The redress of major capitalism: the rebirth of small nations?

Tom Nairn has an interesting piece in the Scotsman today (H/T Peter), in which he places Scotland’s ‘struggle’ for greater autonomy in a wider world in which the classic nation state is reducing further down to its more constituent parts, parts always so dominated by the mercantile class upon which global capitalism:

Little Scotland has been developing a differently grounded resistance to the same mercantile order. Usually emphasis is placed on historical grounds stemming from the pre-1707 state and the odd agreement that permitted a distinct Scottish civil society to continue, not without good reason. The very idea of civil (non-political) society arose among 18th century Scots as a consecration of such persistence.

However, it may also be that their historical patience is now being justified and that an emerging global future will provide conditions for rebuilding it. The future, rather than the early-modern past, will be decisive.

Naturally, an altered politics will be in order for that. But isn’t this what people will be voting for or against in 2014? It may be true that return to independent statehood is in one sense a backward step; but it is now being undertaken for a more significant run and forward leap.

Leap forward to what? Well, this shift can also be interpreted as long-overdue revenge of the periphery against the UK’s over-large and concentrated centre, the relic of imperial times, and of a nationality that had embarked too soon upon over-bearing outward reach.

It’s an interesting frame in which to view the proposition. However it also implies a distancing from the new supra national power networks which are capable of exerting huge, undemocratic power on their systems.

Many of the internal pressures in the Republic, for instance, are difficult for its elected politicians to mediate in a public space that has rarely been subjected to the debate of what sovereignty means for a small country embedded in a series of large networks in which can almost only exert ‘soft power’.

  • OneNI

    We will see how well small nations get on this year when the Republic defaults on its debts and is forced out of the Euro. Remember the Republic problems stem not simplisticly from wicked bankers but because a small nation was forced to bend the knee to the Eurostate.
    Will the Republic exert its sovereignty? It will be very painful for its people if it does. Maybe a halfway house will be to seek help and protection from the UK.
    I wonder what impact all of this will have on the Scots? will they feel Alex Salmond – who used to boast about following Iceland and the Republic’s example – has any real notion of what he is doing?

  • Neil

    One NI picks out what I’d consider to be one pertinent point – what’s Europe even going to look like in two years time? That’s going to be decisive if the Scots decide to go down that particular route. If Ireland as suggested gets the boot, then it’s likely that Portugal, Spain, Italy and certainly Greece will also be on the sidelines, though that’s no foregone conclusion.

    In one circumstance we can criticise Scotland for thinking of going with the Euro and handing over sovereignty to Brussels, while on the other we can suggest that the small countries of Euroland will have their soveriegnty but nothing else because the Euro will be no more and you an’t be succesful as a nation unless you’re part of a large Union like Britain. Or, um, Euroland..?

    The problem with the argument above is that all too often it wants it both ways: the Euro is going to sink and take Scotland with it and the Euro will succed and take your soveriegnty. You can’t succeed unless you’re part of a Union larger than yourself, and you can’t succeed if you join the largest union available – the EU.

    It’s gonna be a long and winding road to 2014. The Euro could literally be dead by then. Nations could default (possibly technically a la Greece thorugh debt haircuts) and the wheels could come off, or the Germans might bankroll the whole project and things could work out. We can’t possibly even begin to understand what the Scots could be faced with in two years time, or how public opinion will lie in Scotland after two more years of coalition government. But the situation in Euroland changes weekly so to try to guestimate what’s going to happen over the next 100 weeks is a bit of a waste of time.

  • John Ó Néill

    You could equally argue that it is the death of empire.

    The ocean-going and land empires that built up in the period from around 1500 onwards aggregated from a vast number of smaller polities. One unifying ideology was that scale was everything and smaller polities could no longer negotiate their existence when faced with the vast order of difference in size. The paradox of globalisation is that modern communications infrastructure means that the periphery does not have to solely negotiate via the imperial ‘centre’.

    Capitalism, in the ‘west’ may find it problematic to have so many actors on the stage. But, in its current form, we may not get to see the two interact for any length of time, since it is the problems within capitalism in the west, and its inability to perform self-diagnosis and self-medication that are major problems at the minute. Global capitalism, fully integrated with China and India, may be a different monster entirely.

  • John,

    But empire never dies, it just gets reborn in different clothes. What is the EU but a new kind of empire? We can try to make it so it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, but it undoubtedly will, and a few new mistakes of its own. History is made of such. Economy of scale is not just some passing fad – we can no more escape it than we can the business cycle. Empires rise, decay and fall and new ones take their place. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can make the process less painful.

  • John Ó Néill

    Andrew, it depends on what the particular imperial project requires. The EU may be more of an Austro-Hungarian patchwork empire than anything else. Successful dynastic or transgenerational empires are not that common in history. The failure of the EU, UK and US to address the systemic problems with western ‘global’ finance simply won’t go away, though. We are still some form of catastrophe away from seeing the final straight (and invading Iran won’t correct the problems either).

  • Greenflag

    Indeed . Not only are they not going away but the underlying causes which gave rise to this particular crisis have not been addressed and whats worse there seems to be little political will or should that be capacity anywhere in the major economies to do more than mark time in the hope that somehow it will all blow over and that the ‘western world’s financial services model can resume it’s looting and pillaging operations on nation state economies around the world via leveraged speculation against currencies , governments etc . Spain’s unemployed now number over 5 million the highest in the EU and the Greeks are waking up not to a new economic spring to to an economic winter/ice age for decades to come .Politically this situation is not going to fly .Sooner or later there will be blood on the streets in the worst affected Euro countries and in the USA .

    The ramping up of a ‘war ‘ against Iran crescendo among the neo con extremists in the USA is just another potential nail in the coffin of western economies . Iran is the ‘new ‘ threat and possibly also Pakistan . Why does the West fear an Iranian ‘nuclear ‘ bomb and not a Pakistani or North Korean one ? Israel has a 200 nuclear bombs so why can’t Iran have 1 ? Who decides that the Israelis can have what the Iranians can’t ?

    The nature of the upcoming catastrophe is unseen whether it be another Middle Eastern war or another worldwide financial meltdown or a crazy Israeli preemptive strike which would drive oil prices into the stratosphere and plunge the EU and USA into another recession ?

    It’s 2012 but it might just as well be 1912 as the world back then sleepwalked into a century of carnage which resulted as per Jared Diamond states in his book ‘The Third Chimpanzee’ in over 100 million deaths due to war, genocides , war induced famines , and civil and religious wars . As the ‘Holocaust ‘ is recalled today around the world lets not forget it’s roots lay not just in the collapse of the Weimar Republic or 1920’s Depression or the anti semitism of Tsarist Russia and Eastern Europe but also in the inability of the major powers at the time to NOT go to war in Aug 1914 .

    Deja vu for another century of carnage ?