Why Lisa Nandy’s comments show that she just doesn’t understand Welsh and Scottish nationalism
Ifan Morgan Jones
Either Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy doesn’t understand Scottish and Welsh nationalism, or pretends not to do so for political reasons.
It’s difficult to find any other interpretation of her latest article on the subject, entitled Socialism and peaceful solidarity can defeat divisive nationalism.
The title is, of course, problematic in itself as it posits nationalism and socialism as binary opposites, completely ignoring the fact that both main Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties are socialist.
In the article Nandy attempts to play the trick of throwing them in with Donald Trump’s right-wing white nationalism, stating that: “There are still siren voices in England and Scotland calling for us to turn inward […] Just as ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ have found resonance with so many in the US, there are those here who maintain a retreat into narrow nationalism will help resolve the issues we face.”
Alliteration has always attracted political propagandists but the oft-used slogan ‘narrow nationalism’ doesn’t mean anything without any evidence to back it up. The SNP have been in power in Scotland since 2007 and have not, as far as I’m aware, engaged in any right-wing ethnonationalism as Trump has.
No children have been locked up in Scotland, unless you consider the SNP’s baby box giveaway to be a type of incarceration.
Labour’s bizarre continued insistence that they are “internationalist” when much of their party – including Lisa Nandy – now back some form of Brexit, while accusing Plaid Cymru and the SNP who continue to support remaining in the EU of being “narrow” is now bordering on self-delusion.
It is quite simply childish politics – a resolute insistence not to have a grown-up, intellectual discussion about the key question of where power should lie and a preference for name-calling instead.
Nationalism isn’t a political ideology replicated identically throughout the globe but rather a means to an end within other ideologies. All that socialists within the SNP and Plaid Cymru argue is that independence is a more feasible route to a socialist nation-state than waiting for England to agree to elect a socialist government.
And after the shellacking that a Labour party offering the prospect of a socialist government suffered in England at last month’s General Election, you would have to agree that the argument has at least some merit.
What Lisa Nandy and others miss when discussing Welsh or Scottish nationalism is that Plaid Cymru and the SNP’s efforts are internationalist and in opposition the so-called ‘British nationalism’ of Westminster which is characterised by:
- The concentration of political and cultural power in London and SE England
- A lack of economic investment which has kept peripheral economic regions dependent on the core
The irony is of course that now that towns in peripheral economic areas are the new political battleground Westminster has suddenly woken up to the salience of these issues, after years of telling nationalists that their arguments had no validity at all.
But in the meantime, it is a shame that many within Labour, which under Corbyn called for the complete overhaul of the state, find the idea of decentralising power in one of the most centralised states on earth to be something almost morally abhorrent. Because it is their very intransigence on the issue that has led Scotland to a situation where 50% of the population are ready to turn their backs on the UK.
Nandy states that in a global world we must set our sights on “what we have in common”. Yes, and perhaps she could begin by not demonising and othering fellow socialists?
The main thrust of Lisa Nandy’s article however is largely an attempt to backpedal on widely condemned comments on the Andrew Neil show in which she suggested that Labour should look to Catalonia for answers on beating “divisive nationalism”.
Of course Spanish quite literally ‘beat’ nationalists. Police used violence – including using plastic bullets and baton charges – against independence campaigners in Catalonia and have subsequently jailed the nation’s leaders.
Nandy aimed to clarify her comments by suggesting that she was only referring to attempts by socialists and not the right-wing government that oversaw the police brutality. “Equally socialists in Catalonia have for years been peacefully resisting the advance of separatists there,” she says.
However, this ignores the fact that it is under the watch of a Spanish government led by the Socialist Worker’s Party that the Catalonian leaders have been jailed. Despite the change of government from centre-right to socialist Spain has largely continued with the same policy towards Catalonia.
Just as socialist parties can engage in separatist nationalism they can also engage in the centralising nationalism of the core. It’s not the nationalism that’s bad – it’s what you do with it.
Nandy is, of course, trying to win an internal Labour leadership contest so perhaps we should simply judge her comments in that context.
If so, they suggest that she no longer things Scotland is relevant to the Labour Party.
As with Boris Johnson’s decision to deny Scotland an independence vote, the constituency she is aiming to please isn’t the people of Scotland but rather the people of England, or at least in her case Labour members in England.
Ironically, perhaps there is no greater sign that Scotland is on its way out of the UK than the fact that both the Prime Minister and a potential Labour leader don’t really care what they think anymore.
That may be fine for the immediate purposes of a Labour leadership contest, but no one seems to be asking the follow-up question: If Labour doesn’t see any hope of retaining Scotland, how are they ever going to form a government again?