The rise of nationalism in Britain

As the eurozone crisis continues, anti-establishment insurgencies like the Scottish National Party, SNP’s, are surfacing all over Europe: nationalist, populist, separatist, left or right.

As the British empire was gradually dissolved after the second world war and its industrial base attacked by younger, nimbler economies, the cohesion of the British state weakened.

There was an impulse towards supra-nationalism in the shape of membership in the European Union, but Britain joined late, in 1973.

English people – steeped in Britain’s maritime, imperial traditions – felt hostile towards the EU.

At the same time, long-smothered regional nationalism was reviving on Britain’s Celtic fringes. In divided Ireland, it was violent; in Scotland, political, emboldened by newly discovered North Sea oil; in Wales, initially, cultural, based around the preservation of the Welsh language.

That was in the 70s. Forty years on, these rival strands are much stronger, and testing the concept of “Britishness” to destruction.

The Scottish national party has barely paused for breath since losing last September’s referendum on independence for Scotland – immediately declaring itself the moral victor and demanding greater powers for Edinburgh.

Since the referendum result – 55% no, 45% yes – disaffected working-class Labour voters have flocked to the SNP. Polls suggest the Scottish nationalists, now led by Scotland’s new first minister, the formidable Nicola Sturgeon, will slaughter Labour north of the border, winning dozens of Scotland’s 59 seats and perhaps holding the balance of power in London. If she finds herself in that position, Sturgeon promises to block Cameron and prop up a minority Miliband administration.

Britain’s Tory newspapers are busy denouncing Sturgeon as “the most dangerous woman” in the country. Cameron – whose Tories have only one seat in Scotland – warns of a Scottish veto from the people who want to break up Britain. Miliband is embarrassed.

Meanwhile, in England, the populist anti-European right, in the form of the UK independence party (Ukip), has evolved under the skilful leadership of Nigel Farage.

Ukip’s proven ability to win protest votes at four-yearly elections to the 28-nation European parliament is now threatening the status quo at Westminster. It has two MPs (both defectors from the Tories) and hopes to win more on 7 May.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Though Ukip portrays itself as free market and libertarian, it is also deeply nostalgic, socially conservative, and suspicious of immigrants and big-government bureaucracy, especially from the EU’s Brussels headquarters.

Racist, homophobic and authoritarian? Certainly not, says Farage. We just want to be a self-governing sovereign state again. But Ukip’s “little guy” rank-and-file is not always quite so on-message. This is disruptive Tea Party Republicanism with added potency.

Ukip’s threat to the status quo is twofold. It may take enough votes away from Cameron’s Tories to deny the prime minister his slim hopes of a Commons majority on May 7, or even to stop him being the largest party, which would make it hard for him to form another coalition.

In a tight race, with both main parties polling at around 34%, Ukip’s rise may also hurt Miliband’s prospects by peeling off Labour’s equivalent of blue-collar Democrats, working-class voters fed up with stagnant wages and gay marriage, underfunded public services and “unpatriotic” liberals.

Source: The Guardian