love this place. But I also believe in it.
The Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis said, “The world into which you are born does not exist, not in any absolute sense, rather it is a model of reality.” I listen to those words and realise that, unless we believe in it, Britain does not exist either. Neither does England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales or any other country, not really. There are physical landscapes on the face of the Earth – made of dry land set apart from the sea. But the lines drawn and countries named are figments of collective imagination and made all the more meaningful as a result. They are what we say they are.
The existence of our homelands is therefore an act of will, and also of love. Just as creatures that once walked, swam or flew are long gone now, so there is a long list of countries that once were here but are here no longer … Sumer … Chimor ... Kush … the list goes on and on. You might say that a country is a dream shared by its inhabitants. As long as enough of us believe in the existence of Britain, then the dream remains alive and the country is made real. If too many people stop believing, or choose to believe in someplace else, then the dream is over and the country ceases to exist as completely as a candle flame blown out by the wind.
Those whose agenda it is to run down Britain want nothing less than that it might cease to exist in any recognisable form, so that it might be replaced with something utterly different. It’s worth noting that those those who demand a national apology from Britain, are not in the business of accepting apologies and moving on. To apologise to those who hate what Britain has been is only to offer our throats to the wolf.
As well as the place, I love the people of Britain. In my travels around the place, I have experienced nothing but welcome – in England, Ireland, Wales and at home in Scotland. The British people I love are those whose voices have been silenced and ignored of late – those who want only to go honestly about their business, paying their dues and trying to make something good of themselves and of the patch of the world in which they live. That Britain has fostered people like those – millions of them, silent witnesses all – is, on its own, the justification for the continued celebration of Britain.
Every day I meet people like that – unsung and, most recently, told that they are products of something innately bad, that they need to feel ashamed of themselves and of their sense of themselves.
The world plainly needs Britain – or at least the idea of Britain. Every day now, more and more people arrive on our shores – invited and uninvited. Britain is still a bright light in a darkening world and attracts those who can see a better life is available for the taking here. In fact, Britain is so strong at heart that she even weathers the incompetent leadership with which she is burdened from time to time.
In order to love someone, or someplace, completely, it is necessary to accept the good and the bad. I love this place – and in loving it I accept our history is shot through with dark as well as light. The time for crawling on our knees to those unforgiving individuals and organisations that seek only to punish, without any hope of redemption, is past.
Let’s lift up our chins and look the rest of the world straight in the eye, as is our right, and our hard won inheritance from the ancestors.