Today a great divide is evident across the land. It is said to explain the schism over Brexit, our division over ‘indyref2’, our resentment of elites and our weariness of conventional politics. It is evident across the UK and much of the western world. It compels us to define where we stand, as Scots and as individuals.
It is defined in a new book by writer and political guru David Goodhart which has taken the chattering classes by storm this spring: The Road to Somewhere.
Goodhart’s basic argument is that we are now sharply divided into two warring camps: ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’.
A member of the Anywhere tribe tends to be middle class, geographically and socially mobile, aspirational, university educated, working in the south east, liberal (small ‘l’) in outlook and connected, socially or professionally, with the prevailing status quo.
But making up some 50 per cent of the population are the ‘Somewheres’. They tend to be less well off, local or regional in outlook, more traditionalist, with a strong sense of identity with their home and background and apprehensive over changes at work and in social behaviour which they perceive as a growing threat to their values.
The divide was starkly evident on the EU referendum last year when the ‘Somewheres’, overlooked in their Midland and north of England heartlands, wrought revenge on the ever more dominant Anywheres. And the full force of that revenge struck this week with the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, launching our exit from the EU.
So far, so orthodox. But how accurate is this as a portrayal of Britain? Does it really hold true for Scotland, which might in many respects fit the ‘Somewheres’ stereotype but actually voted ‘Anywhere’?
Is the divide repairable as Goodhart, a born and bred ‘Anywhere’ but who now admits to a support for the ‘Somewheres’? Or does it point instead to a more profound division which could bring the conventional world of politics and behaviour crashing about our ears?
Certainly the divide has been marked by mutual disdain and contempt. The ‘Somewheres’ feel they have been neglected for decades. They view the attitude of the Anywheres towards them as patronising and dismissive. The Anywheres for their part regard the Somewheres as ill-informed, and bigoted to the point of racist. There seems little room for compromise or accommodation between the two: you are either one or the other; ‘one of them’ or ‘one of us’.
As a broad brush guide to the war over Brexit, many will recognise and broadly embrace this portrayal. But is the division really so straightforward?
Scotland, for example, might seem to fulfil all the characteristics of a ‘Somewhere’ nation. We have a keen sense of identity and belonging, social and cultural attitudes that we share and which, many of us believe, define us against the rest of the UK. We have a keen attachment to Scottish institutions – government, civic governance and the law. We value the powers that we have, to the point that a very sizeable number would wish Scotland to be an independent country.
But in the EU referendum most of us chose to be ‘Anywheres’: supportive of the EU, its values and its institutions, and did not share the degree of Euro-scepticism south of the border.
This reflect in part our aspiration to be fully part of the wider world, to be seen as liberal-minded, tolerant and broadly supportive of immigration and a progressive multi-culturalism. We do not like to be thought of as parochial or ‘small minded’.
And this also reflects our history. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, wave after wave of emigration saw Scots play a formative part in the development of the UK’s informal trade and financial empire. Scots were prominent in the economic development of China and Hong Kong, in the deep level mining industries of South Africa and in the opening up of Canada and the United Sates. Our world view was, ironically, always greater than ‘Europe’, and our enterprise global. We did not play so great a part in the development of European institutions as the ‘Remain’ lobby might suggest.
Other influences bear in our attitudes. Many of Scotland’s traditional industries have suffered from globalisation. We have lost much of our manufacturing base to the Far East. Many of our towns and communities bear the scars of a long, withdrawing roar of the economic tide.
We have also keenly felt a loss of political influence at the hands of supranational institutions. Many of the Scots who voted for independence in the 2014 referendum also voted for Brexit in the EU poll last year. We do not fit easily – if at all – into the Goodhart classification.
And that classification does not allow for the fluidity of movement as we progress through life. We start as ‘Somewheres’, morph through education and the onset of adult life into ‘Anywheres’ and over the years, in common with older generation fears and apprehensions, often switch back to being ‘Somewheres’.
And I am not sure if The Road to Somewhere fully captures the worrying dynamics that lie at the heart of the discontent evident in the public antipathy to ‘conventional politics’ and the elite that seems to have benefitted while many have felt a growing sense of disillusion.
Alongside the growing loss of power and influence to supranational institutions such as the EU, the World Bank, the IMF and central banks, has been the growing indebtedness of much of the Western world which has now frustrated and handicapped governments. In the US normally so quick to bounce back after periods of slowdown, the Obama administration was able to effect only a modest recovery, and one that only started to be felt in household incomes very late – arguably too late – in his presidency.
Here in the UK we are in the ninth year of public spending constraint as our debt to GDP ratio has remained stubbornly above 80 per cent. Little wonder there is a disillusion with ‘politics’ when it can deliver so little by way of real change in life experience (unless that is, you are a member of the well-off private and public elite).
Eight years after the bursting of a global credit bubble resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, debt continues to grow. In fact, rather than reducing indebtedness, or deleveraging, all major economies today have higher levels of borrowing relative to GDP than they did in 2007. Global debt has grown by $57 trillion and no major economy has decreased its debt-to-GDP ratio since 2007. High government debt in advanced economies and mounting household debt are areas of huge concern. Little wonder frustration has grown at the entrapment of governments. It’s not ‘new politics’ for which we pine – but the old politics made effective. This is the stony road on which both the Somewheres and the Anywheres are now travelling – and I do not share Goodhart’s belief in an easy reconciliation.