I’m proud of what Great Britain has accomplished, which is why I was pleased that Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. I can understand why some might not have wanted to, and I think that Scotland needs greater autonomy (as do England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and their regions), but we are greater than the sum of our parts.
Similarly, and although it isn’t a fashionable view point, I have some sympathy for the concept of the British Empire – and I think that it’s an ideal that we should be doing our very best to rebuild, although not as an Empire of conquest and rule.
We should be striving to build a new Empire of culture, science and compassion – showing the world a better way, and influencing others to work with us by good example. I know – it sounds somewhat nebulous, but stop and think for a moment about what we have achieved already… The Agricultural Revolution and then, because one good idea begets another, the Industrial Revolution. Steam Power. The Railway. The Telephone and the Television. Matches. The Dreadnought. The Jet Engine. Nuclear Power. Concorde. The World Wide Web. The first RISC Personal Computer. The fastest cars in the world. The Beatles. Elgar. Shakespeare. Iron Maiden. The list is endless, and easy to populate – everyone in the country will have their own favourites.
These isles are endlessly creative and ingenious, and there’s no sign that we’re slowing down or becoming less inventive. Reaction Engines Limited are developing the future of space flight, and Raspberry Pi may very well show the way to cheaper, more environmentally friendly, personal computers. The BBC continues to make the finest television and film in the world. Britain is rightfully renowned as a financial powerhouse, a centre of research and science, and a centre of fashion and the arts. We’re technologically and artistically advanced – and compassionate too, good at helping those who are worse off than ourselves. Nowadays, we’re even recognised for our cuisine as well. We have a lot to be proud of.
It was comparatively simple in the old days – all we had to do was hop on a boat, laden with gifts, and wow other less advanced cultures (everyone else, in pratical terms) with our impressive technology – or biff them over the head if they refused to be cowed. It wasn’t laudable, and it isn’t something that we should feel satisfied about – but it did build the largest Empire that the world has ever seen.
It won’t be so easy this time. The only way that we can build an empire of culture is by making alliances. Alliances with the Americas, both north and south. Alliances with Africa and Asia. Above all, a strong alliance with Europe – because if we don’t want to be close and friendly with others, why should be expect them to treat us favourably or help us in our endeavours? Many of the things that we are trying to achieve are expensive, big ticket, projects that could easily sink the economy of this country; but because we have close alliances with others, others are happy to help fund our research. This isn’t necessarily official EU funding either – often it is funding from individual countries and businesses who want to deal with us because we are within the EU.
I am quite aware that we probably can’t reach our former preeminence in the world, because conflicting interests will conspire to stymie our best intentions. But if we withdraw into ourselves, and break the strongest alliances that we have, our last vestiges of credibility as a world superpower will die, leaving Britain and her Empire as relevant as the Phoenicians.