2007 - 2021

The Perfect Storm

A map of Britain resized by house prices leaves the south-east looking like the yolk of a fried egg,“There is a lot about Britain that I miss too. “Britain” seems like a long time ago and very far away” argues Peter Arnott.

Maybe this is just how history works. The financial crisis of 1929 radically undermined faith in democracy all across the world. In countries where representative government well both new and old, “the people” lost faith in the electorate, as it were. Democracy was weakened everywhere. Britain had a “national” government, suspending democratic choice till 1945. France spent the thirties changing governments so often that democracy was undermined by a different route…making the largest army in Europe helpless in 1940, when faced by a Germany which, of course, had voted democracy out of existence altogether (though the Nazis were very fond of referendums, as it happens).

America got lucky, and got Franklin Roosevelt. Faced with a choice between a candidate who embodies “old corruption” to a point beyond the dreams of Herbert Hoover, and a demented orange hate ball, America may not be so lucky in November.

But the pattern is the same. Capitalism suffered a “soft” crisis in 2007-8, and the people, across the world, entirely understandably… turned against the governors and institutions that were in charge at the time.

But unless they get lucky, what comes along to replace the failed, corrupt states are people who are ruthless and psychopathic enough to take advantage of a temporary suspension in reason.

(For the record, the relatively benign irrelevance to which Jeremy Corbyn seems happy to be leading the Labour Party counts as “lucky.” An SNP government which until now has been able to ride the anti-establishment wave while enjoying electoral support for actually governing with a reasonable measure of competence counts as a big weekend in Vegas.)

But you can take the thirties comparisons too far. There was a long and complex road even from the election of Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933 and the apocalypse of war and extermination ten years later…and Trump is, firstly, not ACTUALLY a fascist – he want to be one and have all the personal charm one would associate with such a thing, but he doesn’t actually have any armed, uniformed thugs at his command. Second, the American Presidency is only an effective wing of government if the Congress and the Courts allow it to be…ask Obama…and even if the worst happens, it seems unlikely that the Donald will actually be able to put Hillary Clinton in jail, for example.

No, in the US at least, history is repeating itself still, I hope, largely as farce. For tragedy one has to look elsewhere…to the Middle East, where a surge of democratic energy in 2011 (in response to economic crisis) has led to wars ruthlessly stoked from within and without…

As for Britain, our little corner of the perfect storm, or the crisis of democracy as a culture, is taking the sudden and ominous shape of a government who have just declared that immigration matters more to them than economic prosperity. It is now the position of Her Majesty’s Government, of MY and OUR government, that the National Interest is essentially embodied in the listing and ejecting of the Foreigner.

It is hard not to feel included in that category of the other. In fact, a friend of mine, Alasdair MacCrone, has suggested that the only possible response is to declare that “I am Spartacus.” I think he’s probably right about that.

But step back a moment and consider the change that is signified by the adoption of out and out English Nationalism as the governing
principle of British Government. Are those of us who supported “Yes” in 2014 really in a position to criticize? What, other than smug Scottish superiority really gives us the right to declare “our” nationalism better than “theirs”? Aren’t they just catching up?

There are certainly some people, within and around the very British Institution of the Labour Party, who would make that equivalence.

For me, Nationalism in Scotland and Nationalism in England have different roots as well as manifestations. The social politics of Nicola Sturgeon, the attitude to immigration for one, are very different to those expressed by Theresa May last week. But I can understand that they might be seen as the same thing by the despairing rump of the last standing (just!) very British institution of the Old New Labour Party. This is why it is Ed Milliband (and not a Corbynista) who is touring the TV studios this morning arguing for UK parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process. It is also why I salute him for it. There is a lot about Britain that I miss too. “Britain” seems like a long time ago and very far away.

I came to “Yes” because I want to preserve the best of Britain and then do even better. I always felt that Scotland was not leaving Britain, but that it was Britain that was being left. John Harris wrote movingly in the Guardian this morning about how England needs to recover itself. How England can’t hide from itself behind Britain any more.

We must remember where we began, with a global crisis of democratic legitimacy itself precipitated by an economic collapse which, while nothing like as sharp or dramatic as what happened between 1929 and the mid –thirties, is nonetheless a cultural earthquake that seems to be shaking us, rather more gently for now, on a planetary scale.

It shook Scotland into resisting the decline of Britishness in its own paradoxical way. In the referendum of 2014, and the elections that preceded and followed that moment, for example, the Scottish electorate opted for devolved government run by nationalists. This is exactly the kind of ironic, nuanced joke of which democracy is capable: it gets us the most competent coherent government for a time of crisis…while at the same time traps the SNP, against nationalist instinct, into making devolution work.
But now, with this government in power in Westminster, making a 180 degree turn about from the Blair/Cameron “Globalist” era into a full-throated defense of England First, the crisis of democracy is coming home.

As I’ve said before, the Break Up of Britain was always too big a job for the Scots. It was always a task for the English.
And I can’t say it makes me happy, despite my past and present allegiances.

Rather, I fear, like the winner of last nights “debate” in Missouri, it’s going to be very ugly and challenge us in ways we can’t quite foresee. And that there is equally little I can do about what happens in London for the next few years as there is what happens in Washington DC.

All I know for now is that for all of the difficulties that breaking up the UK in 2014 might have caused, we’re going to look back in ten or so years and wonder why we walked away from the hard way and chose the even harder way?

Comments (16)

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  1. Yan says:

    Scottish nat-ionalism a sort of Third Sector progressive mela – a cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    1. david kelly says:

      Silly. should Yan not be Yoon?

  2. John Tracey says:

    I did not vote ‘Yes’ in 2014 for nationalist reasons. I saw it as an opportunity for a better society, be that economically, politically or socially (the last was the most important factor for me).
    I still see myself as a ‘global citizen’ – proud to be!
    I still want to be part of organisations which have true justice for all principles, even if the practice cannot easily follow the principles. hence my ‘remain’ vote in the EU referendum and my ongoing belief in the United Nations.
    Nationalism means different things to different people – hence the opportunity to label ‘Scottish’ and ‘English’ nationalism. Too simplistic, I think.
    Nationalism that promotes the positives of a nation is very different from nationalism that denigrates other nations.

  3. muttley79 says:

    This is exactly the kind of ironic, nuanced joke of which democracy is capable: it gets us the most competent coherent government for a time of crisis…while at the same time traps the SNP, against nationalist instinct, into making devolution work.

    That is way of the mark Peter. It ignores the devolution referendums of 1979 and 1997, albeit during the first one support for it was muted in the SNP by most accounts. The SNP wanted and still want to make devolution because there is no other way for the electorate in Scotland to become more confident in their collective abilities. Your statement above is a standard talking point from unionism, I am not really sure why you have mentioned, because it is patently false. It ignores the facts and reality.

  4. Tam Dean Burn says:

    As Bertolt Brecht said- Have we got to be lucky?
    I can’t see the comparison between 1929 and 2008 because 29 was slap in the middle of the greatest crisis capitalism has faced (SO FAR) which took two world wars either side of that to resolve. We’re still at the very early stages of the next crisis, if that at all, so it’s pointless all the comparing Trump to Hitler and please, Mhairi Black et al, May’s morphing into a Thatcher is not fascism either. We’ll know for sure when the real thing comes along as fascism is only brought into play when counter-revolution is required by capitalism E.g. If we make our own luck and really start building the socialist movement Corbyn is just an early sign of then we can be sure that fascist forces will be unleashed and defending OUR revolution will be a matter of life and death. It’s pointless pussyfooting around in the politics of yesteryear and hoping for luck. There’s no going back now. It’s joining forces for socialism across Europe at least or as John Laurie’s fascist fighting Frazer said- We’re doomed!

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      I’m nor clear how a war which ended more than 10 years before the 1929 crisis of capitalism could play any part in resolving it! What the Great War certainly did was to bring an end to the Age of Empires, with the exception of the British Empire which has tottered on for a further century and is only now approaching its final decrepit denouement.

      1. Tam Dean Burn says:

        That general crisis, of which the 29 crash was one aspect, lasted from 1914 till 1945. We shouldn’t exaggerate moments or underestimate just how far down capitalism has and will drag us down to such depths.

    2. muttley79 says:

      I don’t think May is a fascist either, but when the government you head starts to talk about employers’ lists of foreigners, then you have to wonder where you are heading as part of that state.
      I don’t think that fascism is implemented straight away. Many people who were previously only conservatives became fascists in Spain under Franco’s rule if I am not mistaken. The idea that we will know what fascism looks like when we see it is wrong, it can mutate under the surface and react to crisis or crises gradually imo. It you thought it was something else to begin with, by the time it happens it is too late.

    3. Broadbield says:

      No, they’re not fascists (a difficult term, often used simply as a pejorative) but they are behaving like they are on the road to fascism – authoritarian nationalism – where the “outsider” is to blame for many of society’s ills.

      1. muttley79 says:

        Yes that appears to be pretty much it.

  5. florian albert says:

    Peter Arnott draws attention to different attitudes – as expressed by the elected leader – to immigration in Scotland and England. At the heart of this is the very different experiences of immigration in the two countries in the last 70 years. Immigration has transformed much of urban England, big cities like London, Birmingham, Bradford and and Leicester. Also, towns like Burnley and Blackburn. (There are areas such as Carlisle largely unaffected.)
    It is not a single experience but many different ones; Brixton being very different from Burnley.
    In Scotland there has been – in comparison – almost no immigration.
    Scotland’s one experience of mass ‘immigration’ is, of course, the arrival of tens of thousands of Irish from the 1840s on. It is not one of the bright spots in Scottish history.
    As Tom Devine has noted, the Irish who made the long journey to the USA achieved income parity in 1901. Those who made the short journey to Scotland achieved income parity in 2001.
    Discrimination in employment lasted through the first 60 years of the 20th century.
    There is little or no reason to believe that Scots are different from the English in their attitude to mass immigration.

    1. jim says:

      Sorry Florian, but I must disagree with your analysis of Scotland’s response to immigration.

      The problems you allude to concerning 19th century Irish immigrants were and are sectarian in nature, not ethnic. After all, it’s not as though the Scots and Irish could claim to be two distinct ethnic groups as there has been a steady flow, and mingling, of people between the two locations for at least 1500 years. That’s not to say sectarianism isn’t a problem, it is, but it’s not the same problem that we see in England today where Poles and other foreigners are being murdered in the streets purely because they are foreign. When I was at primary school in the 1970s there were three boys in my class with Polish surnames. Three, in one class. I’m still in touch with two of them and I can assure you they have always felt at home in Scotland.

      You state that Scotland has had only one experience of mass immigation. You completely ignore the large numbers of Asians who arrived in the 1960s and 70s. Tens of thousands, if not more. We’ve never had a race riot in Scotland.

      I’m not suggesting that Scotland has an unlimited capacity to accept and absorb immigrants, I’m sure it doesn’t, but it is quite wrong of you to suggest that attitudes are the same on both sides of the border. They clearly are not. That is why we saw leading Tory MPs appealing to a certain section of the English electorate while MSPs sought to distance themselves from such rhetoric. It’s also why there are three very popular English newspapers that make a nice living out of , frankly, xenophobic journalism.

      Sorry, but in general attitudes are different.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      “In Scotland there has been – in comparison – almost no immigration.”

      The largest ethnic group of immigrants over the past century coming into Scotland are from England. Since numerous English cities have become multiculturally transformed, many more English people have moved to Scotland. Generally lower property prices here have also played a part in this movement, not least in rural/island areas, as well as an ageing population leading to many coming to retire here. Major Scottish cities have also offered attractive property investment opportunities for those from south of the border in the buy to rent sector, not least for student accommodation. Since Brexit I think we can envisage this inflow will rise even further. There is also a constant stream of professional/administrative people coming north to work, with managerial positions in Scotland advertised UK-wide as the norm. Official census data from a few years back indicated around 500,000 people born in England living in Scotland though this will be much greater now and could possibly top 1m within the next few years, equating to near 20% of the overall population.

      1. florian albert says:

        You are, of course, correct about the big number of English people living here.
        The question is; do Scots view them as immigrants ?
        At present, I would say that most Scots do not. It could be different in 15 years time.
        There is an element of perception in ‘immigration’.
        In the 19th century somebody coming from Derry to Scotland would have been seen as an immigrant; somebody coming from Doncaster would not. Yet each was coming from another part of the same political entity.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Scots are perhaps more used to being necessarily subtle on this matter, given our sub-nation/colonial status, though we are no less conscious of population change. It is perhaps more the case that those coming to Scotland from England do not consider themselves immigrants, even though the official census does. Maybe this relates to their often-discussed cultural confusion between what is deemed to be Britain and what is England? As for 19th century Ireland, at that time it was part of the UK, so in the same ‘boat’ as England/Wales, as it were though as you say perception is another thing. The reality of the largest immigrant group to Scotland is what is indisputable.

  6. florian albert says:


    I am not sure that it matters whether discrimination is based on religion, ethnicity or ‘race’.
    Scotland has had a long, shameful history of it, vis a vis Irish Catholics.

    In England, ‘Poles and other foreigners are being murdered in the streets’. This makes it seem an everyday happening. I believe two Poles were murdered in England. Let’s wait for the murder trials before jumping to conclusions.

    The number of Asians who came to Scotland was quite small. Most came to Glasgow and, even then, to a few areas such as Woodside and Pollokshields. Their presence did not transform the city as the arrival of immigrants transformed London and Birmingham.

    To some extent, attitudes are different but much of that is down to different experiences.
    Below the surface, there is anxiety about the number of Polish immigrants and, in Glasgow, about the effect of Roma immigration in Govanhill. (Polish immigration and the Roma are very different situations.)

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