Friday, September 05, 2014

Two nations, two nationalisms

Short question: why is nationalism in Essex such a paranoid, conspiracy-minded, UKIP-voting, weeping sore of bitterness, while nationalism in Glasgow is, faults admitted and proportions guarded, relatively progressive and democratic?  Why is Scottish independence largely a cause of the left, while UK independence is a cause of the ‘fruitcakes’?  

Short answer: I think it’s symptomatic of deep trends, which started to become visible in 2011 during the riots.  People asked, why are we having these riots in England and not in other parts of the UK.  The glib answer was, we have a Tory government, whereas they have devolution.  But that was only itself a surface manifestation of something else.  I think what is happening is that the national question is refracting the pathologies brought about by the secular decline of both Toryism and social democracy, the fatal weakening of consent of the governed as the state becomes less democratic, and the decline experienced by the social classes traditionally supporting them.  

What seems to have happened is that some of the lower middle class and skilled workers who have been on a downward trajectory for some decades have turned toward an authoritarian, resentful nationalism.  They believe that their fate is due to a sell-out of the country by a distant, cosmopolitan political class, and their losses and class injuries are compensated for by assertions of ‘Britishness’, and by identification with a pristine Britannia whose global omnipotence can be restored.  Thus UKIP.  

In Scotland, however, nationalism has taken on a ‘national-popular’ character (see this Paul Mason article for a compelling example of what the 'national-popular' in this sense looks like).  It is not just that centre-left nationalism offers an alternative to a decomposing social democracy predicated on Unionism; it is that it forms part of a popular/populist rejection of the entire political establishment as represented by the British state.  That is why the real factor in uncertainty in the referendum is the turnout from the council estates, for that is where the ‘Yes’ vote is highest - the generations of workers and unemployed who have voted Labour since the Fifties, but are no longer represented.  

And ever since the credit crunch, these processes have been accelerating, so that now all the unfolding problems of democracy, political representation and the class system are concentrated in the national question.