Will Self: PsychoGeography

The state of the union
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The Independent Online

Now that it looks likely that the Act of Union will be dissolved, and after 300 years, fair Albion will be divorced by her long-abused partner, dour, post-traumatic-disordered Caledonia, it's time we started looking for new countries we'd like our own nations to get married to.

I asked the psychologist Oliver James, an old friend of mine, and the author of Britain on the Couch, what he thought the likely impact the divorce will be on our respective national psyches. His remarks - which I reproduce below - were unequivocal:

"Contrary to her expectations, unhappy Caledonia will not, necessarily, find herself liberated by ending this relationship. Many countries leave abusive unions, only to find that they can't sustain intimacy with a new partner - even if only for the purposes of trade. They tend to imagine themselves as living the life of a gay divorcee, strutting about on the international stage, conducting exciting diplomatic affairs with other single countries. The reality is very different."


"Well, think of Slovakia and the Czech Republic; together they made a great team, but now they're just the political equivalent of sad old single men, sitting in their string vests, brewing up tea in some mittel-European bedsit."

"That's harsh."

"I am harsh."

"But hang on a minute, you said 'gay' divorcee, you don't mean to say...?"

"That Scotland is, in modern parlance, homosexual? Yes, that's exactly what I meant to say. Indeed, part of Scotland's great tragedy is that it has this overbearing, masculine image of itself as a country, while in reality it's very much been the femme to butch England."

"And England?"

"Ah, perfidious Albion, a flirty-dirty kind of a country if ever there was one. You only have to consider the way that England lured France on."

"But presumably you're referring to the revelation that in September 1956 the Anglophile French Premier, Guy Mollet, proposed to the then British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, that the two countries should, um, merge - if that doesn't sound too kinky?"

"That's right."

"On that basis, I fail to see how you can accuse England of 'luring' France on."

"You obviously haven't looked at a map recently. Consider this: Britain is often depicted as an anthropoid landmass, with Cornwall as its leg, East Anglia as its rump, and so on. It follows that ever since the collapse of the land bridge linking us to the continent, England has been, er, exposing herself to bashful France. Poor France, compelled for aeons to stare at the enlarged pudendum of the Isle of White!"

"You're being absurd! If you follow this mad, cartographic logic, then Scotland is Britain's head, and Wales its arms and embonpoint. It follows that there could be no seduction of France without these nations' compliance."

"I don't know about that, some countries find headless nations enormously attractive; surely that's why we class colonialism as a perversion. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, although I am glad you brought up the issue of Wales - and Ireland for that matter."

"I didn't mention Ireland."

"No matter, I did. The best definition of Ireland is, in fact, a definition of Russia: 'Imagine the Irish with an empire.'"

"Do you think that's funny?"

"It's not not funny. Look, the point is this: once Scotland and England are divorced, Wales and Ireland will be in a very tricky situation, their loyalties divided, forced to spend one weekend with one divorced parent, the next at the other's. This sort of thing can deeply traumatise a small nation."

"You don't mean to suggest that Wales and Ireland are in some sense children of Scotland and England? Surely, this conception of Britain is deeply offensive to all concerned?"

"I'm glad you mentioned conception, because the Isle of Man is a still-viable, embryonic nation, created by Scotland and England without the authority of the United Nations Fertilisation Authority, and that proves that the Act of Union was always more in the nature of a civil partnership, than a marriage in the Biblical sense."

"You're in cloud-cuckoo-land ..."

"An interesting nation, but besides the point."

"Which is?"

"Look, I'm going out on an isthmus here, but I'm not absolutely certain that Scotland ever really was gay."

"Aha! Decided you'd like to live out your days in peace, did you?"

"Nor do I wish to voice that old canard a bout predatory homosexual countries, but you have to concede that England did spend an awful lot of time in the Roman, ah, empire. Freud viewed international relations as only really successful when what he termed 'full genitality' was achieved. By which he meant the deep penetration of one nation by another's, um, territory."

"What're you driving at here?"

"That it may be time for Scotland to try a union with a more masculine country."

"Such as?"

"Germany springs to mind."

Oliver James's latest book 'Affluenza' is published by Vermillion