Monday 6 September 2021

Gavin Esler How Britain Ends & Samir Puri Legacies of Empire, Edinburgh book festival 2021

Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler discussed his new book, How Britain Ends, at the Edinburgh international book festival 2021. Esler tells us he is Ulster Protestant and European. What is the future for the United Kingdom as a political entity? And how has the end of the British Empire influenced its trajectory in recent years?  

‘It’s the endgame for Britishness… Brexit is drowning the Union,’ says Esler, ‘While the United Kingdom can survive Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalisms, it cannot survive English nationalism.’ For Esler, the answer lies in a federal system of national and regional government. (However many now question that Federalism is not realistic and will not be supported by England)

He discussed where does power lie? The Teutonic plates of the UK are moving in different directions and with different politics. There is confusion over identity and the great imperial hangover.


Samir Puri

Samir Puri, is a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. He also discussed the lasting legacies of empire in his book ‘The Great Imperial Hangover’ in which he writes, “India is called a British colony, Scotland is not called an English colony.” 


Its important how history is taught, and to learn other nations views and to review history. The younger generations are more questioning, whereas the older generation are nostalgic for Britishness – unaware of the collapse of empire and the migration from Commonwealth. There are imperial legacies and the physical remnants of empire. The former British empire is now in disguise, hardened and cobbled together and so much is Victorian.


The Union is about Protestantism, empire and war; coloniser or colonized, and cultural imperialism. The Empire lasted from the Tudors 1590s to 1997 and the hand over of Hong Kong to China.


Esler commented that since Brexit, Global Britain has less influence in Europe and less influence worldwide – Brexit was about nostalgic pessimism, and that things were always better in the past. We should move forward rather than looking back. Cecil Rhodes wrote, “ Ask any man what they’d rather be, he’d rather be an Englishman.” Well maybe not a Scotsmen or an Irishmen!


Where is the strategic vision? What does nationalism mean in an inter-connected world? Option – reinvent Britain/ federalism/ or a more extreme form of independence. Indy 2014 was mild – same currency, same head of state, same defence. All empires come to grief, in the end.


The English question and the resentment of the dominance of Westminster or with more power of the local. Independence for Scotland will have a bigger impact on England -  with loss of 32% of land mass/ where to store nuclear weapons/ and questions over EU border/ 


We need people to people contacts and many never travel and there is so much stereotyping. After World War one, 12% of Germany was lost. The UK lost 22% of its land with Ireland, and 1921 was really brutal. To muddle through is not realistic. Global Britain should look more to Europe: plus our voting system is unfair. 

We have lost an Empire but not found a role, and what has been fixed by Brexit? We must have a relationship of trust with our nearest neighbours. Why is our country not more united? Does Esler speak to doubting No voters? 




The trouble is the Tories don’t believe in devolution, the contrary, they believe in more centralization by the Palace of Westminster. I’m not sure where this path will lead us all, but it doesn’t seem a healthy or productive direction, when the opposite is the direction of travel across the world, where smaller nations and more local control is the direction. So I’m not sure what the Tories are trying to prove, when their destructive Brexit, their mishandling of the Covid pandemic with the highest death toll of 150K and now their bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan – has all shown the world their lazy, ignorant and incompetent form of 'partial' democracy.