The attempts by migrants and asylum seekers to enter the UK is not particularly newsworthy in itself. Getting into the UK illegally is not an easy feat and the Channel ports and the tunnel would seem to be the most obvious place to make an attempt. The recent and ongoing crisis in and around Calais must seem small beer to some of the other countries in Europe that continue to bear the brunt of welcoming migrants. Despite the best attempts of our media, most would be migrants do not want to come to the UK. Only relatively small numbers out of the large and growing numbers of migrants end up by Calais.
Unfortunately this is enough to create a mini panic within the British establishment. How to keep the buggers out seems to be the dominant line. Never mind the humanitarian suffering behind all these movements or what is causing hundreds of thousands of people to undertake the dangerous journey of travelling half way round the world. Much simpler to just unremittingly focus on portraying them all as untrustworthy scroungers who must be kept out at all costs.
What I find particularly fascinating about the media and political response is how it relates to the celebration of aspiration as a positive virtue to be encouraged. Now if the thousands of people who are camped in and around Calais are demonstrating one thing, surely that is aspiration. They want to improve their lives and are prepared to undergo all kinds of unimaginable suffering and dangers in order to achieve this. Allied to a large dose of aspiration, these would be migrants have also demonstrated endeavour and determination in spades. All the kind of things that our media and UK political parties constantly praise as key British values. We should therefore be welcoming with open arms the prospect of more young people full of aspiration, endeavour and determination. Exactly what the UK needs to meet the challenges of competition from China and the rest of the world.
But it seems that aspiration is only a good thing if it is British citizens who are doing the aspiring. Others are most clearly not welcome at all. Underlying the nasty language of the opposition to these would be migrants is a barely disguised racism and narrow nationalism. Of the British variety of course. What is especially sad about this, but all too predictable, is the alacrity with which the Labour party has joined in this attack on migrants. What the response from the British establishment in both the media and political parties shows, is that nationalism of the worst possible kind is alive and kicking in the UK. It is telling that it is the SNP, along with the Greens, who have made a more positive response, accepting that the UK should be willing to accept its fair share of the migrants arriving in Europe. Yet it is the SNP that continues to get accused of narrow nationalism. The nasty nationalistic response of the British establishment is but further proof of how unreformable the UK has become.
This post is my response to a recent post in Bella Caledonia by David Morgan, entitled I am a Nationalist, which you can read here. David Morgan is none too keen on those who say, I am not a nationalist, but …… This of course is exactly my position. I am not a nationalist, though I have always been in favour of an independent Scotland. Morgan’s article is very interesting and well worth reading. I agree with much of what he writes. My prime objection is that he conflates two very different meanings of nation – nation as a country and nation as a people who claim a common descent. This is clear when he writes, Put simply nationalism is the extremely dangerous idea that countries should be governed according to the democratically expressed wishes of their citizens and not in the interests of a miniscule power elite. Here we have what is for David Morgan the basic, but erroneous, equation, namely that nation = country. This is just not true. For example in Canada, the indigenous people of the Americas are known by the term First Nations. Yet of course the First Nations peoples have no country of their own. Most do not even have a province of their own. A nation can exist without the need for it to have its own state or country.
We have two recent reminders of this. The annual Tartan Day celebrations in New York came around earlier this month. This was about celebrating Scots and perhaps Scottishness and was open to all who regarded themselves as in some way Scottish. It is not primarily about Scotland the country. It could though be regarded as a national event inasmuch as it is to celebrate all who belong to the Scottish Nation. Nation here in its original sense of those who share or claim to share a common descent. In March many parts of the world were celebrating St Patrick’s Day as a celebration of all things Irish. Again this could be regarded as a celebration of the Irish Nation. What it could not be reduced to was a celebration of the Republic of Ireland. For the very good reason that many people who consider themselves to be Irish do not live in the Republic and have no desire to do so.
I also dispute the second claim expressed in the sentence quoted above from David Morgan’s article. The bit where he asserts that nationalism means that countries should be governed according to the democratically expressed wishes of their citizens and not in the interests of a miniscule power elite. Again I would contend that this simplistic equation is not borne out by history. Even in the case of Scottish history. The Wars of Independence for example were fought and led by the country’s or should that be the nation’s miniscule power elite. While many outwith this elite also fought for the nation’s independence, the nation remained under the iron rule of this miniscule power elite.
There are more recent examples of where nationalism had little if anything to do with the democratically expressed wishes of citizens as opposed to a miniscule power elite. On the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War we should not need reminding of the crucial role that Serbian nationalism played in detonating that war. The Serbian elite in the pre First World War Kingdom of Serbia expressed and promoted, at times violently, a rather extreme notion of nationalism. This Serbian elite wanted the Kingdom of Serbia to expand to include all Serbs within its new expanded boundaries. Which was not necessarily an ignoble aim. What was a lot less noble was that this elite were none too concerned about how this Greater Serbia emerged. They were also somewhat inconsistent in their claims for a Greater Serbia. They not only wanted all areas where Serbs were in a majority to be included, they also wanted all areas where only a minority of the population were Serbs to be included. Furthermore they wanted areas where Serbs had lived in the past, but no longer did so, to be included in this Greater Serbia. Not exactly an example of nationalism as a promoter of democracy.
It is this not so positive side of nationalism that David Morgan just simply ignores in his article. Now Scottish nationalism has nothing in common with Serbian nationalism of a hundred years ago. My point is that you cannot simply deny the existence of this side of nationalism. I have no problem with people like David Morgan who are happy to call themselves nationalists, as he makes it clear what kind of nationalism he supports. What I object to is the lazy claim that all people who support Scottish independence must be nationalists. The basis for my support for independence is democracy, not nationalism. I have written about this way back in 2012 in a post entitled Is Scotland a Nation?- see here. My conclusion to that post still stands and I am happy to quote it now – Scotland the country, Scotland the land has existed for centuries with its own distinctive customs and laws. It is on the basis of its continuing existence as a distinct entity – a state – that I support Scottish Independence. Let it be us – the people of Scotland, wherever we come from – who decide our future. Some of my more recent thoughts can be found here and here.