Last week the First Minister said that nationalism was “inherently right-wing”. Whenever arguments like this get thrown around, there’s no shortage of people to point out that if you support the continued existence of the UK, you’re expressing support for British nationalism.
But I want to turn this argument on its head – that there’s nothing less nationalist than wanting to see the break-up of the British nation-state. In fact, it’s a fundamentally internationalist project.
The British state as it exists today emerged to administer a global empire – namely, to extract as much profit from other nations and people for British capitalists as possible, and to contain any rebellions of peoples that threatened this process.
It was not designed as a democratic system – instead, when working class demands for the right to vote threatened a revolutionary situation, democratic aspects were grafted onto a much older set of institutions to retain legitimacy.
But the attitudes that underpinned that old state remain. Rather than being a government for the whole population, with a few exceptions in history, the UK government has always protected the same narrow interests as was the case during the empire. When you account for who wields influence in society, the nominally democratic exercise of general elections is little more than seeking consent to rule every few years.
Ordinary people’s views are not sought outside of elections, while it’s easy to point to countless examples of policies implemented in the interests of the rich and powerful minority, making a mockery of the claim to be a functioning democracy.
The programme of neoliberal reforms from the 1970s onwards has never had broad public support. Aside from a few programmes like the Council house sell-off, the public opposed the privatisation of state-owned industries and of tax cuts for the rich. The public stopped supporting austerity several years ago and want real terms increases in levels of public spending. They want key strategic industries to be publicly owned, they want to see an end to private involvement in NHS services. They want serious action on the climate crisis. But none of these things are guiding principles of government policy.
The centralised nature of the British state has allowed elites to impose policies benefiting them, impoverishing the majority of us through mass inequality and continual attacks on public services.
There are numerous ways that this influence is applied. There is a lack of transparency of UK government meetings with most lobbyists, allowing corporate interests to push their favoured policies in secret. The rich are able to make unlimited donations to political parties, allowing them not only to exert influence over a party’s priorities, but to influence the result of elections themselves by bankrolling that party’s campaign.
The public is aware that much of this is happening. The most recent polling from Hansard showed that 63% think Britain’s system of government is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful, and 47% felt they have no influence at all over national decision-making.
This leaves those of us who want to change in a bind. The structures of the state and political system more broadly are rigged against us, helping the Conservatives to keep winning elections despite worsening conditions for the majority. But this lack of democracy at home underpins injustice whose tentacles reach across the globe.
The UK state is working perfectly well for those it was designed to serve – as an outpost for a global oligarch class. This is why there are also global implications also dismantling it.
While the political empire is no more, the UK state helps cement unequal power relationships all over the world that benefit global elites. Trade and aid policy promotes programmes that prioritise multinationals over local industry and populations. UK territories scattered across the globe form a network of tax havens, and aiding money laundering – so that the UK has been described as the most corrupt nation in the world. Then there’s the subsidising of and lobbying on behalf of the British arms industry that supplies repressive regimes.
Dismantling the state enabling such economic exploitation both here and globally would have a positive impact felt way beyond Wales. That’s one reason groups like Undod, of which I’m a member, are working to win a Wales that is the antithesis of the UK I’ve described. If you agreed with what I’ve said, do join them.
Wales’ departure from the union would mark the final end of one of the most regressive states to exist in human history, but you don’t have to be a nationalist to think this would be a good thing. You only need to believe in a better future for everyone, all over the world.