independence – self-determination – autonomy

Are We Better Than This? The Tragic Killing of Jo Cox

This is an attack on all of us. The murder of Labour MP Jo Cox is an assault on parliamentary democracy but disgracefully not as much a shock as it should be. Part of British politics have sunk that low.

This is an age of anti-party politics – of anger at the political classes and of populist indignation and cynicism. Across Europe, there has been the rise of racist, xenophobic and anti-immigration parties, and even the re-emergence of neo-Nazis as electoral forces in Greece and Hungary. And that’s without mentioning the hideous phenomenon of Donald Trump in the US.

The centre-left and political establishments across the developed world have not known how to respond, and whether to appease or engage with their voters – or to take them head on.

Britain’s European referendum, called by David Cameron, was meant to lance the boil of the Euro issue in the Tory Party, and the threat from UKIP. It has worked in complete reverse, and little more than a year after the unexpected 2015 Tory election victory has galvinised Cameron’s critics, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tory opinion, and helped consolidate a hard right populist politics.

Before the tragic murder of Jo Cox, this referendum had already had several new lows – taking it into Powellite territory and language. On the morning of the attack on Cox, Farage unveiled a poster with the words ‘BREAKING POINT’ and a photograph of a long human convoy waiting to get into the European Union. The message was clear. This was the price of UK EU membership – a tidal wave of human misery building up with the sole intent of getting into the UK.

The day before the Farage flotilla sailed up the Thames to be met by the forces of Captain Bob Geldof commanding the opposing forces of the Remain flotilla. There was some good joshing and Geldof calling Farage ‘a fraud’. Yet, it got heated and ugly. One fishing man called out: ‘Hitler did it with gas! Merkel does it with paperwork!’ Others shouted ‘traitor’ at those opposing UK withdrawal from the EU.

Ck1WzCVXEAIeIkaTwo days previous Leave.EU’s grotesque poster played on last weekend’s Orlando massacre and homophobic hate crime with the slogan ‘Islamic Extremism is a Real Threat to Our Way of Life’ followed by ‘Act Now Before We See an Orlando-Style Atrocity Here Before Too Long.’ Although not of their doing, this was a huge embarrassment to the officially designated Vote Leave campaign.

Leave.EU have been running a squalid gutter campaign – the like of which has not been seen in mainstream British politics since the infamous ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’ by-line in Smethwick 1964. Last week Leave.EU issued an offensive cartoon of an EU ship heading over a waterfall to disaster (see below). On first examination, it didn’t look too bad, but closer scrutiny revealed its deep racism. In the middle of the ship were two bearded figures, one with a scimitar and the other a bag of money, the former forcing a blond Aryan man to walk the plank. This draws on anti-Semitic imagery, but here these figures are portrayed as Muslims. And just for good effect a cannon called ‘Diversity’ shot a hole in its own deck, with a shark swimming in the sea labelled ‘Political Correctness’. This is how far British politics have fallen.

The backstory to this is the rising tide of anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, right-wing, populist, xenophobia sentiment. The emergence of UKIP as a serious electoral force, winning the national vote in the 2014 Euro elections, and almost four million votes in the 2015 UK election (but due to FPTP only one seat), has reshaped British politics and seen the mainstream Westminster parties react in confusion.

Ckwk-BvWsAEAzES.jpg-largeThe Remain camp in the EU referendum haven’t run a good or decent campaign, or one inspired by enlightened values. Instead, it has been about bogus economic figures and threats, how Brexit will destroy the great British property boom, and hence almost, the British way of life, and if we are not careful, civilisation itself (that later point was Jonathan Sacks’ ridiculous point).

The Leave camp have plummeted depths unseen for decades, and yet, after the tragic death of Jo Cox, still have numerous apologists. For example right-wing blunderbuss Rod Liddle still argued that there was an equanimity between the Remain and Leave campaigns of awfulness and vileness, writing: ‘The claims on either side of the Brexit debate are hyperbolic, exaggerated, idiotic.’

Jo Cox’s death at the hands of Thomas Mair has a wider context, beyond the actions of a lone, perhaps mentally unstable, killer. First reported as saying, when he attacked Cox either ‘Britain First’ or ‘put Britain first’ it now emerges that Mair had far-right and neo-Nazi connections, and was a supporter of the neo-Nazi National Alliance.

A comparison between the EU referendum and Scotland’s experience of the indyref is a salutary one. While many, mostly on the pro-union side, complained about intolerance and over-zealousness by some independence supporters, our democratic explosion can now be seen as an almost Socratic exercise in public debate and deliberation compared to the Euro referendum.

That is worth emphasising to those who tried to dish the ‘Big Bang’ of hope and imagination which ran like an elemental force through Scottish society. The worst physical violence against a senior public figure was the egg thrown at Jim Murphy. Yet in places, there were elements of uncontrollable rage and fury which benefitted no-one including some more blinkered independence supporters calling pro-union figures ‘quislings’ and ‘traitors’. And from extreme pro-union opinion, there were an array of ‘Nazi’ and Hitler references towards Scottish Nationalist supporters, often focused on, but not exclusively on what various SNP leaders did and didn’t do in the Second World War. None of this helps their respective causes.

Political passion, energy and enthusiasm are wonderful things. Fanaticism and blinkeredness are complete and utter negatives. One galvinises and enhances democratic debate; the other, disfigures and diminishes public life. As Brendan Cox, Jo’s husband, so eloquently said immediately after her murder ‘Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’

The referendum has become to all intents and purposes a cultural war – with a corrosive, pent-up, uncontrollable set of emotions, anger and hatred given permission by the Leave side. Is this really what Britain amounts to? Where now is the idea of the UK as a tolerant, welcoming place? We all know this was in many respects a myth, but is the conduct of the referendum campaign really who some of us are?

One tragic killing cannot define a country, but it can encapsulate a campaign and an issue. Both Remain and Leave have run Eurosceptic campaigns – the first, soft, the second, ugly and unapologetic. But we have to take on and challenge the politics unleashed by the Leave argument, and say ‘Not in My Name’ to their despicable, ugly populism. We are better than this. If that is so the haters have to be called out and defeated, otherwise the future might well be theirs.

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20 Comments

  • David Sangster 6 months ago

    As I said re the other worthless, hysterical article appearing today, the poster and Jo Cox's death are in no way linked and should not be made to appear so. You have no shame and no integrity, Hassan.

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    • MBC 6 months ago

      For goodness sake of course they are linked. They are linked by theme. By narrative. Nobody is suggesting that UKIP was instrumentally behind Mair's actions but their rhetoric and that of the far right focussing on the fear of immigration are what helped unhinge him and inspired him to carry out his attack. The police found far right literature in his house and also articles on Cox who was outspoken on the Syrian refugees.

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  • Douglas 6 months ago

    Gerry, this was not an attack on "all of us", which is the kind of bullshit line you would expect from a Tory like Osborne.

    This was an attack on Jo Cox and the values she stood for, which were humanitarian, inclusive, loving and caring to all peoples of all creeds and colours, during a referendum campaign in which the values Jo Cox fought for have been noticeable by their absence.

    To say it is an attack "on all of us" would include Nigel Farage, Gerry, who deals in the very hatred which Jo Cox's husband so eloquently denounced.

    RIP Jo Cox. Absolute tragedy...

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  • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

    You really don't get it do you Hassan. Try reading Umberto Eco on the subject in the New York Times a few years ago. Nationalism as the primary motive/ answer, is nationalism is nationalism - it chooses how it manifests itself not because of those values (violent or ostensibly non violent) but for it's other ends of separation and difference and quasi religious belief in singular utopian solutions. Scottish nationalism is no exception. It seeks to solve/ deflect problems and seeks power through difference and the other regardless of the means. There was a reason why Kant wrote of Cosmopolitanism as 'perpetual peace' - despite being ambivalent about nationalism himself.

    Trying to distinguish between any form of nationalism is contemptible and simply proves the point that their is no distinction systemically and in function.

    Choice 1) You isolate yourself from those you have deemed to blame for your ills, you focus on minor difference and magnify it culturally, politically and socially. You add the promise of wider more complex ills being solved by this simple solution - of believing in oneself and one's people over and above all else.

    Choice 2) You reject isolation and seek, despite difficulties to engage with others outwith your immediate frame of reference. You seek commonality, unity and inclusiveness, of toleration to difference (see Locke, Mill, Hume...etc) and you engage with the difficulty of complexity and keep on, keeping on regardless. You do not see yourself or your people as different (i.e. Superior) 0r apart above all else. You believe in common human, animal, and ecological interconnection.

    As for the violence question - One of the conditions Steve Pinker identified in the decline of violence (statistically based on interstate conflict and civil conflict) was the rise of cosmopolitan view of the world and the decline in ALL forms of nationalism as poltical solutions.

    Tragically he may have jumped the gun.

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    • Me Bungo Pony 6 months ago

      So all "nationalism" is the same. By the same reasoning, does that mean ALL "socialism" is the same? Whether it is the socialism of Stalin's Russia or that of Scandinavia? Is ALL "conservatism" the same? Whether it is Franco's Spain or wee Ruthie? EVERY political stance has its own sliding scale of extremism. Scotland's "socialism", "conservatism" and "nationalism" are ALL on the very moderate end of their scales. British "nationalism", however, is much further along the road to extremism. The Leave campaigns in the EU referendum have all but declared xenophobia a patriotic duty. Scottish nationalism on the other hand is civic, inclusive and outward looking.

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      • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

        Systemically, ALL nationalism, or ALL politics 'fundamentally' and 'primarily' based on identity is the same if not qualitatively. Politics often invokes identity precisely because of it potency, but that doesn't make it ok. This is not to deny identity, it is to deny the artifice of politics based on identity (there is a difference). The problem is with nationalism (any nationalism) in a liberal framework, is that is misses the fucking point. That being the very reason we have 'politics' is precisely because we are different, and because we need a forum to solve the problems that arise from those differences. Hence the need for over lapping sovereignty.

        The argument of the nationalist goes, those others over there don't give a shit about me and mine so lets bugger off. But you can't simply bugger off as most problems, especially in the modern globalised world are interconnected. This doesn't mean that ALL problems should be made away from thee local, more that it is better to maintain areas where SOME shared decision making is vital and necessary. hence the beauty of devolution and the EU and the UN (despite their clear failings)

        And part from that the nationalist argument is a reductive one. It states that association must be primarily based on location, not need or poverty or equality. It claims that a rich guy from Aberdeen is the same as a poor guy from Drumchapel. The me and mine can also be extended to all manner of sub groups, hence sectarianism and racism. The Black guy in Manchester who lives next door to the Pakistani, or the White guy in Dundee who lives next door to the Polish guy. The point is their is a shared forum, and there are overlapping interests. Or the socialist Glaswegian from Pollock claiming their is some innate similarity/ primal bond with the fisherman from Buckie or Shetland. It is nonsense.

        And this is the essence of Liberal Democracy, this is it's point and why nationalism is so threatening to it - it's not simply about how my kind vote - it is about how they vote - but to accommodate the differences in the wider shared space with recourse to violence or conflict and to forge alliances and recognise, adopt shared interests beyond our immediate frame of reference.

        It is the harder path, but it is the ethically correct one. Nationalism (all nationalism) takes the opposite view.

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        • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

          *without recourse to violence...

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        • Me Bungo Pony 6 months ago

          Of course, your whole "essay" falls down on the "politics of identity" thing. The Scottish independence campaign is not based on identity. It is civic in nature and desires greater immigration. That is, it is ultimately cosmopolitan. The very thing you say we need to combat racism etc, and the exact opposite of British (dare I say unionist) "nationalism".

          Try as you might to lump all independence movements into one homogenous, racist whole, it is a view that does not stand the most fleeting of scrutinies. I do not believe for one second that Ghandi or the Dalai Lama are evil racists for campaigning for independence for their respective countries. However, according to your "lecture", you appear to believe they are.

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          • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

            1) I'm not comparing all independence movements, I'm comparing all Nationalisms. I fully accept anti imperialist/ pro democratic movements (where there is no democracy). Are you seriously comparing the injustice of India and Independence/ British colonial India with contemporary Scotland? Seriously? And Ghandi was not a nationalist at all - or wasn't after he rejected it, he was reluctantly anti imperialist and a first a democrat in the sense of individual freedom and personal sovereignty not the 'imagined' collective as Scottish nationalism (there is a significant difference that is more than semantic) - he objected fiercely against the partition of India and sought a quasi religious moral order that transcended the 'civic' or 'independence' and that ultimately was shared with the world and all people with overlapping sovereignty (including Britain) - i.e. the state in order to remove the state (not the simply the state or nation alone as an end as with Scottish nationalism - unless I've missed something?) Scottish nationalism is more a kin to Hindu nationalism or Pakistani nationalism in that is seeks majoritarian rule and ours alone, not democracy and justice and universals - 'Scotland doesn't vote like England, we are different' etc etc, and only pays lip service to plurality - British nationalism does the same.
            2) As for Tibet, the Dali Lama doesn't actually seek independence, never has, instead what is sought is freedom either within greater borders (Tibet has been part of greater China for thousands of years on and off and always had some from of tribute system - what in fact Tibetans want is autonomy and democracy in an overlapping shared system with both China and India, more akin to the devolution Scotland has, or the EU.
            3) There is no such thing as 'civic' nationalism. There are no serious academic commentators who maintain Hans Kohn's 'civic/ ethnic' or 'east/ west' conceit precisely because it is a conceit. Most accept that all nationalism is a spectrum and a dangerously fluid one at that. e.g) Serbian nationalism pre ww1 began as a response to 'civic exclusion' from the declining Ottoman Empire (The Ottomans were actually very inclusive for most of their history and included all ethnicities in the highierarchy of the empire - like Rome and many Serbs were fine with it as many were with Pax Roma.) When the Empire went into retreat, the Serbs switched to full on Ethnic nationalism, to facilitate the 'civic goals' but this included Bosnians, Croats, Kosovars etc. Where as 'western' so called 'civic' nationalism is no different in that it is fundamentally predicated on ethnicity and ethnic hierarchy of the people/ collective over and above individual freedom. e.g.) 1) The French Revolution and Jocobin 'civic' nationalism wasn't so inclusive when it came to the Vandee and the lower Loire inhabitants and other non Parisian 'ethnicities' that were non revolutionaries (see the masacres in the Vandee, the modernist pre cursor to all genocides of the twentieth century. Or 2) USA - Hans Kohn's idealised quintessential 'civic' nationalist state upon which he based his 2 state zionism on. Except the minor problem is that US's 'civic' nationalism didn't include native Americans nor black people and is and was always an anglo saxon/ north European construct, just as hans Kohn's Isreali civic state was Jewish/ Palestinian and not both. Nor was the 'civic nationalist' projection of secular USA western democratic values entirely non ethnic - see Vietnam, Central America and Iraq. 3) Ditto Canada and the first nations that Ignatieff tends to ignore. 4) China similarly claims it's nationalism is 'civic'. It has 52 different recognised nations within the civilisation. Problem is it also excludes some and the Han and Manchu pretty much dominate.

            The point being that no nationalism is free of an ethnic/ cultural component. To maintain so is simply historical ignorance and bizarre exceptionalism. Scottish nationalism is no different. It requires immigration for economic reasons, not ethical reasons based on 'civic' values and it is ethnically selective in who it prefers. The obvious answer to Scotland's declining population is continued union with the UK, and English immigration north, but at every turn the English are othered in favour of 'others' from further afield. See the posts on Bella for evidence, and the rhetoric of the SNP when they talk about immigration, it is simply assumed it is from elsewhere other than say Kent or also Ireland incidently. Scottish nationalism is no different to any other nationalism, just different in context.

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          • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

            And the irony of ironies is that, Scottish toleration of immigration is utterly contingent on the fact that there has been relatively little immigration. And any significant immigration has been met with hostility, without the same extent of counter liberal objection that has been part of the narrative south of the border. See the way the Irish were treated and the history of sectarianism in Scotland compared to England - there are just as many of Irish decent in Leeds and Liverpool and Manchester so maybe get off the exceptionalist high horse? Ditto the English in Scotland compared to Scots in England now and before or the Jewish population which is almost now non existent in Scotland, where as it is growing exponentially in England due to rising anti semetism on mainland Europe- Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester also have long long histories of Ukrainian, Polish, Italian, German and Jewish immigration that remains as strong today.

            To assume Scottish/ Scottish nat, superiority based upon this contingent 'moral luck' is ironically in itself an ethnic conceit and is in itself racist towards those the contingency must measure itself against to have any agency - namely the English working class. Them racists, we non racists. The English working class who ironically, despite their demonisation have integrated more immigrants into their homes and marriages and communities than arguably any other group in Europe.

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          • Me Bungo Pony 6 months ago

            Yeah, yeah Fred ..... Scottish independence BAD .... Indian independence GOOD. Whatever.

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  • Rachel 6 months ago

    Wanting independence is not the same as nationalism.

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    • Broadbield 6 months ago

      Just so, Rachel. Farmer Fred's piece is intellectual twaddle with not a single idea of his own. The false dichotomy is always a good way of circumscribing the debate. I reject both his "choices" as in any way representative of Scottish Nationalism's core aim of independence.

      As for Pinker, I'm sure his conclusion is going down well in Syria. Two reasons for the apparent decrease are the huge increase in population and professional armies.

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      • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

        Agreed, these aren't my own ideas, they are the ideas of people way smarter and way more insightful than me. Socrates, Aristotle, Diogenes, the (Greek) Stoics, Seneca and the non imperial stoics of Rome, Augustine and the Holy Roman Empire - although it was confined to religion/ adherence of Christianity - Erasmus of Rotterdam who drew on early Greek cosmopolitanism as the only practical basis for world peace and human tolerance, Aquinas, Montaigne, Diderot, Voltaire, Locke, Bentham, Mill, Hume, Smith, Kant, Einstein, Singer, Unger, Habermas, Rawls, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mandela, Deng Xiao Peng, Gorbechev

        All insisted that in no case is consideration of political engagement to be limited to one's own polis or to that of a select minority. The fundamental motivating idea is, after all, to help human beings as such, and sometimes the best way to do that is to serve as a teacher or as a political advisor in some foreign place.

        No man is an island,
        Entire of itself.
        Each is a piece of the continent,
        A part of the main.
        If a clod be washed away by the sea,
        Europe is the less.
        As well as if a promontory were.
        As well as if a manor of thine own
        Or of thine friend's were.
        Each man's death diminishes me,
        For I am involved in mankind.
        Therefore, send not to know
        For whom the bell tolls,
        It tolls for thee.

        Donne 1624.

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      • Farmer fred. 6 months ago

        Pinker addresses Iraq and Syria. He doesn't at any time claim the trend is absolute or that it will continue, but relies entirely on the empirical data (unlike John Gray who invokes immutable human nature) and links that data to certain trends (he makes no assumption that humans are any less violent, just that they are also social and can be non violent in an enlightened self interested way and that certain political constructs i.e. the rejection of nationalism and the recognition of universal rights combined with greater awareness of the other through technology has facilitated the decline in violence. A guy in Japan is not the alien he/ she was 100/ 200 years ago etc.

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  • florian albert 6 months ago

    Gerry Hassan has - in the past - written about the lack of serious thinking and the culture of denunciation in the Scottish left. Sadly, this article is an example of both.

    Gerry Hassan has fitted the death of Jo Cox into a narrative alongside Nigel Farage's campaigning.
    It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is the narrative he would like to believe in.
    An alternative narrative, MP killed by mentally disturbed man, is available.

    A couple of years back, he fitted the campaign for independence in Scotland into a narrative alongside the Arab Spring; creating the 'Scottish Spring.' Looking back, it was what he wanted to believe rather than something for which there was real evidence.

    There is an(other) excellent article, by John Harris, in the Guardian today. In it he writes, 'England and Wales are in the midst of a working class revolt' and that the 'foundation of the Brexit campaign is what used to be called the proletariat.'

    This is real journalism but, in Scotland, such journalism is in short supply; indignation and denunciation rule.

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    • Me Bungo Pony 6 months ago

      I suggest this is what you want to believe more than anything else.

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    • MBC 6 months ago

      Florian, Mair is another Breivik. This was a targeted assassination by a man who believes as John Harris does that there is now a total disconnect between the Labour Party and the white British working class who believe that Labour has abandonned them and worse, sold them down the river. That immigration is an elite Labour pet project not shared by the white working class like Gillian Duffy. That was why Cox was singled out. This was not a random killing by a nutter but a targeted assassination by a possible nutter. Just as Breivik was a possible nutter. All his neighbours said that Mair wasn't a nutter, just a quiet guy. All who knew Breivik said the same, a nice, quiet, polite, guy. Not a nutter.

      On Tuesday Jo Cox gave an interview to a Guardian journalist in which she admitted that most of her constituents were abandonning Labour for UKIP and most were for now for Leave. She didn't think she would be re-elected. This bears out exactly what Harris was saying. Jo said that when she tried to make the argument for Remain on the doorsteps, she just got repeated back at her the latest nonsense from the tabloids.

      This shows how the poison from the tabloids and UKIP is dangerous and infecting people like Mair.

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      • florian albert 6 months ago

        'Mair is another Breivik'.
        No. He has been charged with a single murder. Breivik murdered 77 people.
        At present, what we know is fragmentary.
        (Writing about 'nutters' is singularly unhelpful.)

        You write of 'poison from the tabloids and UKIP ... infecting people like Mair.'
        Again there is a problem with the language you use; 'infecting.'
        Why does it not 'infect' you ?
        Are people like Frank Field and Professor Paul Collier - both of whom have written critically about the level of immigration in Britain today - 'infected' ?

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  • willie 6 months ago

    Mair is most probably a very sick man with years of mental illness.

    No doubt his background will be forensically examined but little will change.

    There is a huge outpouring simply because this young woman was an MP. But doctors, nurses, teachers and many more are at risk from loner lunatics as this guy seems to be.

    The fact that he also seems to have been some form of English British facist is nether here nor there. Mair will be shown to be a warped sicko.

    But there are many more like him, and when one looks at much of the Brexit campaign is founded on, you can see how seething resentment to foreigners can be misinterpreted by folks like Mair.

    Krystalnacht and the Aryaan belief system is not that far underground when you look at the Brexiteers rethoric.

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