#IndyRef: “Nationalism breaks things and they are things not easy to fix.”

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On the subject of Scotland and the clear failings of the No campaign (such as it is) Hugo Riftkind’s column in yesterday’s London Times is worth looking at (if you have a subscription).

He deals with the impossibility clause currently being pushed by Labour, up front…

…as we all know really, an independent Scotland, would be mostly fine. Poorer than now, perhaps, both culturally and economically, but no great disaster. But more damaging than its prospect, for all of us, is the fact that so many want it.

Say the polls ossify roughly where they are now and independence loses buy a ten per cent margin. That’s still more than 4 out of every 10 in Britain’s largest minority the wanted out. What sort of victory is that?

In something of a reprise of Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France mode, he concludes…

Nationalism is a dangerous affair. It breaks things and they are things not easy to fix. What the referendum has broken already is a consensus that was utterly and vitally British. It was both a product of three centuries of union and its cause.

It gave us the multiculturalism that has forged our post Empire identity an is the faith on which the United Kingdom was buitt. It is the core idea that people who want different things can still get along.

But he’s most interesting towards the end whilst assaying what he thinks will be lost if Britain were to lose its status as a country:

Britain without Scotland becomes a country in which multiculturalism has failed. It would become England with Welsh and Irish afterthoughts. The umbrella of Britishness – which allows us all to be British-thisish or British-thatish – would be lost.

We would become country not only with the majority White-English identity (which we are at the moment) but with a dominant one. And if you don’t see the distinction maybe that’s because for you it wouldn’t make much difference.

It would for me. These past years I have found the looming possibility of Scottish independence affecting my politics in the most unexpected of ways. Perhaps it’s the ancestral rootless Jew in me, but I find myself struggling how to curb the faint stirrings of a Ralph Milibandesque dislike of the concept of the nation state all together.

Being unable to square my unionism with even mild euro scepticism, I have also found, almost without thinking about it, that I’ve stopped being Eurosceptic at all.

Most of all, I find that I have become newly appreciative of the scrambled, multi-ethnic, multilingual, hotch-potch that is my new home in the British capital. London like britishness itself, is a messi, porous and cacophonous affair, with a little interest in keeping people out.

As a mere English capital, the city would be adrift. How baffling I find it when those in Scotland – a land with almost no ethnic minorities at all – champion independence on the smug and entirely untested basis that it would make their small Utopia the antithesis of Nigel Farage’s Little England. As far as i’m concerned, that’s what my London is already.

The Scottish no campaign has rightly been derided for its negativity, and on surprisingly, because alistair darling is not a man how to make you whoop. Ultimately though it is Scottish nationalism that is the far more negative creed.

Scots are not today subjective or oppressed. Post devolution, they are not even overlooked. In no sense at all can the campaign for scottish independence be defended as the urge to put right any great wrong.

Instead it is the campaign to stop talking; to ditch the obligation to engage with the folks next door. In the end, obviously, I hope it fails. From a British perspective, it’s a terrible failure that it even began.

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  • Kensei

    Currently the UK is Englishness with Celtic trappings and Egland is incredibly dominant within the Union, by sheer weight of numbers. If anything the failure to see this is what has drove Scotland to this point. The fact this article is written from London, the place the Union is mostest run for, reinforces the point.

    This article is also filled to the brim with bullshit. A joint sense of “Britishness” was not just the product of the Union, but it’s cause? I think that ignores the realpolitick, religious and otherwise, of the 17th century, and the general popular as opposed to elite opinion of the Union at the time. “Multiculturalism is dead”, because a historical separate section of the country with increasingly diverging politics desires a civic nationalism and more control? It’s utter nonsense.

    The problem with all these too wee, too poor, too stupid articles is the existence and success of a plethora of small countries, European and otherwise.

  • grandimarkey

    Ultimately though it is Scottish nationalism that is the far more negative creed.

    Nonsense.

    First of all, the YES campaign consists of various groupings within Scottish society, SNP, Radical Campaign for Yes, the Green party etc – How anyone can refer to the Green party as Nationalists I do not know.

    This is one of the many ways that the No campaign attack Yes. First by referring to the Yes campaign as Nationalists and deriding Nationalism. The Yes campaign is a civic campaign consisting of people from all over Scotland, people who were born in England are part of the Yes campaign, people who were born in Ireland/Wales/The Middle East/India are all part of this movement. It isn’t straight up WWII era ‘my country is better than yours’ nationalism. The other deflection tactic is to proclaim Alex Salmond as the leader of YES and attack him when he isn’t.

    This is the same old boo-hoo nonsense from Conservative commentators bemoaning the final falling apart of the empire. “Why would they want to leave? We’re so kind to them, we love them really” – Bollocks. If Scotland wasn’t treated as a lesser region by Westminster then perhaps this wouldn’t be happening, no?

    Instead it is the campaign to stop talking; to ditch the obligation to engage with the folks next door.

    This is just straight-up lies or incredibly finger-in-ear misinformation. It’s never been or won’t ever be about this at all.

  • JoeHas

    The debate on Scottish independence has increasingly focused on the London-centric nature of the UK economy and the failure of government to see beyond their Westminster bubble when making policy. There is sympathy for this argument all over the UK, a huge problem for the No campaign.

    In the words of one Mancunian quoted by Kevin McKenna, “London is sucking the life out of the rest of us. My hope is that if Scotland votes for independence that it will be a great example for the rest of England that exists outside London.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/20/what-do-english-think-of-scottish-independence-kevin-mckenna

  • Dec

    ‘It is the core idea that people who want different things can still get along.’

    Says the London-based eurosceptic – any wonder their union is screwed?

  • Mick Fealty

    Right, it is not up to me to offer a counterpoint to some of these criticisms, but I will try to fill in some of the gaps imposed on Rifkind’s column by the paywall. I think this passage is relevant to some of comments made so far:

    Of course nobody likes being called a nationalist. They get cross, these pro indy Scots, when the label is applied. Independence, they claim is not nationalism because it is based on no sort of ethnic identity. Their is case rather that Scotland is in fact a liberal, caring, social democracy in waiting, but nasty, right wing England is holding it back.

    It is balls. On every level it is balls. For one thing, a nice progressive nationalism is still nationalism. It is still about taking one group and hiving it off from everybody else. And for another, the right wing, England of SNP folklore is utter fantasy. The last election was the first time since 1992 that an English majority had not voted Labour.

    Paradoxical as it might sound, one only need hear the chorus of approval that the notion of Scottish independence gets from some English people – and not exclusively in the North East – to know what a fantasy it is. “No wonder you want to go!” they say, eying the ruddy-faced public schoolboys of Downing Street with a shudder. “If only we could do the same!” As the presence of so many like-minded compatriots south of the border wasn’t, in fact, the best argument against Scottish independence there was.

    All are reacting to a state of affairs in Westminster so temporary that it might very well not be there by the time independence would happen anyway. With a Prime Minister Miliband in power, a shift to President Salmond would be a considerable move to the right. “But it’ll shake things up!” the dim left are starting to say, as though the schism of centuries of union was akin to a bracing shower. And it indeed it will, but perhaps not in a way they’ll much enjoy.

    PS, someone on Twitter pointed me at this clip from US comedian Doug Stanhope on Nationalism:

  • Dec

    ‘London like britishness itself, is a messi, porous and cacophonous affair, with a little interest in keeping people out. ‘

    Wait until the benefits cap comes into force. People are already being shipped to Birmingham by Newham council.

  • Dec

    Mick

    I think the admirable Stanhope is confusing xenophobia with nationalism. Can the Better Together (unless you’re Europe in a dress) crowd explain the rationale that Scottish (and, by extension Irish and Welsh) Nationalism is a destructive, nasty ideology whereby British nationalism is altogether rather innocent and wonderful. Oh and multi-cultural?

  • grandimarkey

    The rest of this is just as much nonsense as the original part posted though, and very neatly proves my previous point.

    First of all…

    With a Prime Minister Miliband in power, a shift to President Salmond would be a considerable move to the right.

    This is exactly what I was talking about in my previous post, identify Salmond as the target and attack.

    After a Yes vote there will be a general election in Scotland to choose the next government, it might be Scottish Labour, it might be some kind of Conservative or SNP party (as it’s accepted that the SNP will probably break-apart after a YES vote), it might be the Green party, it could be anyone. And no matter who it is, that’s the democratic will of the Scottish people and should be respected.

    For one thing, a nice progressive nationalism is still nationalism. It is still about taking one group and hiving it off from everybody else.

    And pray tell then, what is the problem with a nice progressive nationalism? He hasn’t said what is wrong with it, merely that it ‘is still nationalism’ – So what? Point out the failings of a ‘nice progressive nationalism’ as compared to more of the same mis-governance from Westminster. There’s no substance. No argument.

    And they’re being ‘Hived off’ because it’s the only way to ensure an actual representative democracy for Scotland. Unless you don’t believe in democracy.

    As the presence of so many like-minded compatriots south of the border wasn’t, in fact, the best argument against Scottish independence there was.

    Yet no one is really making it. It’s no surprise that working-class people all over the UK have similar problems but thats no reason for Scots to attempt to solve the problem at their end.

    The problem is the neo-liberal consensus at Westminster, a problem that will continue and continue unless there is some kind of huge political shake-up and this is precisely the thing that could do that.

    The UK is the second lowest paid economy of all the advanced economies in the developed world.
    People in the UK work the third longest hours of anywhere in Europe.
    Lowest pensions in Europe.
    If you’re a child you’re going to be in a country where in a WHO survey of Child Happiness they came absolutely bottom in a league table of the developed nations.

    The YES campaign has given people hope and something to became politically and socially active about.

    The umbrella of Britishness – which allows us all to be British-thisish or British-thatish – would be lost.

    For a man attacking nationalism he has his own bleary eyed version to contend with…

  • Mick Fealty

    Dec, what about lives saved during The Troubles© and the Peace Process™ era by juggling kids between one paramilitary controlled area to another or, indeed, further afield to places like Birmingham?

    PS, I think you make a decent point about a difference between xenophobia and nationalism. But I think his point about us and them is worth considering more carefully.

  • Fortlands

    ” It [nationalism] is still about taking one group and hiving it off from everybody else.” I’m not sure what ‘hiving’ means but I think it suggests cutting away, isolating. I don’t think the Germans, French, Italians, etc would accept that their countries are isolationist. As someone above pointed out, Scots want to run Scotland because British (apart from our own little corner) means English for most people. When’s the last time someone said ‘British’ and you thought ‘Ah yes, that’d be Scotland’? Scottish nationalism is a drive for ‘maitres chez nous’, which is a very reasonable ambition. I like my neighbours but I also like running my own house (with the wife, of course…)

  • Seamuscamp

    What a surprise! Scion of a Tory cabinet minister downmouths nationalism which he demonstrates he doesn’t understand. He cannot recognise the essential nationalism inherent in UKIP and the Tory Party.

    That said, Salmond and Co, if they succeed, will succeed because of an alienation from current Londoncentric lawmaking and not because of the logic of their solutions to problems. Salmondites need to believe that the same Londoncentric administration will cave in on everything fiscal; and that there are no anti-regional-independence elements in the EU (eg Italy, Spain).

  • Mick Fealty

    Darcus Howe in the write up to his four part documentary for Channel 4, White Tribe in 2000 (http://goo.gl/roGnGe):

    “I’d come here to discover the English, but they were not English at all, they were Geordies. Their loyalty was to their team and to their city. England for them was another country.”

    Even in Stow-on-the Wold, a traditional English village, the heart of middle England and, says Darcus, “the England I dreamt about in Trinidad”, he is shocked at the lack of Englishness on show.

    “The first pub I saw was called a Brasserie and you couldn’t get a ploughman’s lunch!” The culture of the day was French, not English. “We are losing our identity”, admits one such Francophile, “it’s becoming a nebulous, jelly-like thing: what is Englishness? I don’t know any more.”

  • Floreat Ultonia

    Surely a well-read and well-travelled guy like Darcus Howe knows that the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ was actually dreamt up by some pub chain in the 70s? It’s the cheese sarnie version of ‘Fields of Athenry’.

  • http://ansionnachfionn.com/ An Sionnach Fionn

    “Nationalism is a dangerous affair. It breaks things and they are things not easy to fix.”

    Like a civilization thousands of years in the making which had progressed to a level where it had developed an integrated transnational multicultural society until it found itself subsumed into an aggressor nation through a process of invasion, occupation, annexation and colonisation? Ah yeah, nationalism ’tis a terrible thing – and so is historical chauvinism.

  • Kensei

    It is balls. On every level it is balls. For one thing, a nice progressive nationalism is still nationalism. It is still about taking one group and hiving it off from everybody else. And for another, the right wing, England of SNP folklore is utter fantasy. The last election was the first time since 1992 that an English majority had not voted Labour.

    Wow. Just wow. There is nothing wrong with Nationalism per se. At it’s best it can be a force for good, binding disparate groups that have no reason to cooperate into a cohesive whole and stitches together the fabric of society into something much greater. The alternative is near always at the level of families or small communities and smaller, more mean and more petty.

    Whether your “nationalism” is at the level of Scotland or Britain or Europe, the same argument applies. At some point the bonds between disparate groups break down – there isn’t enough in common, they want different things, policy can’t apply uniformly. Which is why we don’t have world government, many of the people making this argument argue strenuously to get out of Europe, and no British Nationalist can properly explain why their Nationalism doesn’t count.

    England may have voted Labour, but it’s a very different Labour than was traditionally presented at elections, and the evidence is that Scots have more appetite (or tolerance) for left leaning policies. Not because a poll says so, but because they have actually voted for and implemented those policies. And the idea Miliband is to the Left of Salmond? Bwaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!

  • JPJ2

    The most extraordinary thing about this is that British nationalists seem incapable of recognising that they ARE nationalists.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    JPJ2

    “The most extraordinary thing about this is that British nationalists seem incapable of recognising that they ARE nationalists.”

    True.

    However, there is a bit of a difference here.

    British nationalism is about being an umbrella identity (in general) in much the same way Russian (federal) nationalism is or even Yugoslav nationalism back in the day.

    Nationalism in the other context is about either breaking up the umbrella identity altogether or just not wanting to be part of it.

    If the UK falls apart completely then who really has the biggest claim to be British?

    Historically speaking the Welsh (I suppose).

    But yes, you’re right, they’re nationalists of sorts but an over arching nationalism that allows one to be both British and Scottish (or Russian & Ingushetian or Yugoslav & Macedonian…).

  • Mick Fealty

    That is a theme Id like to see explicitly addressed in the overall essay series I think. In the meantime I think this is how Rifkind deals with it:

    “Paradoxical as it might sound, one only need hear the chorus of approval that the notion of Scottish independence gets from some English people – and not exclusively in the North East – to know what a fantasy it is. “No wonder you want to go!” they say, eying the ruddy-faced public schoolboys of Downing Street with a shudder. “If only we could do the same!” As the presence of so many like-minded compatriots south of the border wasn’t, in fact, the best argument against Scottish independence there was.”

  • Politico68

    Mick, love the video but I think it’s more of a racist satire than a piss – take on the personality of Nationalism.

    I also like Hugo’s piece although I sense an element of sadness and a little bit of anger. A Sadness that it could soon be an end to Britain as we know it, and anger that it just didn’t work out. A bit like a romantic break-up, where one partner is sure it can work but the other just feels it’s time to go it alone.

    He seems to associate Nationalism with a time long gone. In Britain at least, the nasty British Nationalism of old (stiff upper lip, superiority complex, educate the savages and scorch the earth as Britannia rules the waves, etc.) is long gone (If only Irish Unionists would catch up) replaced by a more progressive, open and mature neo-nationalism; similar in many ways to the new Irish Nationalism that I tend to harp on about.
    The only difference being a distinct lack of confidence in British Nationalism, which is understandable given the situation with Scotland. He seems to be blissfully unaware that his article identifies him as one such British Neo- Nationalist. I don’t think he deserves criticism for loving what he sees as his Country.

    But he is very wrong to assume that Scottish Nationalism is lost in the old nasty Nationalism of the past. It clearly is not. There is no hatred, no superiority complex, and no Anglophobic narrative. It is simply a case whereby many people feel the relationship just does not work anymore and that separation would be better; but let’s still stay friends.

    This has been spelled out by those that feel the policies of Westminster simply don’t chime with those in Holyrood. The concentration of Wealth and Privilege in London and SE England means that the Scots are at a disadvantage while they don’t have full control on the levers of power in their own Country. The spending on Defence and the Tory right wing ideology is simply out of step with Scottish perspective. Moreover, Scotland has spent most of the last century being governed by a party it doesn’t even vote for. Many in Scotland feel that Independence will offer the opportunity to economically re-balance the Island. A change in personnel at Westminster might give Scotland a reprieve from unintended miss-rule, but how long it would be before they are back to having a government who are not ‘by the people’ or even ‘for the people’.

    I understand Hugo’s sentiments, my own family in England, Scotland and Wales are becoming quite anxious over the recent polls and they look at me (the heretic of the family) asking why this might not go to plan. The Yes side were way behind how could they have caught up? It bemuses me a bit to be honest but I don’t think the answer lies in the negativity of the No camp. I think it lies in the fact that while the majority of Scots genuinely do like England, they just don’t want to live in the same house with them anymore.

  • Kensei

    You can be Irish and from Cork. There are always sub identities, and no British Nationalist has explained why they are super special in thus regard.

    All of the arguments are recursive. If it’s good for Scotland in the UK, why not the UK in Europe? Why not Europe in the World? Unless you believe in one world government you have a hard time arguing that nationalism is inherently nasty

    Also people love steering this onto arguments about identity, which are fuzzy. Its more about power, who wields it and who is best to, which is less so.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Kensei

    “Unless you believe in one world government you have a hard time arguing that nationalism is inherently nasty”

    The way I see it, nationalism highlights differences.

    In some scenarios that’s fine.

    “I’m Flemish, he’s Dutch, now let’s hit the pub”

    In some scenarios it can be dangerous e.g. Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia.

    Patriotism can crossover with nationalism, as can racism and hatred.

    (This also includes NI’s peculiar form of British nationalism, lest I appear to be one sided).

  • Kensei

    Nationalism also highlights the way people are the same; people from London and Liverpool and Leeds highlight a common bond that they might not otherwise have, and in large parts of history, didn’t have. Nationalism was successful because it was a unifying force.

    There can problems dealing with the outgroup and the reason it is unfashionable is that taken to the extreme you help fuel the World Wars. But a mature civic nationalism doesn’t have to do that, and I know of no way of organising government without drawbacks and trade offs.

    Anything that can be applied to regions and nationalist sentiment, can be equally be applied to nations and supranational sentiment. You might argue it mitigates passions, or makes things governing easier, but then you need to acknowledge that the nation state has been remarkably enduring and also offers a number of advantages. Then people can have an honest debate

    But sure, why do that? Just go “Nationalism! Boooo!”

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “But a mature civic nationalism doesn’t have to do that”

    Very good point.

  • abucs

    Leaving aside the ‘Irish afterthoughts’ comments I have to disagree about preferring a multi-cultural society. The problem is that if the ruling elites ordain it, then there’s not much you can do about it.

    I have always preferred societies that were mono-cultural or have peaceful long established groups living side by side.

    I am currently in Japan which is very mono-cultural, technologically modern and culturally traditional. The people are extremely polite, well mannered and wealthy. The ‘normal’ houses that they live in are mini mansions and everyone seems content and relaxed.

    Unfortunately for me, I don’t see Progressive Britain progressing to such a traditional peaceful, content and rich society any time soon. And Ireland seems determined to go down the ‘Progressive’ road as well.

  • Politico68

    Abucs – Nihon ni sundemasu ka? Do desu Ka? Wathashi wa, go nen kan, Nihon ni sundeimashita. Nihon koku ni tsutematte imashita. Sugofatta desu !! ;-)

  • abucs

    I’ve been pretty chicken to explore the Japanese dishes. Tried to stick to Western food, but will have to branch out soon. I’ll let you know if I survive. :)