Tuesday, 9 June 2015

After Scotland and Turkey, do we all have to become nationalists?

What a joy it is to see a people, saddled with a centralising, increasingly autocratic ruler, turn out and vote to stop him gathering still more power to himself.

That’s what happened on Sunday in Turkey. The HDP, generally described as “pro-Kurd” – the difference from a Kurdish party is that the HDP, under its co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, wants to extend its appeal beyond the Kurdish 20% of the population – took enough seats in the general election to deny the ruling party a parliamentary majority. Suddenly, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former Prime Minister who had moved to the symbolic office of President in the hope of turning the post into something with real executive power, has to go back to the drawing board.

Selahattin Demirtaş of the HDP
which put Erdogan firmly in his place this weekend
So an essentially nationalist party, albeit one that has decided to broaden its appeal outside its region, has, without coming even close to winning the election, made such a breakthrough as to transform the political atmosphere.

Of course, that’s a phenomenon we know sadly well in Britain too. Here, as in Turkey, a nationalist party representing one part of the nation, has won a sweeping victory in its own region, Scotland. The Scottish National Party has reduced, for now at least, the previously dominant Labour Party to only one seat. And, like the HDP, it has found a way to articulate a message that is more than nationalist – indeed, its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has emerged as a more committed evangelist for moderate social democracy than anyone the Labour Party has found in recent years.

That’s not to say that everyone in the SNP is particularly nice. I had this from a supporter, probably a member, on Twitter the other day: “…your [Labour’s] demise in rUK [the rest of the UK, without Scotland] is also assured. You have as much future as the UK – none.” It’s intriguing that someone can take so much gloating pleasure from the notion that the rest of the UK has no future – a prospect that would cost us dear, but gain him nothing.

Incidentally, that is the classic definition of envy: delight in harm to someone else, for its own sake. So when it comes to the politics of envy, this statement perfectly expresses it.

Nevertheless, it does seem that in its majority, and at the top of the party, the SNP manages to offer a real alternative to the traditional, rather monolithic and uninspiring parties that have dominated the scene for so long. Like the HDP in Turkey. It’s true that the SNP remains entirely nationalist – Scottish, where the HDP is simply pro-Kurd – but it does seem as though nationalist politics might, at the moment, be quite an incubator for social-democratic or liberal thinking.

Sadly, nationalism is also an incubator for far less agreeable things (perhaps rather like my Twitter acquaintance). The far-right, xenophobic, homophobic United Kingdom Independence Party is nothing if not deeply nationalistic. So is the Islamophobic, authoritarian Front National in France. Like the HDP and the SNP, these are parties that are gaining support and upsetting the excessively comfortable political arrangements that suited our leaders in the past.

The uglier face of nationalism:
Marine le Pen of the FN in France, like Nigel Farage of UKIP in England
Does that mean if we want to see some change, we have to choose nationalists of the left or right?

How dismal the prospect would be if the answer to that question were yes. Because, and again my SNP-supporting adversary seems to make the point, it doesn’t take much for a nationalist of the left to flip into something pretty hateful and little different, in brutality of outlook, from a nationalist of the right.

Which means that we need to find that flame that lights up the HDP and SNP and light it in our old, non-nationalistic parties of the Centre-Left. The next few months are going to be crucial in Britain, to see if we can pull that trick off with Labour. But we need to see it happen in a great many other countries too.

In the meantime, though, we can at least celebrate the result in Turkey. it doesn’t matter that the HDP has nationalistic roots. At least it has given an increasingly autocratic politician a bloody nose.

To be fair, one even has to have a little sneaking admiration for Erdogan himself. For the moment, at any rate, he seems at least to have accepted the people’s verdict. There are plenty of countries – Russia for instance – where that couldn’t be guaranteed.


Anonymous said...

What a sad and little article. And all based around one Twitter exchange in less than 140 chars. If ever there was a case of shooting the messenger.....
The UK, as it presently exists, has no future - of that there is little doubt.
Whether by break up as first Scotland and then Wales decide they can do far better themselves or, more likely and what should be of greater concern to Englanders, the inevitable social breakdown that another 5 years of Tory rule will bring.
Society is near a tipping point and and hungry frustrated people can only take so much. I believe that the median age for 1st time buyers in the south east is now 38. with that for a future and property ownership the be-all and end-all of aspiration amongst the working class in England, some form of social breakdown is rapidly becoming inevitable.
Still the author chooses to whine about a little invective on Twitter - entirely anodyne, compared to the daily outpouring of anti-Scots bile in every comment section of the Mail Express Telegraph and and increasingly, even the so-called enlightened Guardian.Oh dear, I came off second-best on Twitter - best write a doom-filled ego-massaging article on my blog.... From this we are meant to believe that we are a hairs-breadth from Scots socialists suddenly deciding they need to have gas-chambers NOW for their enemies.
This petty little squeak of outrage perfectly encapsulates the problems of the Labour Party. THey would rather whine than lok at their own failings, would rather make common cause with the Tories than support any motion, no matter how enlightened if it originated from the SNP benches.
Sort out your own problems first, pal and then you can come and tell us all how nasty we are.
Best of luck to the Kurds. As one who has worked and traavelled extenxively in Turkey, they need all the help they can get and I fully concur that anything that puts a stop to Erdogans ambitions can only be a good thing.
Now step back a little and have a dispassionate look at the political scene in the UK without the knee-jerk SNP-Bad mindset of the present Labour Party. Perhaps you might learn something.

It may also help you if you reflect on the fact that the sole remaining Labour MP only scraped in because of tactical voting by former LDs and and present Tories. Murray's seat is no inner-city wasteland, it is in fact a rather prosperous part of Edinburgh and if transported into any English city would be a very safe Tory seat. With the latest polls showing Lab on 19% and Tories on 15%, do not think for one second that the tactical votes that spared Murray will be there next time.

David Beeson said...

Ah, not everything's about you. My main point was about nationalists being closer to a social democratic message than Labour is, but perhaps you missed that. I quoted you only to show how quickly certain nationalists descend into bile and envy. I don't believe the same is true of most SNP leaders - indeed, I find Salmond and Sturgeon among the most effective political leaders of this generation (I wish Labour could find a leader like Sturgeon), and Salmond, Sturgeon and Yousaf among the most admirable politicians of today. But there is a bile-ridden underbelly of nationalist politics, and your Tweets and this comment of yours exemplify it.

For myself, I was furious with Ed Miliband's failure to embrace the offer Sturgeon made to him of cooperation against the Tories. He should have countered the Mail's characterisation of the SNP as ogres. After all, the SNP is only another moderately liberal, moderately social-democratic party, exactly like Labour was and can be again, but overlaid with its nationalist concerns with Scotland only.

I think it most unlikely that there will be any kind of major social upheaval in England any time soon. I don't deny that there might be protests, and some of them might even turn ugly. But a real challenge to the current regime? There's little chance of it. You probably misunderstand how deeply ingrained Conservative views are in England. My view is that what we need is a substantial movement at the political level to challenge Tory hegemony, one that can harness disaffection with the current regime, and I see nowhere else it can come from than Labour – after all, the SNP doesn't organise in England.

I'm amazed that you call me doom-filled. On the contrary, I'm precisely trying to resist the doom-laden prophecies that many are coming up with – yourself included: "the UK, as it presently exists, has no future". Of course it has a future. It may break up, but not even that is certain. And if it doesn't, it will find a future. "No future", you say, and then accuse me of being doom-filled?

However, I do believe personally that Scotland is likely to go. I sympathise with the mood for independence, and wish the Scots success. We then, back in England and Wales, need to work to find a future without Scotland. That's what I, and a lot of others in the Labour Party, are trying to do. Your kind of invective doesn't help, but hey, we're used to it – we get it all the time from the Mail, the Sun or the Express, and we just have to move on.