The Complex Case of Modern Nationalism
Nationalism was the defining organisational principle of the 20th century – from Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress right the way through to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party.
But the age of nationalism, of all those sorts of nationalisms, as we have known them, is drawing to an end.
We see that in Scotland.
No echt 19th or 20th century nationalist movement would have accepted the native-born being out-voted by the ‘foreign’ born as the Scottish national movement did in 2014. That meekness (or quiet strength) holds the clue to the future, and I will return to it.
We know that the old internationalist views of the left don’t describe the world as she has been. The workers of the world did not unite based on their relationship to the means of production.
Political struggle is based on the twin base of nationalism: of institutions and ethos.
In the 20th Century there were struggles for social justice within the bounds of Britain, largely but not entirely, untrammelled by the indignities that empire imposed without.
People have personal needs and aspirations that are expressed by groups, and those groups map, always imperfectly, onto institutions.
Europe was roiled by institutional and group conflict, driven by an ethnically exclusive nationalism of one-people-one-state. The European Union is the institution most shaped by that, most designed to counter that.
So what does the ‘nationalism’ of today look like?
We can split the world in to passive nationalist and active nationalists. For passive nationalists the institutions they currently have are fine, and the political struggle is purely about ethos, what they wish to achieve within those institutions. The active nationalists are those who wish a different institutional settlement.
God knows we are all bored by discussing the SNP here, so lets look at the other nationalisms of Scotland.
The passive nationalists can usually plausibly deny their nationalism – the old John McTernan line “the fact that there is no such thing as British nationalism is what makes this the greatest country in the world”, and if that fails fall back on “patriot but not a nationalist”.
Brexit throws this all up in the UK. A great bubbling up of active nationalism and new institutional hopes – British nationalism, English nationalism – a sort of Brenglish nationalism if you like.
Now the SNP are sitting back as the passive nationalists, defenders of the EU, the status quo. The opposition are out on manoeuvres, all tanks and flags, all rousing speeches and enemies of the people. It’s fun to be honest, pointing and laughing, I could get used to it.
What is interesting is how the debate about the new institutions these nouveau nationalists demand illuminates their ethos, for so long denied.
Of course foreigners shouldn’t have the vote, even if they live here. How terrible it is that the other European politicians disrespect us with their negotiation tactics. The consent of the devolved administrations is in no-way required.
But there are deeper terrors lurking. One of the great unintended reveals is the continued calls for ‘like now but better’. We need to replace the old, hideous, destructive customs union with a new better, identical customs union. We must throw-off the enslavement of this terrible court and replace it with a better, identical one. These arrangements are terrible and a black-affront, they must be replaced with these identical ones.
It all boils down to the same thing: a Customs Union or European Court or any other arrangement of 28 must be replaced by one of 2.
The key is given in what the Financial Times wrote about the director of the Centre For European Reform.
‘Mr Grant said the Canada deal did not cover complex areas such as financial services, aviation and security co-operation and he argued the key was to set up a new court in which Britain could claim to be “an equal” to the EU.’
When Nebuchnezzar built Bablyon he had his face and name stamped on all the mud bricks. When Saddam Hussein restored it, he insisted on bricks with his face and his name. This is the Brexit project – tear down the old buildings, with the bricks of Monnet, and rebuild them, with new bricks: with John Bull on one side, and the Queen Mum (Gawd Bless ‘Er) on the other.
These new institutions fix the disconnect between the dominant Brenglish ethos and the current institutional framework. It is unthinkable and wrong that the UK is an equal to other European countries, to mere Belgium, Bulgaria and Spain. It is an affront to ‘us’, a psychic castration for ‘us’ to be cast down so. ‘We’ are a world power and ‘we’ seek our peers.
For this conversation not to sound totally mad, it is necessary to elevate the European Union to ‘our’ level, to be a worthy protagonist. As frothy British nationalists talk up Britain, so they must talk up the ‘European superstate’.
Alexander ‘The Piffle’ Johnson MP mugs through WWII films in his press conference charades: behind him a flotilla of the lesser outraged, the EUSSR men, the very dregs of Twitter and even the once sane, chewing carpets all.
The poor old EU only has 25,00 civil servants, no police, no army, no muscle. It is a puffed up cartoon villain: the giant marshmallow man of Ghostbusters, willed into existence in the fevered minds of its enemies. As Ireland is called again to fall within the British ‘sphere of influence’, then Slovakia must be in Germany’s, must be, has to be, is, definitely is.
The tragedy of The Protocol Of The Elders Of Zion is that there wasn’t actually a world conspiracy when the poor Jewish people really bloody needed it.
After 60 years of integration-by-stealth, of sapping the minds of free men with straight banana regulation, of all the tricks and tropes of Johnny Foreigner, this European Economic Conspiracy has built itself up to be just 3 times the size of the United States Secret Service. Alas, sans guns, sunglasses, flash suits and action fillums.
Sadly in a straight fight between the massed myrmidons of the EU and Donald Trump’s personal bodyguard, my money wouldn’t be on the EU.
“Ah” say the tinfoil hats that pass for our political class “that shows how devious, cunning, and treacherous they are, the more dangerous for being so few. How else can they hold an entire continent under their thumb? The conspiracy runs deeper yet!”
The fevered man fights the fever dream, in which the EU laughably appears in a daze of chimerical collapse.
Us Europeans are left here wishing the European Union had a little more of that lurid projected phantasmal power.
The flight from complexity at the heart of Brexit draws its inspiration from English history, the buccaneering mercantile spirit, a new Elizabethan age, the corn laws.
If we can do what we did when last we were great, we will be great again – Saddam and his Babylon, an old story.
A lot of simplistic nonsense about a bonfires of red tape and quangos, and privatisation has driven debate about the efficiency of the state, and the particular iniquities of Europe for the last 30 years and needs to be put to bed.
Consider the iPhone. A partial list of the ‘regulations’ that pertain to it are:
• international agreements on use of radio frequency spectrum
• technical standards on telecoms interoperation
• technical standards on internet interoperation
• cryptographic standards
• safety regulations pertaining to the manufacture and testing of its potentially explosive batteries and components that contain toxic chemicals
• legal wrappers that enable users to purchase goods on it in most countries in the world – in 100+ languages
• integration with global payment systems
• integration with global tax systems
• end-user agreements in 100+ languages
• API specifications for 3rd party developers
• usability specifications for 3rd party developers
• User Experience/User Interface specifications for 3rd party developers – including presentation of UX/UI elements in 100+ languages
• Apple store approval and submission guidelines in a large number of langauges
Were you to print out this ‘red tape’ the pile would stand well over the height of a normal person. No single living person has read it all, let alone understand it, and not just because nobody understands 100+ human languages.
The source and origin of this red tape varies as well:
• international treaties
• individual nation-state law
• global treaty-based technical standards
• global (but non-statutory or treaty-based) technical standards
• internal Apple standards and regulations published urbis et orbis
Excellence in the management of complexity is a social, organisational and operationally cultural condition par excellence.
The protean British impulse to ‘deregulate’ comes from a terror of incomprehension – the cut down world is ‘easier to understand’. The problem, of course, is that without the ‘red tape’ the iPhone is substantially a brick.
But how does the end user experience this complexity? Paradoxically as simplicity: point, click, call, press and swipe.
It is our belief in the SNP that the best way to manage the relationships between different (and neighbouring) nations is via a light organisation of governance (not government).
One that allows national governments to co-ordinate and co-operate under ministerial guidance, with democratic oversight and impartial judicial arbitration.
This co-operation should include mutual cultural, political and economic rights of a footloose citizenry.
These relationships should foster deep, continental, open commercial markets, but also support a strong social contract for our people and the modern and appropriate tax base that are required for that – it is a challenge of managing complexity.
The European Union is an exercise in just that: examination of regulations, reciprocal rights, shared enforcement of agreements under law via the European Court of Justice and all the endless, dull, dull, dull and un-buccaneering regulatory harmonisation.
And how do we as European citizens experience this complexity? As greater simplicity, as freedom: go to Germany, buy a house in Germany, get a job in Germany, vote in Germany, go to Spain, buy a house in Spain, retire to the sun.
Freedoms now lost.
But the process of flight from complexity brings with it new realisations. The UK wrenched itself out of Euratom without even taking submissions from her atomic scientists. The damage to British institutions is tremendous. Who will fight for this broken thing now? Who would be afraid of it?
For the time of fence sitting, of “I am neither a British nationalist nor a Scottish one, a plague on both your houses” is over. Brexit has made worms’ meat of you.
During the General Election, Mrs May sent 3 people into a room to rethink social policy. When they came out it blew up taking the Tories election lead with them. The once-Great Repeal Bill repeats this process – letting ministers and their conclave rewrite regulations and make them law – but not for one policy, for 14,000.
The idea that the battered and discredited Parliament on the Thames come out of this without further crises is a for the birds. Constitutional change is back baby, on the Thames, the big cahuna. And the time of institutions and ethos and their struggles is for everyone.
Geography won’t change, Scotland and England will still have a border and close relations: whether indy-ish or union-ish or federal-ish. But now everybody has to have an opinion on institutions. Le jeux sont faites.
We Scottish nationalists are also challenged though – but the challenge is to our ethos.
The old one-people-one-state assumptions meant the people coming and living here must assimilate – the new world does not. What does it mean if we have 30,000 Spaniards in Edinburgh? They can get books and TV and culture in Spanish off the internet, but should not their children be able to be taught in Spanish at state schools?
It is only in the last 100 years that Europe’s cities became mono-national. Great living cities pull in people and are multi-national, and that is a nationalism we should embrace, we have embraced. The Lord Provost of Glasgow, the first citizen of the first city of Scotland is Swedish. Her Depute, from the Labour Party, is Flemish.
But we in the national movement cannot reasonably talk about a Europe of 4 UK’s, 2 Spain’s, 2 Belgium’s and 3 Italy’s as a good thing without also recognising that the Europe of 30 years time, could (and should) be an EU of 4 Scotland’s.
The Isle of Man sits where she does with her own parliament, and Orkney and Shetland as they do, without, because of some feudal fart of history, lost in time. It is not even clear where, after Scottish independence, Man would go: once feudal property of the Scottish Crown.
A world in which Orkney, Shetland and the great Gaeldom-restored of Alba sit alongside us in the European Union is not unthinkable, indeed should be thought.
These ‘foreign’ Gaels would ‘swarm down’ over the border to our great Universities in Glasgow (as they do now) bringing their poets and their singing (as they do now). The earth would orbit the sun (as it does now), the trains would sing along the line to Mallaig and Oban still.
Finland and Norway are two of the new European nations of the 20th Century, getting their independence in 1905 and 1907 respectively. Once both were under Swedish dominion, Finland latterly under Russian control. They found themselves on opposite sides in the Second World War.
But for Finland’s 100th birthday Norway gave serious consideration to giving her neighbour a mountain – the peak of Mount Halti, a new highest peak. A simple shift of the border by 31 meters.
Unfortunately Article 1 of the constitution got in the way: “The Kingdom of Norway is a free, independent, indivisible and inalienable realm.”
The bony fingers of 20th century nationalism clawed the gift back. We, but can I talk of we? or only me, lowlander, Trinidad-born, Edinburgensian? … I in Scotland am not so constrained by the past, why should I not give Gaeldom my hand, and you yours, or the taking of mine?
Such a gift, given in such a way, is not even gone. A country, a nationalism, that lets the foreign-born vote as we did, is a country that could give a mountain away, is a nationalism that has already given a mountain away.
But a nationalism that denied its ‘foreign’ residents their vote, as Brexit did, can not, have not and could not.
Everybody must choose.
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