I REFER to the Ellliot Bulmer piece, “Decolonising Scotland” in the Seven Days supplement (November 15).

In it, he wrote that the wider message of John Major’s recent speech was that the days of British first-ranking power were over, the Empire was gone, and that the road to recovery lay in honest acceptance of what Britain had become. It was time to stop the pretence, and to drop the delusional over-estimation of British worth.

Major’s speech was a sign of the great dawning; a realisation of the need to adjust and adapt to changed circumstance. This was all good. But, frankly, adjustment and adaptability are made all the more difficult for the UK, and for France too, by the continuing permanence of their seats on the UN Security Council – a throwback from the “glory days” of 75 years ago.

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Adjustment and adaptation are behavioural processes undergone by all states – large and small – from time to time. They have to take stock of their external environment – maybe the strategic one, maybe the economic one – and the shifting conditions of the environment, and their relationship to it, and then adjust and adapt to it.

This can be caused by some sudden national traumatic event – revolution, war, civil war, invasion, or crushing national defeat. Or, the behavioural changes can be brought about over a very long period of time, and only when political, military, and civil society elites recognise the extent of diminished status, say. Even then, aftershocks from “glory days” can continue to be felt (like finding the resources to renew nuclear weapons systems and building two aircraft carriers for the projection of power, rather than placing resources into defending home islands).

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In Sweden’s case, it took something like a century for a “dawning” among elites, and an adjustment and adaptation to new conditions. In 1709, crushing defeat in the Ukraine led to the loss of a Baltic empire, and in 1809 – Sweden’s “year zero” – military defeat, a coup, and Russian troops on its own soil brought about the loss of Finland, which had been “Swedish” for 600 years. From then on Sweden adjusted and adapted to its own small state status and role, though not before trying to bring Norway into its realm.

Then there was Denmark and its adjustment and adaptation after the “Schleswig-Holstein Question” had been answered by Prussia. The loss of that territory presented Denmark with its own “year zero”, shocking the country out of participation in conflict beyond its own borders from 1864 until the 1999 Balkan crisis.

And there was the Netherlands and the national trauma of the Second World War, and the loss of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), each of which enabled the Dutch to embed themselves into the post-war European project.

Perhaps it is the expectations of the rest of the world that make it hard for the UK and France to adjust and adapt. As two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, neither had been able to fully adjust and adapt to a role in the world more suited to their post-war circumstances. But how will giving the seats to India, say, or the EU, ever be brought about?

Also, aren’t we all a bit complicit in the “retreat into nostalgia” referred to by Elliot Bulmer, even in Scotland? It isn’t just about Spifires. Don’t we just love to drive off to the nearest headland to watch one or other of the new aircraft carriers pass by? A bit like rushing off down to the end of the road to watch “our” steam locomotive pass by.

Breathing its last, it is probably too late for the UK to adjust and adapt to changed circumstances, and its demise – hopefully a peaceful one – will make a fascinating spectacle for the rest of the world to watch. But England is not breathing its last. It is starting to find its voice. Like Scotland, England has an exciting future ahead of it as it makes its own way in the world – perhaps eventually back in the EU alongside us – and ways have to be found to persuade it towards that future.

Graeme D Eddie