David Maddox: Nationalism is pulling UK nations in opposite directions
EVEN a cursory look at the history of the 1920s and 1930s shows that nationalism in its various forms flourishes at times of economic crisis.
Now, almost a century later, Europe is showing that many of its citizens, besieged by economic crisis, are again looking for safety in political parties preaching a nationalist message.
In Greece, a nation humiliated and impoverished by austerity imposed by the EU, many voters have turned to the vicious right wing Golden Dawn, while in France Marie Le Penn’s extreme right-wing party was, in effect, the real winner of the presidential election.
Of course, nationalism can come in much more benign forms, as we have seen here in Scotland where the SNP is avowedly a civic nationalist party.
But, in the UK, while the focus of constitutional uncertainty has been on the Scottish question, another form of nationalism is now taking grip which could have far more profound effects on all parts of the country including north of the Border. English nationalism has never really gone away but it has manifested itself in the form of a loathing of the EU far more than in support for the far-right parties like the BNP.
Now the euro crisis has simply appeared to confirm the prejudices of many who never liked the idea of Britain being run by what they see as a bunch of foreign bureaucrats in Brussels. Chancellor George Osborne’s intervention over the weekend directly blaming the euro zone for the UK’s economic woes was calculated to capitalise on that sort of feeling.
There is a feeling that a referendum on EU membership is looking inevitable. A Populus poll yesterday showed that 80 per cent of people want a referendum on EU membership. Prime Minister David Cameron is likely to face all out rebellion from his own party if a referendum pledge does not appear in the next manifesto.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is also under enormous pressure from his own party to include a similar pledge. Interestingly, his new policy chief John Cruddas, who is pushing for a referendum, represents a largely white working-class area in London, Dagenham, which has seen in the recent past strong support for the BNP.
If the referendum takes place then it is far from certain what the outcome would be, but polling suggests that Britain leaving the EU would be far more likely than a vote for Scottish independence.
But then if this were to happen where would this leave Scotland, which has a far more pro-European outlook? Would it bolster support for Scottish independence, which would then see a future as a euro state? Or is the euro’s reputation now so bad that Scots would stick with the UK?
There is almost a case for holding an EU membership referendum first, which would then offer Scots a real choice on their future – part of a United Kingdom or a closely politically integrated European Union.
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