Monday, 3 October 2016

Does Theresa May know what nationalism is?

Theresa May (Photo: BBC)
Finally, at last, Theresa May has shown us what she's all about.

I'm not sure I'm pleased to say it, but she's proved me right.

For a while I was having my doubts - I thought, perhaps, she was genuinely aware of the delicate nature of the situation and was attempting to act in a way that could both unite the country and provide a balanced and open approach to give the UK the best possible options during the pending negotiations. I shouldn't have given her so much credit. My initial instincts were absolutely correct.

We now know that "Brexit means Brexit" actually means "Brexit means appealing to the same right-wingers David Cameron did in calling the referendum". In repeating the mistakes of her predecessor the Prime Minister may well be inviting the same inevitable fate.

We now have a arbitrary timescale for invoking Article 50 - this announcement clearly is intended to show that Mrs May means business, but means that the EU will probably be in the driving seat when negotiations start and also - while answering one question - asks so many others. The "Brexit" being envisaged by Theresa May is so obviously of the "hard" type (to use media parlance) and her speech to Tory conference could well have been an address to the UKIP faithful.

A lot has been written in the last few hours about the kind of Brexit May is pursuing, and of the unsuitability of the Three Brexiteers/Three Blind Mice (delete as appropriate) supposedly overseeing the UK's exit. Tim Farron has already branded the "Hard Brexit" strategy "a disaster for British jobs" and described the Article 50 announcement as being tantamount to "jumping out of a plane without a parachute", which neatly sums up the irresponsibility of May's position.  I don't see much reason to add to the many expert analyses already out there or provide further comment other than to say that Mrs May's hard talk may actually serve to strengthen her political opposition (and, no - I don't mean the Labour party).

I know many who are appalled by Theresa May, who suggest that she shouldn't be seeking to pander to the Brexiteers in the way that she has or advocating the "Brexit" model that appears most damaging to UK's interests. And they're right. But, in case there was ever any real doubt, we now know what Theresa May is about. She's not a moderate. She's unlikely to listen to reasoned, nuanced arguments on how we negotiate Britain's exit from the EU. She also seems to relish conflict. All these things must shape the approach opposition parties take in the coming weeks and months.

This naturally provides opportunities for the Liberal Democrats as well as the SNP, Plaid Cyrmu, the Greens and potentially the Labour Party (if and when it ever decides it wants to get into the business of providing some opposition). Out-kipping the UKIPpers isn't the wisest thing to do, already alienating moderate Tories like Anna Soubry and risking inevitable backlash when negotiations don't go, erm, according to the Johnson-Fox-Davis script.

Interestingly, Mrs May also chose to identify, and turn fire on, her enemies. Surprise, surprise - those enemies aren't the Labour Party or UKIP. No, they're nationalists. Or Nationalists, even (capitalise them and they're even more nasty!

On the question of whether the devolved parliaments could be involved in the decision, the Prime Minister declared that there will be "no opt-out from Brexit" and that she wouldn't be held captive by "divisive nationalists". Which is laughable given how her predecessor, and now May herself, seem to be driven by a need to appease divisive nationalists.

I wonder if Theresa May actually knows what nationalism is. It's a bit much to take to hear May bleating about how she "will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious Union between the four nations of our United Kingdom" while the divisive British nationalists in her own party (and, in fairness, others) have undermined the precious union between the 28 member states of the EU. It's also more than hypocritical to take a blast at nationalism in general terms and the evil forces of separatism when you're giving speeches about the UK "becoming a fully independent, sovereign country". And it's rich to describe the likes of the SNP, Plaid and the SDLP (as well as other voices in the devolved parliaments) as "divisive" given the Leave campaign's socially divisive rhetoric on immigration and race (amongst other things).

If she dislikes nationalists so much, why did she appoint so many Brit Nats to her own cabinet?

It's ironic that in the most heavily nationalistic speech a Tory leader has given in decades, the Prime Minister should see fit to condemn the nationalism of others. I cannot believe anyone who speaks about the need for the UK to be "fully independent" and "sovereign" can be anything other than a nationalist, or was ever anything other than a Leaver. At least she's now being true to herself. But she should also recognise that she is appealing to a nationalism, a British/English nationalism, and one that not only threatens to be divisive but also runs the risk of conflict with the more tolerant, inclusive expressions of "nationalism" she's already decided need to be attacked.

I'm not nationalist, but give me the SNP's "nationalism" over May's reckless disregard for parliamentary democracy any day. Give me their welcoming and inclusive approach over the genuinely divisive anti-immigration rhetoric May has consistently sided with. Give me someone of Nicola Sturgeon's or Leanne Wood's regard for human rights over Mrs May's. It's not "nationalism" that demands a parliamentary vote, or requests that all voices should be listened to, but democracy. May should perhaps learn the lessons of history - the last time a British leader tried to act on a whim, failing to consult parliament and taking on the Scots he overreached himself with fatal consequences.

By implication, of course, May was also suggesting that those who believe the devolved parliaments should be involved in the process are themselves "divisive nationalists". It seems Mayism is a bit like McCarthyism ("someone disagree? they're a communist/nationalist") and with a similar culture of paranoid suspicion.

I have, like most in my party, reservations about Theresa May's kamikaze-style Brexit. But I'm also concerned about the "divisive nationalist" rhetoric. It's a peculiar expression of Orwellian doublethink to condemn Scottish and Welsh nationalism while simultaneously promoting a backward-looking British nationalism. In regards the "divisive" accusations, perhaps Mrs May should take the plank from her own eye before commenting on the specks in others'?


Kangaroo said...

Anna Soubry is no moderate. You have to be joking?

Time Scotland left this odious Union that serves only one nation of four.

Andrew said...

There's a difference bewteen a "moderate" and a "moderate Tory".

On this particular issue, she is proving moderate. Although I'm not going to claim Anna Soubry as some kind of poster girl for the politics of reason!

On the issue of Scotland's relationship with the Union...well, that might well prove to be the end result of Theresa May's actions. How ironic that would be.

Al said...

A very fair description of the situation.

It will be interesting to see how, or in some cases whether, Scotland's political parties react to try to protect Scotland's interests particularly given the 62% vote for Remain here. My expectation is that certain parties' instinctive tribal animosity towards the SNP and the Scottish Government will trump their duty to Scotland's people and any sense of internationalism these parties might have. I hope I am wrong on that.

The appointment of the ALDE's Guy Verhofstadt as an EU negotiator signalled that the EU was sympathetic to the situation Scotland finds itself in. However, it is clear now that Westminster is not willing to consider any special arrangement for Scotland. Staying in both unions is an option for Scotland that Westminster has unilaterally decided to take off the table. Our First Minister has been clear about her willingness to explore all the options for Scotland but Westminster seems intent on whittling these down to one.

Peter Thomson said...

Ms May has already triggered the end of the UK Parliamentary Union as contrary to her claim when it comes to decisions which alter or effect Scots Law the UK Parliament's sovereignty is limited and can only make the alteration if it has the support of the considered will of the people of Scotland or by a recall of the sovereign parliaments of Scotland and England so they can repeal the current Acts of Union and enable the renegotiation of the Treaty of Union.

The SNP, by reason of their 2015 landslide, now represent Scotland's considered will at Westminster and will vote against any Westminster bill which takes Scotland out of the EU given a clear majority of the active electorate in Scotland have voted against EU exit.

Neither can Ms May block a second referendum as the Scottish electorate backed the SNP manifesto on a 'significant change' by a sizable majority in 2016. To do so will be in breach of umpteen international treaties on self determination the UK Government is signed to.

The real problem is for the Better Together pals in Scotland, do they do Me May's dirty work or do they act in Scotland's best interest, even if it means accepting all the SNP bad propaganda they have been churning out is actually total guff.

Can a Scottish Blairite Labour Party turn on its new bestest Better Torygether pals and side with the evil Gnats of their nightmares?

Will Willie Rennie find a spine instead of doing his best Baron Foulkes impersonations?

That is the real issue facing Scotland will the old, stale parties of Union wake up and smell the roses?

The Union is dead, the Tories have killed it for their own narrow political expediency.

Barry Scarfe said...

Sorry, but the fact remains that Scotland implicitly accepted the will of the entire UK electorate in this matter when you rejected becoming a separate sovereign state on 18th September 2014 by 55.3% to 45.7%. Mr Cameron said he would hold a binary in/out referendum on EU membership in early 2013 whilst the referendum on Scottish independence was scheduled for the following year. This gave Scots ample pre-knowledge that if the Tories won an outright majority in 2015 (admittedly, it was a small possibility) that this referendum could result in the UK leaving the EU.

Also, the SNP whilst having a completely unrepresentative number of MPs due to our archaic fraud of FPTP electoral system only represent 50% of Scottish public opinion.

Andrew said...

Sorry, Barry - people voted in the 2014 referendum in the way they did for several reasons, but concluding that this indicated a willingness to "accept the entire will of the UK electorate in [the EU] matter" is as an interpretation too far. Not least as the Better Together side, of which the Conservatives were part, convinced many Scots that the best way to remain within the EU was to vote to stay within the UK.

This claim was made by the BT side several times - there is plenty of documentary evidence to confirm this - therefore your argument that those who voted for the Union were quite happy for a referendum on the EU doesn't really add up. Or at least it isn't consistent with the messages BT used to actually win the campaign.

I for one was very concerned about the prospect of Cameron's referendum, but Better Together's rhetoric (combined with the prevailing view that a Conservative majority was very unlikely) seemed to sway a lot of people. So I don't see the vote as an indication the Scots were willing to "accept the will of the entire UK electorate", just that many believed the Union was the surest way to retain EU membership.

Naturally I agree with your assessment of the FPTP electoral system. Something else that won't be changing any time soon, unfortunately.