The Perfect Storm
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?