The Biggest Gap in the Ideological Market of England 

In England, nationalism is a dirty word. It is tinged with disgrace, outrage, illegitimacy if not illegality. Like an unwanted dog or an unpleasing book, nationalism is always something to be put down. Indian, American, Zimbabwean, Jamaican: nationalism was the force that fought back against Empire, and won. Naturally it’s not much celebrated by the losers. If Old England thinks about such things in its over-priced care home, it will recall that nationalism killed innocent pub-goers in Birmingham and Guildford, even if it forgets why. 

For the English right, Celtic nationalism – centuries old – is an ever-present problem that demands constant solving. Irish nationalism, especially, has been among England’s deadliest enemies and fiercest opponents. Armed dissidents loom again. But even the non-violent Scottish and Welsh brands of nationalism are feared and loathed. It is not just oil that England may lose, but prestige. England as ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ is a Tamburlaine nation in that two other nations draw its chariot, and a third is stable boy.

For the English left, according to its doctrinaire inheritance, nationalism is more horrific, something akin to Nazism. Internationalists conditioned by their own international anthem, they seem to have nothing good to say about it. Only an enlightened minority of leftists understand what it’s about. Yet even Jeremy Corbyn, who approves of a United Ireland, is still a unionist when it comes to Scotland. So is his lieutenant Seamus Milne who falsely caricatured Scottish nationalism as saltire neoliberalism.

As it is rare for the English right and left to agree on anything, one might be tempted to think this is proof that nationalism is an intrinsically bad thing. Actually, it merely illustrates the unique position of a country that used to rule the known world. The UK is – apart from a few overseas flecks – the leftovers of empire: John Bull and his Celtic colonies.  
 
The English themselves never quite understand the extent to which they are unionists, political allies of the most reactionary forces in both Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Conservative and Unionist Party – reunited in name since the Tory coalition with the DUP – understand this better, of course, but few are comfortable with the eerie bedfellowship. Agreeing with Arlene Foster is not something to shout about, even as she banks 1B of your taxes.  It’s true the English are more emotional about letting go of Scotland than Northern Ireland. Wales – alas – is so taken for granted, it’s not even on the Union Jack. 

When the English left bitterly opposed Scottish Independence in the heady days of September 2014, it imagined itself as a heroic global revolutionist such as Che Guevara, not as Gazza in Rangers shirt away at Celtic miming an orange flute. It didn’t matter that they had no say, because the right-wing English media was saying it for them. 

English unionists can come from anywhere in the socio-political spectrum. We think of David Bowie as a Martian or an alien, but actually he was an English unionist. Vivienne Westwood was not; she passionately and eloquently engaged with the YES campaign. English unionists are not defined by their unionism; they wear other uniforms. 

Take George Orwell. In 2018, Penguin Modern reissued George Orwell’s essay ‘Notes on Nationalism’. The essay was seen as relevant to the era of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Le Pen, as well as Farage and Tommy Robinson, but may also have been intended to warn against other types of nationalism, especially Scottish. Orwell is all over the place, giving ‘nationalism’ the broadest meaning possible; even communism is nationalism. When he examines the issue closer to home, his chump side is on full display. The Englishman’s pride in England is ‘patriotism’. Irish, Welsh, Scottish nationalism is reactionary: they are ‘racialists’ who think Celts superior to Saxons, fantasists who think they can afford to be independent without English protection, and they are only interested in power. This is victim-blaming psychobabble. It’s as if Penguin is deploying ‘Saint George’ posthumously to try and save the UK.  

Brexit has reminded the world how little thought English politics gives to Irish matters, and how it comes back to bite. ‘K.M.R.I.B.’ is the new cry from Irish Republicans i.e. ‘Kiss My Royal Irish Backstop’. Even the English left is guilty of thinking too little, too late of Irish, Scottish, Welsh affairs. Quite rightly, their priority is social justice and the fight against Conservative evils. Labour’s unionism is unquestioning because Labour has always been dependent on the mainland Celtic fringe to vote it into Westminster.  Labour has almost acted like a protection racket against Conservatism. One shudders to suggest the English left harbours imperialist impulses, and looks upon its near neighbours with blimpish eyes. Since 2014, Labour unionism has been found wanting. The party is now virtually non-existent in Scotland. As far as Scots are concerned, even the most socialist Labour Party in decades is visibly wearing a sash, audibly banging a lambeg.

In Wales, Labour is still the majority party but its percentage of the vote is declining. The former firebrand now Baron Kinnock of Holyhead and his wife Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead are seen as part of a Welsh Labour elite, earning millions over the course of their EU careers, with multiple perks and pensions. Their son the ‘Honourable’ Stephen Kinnock is MP for Aberavon. Nationalists not only threaten Labour Party votes, but also Labour Party livelihoods. Plaid Cymru has become more mainstream from its early days of burning RAF bases in Wales, continually growing in size and strength recruiting people who feel betrayed by a bourgeoisfied Labour. 

One party member said in 1977:  ‘We suspected Labour not just on practical grounds, that they had not delivered on their promises, but also on ideological grounds that they were not a true socialist party … We chose nationalism as the best way to pursue socialist ideals. The only way for the Welsh to pursue socialism was through nationalism.’  Labour – Corbynites and Blairistes – alike must be terrified of Wales following Scotland’s example and abandoning the PLP wholesale for Plaid Cymru.

However, there is another nationalism on the rise that we have not considered as yet: English nationalism. Fintan O’Toole calls it ‘the ghost in the machine of Brexit.’  Of the four major nationalisms available in the British and Irish Isles – Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English – which is the odd one out? There’s a joke about this. Paddy English nationalist, Paddy Irish nationalist, Paddy Welsh nationalist and Paddy Scottish nationalist walk into a bar. Paddy Irish nationalist buys a round of Guinness. Paddy Welsh nationalist buys a round of Brains. Paddy Scottish nationalist buys a round of McEwans. Instead of coughing up for the expected round of John Smiths, Paddy English nationalist collapses into a hysterical drunken heap, blubbering ‘I love you guys!’ 

English nationalism seems barbaric, the motiveless motivating force behind the political murder of Jo Cox. There may be more where that came from; but racist verbal and physical assaults are commonplace. Farage is a contagion. The all-licensed fool has licensed all, and the nativists are restless. In such a xenophobic climate, the duopoly loses leverage. Not only are traditional right-wing votes going to Brexit Party, UKIP and EDL, but also traditional left-wing votes. The white working-classes feel no one listens to them, and so punish the Conservatives and Labour simultaneously. They have made Farage a kingmaker, perhaps to Boris’s king. We now face the distinct possibility of a general election that will see Tories ditching the DUP for the BP, and Farage taking a seat in the cabinet. Imagine what Farage might do to the NHS as Health Secretary? Or perhaps Boris will appoint him to his former job: Secretary of State for Johnny Foreigner.

At a Q&A screening of Peterloo, director Mike Leigh was asked what he thought of the white working classes shifting allegiance from socialism to neo-fascism. ‘It’s a tragedy! It’s a disaster!’ he cried, refusing to ‘pontificate’ further. Some pour scorn on their less educated and more impoverished fellow citizens; others take the sentimental and patronising view that ordinary people don’t know what they are doing when they vote far-right politicians into office, and are therefore not to blame. This point of view is redolent of the faux-innocence of ordinary German people after the Third Reich was overthrown.  

What English intellectuals of all persuasions need to realise is that there is a crucial difference between Irish, Scottish, Welsh nationalism, and English nationalism. English nationalism is still dominated by an odious concoction of far-right, alt-right, nativist, and ethno-nationalist tendencies. The Irish, Scottish, Welsh models are examples of left-wing nationalism. Even Karl Marx approved of left-wing nationalism. He understood that Ireland was attempting to liberate itself from a genocidal oppressor. Though he was alive during the so-called Famine, he did not live to see Ireland become the first of scores of nation-states to win independence from The Second British Empire. The very helpful Wikipedia entry on left-wing nationalism provides examples from all over the world:

‘Notable left-wing nationalist movements in history have included Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army which promoted independence of India from Britain; Quebec nationalism and the Parti Québécois; the Mukti Bahini; Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party; Basque nationalism and the political party Bildu; the Catalan independence movement; the League of Communists of Yugoslavia; Malay Nationalist Party of Malaysia; and the African National Congress of South Africa under Nelson Mandela.’

One immediately deduces that left-wing nationalism is as internationalist as socialism, and perhaps even more widespread. 

Orwell’s ‘racialist’ slur can be rebutted by quoting from Nicola Sturgeon’s recent speech in Brussels: ‘We can be Scottish and British and European. We can be Scottish and Polish – or Italian, or Pakistani, and much else besides – and European. And so it shouldn’t be surprising that belief in Scottish independence – which is about selfgovernment, not ethnicity – goes hand in hand with a belief in internationalism and interdependence. National identity is not, and never should be, an exclusive concept.’ 

Irish, Scottish, Welsh nationalism has outgrown any ethno-nationalist origins because its societies have been multicultural for as long as anyone can remember. Ireland, Scotland and Wales are Celtic nations but not populations. Of the many different ethnic minorities resident in Scotland, ‘English Scots’ are more and more joining the Independence movement, where they have been welcomed with open arms, a charming development. 

The biggest gap in the ideological market of England is left-wing nationalism. If the English left could overcome its dogmatic revulsion to the idea of nationalism, it could transform the political landscape. Even Labour could do it, admit the game was up, become a left-wing English nationalist party and actually return to power with English not with Scottish votes. If Corbynism could extend his Irish nationalism to Scotland and Wales, he could reclaim the English working-class voters who are flirting so disastrously with the far right. There will always be unionists as long as there is a Union, but a ‘thinking’ English nationalism could become a new force and a new addition to the international list in that Wikipedia entry.  
 
 If Labour refuses to abandon its increasingly useless unionism, a new party could form, an English version of the SNP, an anti-austerity party of progressive leanings which – crucially – also wishes to pull out of the UK. Instead of resisting what Scottish intellectual Tom Nairn dubbed ‘The Break-Up of Britain’, it could assist in the process. The battered snake-skin of ‘Great Britain’ could be shed – a red, white and blue coloured husk. 

I have not yet discussed how Remain vs. Leave relates to nationalism. We are all characters in a tale of two unions, the UK and EU. Sometimes it feels like we are audience members at an illegal cockfight in which there will be only one survivor. There is a burgeoning sense of expectation that the UK will fragment. But the EU knows it too  is vulnerable. Both unions could perish. 

Nationalists of all stripes can go either way on the Europe debate. So can unionists. SNP is pro-Europe. Sinn Fein has ambivalent attitudes, but now wants ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland to remain within the EU alongside the Republic of Ireland. It is quite understandable that nationalists could want to leave the EU as much as they want to leave the UK, as well as wanting to rejoin the EU after leaving the UK. Some criticise the SNP for wishing to give away its putative independence to Europe, forgetting that membership of the EU is voluntary whereas membership of the UK is involuntary. 

For English remainers, an English left-wing nationalist party could decide upon a policy – like Scotland’s – of wishing to apply to join the EU after the break-up of the UK. The millions who campaigned for Peoples Vote could have their wish granted in an unexpected way. While many of those lefty-liberal remainers would not wish to choose between the UK and EU – greedily wanting both – it will be too late once Scotland has succeeded in seceding. England, Wales, Northern Ireland might continue their three-legged race to the bottom as the so-called ‘rUK‘, but it won’t take too long to get there.

Realpolitik is ruthless. The Gollumesque Theresa May who spoke of the ‘precious precious union’ is gone. As the blond beast slouches toward Westminster to be crowned, we are facing another decade of Conservative rule, possibly in coalition with the as yet manifesto-less Brexit Party. Boris – a diehard blimp – will fight to save the UK, and fight dirty. Coveting the English nationalist vote, he will peddle a subsistence diet of ye olde British nationalism to his constituency, with Murdoch providing the free advertising. Having branded the Irish problem as a ‘gnat’, he now proclaims he will get rid of the Irish backstop if elected leader. The Scottish Conservative Group has issued a joint begging-letter saying: ‘Our new PM must spend to save the Union’. Every trick in the book will be used to sabotage Scottish anti-UK, pro-EU aspirations; but this will only make the Scottish more determined. 

Only left-wing nationalism can save this part of the world from further lurches into fantasy far-right terrain – the Breivik New World. It would be great if England got on board.  Left-wing critics of Scottish and Welsh nationalism argue that England will be doomed to perennial Tory governments. Actually England will have to grow up and learn how to defeat the Tories by itself. 

Comments (25)

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  1. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Bella at its incisive best – buiochas, Niall McDevitt.

    1. Niall McDevitt says:

      Go raibh! (Autocorrect tries of course to change my Gaelic thanks into ‘Go rabid’. )

  2. Millsy says:

    Excellent read !
    It would be interesting ( and instructive ? ) if we could hear from a unionist ( preferably Scottish ) to attempt a defense of the Union and persuade me ( and many others ) why we are wrong to seek ”the break up of the UK ”.

      1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

        Amen to that.

    1. Niall McDevitt says:

      Thanks. The only effective – if specious – arguments for the Union are Project Fear. The great benefits of the Union are for the few – which is why no one trumpets them. .

  3. Welsh Sion says:

    This is my take.

    Mustn’t forger Kernow …

    7. (of 60.)

    Of shopkeepers and of nations

    Once upon a time, there was a sleepy little village called Celtia. It was a very small place, and everyone knew each other and everyone was very friendly too. Celtia also had the usual little shops and its inhabitants would often go to these little shops to catch up on the latest village gossip and to exchange new ideas on a myriad of subjects. Amongst the most important shops in Celtia were Mr Scott’s the Butcher’s, Mr Jones’s the Baker’s and Mr Ayre’s, who was the Candlestick maker.

    Now as well as working for the common good of all the inhabitants of Celtia, the villagers also found time to relax and enjoy themselves of an evening. These evenings were often occasions of great festivity and fun – and were organised by the villagers of Celtia themselves for their own amusement. And they had talent too! Erin Ayre (Mr Ayre’s daughter) was an accomplished fiddler. Mr Scott’s brother-in-law, Douglas Mann, would regale the audience with his stories of motorcycling bravado and his own personal achievements aboard the ‘iron horse’. Mr Jones’s sister, Brittany, was a first rate player of the binioù. Occasionally, Mr Scott himself would join Erin and Brittany on the bagpipes and everyone agreed that they made wonderful music together.

    The villagers of Celtia were very happy and their village thrived. There was room for everyone and everyone respected each other. But it was all a fool’s paradise.

    *****

    It was young Mr Trelawney (who was renowned in the village for his ice cream and pasties) who first noticed the change. He rushed into the local pub – the Triskele – one day and stammered out his message.

    “They’re building a massive supermarket just outside the village” he gasped, breathlessly. “Smith’s I think it’s called. And I’ve just been attacked by one of their employees.” He showed his black eye to the rest of the villagers.

    After the villagers had given Mr Trelawney a drink and told him to calm down, they decided they had to start a campaign of some sort against this new, unwelcome supermarket. Mr Ayre, always one of the most fiery of the villagers wanted to “punch the living daylights” out of Smith’s Managing Director – even Mr Smith himself, if he ever got his hands on him. Couldn’t the rest of them see that Smith’s supermarket would suck the lifeblood out of Celtia and all their shops would close?

    Mr Scott and Mr Jones however were more cautious. “We should write letters to Mr Smith. Petition him. Try and persuade him that we don’t want his supermarket so close to Celtia,” they said.

    Mr Ayre reluctantly agreed, muttering anti-Smith threats under his breath. Events were soon to vindicate his approach. It became obvious that the softly-softly approach did not work – Smith’s supermarket intended on growing and consequently to squeeze the local businesses. Mr Smith offered them shares in his enterprise and to buy them out – but they were too proud (or too stubborn) to accept.

    “We’re not getting anywhere” said Mr Ayre one day in the Triskele. “Smith is killing us – and all you lot are doing is writing petitions and wringing your hands. It’s time for some direct action and for Smith to be taught a lesson!”

    “It’s only very slowly that one catches the hen,” said Mr Jones.

    Mr Ayre was not convinced. “Smith is laughing at us.” he said. “I’m going to give Smith a punch up the bracket. Come on, Erin” and he seized his daughter’s arm and marched out of the pub.

    That very night, Mr Ayre carried out his threat and gave two black eyes to Mr Smith.

    The repercussions were serious – Mr Smith withdrew his share offer to the small shopkeepers and turned the screw tighter on the villagers of Celtia. Mr Trelawney’s ice cream and pasty making business was completely taken over, so that that hapless man found himself with only a stall to himself within the colossus that was Smith’s supermarket. Mr Scott and Mr Jones found they could only sell their meat and bread to Mr Smith (at a cheaper rate) and had to be grateful for lower profit margins. Only Mr Ayre stood apart, but even he, despite his resentments, found that Smith’s had a monopoly position in selling candlesticks. (Many years later Smith’s would sell their majority shareholding in Ayre’s candlesticks business back to him – at a great profit to themselves, of course – whilst retaining the menorah making business for themselves).

    *****

    And then recession hit the country. And it hit Celtia too, of course. Smith’s supermarket went into difficulties and there was a grave fear amongst its employees that the company would be wound up.

    Will Smith’s supermarket dissolve in the current climate? Would Mr Scott’s nerve hold when he demanded that his shareholding in the company be paid back – at full market value? Would Mr Jones have the confidence in insisting the same for himself – when the time arose? And would poor young Mr Trelawney get a proper job for himself and no longer to be considered a remote outpost of the Smith retail empire?

    Watch this space …
    _______

    Parables for the New Politics 
    2012-2019

    1. Niall McDevitt says:

      I believe in Kernow and the flag of St Piran but my essay sets out to deal with the ‘four major nationalisms’. The Cornish campaign is not given any coverage but if the plates begin to shift in Scotland and elsewhere, we will see an inspired Cornwall demanding a piece of the action.

    2. Steve Newman says:

      Welsh Sion, thank you for this illuminating parable. I know it may be churlish to ask you to decode things for me, but could you please explain “whilst retaining the menorah making business for themselves”? Why menorot? Why not, say, chandeliers?

      1. Welsh Sion says:

        Steve Newman,

        Thank you for your appreciation of my parable.

        I have to say this fable was first written by me in 2013, and I can’t really recall why I put that in. It may something to do with the religious bigotry in ‘the Province’ and how Smith (no prizes for guessing who he represents) maintains that to this day. Most certainly it’s not an anti-Jewish comment on my part – I don’t do racism but I promote the rights of the Celtic peoples (and indeed others) to self-determination and independence. I’m sorry if I haven’t been over-helpful here, and I’m also aware that some things ‘work’ better than others and that readers of my stories will find things that I didn’t intend or have personal relevance to them.

        Can I be so bold as suggest that you look up my collected – 56 political fables – which are available in a book and Kindle format on the Amazon sites worldwide, if you enjoyed this one? (You’ll find the title under this work.) I’ve always permitted readers to share the parables with anyone, if they are so minded – as they are ‘stand alones’. Of course, if this sort of thing does not appeal, I will not feel offended and we will continue to strive for independence in our own ways.

        1. Steve Newman says:

          Dear Welsh Sion,

          Thanks for the clarification and the reassurance. I will look up your other parables.

          Sincerely,

          Steve

  4. florian albert says:

    ‘As far as Scots are concerned, even the most socialist Labour party in decades is visibly wearing a sash, audibly banging a lambeg.

    There are many reasons why Scots have turned their back on SLAB. I don’t think that the sash and the lambeg appear on the list.

    1. Niall McDevitt says:

      It’s metaphorical rather than literal Florian.

      1. florian albert says:

        As a metaphor, or as a literal statement, it rings equally false.

        1. Niall McDevitt says:

          What’s false? All my statement means is that even the revamped quasi-Norwegian social democratic Labour Party cannot win back Scottish left-wing voters because it is Labour policy to uphold the union.

          1. florian albert says:

            Your equating the Union with the sash and the lambeg drum is what rings false.

            Most Unionist Scots – and I am not one and never have been one – view those parading wearing sashes and banging drums with the utmost distaste.

  5. Richard Easson says:

    So much is passed off in a vague and obfuscating way, without any real historical fact or investigation, for instance take the referendum question… “should the UK…..?”
    The UK, the United Kingdom is by the Act of Union 1707 Scotland and England. Wales is never mentioned and it was not till 1923 the official title became as on our passports The United Kingdom of Great Britain AND Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was not mentioned on the question paper, because someone somewhere thought UK was adequate. I do not.

    1. Welsh Sion says:

      The UK, the United Kingdom is by the Act of Union 1707 Scotland and England. Wales is never mentioned …

      ________

      That’s coz under our own ‘Acts of Union’ (aka the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542, and subsequently repealed by Westminster in December 1993), Wales was to be covered by the blanket term of ‘England’. (This provision itself was repealed in 1967.) You will also recall, Richard, that we do not figure on the ‘Union Flag’ nor on the ‘British Royal Standard’.

  6. Iain MacEchern says:

    It is not independence that engenders violence but the attempt to suppress it and retain dominion.

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Iain, it won’t be us who cause trouble I can very easily see Englandshire and their deranged Brexiteers will have their second Civil War when their house of cards comes tumbling down at Halloween and Brexit hits the mythical iceberg!!!

        1. Niall McDevitt says:

          Very promising. Let the dragon and the unicorn be unshackled.

  7. "none of the above" says:

    I’m left wondering what the purpose is of invoking a would-be unionist voice that is absented? If there was genuine concern for a polyphony of views we could revisit and re-consider e.g. Fraser McNeill’s comment to this September 2014 LSE article by Elliott Green which between them seems to encapsulate a lot: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/scottish-nationalism-stands-apart-from-other-secessionist-movements-for-being-civic-in-origin-rather-than-ethnic/

    If the supposed discussion hasn’t developed, has become entrenched in reductive one-sidedness, if it was ever otherwise, then that in itself is indicative of something.

    Similarly, the National Collective post-referendum reflections *are* worth revisiting, not least for their refreshing owning-up to market opportunism — and by that some meant actual market, not Spikey appropriation of a long disproven ‘marketplace of ideas’. That way a picture of Scotland with ‘entrepreneurialism across government’ might start to emerge so that we can begin to address it as a reality. If we should need reminding how privatisation is dressed-up in ‘progressive’ language:

    “What the Procurement Reform Bill does is essentially open up the market of possibilities for different social enterprises to gain access to public sector contracts and opportunities” […] What we’ve done in Scotland is take a very focused approach right across government to encouraging more development within the third sector and the social enterprise community. That’s been right across government, it’s not been in different compartments […] and it’s given a much greater prominence to the opportunities for the social enterprises sector…”
    – John Swinney, Ferd Sosiale Entreprenører 2014

    Somewhat obviously, left-unionists of differing political positions have been addressing Nairn’s break-up since at least 1977 with Hobsbawm in the New Left Review and all that sparked from those exchanges, which were actual exchanges not shadow boxing:

    “The fundamental criterion of Marxist pragmatic judgment has always been whether nationalism as such, or any specific case of it, advances the cause of socialism; or conversely, how to prevent it from inhibiting its progress; or alternatively, how to mobilize it as a force to assist its progress. Few Marxists have argued that no nationalist movement can be supported, none that all automatically serve this purpose and are therefore always to be supported. No Marxist (outside the nation concerned) will regard with other than suspicion Marxist parties which put the independence of their nations above all other objectives regardless of context.”
    – Eric Hobsbawm, Some reflections on ‘The Break-up of Britain’
    https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=bGF3cmVuY2VraW5nLm5ldHx3d3d8Z3g6NmU0ZGQ5YzE0ZThkNGExOA

    And continuing that critical questioning up to a decade ago, there’s e.g. Andrew Coates (of whom I’m no fan btw):

    “…However civic other forms of nationalism may be, they rest on the premise that membership of a political community rests on individuals being identical in some way, and that at least some national interests trump others. It is hard to see how this can be located within hybrid identities, global capital streams and migration, unless at some point there is a demarcation between those who belong and those who don’t. Nairn may eviscerate departure lounge internationalism, with its emphasis on abstractly demolishing national barriers. But it is hard to see how erecting new ones serves the cause of the peoples.
    Nairn’s principal “reform” through the dissolution of the United Kingdom into smaller parts, is, as a result, problematic. More dangerous snags arise from the nature of the emerging state, fettered by commercial interests. If the French Revolution was irredeemably stamped by the centralisation of the absolute Monarchy it despised, what chances for escaping the grip of the equally powerful Privatising-state by further fragmented administrative structures? If the UK dissolves into “a collection of (relatively) small independent or near-independent states, eight or nine in number” (p.135), by what means will they disentangle themselves from much more experienced for profit or Resource Accounting bureaucracies? Social democratic projects for social justice funded by high taxation are already vulnerable to regressive competition for inward investment. Further dwarfed by transnationals, pressure on smaller states to adopt the neo-liberal doxa will probably increase. If decentralisation extends as far as nationalists desire, one could foresee the European Union presiding over a levelling-down of social rights through such a scramble for competitive advantage. Unless the emerging neo-liberal order is tackled, dreams of fine-tailored independent Constitutions heralding justice and vibrant civil societies are Castles in Spain. …”
    – The Break-Up of Tom Nairn? – Tom Nairn, Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, Verso, 2002. Reviewed by Andrew Coates, http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext27/Nairn.html

    So again somewhat obviously, as it appears to need stating, there’s no such undifferentiated entity as either “the English” or “the English left” — it’s both an absurd and crass reduction, though through iterations such as here this racialisation whereby ‘race’ and ‘nation’ are defined in terms of each other (proposing refinement at ever decreasing scales) is rapidly becoming the norm (I’ll get to the supposed ‘civic’ apologia for it soon). To propose so, you’d have to be so far down the rabbithole of ethnocultural essentialism as to render claims of a differentiation via a sort of ‘civic’ nationalism meaningless. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for the return of SNP centrist message management — and I’m not joking.
    Similarly, there’s also no “white working classes” to shift allegiance. As a categorisation it’s an alt-right contrivance, so why repeat the right-wing fallacy of ‘white genocide’ on which it’s dependent? Whereas it’s empirically proven it was the Tories’ “squeezed middle” who voted en masse for Brexit — Frankie Boyle’s Columbo sketch comes to mind.
    Similarly, you’d have to be utterly blinkered not to comprehend the xenophobia of the assimilationist Irish state’s 2004 ‘citizenship referendum’ (way ahead of Hungary). As if constructing immigrants as ‘new’ as against an otherwise homogeneous (white, Christian) and settled nation isn’t a tad problematic — many in Ireland certainly thought it was at the time!

    As to charges of “saltire neoliberalism”, what did people actually think the ‘Celtic Tiger’ myth was *all* about!? The disavowal just about makes sense in Scotland if one were to ignore the actual trajectory of the national sub-state and what’s actually meant by the desire to be a ‘normal’ state in Europe. Another discussion, this time about the neoliberal realities of EU membership, which was frozen out — and no, I’m not for leaving. The small-state ‘arc of prosperity’ etc no longer gets invoked directly but the likes of Business for Scotland still pump out the self-same pre-crash undiluted neoliberal effluent. At least Iceland, previously eagerly quoted, undertook a public report into the harmful delusionary effects of this sort of nation-branding — and no, that’s not a ‘too wee’ argument either.

    And so to the false bifurcation that is ‘civic nationalism’ (or ‘cultural citizenship’) with its supposed inclusive identity, but which effectively perpetuates the invocation of a unified ethnocultural majority state against which the Other is to be graciously ‘included’ (aka ‘progressive neoliberalism’). I’m still drawn to what Nasar Meer said, towards the end of their panel discussion at Class And Nation In Contemporary Scotland/ Session 4: Contemporary Racisms (2015) – pointing out that the Christian symbolism of the Saltire/ Cross of St Andrew is never raised (or possible to raise) as for discussion, and that terms like ‘New Scots’ hide exclusions in configurations of Scottishness (that element of implicit hierarchy), the speakers overall drawing attention to there’s rarely been the chance in ‘independence’ contexts to discuss these concerns: https://livestream.com/IndependenceLive/class-nation-day2/videos/99841074

    I’m going to cut this short (as there’s much more could be said in response) with three short extracts, in part for what they themselves bring to the fore, but also because they reveal a critical lack in Scotland as regards an infrastructure for public discourse, which is not a dig at BellaC and what it achieves on incredibly limited resources (which goes for a majority of contributors too) but rather a recognition of what together BellaC manages to do under the ‘competitive’ conditions of the neoliberal Scottish national sub-state:

    “Putting Khan’s and Heuchan’s comments in context, the SNP has often been hailed as representing ‘civic’ as opposed to ‘ethnic’ nationalism by the party itself, political commentators and academics alike – though more critical viewpoints have also been expressed (see e.g. Mycock). Furthermore, this distinction has come to dominate public, political as well as academic debates about nationalism and national belonging more generally. While it remains important to understand the ways in which the concepts of ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ nationalism are used in public political discourses about the nation, the analytical usefulness of the concepts, to me, seems highly dubious – not least because of the normative connotations the distinction carries (see Brubaker for a good critical discussion).
    However, the positive rhetoric emanating from the SNP regarding immigration has to be commended, especially when other mainstream parties and certain sections of the media have been expressing views that are deeply troubling at best, and outright racist at worst. As we witnessed a considerable rise in reported hate crimes in England and Wales following the Brexit vote, the SNP continued to signal their support for those who are often termed as the ‘new Scots’. The SNP have also condemned the ‘Go Home’ vans previously. Nonetheless, there is often a tendency to assume that Scots are – by nature – fairer, more egalitarian and more left-wing (the latter claim has been disputed based on social attitude survey data, for example, though YouGov suggest there are indeed more marked differences. In their independence referendum publication “Your Scotland, Your Future” (no longer available online), the SNP argued that “fairness runs through Scotland like a vein” – an analogy which, of course, conjures up a very organic, embodied idea of Scotland as an entity, and of the ‘Scottish character’ (see also Mooney & Scott’s work).
    Thus, the rhetoric from the SNP has, on the face of it, been welcoming of people from different backgrounds (though the inclusiveness has, importantly, been challenged especially with regard to the Homecoming franchise and how Scotland’s history has been selectively remembered – see e.g. Mullen).”
    – Scotland, SNP and the Push for Independence: Ethnic Minorities and National Imagination, Minna Liinpää (17th May, 2017), https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/scotland-snp-and-the-push-for-independence-where-do-ethnic-minorities-stand-in-the-national-imagination.html

    “[civic nationalism;] an emergent phenomenon defined in terms of the possibilities of its development, which relate to pride in the public culture denoted by territorial statehood and citizenship, and to visions of common destiny” (p.60); “a community in progress of common destiny … tied into the idea of common loyalty to the territory and its institutions, means civic nationalism implies the acquisition of ethical obligations, and should not be regarded simply as a voluntary association lacking emotive power” (p.51); “Tom Nairn sees civic nationalism as developing out of the institutions of an inherently liberal civil society […however…] correlation does not always indicate cause” (p.54)
    – David Brown (2000) Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural and Multicultural Politics. London; New York: Routledge.https://www.routledge.com/Contemporary-Nationalism/Brown/p/book/9780415171397

    “Since devolution many museums in Scotland have attempted to represent national identity in plural and inclusive terms – emphasising regional and historical differences within the nation and highlighting the contribution of so-called “New Scots” to Scottish society. However, it remains to be seen whether attempts to deconstruct homogenous discourses of nationhood at the level of the state or institution are capable of radically altering individual understandings of national identity and belonging.”
    – Katherine Lloyd (2014) Beyond the rhetoric of an “inclusive national identity”: Understanding the potential impact of Scottish museums on public attitudes to issues of identity, citizenship and belonging in an age of migrations, Cultural Trends, 23:3, pp.148-158
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09548963.2014.925279

    1. Niall McDevitt says:

      Witless cod-academic gibberish that does nothing at all to address the core original idea of Labour jettisoning its Unionism and reinventing itself as a left-wing nationalist party co-operating with an amicable and constructive break-up of the UK; or failing that the formation of a new English left-wing nationalist party also aiming to co-operate in the dismantling of the UK and rebuilding of a progressive England, and with the potential to combat the Conservative Party without the assistance of Welsh and Scottish electorates.

      All you’re doing is throwing a stink-bomb in the letterbox… anonymously.

  8. Welsh Sion says:

    Front page of today’s FT looks very interesting. Can’t blow it up to a bigger size. Can someone else help? Thanks.

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