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Are Remainers destined to become the new Jacobites?

Remainers on the march after the EU referendum - Credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Is the Remain cause destined to share the same fate as the Jacobite one… romantic but doomed, and destined for the dustbin of history? Writer JAMES HAWES explores the parallels and decides probably not.. at least not yet.

Consider a time when a great part of us Britons has been led by vain and tactically catastrophic leadership into epochal defeat. When they find themselves facing a new regime, grounded in the south of England, which has brilliantly contrived, in a long and far-sighted campaign involving much ‘fake news’, to present their elite coup as the enactment of a manifest national destiny and the “will of the people”…

By what means can the losers resist, now their rivals manipulate all the levers of the state, and open the public purse to their friends without the slightest oversight? How should the beaten act, when the victors do not hesitate to whip up the mob at any attempt, in parliament or outside, to moderate their course, employing legions of scribblers to present their opponents as no ordinary political opponents but as mere traitors, determined to hand the country over to foreign ways and even, to foreign rule?

At a time like this, must the defeated party not, in the higher cause of domestic peace, throw in the towel, roll over and get on with it – or risk entering the dustbin of history as at best romantic but wrong, at worst criminally incapable of looking reality in the face?

I refer, of course, to the situation of the Jacobites, those Britons who resisted the so-called “Glorious Revolution” and its aftershocks.

There was nothing glorious about it. By 1688, it was clear that despite the Civil War having killed more Britons, proportionately, than the Germans would in the First World War, we were in national death-lock.

So the rebel elite invited the Dutch, backed by the Pope, to invade us. This extraordinary stratagem was so brilliantly spun, by the people who’d cut their media teeth with the entirely fictional Popish Plot of 1679, that to this day, most English people are surprised to learn that London was placed under military occupation until the aim of the Dutch stadhouder, William of Orange, was assured: to take the throne of England and thus guarantee that its wealth and power would be onside in his life-and-death struggle with Louis XIV.

With William on the throne, the victorious Whig oligarchs were able to assume total power. Shortly thereafter, they nailed down their epochal break with tradition and legitimacy by insisting that England’s next king would be a German who could barely speak a word of English and had no inherited connection whatever with its inhabitants.

He would thus obviously favour the gang who had set him on the throne rather than the various peoples over whom he theoretically ruled. With this client-king in place, the Whig oligarchs, supposed defenders of our parliamentary traditions, road roughshod over them. All opposition was crushed by the systematic application of cultural warfare – the ceaseless and utterly mendacious claim that their revolution had been, and was, aimed only at protecting the special freedoms and religion of England, and that anybody who opposed it was therefore a traitor.

Truly, for we who live under King Boris (“I’m ‘Enery the Eighth and his Powers I am”) Johnson, history seems in lockdown. Yet there is a way out.

We modern Jacobites must challenge the victors tirelessly at the foundational myth of Whig history: that our story is one of Progress in a preordained direction (in this case, towards Empire 2.0).

This predestination is as a fundamental to Brexiteers as it is to Marxists – it is astonishing how few people realise the cryingly obvious fact that the philosophy of Marx and Engels, born in England in the very heyday of Lord Macauley, is merely a triple-distilled version of High Victorian liberalism: the fact of the worldwide British empire gave rise to the fantasies of the worldwide socialist revolution.

The idea runs thus: there is a manifest destiny, a Platonic scheme behind quotidian appearances; most of us, particularly the book-learned, are too blinded by the surfaces of things to see it; but the Will of the People, uncorrupted by superficial learning and foreign dogmas, divines things aright.

Thus, when the Will of the People speaks, it gives voice not to any mere current opinion or contemporary prejudice, but to the great teleology of England’s Progress. “This we might call the ‘Magna Carta tradition’: the idea that when fundamental choices have to be made the people decide, and the rulers obey”, cries Robert Tombs, who has now found his profitably narrow ecological niche as the Brexiteers’ favourite historian, having by no coincidence at all recently converted to Whig history.

The handing of all power to Johnson can thus be resisted only by those who, benighted if not positively malevolent, refuse to acknowledge that the Will of the People, so much wiser than any mere expert, has espied the proper course of our affairs.

So the gleeful victors argue. And so must we, undaunted though defeated, make no mistake about our counter-argument.

I worry that even now, very few people actually understand how referendums work. Holding a referendums is, as the French Revolutionaries and both Napoleons knew, the ideal means to make a particular goal of yours into the burning issue of the day, even though the question may figure nowhere in the concerns of the populace.

Once you announce your referendum you have already half-won it, because the question you (and perhaps only you) want to ask is now a two-horse race: should Napoleon be emperor, yes, or no?! The classic example is the death penalty. Only a very few individuals are troubled by the absence of hangings, yet everybody knows that if somehow, a pressure group of zealots managed to bounce some desperate government into holding a binary referendum on the subject, it would probably be won: forget everything else for a moment, should we hang murderers, yes or no?!

Which is why no one has ever been stupid enough to hold such a vote – unlike David Cameron, who, curiously mixing blue funk with a deluded sense of his own electioneering genius, folded before the hectoring of Farage, Hannan and Co., witlessly giving his deadly rival, Boris Johnson, the cause he needed to stab his fellow Etonian and Bullingdonian in the back.

Lest we forget, the YouGov surveys of 2012 and even early 2013 (by which time the referendum was a clear and present possibility), show that, as the Financial Times put it in March 2013, voters themselves were so little obsessed by Europe that “it never makes the top 10 of their daily concerns”.

So let us walk the killing-ground again and see exactly why we lost: not to “the will of the people”, but to a cleverer, more determined New Model Army, the Continuity Army of Hayekian Late Thatcherism. Douglas Hurd, for one, saw way back in 1990 that they were like “some demented Marxist sect”. Even when the stout John Major seemed to have seen the bastards (his word) off, they were prepared to play the long game. So must we be.

So let’s not give in to Whig history. Let’s ask ourselves: why, really, did the northern and western English, the Welsh, the Irish and (except for one short but decisive period, when they foolishly believed that they held an unbeatable hand) the Scots all fight for King Charles? Because they were backward, feudal, forelock-tugging peasants unable to see which way Progress was going? Seriously? Or were they not, rather, peoples of these islands united by very little apart from the desire to resist the absolute dominion of the south-east of England? People who preferred the idea of a true confederation under the aegis of a sovereign who (as the Scots made clear when they – alas, too late! – saw the light and adopted King Charles II in 1650) would respect not just the ties which bind us, but the cultures which make us different? And might they not, had James Edward Stuart landed in time, or perhaps chosen Ireland as his base instead, have won in 1715?

Well, our opponents at present possess the field. For them, the war is clearly not yet over; nor must it be for us.

There may be hope, even at this last moment, to save the UK as a truly voluntary union of truly free peoples. As Bonnie Prince Charlie’s right-hand man, Lord George Murray, said: “I am as much against popery and arbitrary government as any person on the island… I am satisfied that there is much greater need of a Revolution now to secure our liberties and save Britain from utter destruction.” Mounts, then, and saddles! Heave out that old Jacobite salver from the sideboard, dust it off and fill it once again, that we may clink our glasses above it as the secret sign that we are drinking – neither romantically nor wrongly, but in the certain knowledge that the future is as yet unmade – to absent friends across the water.


Jacobites – those who campaigned to put the Stuart dynasty back on the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland – took their name from the Latin form, Jacobus, of the name of King James (II, of England and Ireland, and VII, of Scotland) who had been deposed in 1688.

After his overthrow, the family and some of its followers went into exile in Europe where they tried, at various times, to enlist the help of France and Spain to win back the throne as part of the wider European dynastic power struggles of the period.

Alongside their diplomatic struggles, the Stuarts also found it difficult to co-ordinate support in their former territories. Jacobitism was strongest in Scotland, and Ireland, as well as parts of northern England and Wales. Aside from support for the Stuart dynasty and dislike for the ruling regime, Jacobitism was a complex, sometimes contradictory, mix of other causes and interests, and was extremely difficult to organise clandestinely.

There were several unsuccessful Jacobite plots as well as failed risings in 1715, 1719 and – finally – 1745 which ended in the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie – grandson of King James – at Culloden in April 1746.

It then faded as a political threat to the British regime, but in many areas a nostalgic, sentimental attachment to the movement remained and even grew.

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