Nationalism, the EU and “the Left”

johnmortonJohn Morton examines the contradictions at the heart of various party political attitudes to the EU.


It is interesting to note the positions adopted by various political parties towards the UK’s membership of the EU.  Broadly speaking, the attitude maps onto a left-right spectrum, with the more left-wing parties tending to be more favourable towards UK membership and the more right-wing tending to be more unfavourable.  But this is far from universal.

One can immediately point to various left-wing and right-wing parties that go against this trend – or that appear on the surface to go against it.  For instance, most parties with “socialist” or “communist” in their names seem to be in favour of the UK leaving the EU, whereas some avowedly “nationalist” parties seem to be in favour of the UK remaining in the EU – for instance the SNP and Sinn Féin.

It may be useful to provide a brief commentary on socialism and on nationalism before proceeding.

Socialism is, at heart, a belief in society, a belief that we achieve more through our collective endeavour than we could possibly achieve alone.  It is about co-operation, about collectivism, about from each according to their means to each according to their needs.  It does not, per se, recognise any borders.  One would, thus, expect any genuinely socialist organisation to promote international co-operation, as a means of lessening the effect of artificial borders that divide people from each other.  But yet we are left with the conundrum that several apparently socialist parties seem opposed to that, seeking to bring about a situation where borders between the UK and the rest of the EU are built higher.

Before looking at possible reasons for that, let’s look at nationalism.  At heart, this is a belief that the people occupying a certain geographical area are somehow set apart from those occupying neighbouring areas.  When this happens to coincide with the status quo, the political parties associated with it are invariably far to the right on the political spectrum: as examples, one might consider the British National Party (and similar such UK-wide bodies), the Front Nationale, the Australia Party and so forth.  When the coincidence is more aspirational, i.e. the area concerned is not currently an independent entity, the picture is rather more blurred.

I first realised this on an anti-Vietnam War demo (shows my age), when it struck me as rather odd that, on the one hand, we seemed to be opposing the National Front and all its works in the UK, while on the other hand apparently supporting the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.  What actual difference was the word “liberation” making?  In essence, all it was doing was stating that the nationalism concerned was not the status quo.

Where the nationalism is not the status quo, it is pretty inevitable that the nationalists concerned will concentrate, not on the glories of the state and the need to “protect” it from external influences – as said “state” is not currently an independent entity – but rather on the perceived deficiencies of the actual state they are in.  And, just as “status quo” nationalism magnifies the virtues of the state out of all proportion, so “non-status quo” nationalism magnifies its defects out of all proportion.  And neither has the spirit of co-operation at its heart.

Coming back to “socialist” parties opposing the UK’s continued membership of the EU, the usual reasons trotted out include such as “The EU is a capitalist club”, “TTIP is an abomination – save the NHS” and “What’s the EU ever done for workers’ rights?”.  These arguments are somewhat naïve, as they can immediately be blown away by such facts as (a) the UK is every bit as much a “capitalist club” as the rest of the EU – probably more so, in fact; (b) any agreement on tariffs and trade entered into on the world scale by the EU would also apply to any non-EU country seeking favourable trade relations with the EU (which the UK would undoubtedly do); and (c) EU legislation has actually been of considerable benefit to poorly-paid workers in the UK.  So why do they persist in their stance when presented with such arguments?

The reason is relatively obvious: such “arguments” are not the real reason for their opposition.  The real reason is actually the same as that openly espoused by the far-right opposition to continued EU membership; it is UK nationalism, a blind belief that the UK is best.  But you try telling them that!  Put it this way: anybody who actually believes in “left solidarity”, “trades union solidarity” and so forth would support, if not be a member of, the UK’s main party putting the case for workers – the former Labour Representation Committee, the current Labour Party.  The fact that these groups are outside that party speaks volumes.

Coming back to the contradictory nationalist case of parties that seem to support the UK’s continued membership of the EU, recent statements from the SNP’s hierarchy undermine this stance very neatly.  For, as we know, the SNP’s official line is pro-EU – and there’s been some lip service to campaigning for a “remain” vote in June.  However, there’s also been the statement that, were the UK to vote to leave the EU, there would be a further push for Scottish independence.

Now, the current situation is that the “independence” question has been settled – we had a referendum in 2014 that did that.  So any call for a re-run would need to be based on some substantial change in the position of the UK, e.g. ceasing to be a member of the EU.  So, this statement is tantamount to saying “If you want Scottish independence, vote for Brexit”, neatly running directly counter to the SNP’s official line, but without actually having to say as much.

Indeed, it would not greatly surprise me to see an actual change in SNP policy here – from being “pro-EU” to being “for Scottish, BUT NOT UK, membership of the EU”. Watch this space.

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20 thoughts on “Nationalism, the EU and “the Left”

  1. I get the impression that the poor deluded self deceive author of this pish is trying to present New Tory Labour as Socialist.

    In what universe do these poor deluded souls exist?

    1. Political Compass has shown the positions of the UK parties in 2015……

      The Labour party come out more right wing than the BNP (but less authoritarian)
      The SNP come out mostly central (very slightly left wing)

      for your Libertarian Left the Greens are the Standard Bearers.

      Labour may have been socialist a long time ago ….but with Messrs. Bliar and Brown the was a very smart turn to the right

  2. Again, I’m left wondering why a supposedly pro-EU party is concentrating on attacking another pro-EU party instead of those who oppose their stance. It always seems to be about the SNP for Scottish Labour. They may call the SNP parochial for concentrating on Scotland, but articles like this just show Scottish Labour taking parochialism to new levels. They should try looking at the bigger picture for once.

  3. So 3 articles now in a Labour blog on the EU question and not one of them is about Labours EU position. Its just more SNP bad pish.

    Even when the SNP is on the same ground as Labour we get nothing but SNP bad.

    You cant seriously think you serve your constituents best by running with nothing but SNP bad.

    1. From you, Mike, whose sole purpose in life appears to be to wait around on Labour Hame posting “Labour Bad” under every article fifteen times, that is quite some criticism.

      1. “Indeed, it would not greatly surprise me to see an actual change in SNP policy here – from being “pro-EU” to being “for Scottish, BUT NOT UK, membership of the EU”. Watch this space.”

        It would be more appropriate within a Labour blog to be reading a Labour case on the issue but like their lack of a case for the UK union they wont have one for the EU either.

        The thing is its all very well looking at the EU within a single moment in time and saying that is all there is to it. But the EU will change over time and those who favour in could very well find reasons to want out and vice versa.

        So I seriously doubt this referendum will be definitive no matter which way it goes.

        Like the UK the EU will reform constitutionally as members states reform within but at the end of the day its all about how we position our relationships with each other both in the UK and EU. The best match up is one where there is as much equality as its possible to achieve and the worst is where unbalance rules.

        That’s the perspective from the UK EU citizen angle but from the political angle its all about power and authority and who gets to wield it.

        Those who support the concept of unbalanced union in respect to power and authority within the UK resent having to give up any power and authority to Brussels.

        Those who resent giving up local National power and authority within the UK are comfortable with giving up some power and authority to Brussels.

        Contradictions which on the face of it look indefensible until you look at the degrees to which power and authority is divided and the cost / benefit ratio from both perspectives.

        The huge gulf in the cost to benefit ratio from Scotlands position in the UK relative to what its position would be in the EU justifies the Scottish Governments position of out of the UK but in the EU very easily and very simply.

        The UK demands too much of Scotlands sovereignty in exchange for nothing but open borders and trade. The EU asks for minimum sovereignty in exchange for open borders and trade.

        The UK demands Scotland is treated as a regional concern of itself. The EU allows each member to retain its full National identity and equal status within.

        The UK rules over Scotland. Scotland would rule itself within the EU.

        The differences are not subtle.

      2. Mike does have a point Duncan. The last three articles are all about the SNPs position and all over in argument (see Robert McGregor’s last para). It reinforces the impression that Labour are watching events unfold, a bit like a eunuch in a harem.

  4. Telling that this article doesn’t use the word “democracy” once. Why does much of the Left support membership of the EU? Probably because they’ve given up on democracy. They trust more in unelected administrators to deliver social justice than in ordinary people to vote for it.

    1. Telling that your comment doesn’t use the word “fairness” once. You must have given up on fairness.

      1. I used the words “social justice.” Since you can readily substitute them for fairness… er… what is telling exactly?

        You don’t have to choose between democracy and fairness. If people on the Left now think that, then such is the scale of their historical defeat.

        There’s sometimes an idea on the Left that if we become an independent democracy again, progressives will be abandoned on a small island with a working class which can’t be trusted to vote for mass immigration or non-Thatcherite policies. Is this what you believe?

          1. Your observation that the word “democracy” was not used in the article does not support your assertion that the author – or indeed “much of the Left” as you generalised – has given up on the concept.

  5. A wee history lesson for Mr Morton.
    The “Scottish Labour Party” was founded by Keir Hardie and Robert Cunninghame Graham.
    Cunninghame Graham became the FIRST socialist MP at Westminster and also became the president of the Scottish National Party. You will note it is NOT titled the Scottish Nationalist Party, and does not advocate a Scottish equivalent of “British jobs for British workers”.

    Keir Hardie believed that Scotland should have Dominion Status, the same as New Zealand, Canada, Australia etc. We would be self governing, in other words.
    I have no doubt what Party Keir Hardie would be a member of today, and it wouldn’t be the party of Brown, Darling, Blair, Mandleson etc

    1. Mr Morton also seems a little challenged on logic.
      The SNP advocate a new referendum on Scottish self government IF the UK votes to leave the EU, but Scotland votes to remain.
      How he squares THAT with his notion the “if you want Scottish independence, vote for Brexit”.
      It is not only totally and utterly illogical, but the opposite of the truth.

  6. “If you want Scottish independence, vote for Brexit”,

    There is only the possibility of a Scottish Independence referendum and that’s if the majority of the rest of the UK vote in favour of Brexit and if the majority of the votes cast in in Scotland had voted in favour of remaining in the EU so if there is a UK wide vote in favour of Brexit and if the majority of the votes cast in Scotland had voted is in favour of Brexit then there will be no Scottish independence referendum it’s not rocket science so knucklehead I hope that got through to your Scottish Labour section thick Red Tory numbskull.

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