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Scotland’s Eurovision Entry: UKIP and the Culture War

307813Last Friday evening (9th May) Nigel Farage’s trip to Edinburgh was disrupted for a second year in a row. This time not by simple visceral hatred of the man and what he represents – and a refusal to give him the space to operate – but by the celebration of community and values, and a rejection of division and hatred. It was robust, it still blocked and shamed UKIP, but it was overwhelmingly positive and joyful.

Nigel Farage boasts that he cannot remember the content of the last UKIP manifesto. We should be very clear what this means – at this stage in its rise UKIP does not principally operate with policy, but with a very effective sort of dog-whistle politics. Even its one fixed policy – an exit from the European Union – is symbolic rather than instrumental. We must exit Europe, but we are not told what exiting Europe means. It has something to do with the idea that we must make Britain great again – not economically or politically, but libidinally.

“Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”

We are told that standards have slipped, and that we must return to the values and borders that existed before things went wrong. UKIP and Farage do not operate with facts and figures, but within the space of what “everyone knows”. The issue for UKIP is culture. The issue UKIP has with ‘the left’, as the supporters who descended on the twitter accounts and facebook pages of those protesting said, our agenda. The homosexual agenda, the European agenda, the communist agenda, the feminist agenda, the immigrant agenda. These things are meant to turn the stomachs of all patriots. He relies on the inability of all major parties – including the SNP – to outline what it is about our economic system that is creating such desperation and poverty in our communities. You cannot defeat UKIP on its own terms, you need a counter-narrative which exposes the poverty of its proposal.

‘Europe’ for Farage is a useful set of values – effeminate, trans*, trans-national, left-wing, racially plural, collaborative – which he can reject. He ignores the fact that by many measures the European project is currently carrying out policies that his libertarian economic ideals would support: destroying living standards, enforcing austerity and creating a plight for migrants as heinous as any dreamt up by the UK Border Agency. His Europe is the bogeyman of the ‘liberal agenda’. And while we have to be careful not to throw around terms such as ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’, in case they wear thin with cynicism, we must remember what fascism looks like, and know that ignoring it as a form of appeasement doesn’t make it go away or stop it developing. Terrifyingly, Faragist common-sense is quickly becoming a sort of British common-sense. We should take note of what author Michael Rosen noted:

I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you… It doesn’t walk in saying, “Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution.”

All the professionals of media debate threatened the demonstrators that protesting against Farage would give him what he wants: publicity and more normalisation through the media lens. As if he wasn’t already the darling of Lord Rothermere and Murdoch. They said he would look depressingly good when confronted with the rabble, and instead we should debate with him. Or rather, we should give those journalists a quick vox pop and let them chalk up the ‘debate’ thus: “Farage says immigrants cause poverty, others disagree”. They were proven wrong. Farage doesn’t want a debate, he wants yet another a picture of himself in the newspaper with a pint and a fag so people could smile and say “that man’s got his priorities straight!”

The protest by a motley crew of 400 meant that the media had to contend with a strong, immovable counter agenda. Like Occupy Wall Street or the student protests of 2010 it could perhaps be criticised for being unfocused, raucous, a street party rather than a political statement. It didn’t have a clear ‘message’. It didn’t have a White Paper or a demand. But still it was in the street, refusing to hide its agenda. Its agenda was obvious. It was against the establishment counter-revolution that Farage embodies. It was the Scottish entry to the European Song Contest, with all its glorious campness, embodied by this year’s explicit rejection of gender norms represented by the Austrian winner Conchita Wurst.

This was the message. Everyone understood why singing the ‘YMCA’, ‘Gay Bar’ and ‘I Will Survive’ was important. As were the signs bearing “Mon the Multi-Culture!” and the chants of “We’re Here! We’re queer!” When Farage complains that he is against ‘political correctness’ those protesting understood exactly what the political phrasing hides – to be against ‘political correctness’ is to say that society attends too closely to the needs of minorities, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. To talk of ‘controlling immigration’ is to reject the right of people to move where they want in the world – even if you say “its not racist to impose limits”.

We know that to live our lives by the old “common sense” and nod along with “what everyone knows” isn’t good enough. We know that the global movement of financial capital outweighs in its destructive effect even the most dramatic of contemporary movements of people. Farage’s politics only works by ignoring this, and whistling eeny meeny miney mo. It is a deep cultural conservatism, and a mode of politics that comes out of the ‘culture wars’ of the American right and Thatcher’s war against the ‘enemy within’. We must always remember that the vilification of the working class and the destruction of its political institutions will not be undone by the persecution of minorities. The working class does not come only in a white skinned variety – it is global.

Over the pond this conservative trend has kept the American political system tacked to an extremist right-wing position since Reagan’s claim to represent the ‘moral majority’. While to an extent UK neoliberalism arrived in somewhat tolerant ‘Cool Britannia’ robes, UKIP is attempting to redress this. When Farage says people over 70 are uncomfortable with homosexuality – although he is wrong in my experience – he is not saying we should all start throwing ‘Gays and Grannies’ potlucks. He is telling the old to be afraid, and gay people to get back in the closet. He is not primarily interested in winning power at the moment, but in narrowing what is politically thinkable. He claims to speak for the ‘moral majority’. In 1992 American politician Pat Buchanan gave a chilling speech that helped re-launch the radical right-wing which today expresses as a UKIP brother-in-arms, the American tea-party movement. He exclaimed:

Friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America–abortion on demand… homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.

And he finished, referring to the Los Angeles ‘uprising’ in 1992 after the beating by police of young black man Rodney King:

The mob was heading in, to ransack and loot the apartments of the terrified old men and women. When the troopers arrived, M-16s at the ready, the mob threatened and cursed, but the mob retreated. It had met the one thing that could stop it: force, rooted in justice, backed by courage…. Here were 19-year-old boys ready to lay down their lives to stop a mob from molesting old people they did not even know. And as they took back the streets of LA, block by block, so we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country.

We must always be aware, as Rosen said, that what starts with promises of safety, that promises a counter-revolution against ‘foreign’, ‘effeminate’, ‘urban’, culture, can always end with troops on the ground. We only saw a hint of this in London – the retributive lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key justice after the Mark Duggan riots. The popular broom-squads cleaning up the streets afterwards. We saw a more sinister version this weekend, where a group calling itself Britain First offered to protect Farage with ‘armoured vehicles’. We remember the National Front and the casuals. What starts with the claims of a moral majority ends with “force, rooted in justice, backed by courage”. American and British foreign policy post 9/11 gave in to fear – domestic policy is going the same way.

As a community we have to make a choice over what our values are. Do we respond with violence to a ‘mob’ of young, frustrated people in the streets calling for justice? Do we claim they are completely outside politics? Do we put more weapons in the hands of the police? Do we respond with tolerance? If there is to be a cultural war in Britain, is it one that claims to ‘take back our country’ or one that tries to build a new country? Do we let a thousand flowers bloom, or console ourselves with the one true way? Are the poor an excluded detritus?

There is nothing especially ‘British’ about intolerance, or something nobly ‘Scottish’ about tolerance. There is only our individual and collective commitment to enacting and building the sort of society we want to see. As Terry Eagleton says, “Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone’s different needs.”

From what I saw, Nigel got the perfect response in Scotland, yet again. Rather than sending it into the comments pages of the Herald or the Scotsman, the young and old of Scotland shoved their agenda right under Farage’s miserable face and waggled it about. Rather than giving in and blaming the weak for the crimes of the rich they danced, they mocked him, they had a drink, they queered their resistance and yes, they told him to fuck off. One day soon this may not be sufficient, but for the moment it sets the terms of the struggle.


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  1. David Agnew says:

    When you are admonished by the likes of Torrance or Massie for not giving a bigot a fair hearing, he may after all have policies that “look” like the SNP or In many ways they are “Similar”. You know that they have been trapped by the wagging tail that is UKIP. The SNP are not euro-phobic, they don’t call Africa bongo-bongo land. They don’t look and sound like they escaped from a 1970s sitcom. Yet through fuzzy logic Torrance and others stretch credulity to new heights to try and attach the two parties.

    They are just dancing to the UKIP tune. Allowing Farage room to breath, room to speak, room to keep feeding on and feeding off the worst aspects of the human condition. In a desperate need to conflate the two parties and attack nationalism in Scotland as something that is out and out racist. They have to protect and indirectly nurture the real racists. The ones who really are going to do all the things the SNP are often accused off. The ones who really will destroy the union and the UK.

    The 500lb gorilla sitting in the corner of the room, having a pie and a pint, winking at us, while Bettertogether go for people like Alan Bisset, saying he is a frothing mouthed racist lunatic, who is now “fair game”.

    There are times when the UK really does look like a foreign country – quite a scary one at that too.

    1. I think you are spot on, and thanks for the considered response to the article.

      There is something that UKIP and the SNP potentially share – they are both breaking with the status quo, and they are both offering a solution to the crisis of social life. All politicians do this – except for the past 20 years of British politics where the only solution offered has been different flavours of neoliberalism.

      What Torrance et al., trained in years of non-politics, don’t understand is that all offers of change are not equal. Offering to make people’s lives better does not make you equivalent – you actually have to do some political analysis of the offering. UKIP will make some people’s lives better by making other people’s lives worse. This is regressive – and it won’t work. The SNP is attempting to make a change where no one loses – this is impossible. Personally I want a route where the majority gain, but the powerful lose.

  2. Walte Masson says:

    David looks like a foreign country your having a joke , its definitely foreign put,a blind man into a superstore and ask him what country hes in he would not be able ta tell ye 27 fecking different languages OMG and ye get folk calling farage a racist ,i am sorry but farage is the only man ta trust and if you think these people writing this shite about better in the euro where ta f can we afford giving that shite hoose of a euro 165 billion a year na winner were a trillion and a half in debt , and them politicians had the mentality of a 5 year auld signing treatys at the same time giving 3/4 of our laws over ta the very country who millions of our brave soldiers, sailors airforce ,gave there lives for our freedom ,and farage is the only one who can see the madness which has taken place by them traitors heath, blair, brown,and cameron ,and that clegg who would hand the country ta them with the POISON PEN ????

  3. Chris Primrose says:

    Sorry, Mister Masson
    I teach English and History for a living and you have just failed both. Learn to use apostrophes correctly. Learn to differentiate between “there”, “their” and “they’re”.
    Ordinarily I don’t respond to such messages but, because you come across as an illiterate racist, I felt obliged to so do.
    Have a nice life in our new, shiny, independent Scotland.
    (I write as an ex-soldier).

    1. rabthecab says:

      Well said Chris.

  4. florian albert says:

    Thomas Coles views the demonstration against Nigel Farage as a success.
    However, he did not come to Scotland to win the approval of Bella Caledonia. He came to win votes and prove himself as a serious political player.
    At the last European election, UKIP won nearly 58,000 votes. If they improve on this significantly, they will be content on May 23rd and the demonstration against Nigel Farage will be forgotten.

  5. bringiton says:

    UKip are an English political party (along with all of the other Westminster parties) who represent the views of some of the English electorate.
    We Scots,by and large,reject their poltical philosophy and they will play No part in an independent Scotland.
    The SNP were elected to government in Scotland because their policies were in chime with most Scots who reject Maggie’s view of life.
    Maggie’s disciples will use any tactic in order to maintain their grip on British politics,no matter how absurd their pronouncements may be.

  6. Derek Coghill says:

    UKIP are desperate to gain a Scottish MEP. That’s why he was here, and that’s why I was one of the protesters. D,

  7. UKIP, Britain First and much of social media has me deeply concerned. UKIP is the acceptable face, the first inch of an extreme right wing mile and they’ve quietly let themselves in and sat down at the dinner table.

    For me this is part of why we have to take our independence. Not to leave decent rUK people in the clutches of an increasingly questionable conservative state, but to show people scared into voting for this – right on their doorstep – ways to do things in a fairer and more tolerant way. My fondest hope is that Scotland can show the world that it is not stupid or unrealistic to believe we can do better for everyone.

    I don’t think anybody honestly disagrees with policies that make them a little richer, healthier and happier.. they just don’t believe it’s possible and we have a chance to show the way.

  8. Douglas says:

    UKIP, the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, and the other extreme right wing parties in Europe are the direct and natural result of neo-liberal economics, which I would define as the dogma of always putting the market before people, valuing money over human beings.

    Fascism or fascist like parties never appear in a vacuum, they do so at times of rising poverty and mass unemployment, when capital is disproportionately powerful vis-a-vis labour, or these days, civil society more generally. Look at the history books. People, ignorant people mostly, feel powerless and are drawn to simple and powerful messages which sound like answers but are just the opposite, like somebody reaching for paraffin to put out a fire..

    The whole of the political spectrum has moved radically to the right since Thatcher and her neoliberal revolution. The distance between the Labour Party and the Tories used to be a gulf. Now they seem joined at the hip. The gap between the Tories and the National Front used to be a wide one. Now there is a real prospect of a Tory UKIP government after the 2015 General Election.

    Where is the possibility of democracy for Scottish voters are than in independence? What are loyal Labour Party voters in Scotland waiting for to make that leap and change to YES?

    What we are witnessing is disturbingly similar to 1930´s Europe, and we all know how that ended. Europe is in crisis again, repeating the same mistakes of the past, led by people who have never studied history, never opened a book in their lives probably. Unfettered, free market global capitalism caused both World Wars.

    We need to hear from the historians, the sociologists, the writers and artists and thinkers. We have heard far too much from the mainstream politicians and the voodoo economists. And we need to use the grassroots campaign for Scottish independence as a springboard to roll back the catastrophic neoliberal policies which have led Europe down a blind alley.

  9. Douglas says:

    By the way, another very stark example of the return of the 1930´s: zero hour contracts.

    Could somebody from the Scottish press corps please ask Cameron when he is up here to explain to difference between zero hour contracts and the day labour queues of the 1930´s when working men would stand about in the street hoping and praying to be hired for a day´s work to put food on the family table?

    Unfettered global capitalism will tear everything apart, including the European Union.

    The remedy was and still is the massive redistribution of wealth, otherwise known as social democracy….

    1. thomascoles says:

      It’s the morning line up all over again. I read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist last year. 100 years old and we’re not much further.

      1. florian albert says:

        In the past century we have acquired a welfare state and life expectancy has increased from about 50 years to about 80 years.

  10. Political Tourist says:

    Leaving the BBC out of it, how does a far right party with no base in Scotland get away with 140,000 votes and a MEP.
    As an old mate from the miners strike put it, “personally i feel a bit foolish”.
    I know exactly how he felt, years of work putting a Left case amongst family, friends and workmates to find a roughly a couple of thousand in every Scottish constituency feel strongly enough to vote for Vichy style politics.
    How come one of UKIPs bigger percentage votes in the Greater Glasgow area covered East Dumbartonshire, ie Bearsden and Bishopbriggs, hardly areas of multi deprivation.
    What can the good burghers of Bearsden have protest about.

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