For a long time now I’ve been looking at that question that greets me on my Facebook page, inviting me to post about my perfect life, my dinner, my cat; “What’s on your mind?” The Far right. That’s what’s on my mind Facebook. Thanks for asking. All life is there; more conspiracy theorists than you can throw a milkshake at; climate change and holocaust deniers, racists, bigots, misogynists. Murderers. Remember Jo Cox. A whole package of nightmares for every day of the week. Cue exploding head emoji. “Go on, I dare you”, Just write it, see what happens” says Exploding Head. “Go back!” Screams Smiley Face, “it’s just you”! I fight my way out of my political bubble and post a swan and six beautiful signets instead. “Not long now!”, Smiley says. “Once this Brexit nonsense is out of the way we can all go back to normal.”
Turn on the TV. Drama channel is showing episodes from the series Life on Mars from 2006, where DCI Sam Tyler wakes up from a coma to find himself in the racist, sexist and corruptly maverick policing culture of 1973. It seems ironic that, when the series was first shown in 2006 I would be looking back with horror at less enlightened times, while 13 years later, I’m looking with trepidation towards a dystopian future.
By 2006 we were in the middle of Blairite stasis. 9/11 had happened, Thatcherism had devastated our manufacturing base and stripped back trade union powers. Democracy had taken a huge hammering from the ignored mass protest of Blair’s illegal war on Iraq, to name but a selection of disturbing events and erosions. It was hardly Nirvana, and yet despite the inevitable opposition and backlash towards any groups and individuals striving for equality and justice in all areas of life, changes moved on apace, and the onslaught of overt abuse had not yet been fully realised .
If we fast-track through to the EU referendum in 2016 via ongoing foreign policy misadventures and the financial crash of 2008, we also see the Eurozone crisis of 2010, and in the same year, the election of a Tory government in the UK, propped up by the Lib Dems. A growing populist disenchantment with centrist governments and Neo Liberalism emerges, as the poorest take the brunt of the economic global downturn, and the rich benefit from the opportunities of disaster capitalism. In the UK the expenses scandal chips away at any remaining respect for politicians, and the across the EU, growing numbers become enamoured with the passionate xenophobic rhetoric by the likes of Marine Le Pen in France. By May 2014 the EU elections show a significant bounce in support for the far right, and the scapegoating of refugees from the devastation of middle east conflicts. David Cameron’s Brexit gamble proved to be the perfect storm. The genie shoots right out of the bottle, and racist incidents increase massively, undeterred, or even emboldened by the shock waves from Jo Cox’s murder.
Meanwhile in Trump’s presidential election campaign, it seems that simple emotional slogans hit the mark. Trump’s Drain the Swamp and Make America Great Again resonate with a great many of the disillusioned and disenfranchised on both side of the Atlantic. And with a great many of the opportunist and blatantly xenophobic too. With Steve Bannon’s preferred platform, Alt Right bible Breibart News to hand, the far right enjoy a new lexicon of terminology. Alt Right may sound more like badly ageing hipsters than fascists, but terms like Snowflake, Virtue Signalling and Social Justice Warrior demonstrate a lack of empathy. They cement the belief that anyone who claims to support social justice and equality is basically a liar. If you were actively involved in, or engaged with a trade union in the UK, particularly from the 80s onwards, when discriminatory practice and language were challenged full on, and Saturday night TV became less Les Dawson and more Ben Elton, you’ll understand the frustration at the use of the term “PC gone mad”. Maybe there’s a continuum in terminology reaching from “PC gone mad”, all the way through to “bring back hanging” and the unrepeatable, via the pseudo intellectualisation of the Alt Right terminology. More disturbing, is the gradual appropriation of these terms into mainstream use without irony.
It’s not the many and overwhelming acts of terrorism that permeate my thoughts on a day to day basis; that way lies madness. It’s not even the omnipresence of Farage just prior to the EU elections, or the thuggery of Yaxley Lennon and crew, (who would exact terrible revenge for a good milkshaking). It’s the insidious rolling back of decades of acceptance of positive change and hard won advances against discrimination and othering. Undeterred, pressure groups and individuals push on, but the wave of backlash has landed before you’ve found your feet. it’s not only xenophobia, and racism. The door is wide open, and it’s driven by deep emotion and a sense of victimisation.
The EU election results come in as I write, and the Brexit Party lands its blows. It’s a full metaphor for lack of substance, its single issue being the destruction of existing institutions, in a nod to a sinister past. Given the wave of emotional Brit -Nattery sweeping the board in England in particular, it would appear that three years of debate following on from the vote have had limited impact on reason. It’s Farage’s time. He’s arrived; a wealthy and well funded elite. It’s a different picture in Scotland, where the SNP’s three and Farage’s Brexit Party’s one seat is another metaphor. It stands for democratic deficit within the UK. Scotland voted to remain, and it means it. All the same we can’t be complacent, and one Brexit seat is one too many.
The independence movement must now be strongly driven forward as an unapologetic response to the isolationism of British Nationalism. It must have a strong international focus, and empowering debate about the EU, which must acknowledge and address the reasons for the 38% of the Leave vote. We have a lot to learn from the impact of emotional messaging, and we need to acknowledge it without capitulation to it. We undermine the strength of feeling that being British evokes at our peril. In spite of that, though, there are many previously No voting people out there who dissociate from the parody of Britishness brought to us on a regular basis in the form of “Great British” everything, from buns to air raids. We can (continue to) make a strong and empowering case for an independence that thrives on equality and social justice.
First of all we have to talk again, and listen. We talked during Indyref 1 and we talked after the EU referendum, as many of us found common ground in the aftershock. Then my Facebook status started to populate itself with cat videos again. I’m partial to a cat video, but I’m getting a real sense again that political discourse is overwhelming and even impolite. If we don’t communicate we can’t learn. It comes with caveats though. I don’t recognise anyone’s freedom of hate speech, and for those who feel victimised by that, and have declared that The Left are the real fascists, there’s no more discussion. I don’t recognise the need to platform known far right politicians, bloggers or authors, no matter how well their book or website is performing.
Who knows what the next few months will bring. I don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the UK political scene will not be pretty, and for many of us, a full on independence campaign (which we absolutely must win) can’t come quickly enough. If you have already voted for the Brexit Party, I have to say this; Mr Farage is not your friend. He won’t be the catalyst for a worker’s revolution, and he won’t help your employment or living standards. We need to find common ground now if we want to stand in the way of far right advancement, whether it’s a set of ideas or a growing band of thugs. Remember that Yaxley Lennon didn’t get his seat. That didn’t happen without opposition. In the light of day and out of the shadows they don’t look so frightening and all pervasive. We still have time.
By Val Waldron