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November 8, 2019

Nationalism over economy

Opinion

November 8, 2019

Britain is becoming more and more like Northern Ireland. This should be a comfort to Arlene Foster and the DUP as they rue their betrayal by Boris Johnson over the Irish border.

Northern Irish politics have always been dominated by the competing agendas of the Catholic/Irish nationalists and the Protestant/Unionist communities. In practice, both the DUP and Sinn Fein are nationalist parties, though the former does not see its Union Jack-waving version of British identity as being “nationalist”.

But there are lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland as a place where super-heated nationalism is the order of the day. In the coming general election, for the first time in British history, it is nationalist parties that stand a good chance of making a clean sweep in the UK as a whole. The Conservative Party under Boris Johnson has turned into an English nationalist party whose main policy is seeking self-determination through leaving the EU. The SNP are likely to win almost all the parliamentary seats in Scotland. In Wales, 41 percent of the electorate say they would opt for Welsh independence within the EU.

Not that the pursuit of self-determination is in any way wrong: it is a natural human instinct to seek control for good or ill of one’s own future. The Remainers have done themselves a lot of self-harm by seeing English nationalism as somehow illegitimate because is tainted by racism and imperialism and therefore less justifiable than Kurdish or Vietnamese nationalism.

Liberals and left-wingers often see English nationalism as a diversion from real economic and social ills, propelled by nostalgia for the world of Kipling. This may or may not be so, but the history of nationalist movements shows that they are ignored at one’s peril and it is never enough to prove the falsity of nationalist promises of good things to come just over the horizon.

Remainers frequently sound baffled at the failure of intellectually convincing studies showing that Britain will be economically worse off outside the EU to have any impact on Leave supporters. This may be because the strongest Leave support is in places, from the de-industrialised Welsh Valleys to decayed English coastal towns, where people never saw EU membership doing them much good.

Remainers would have been less surprised if they had considered that nationalist movements have a track record of promising that everybody’s troubles will be resolved once national independence has been won. People have fought and died heroically for these dreams from Algeria to Zimbabwe and Baghdad to Manila, only to find that they have enabled a corrupt elite to clamber into power and exploit it to enrich themselves.

A reason this grim lesson is never learned is that nationalist leaders invariably claim that their nation is, or ought to be, different from others. Failure and betrayal in other less blessed countries is of no interest or relevance.

Excerpted from: 'Great Britain is Reaching for Nationalism Over Economic Sense'.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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