Scottish nationalists and supporters of independence turning their noses up at the pro-EU protest in London for having Union Jacks and containing political figures and forces that are hostile to our own cause and principles might want to think more carefully before denouncing them.
The outer layer of a political movement always reflects its political core – I personally have no illusions in understanding that the ‘Remain’ movement in England (and among the non-nationalist component of it in Scotland) is hugely dominated by a certain form of liberal British nationalism. And though Nicola Sturgeon might send nice messages to them, when push comes to shove, we would find precious few allies among these people in the struggle for Scottish self-determination. But that’s not the main purpose or function of this movement. They don’t see the Union Jack as you might see it. It doesn’t elicit the same hatred and revulsion – it doesn’t carry the same meaning within the context of that protest as it does when we see right-wing Unionists flying it.
They live in a different country with a different political dynamic when it comes to the Union Jack and Unionism in general. They might not fully understand or care about Scottish independence to the extent that you and I do. It’s not their lived experience. You rarely in these times, or in any times, get an unbroken line of pure progress. You have to pick and choose your allies at different times and for different things. There will always be regressive intersections. When Nicola Sturgeon and other members of the SNP joined the official Remain campaign for TV debates during the EU referendum, they did so to put forward their own case for Remaining, a case that was quite different than that of Tories like Anna Soubry or Liberals like Nick Clegg.
But the main point in all of this is that the other side in the Remain-Leave dynamic envisions an illiberal form of British nationalism – a form of British nationalism that considers the Empire to be as much of a glorious past as it ought to be a triumphant future. A form of British nationalism that fetishizes the racism and chauvinism, birthed by the British domination of the world, and far from critically assessing Britishness as an imperialist identity, as the liberal British nationalists might, wants to concretely affirm it in a modern context.
This side – the side of Boris Johnson, of Rees-Mogg, of Farage and of ‘Take Back Control’ –provides no common ground for anyone with a remotely progressive vision for anything. And no progressives anywhere on God’s green earth will find allies within them, while the actual occurrence of Brexit will entail not just a considerable economic shift for the worse (the severity of this will depend on the nature of the exit) and other potentially dangerous and combustive consequences, but an overall radicalisation and concretisation of the agenda of ideological right. Many soft Remainers like to say ‘not everyone who voted Leave is racist’ – yes, not everyone who voted for the NSDAP wanted Jews to be exterminated en mass, but they still voted for a party who had a leader who routinely vowed that he would do it.
Not everyone who voted for Trump was racist, but they still voted for a leader who vowed he would ban Muslim immigration and, lo and behold, he’s taken unprecedented steps in ridding the US of Muslim immigration.
Okay, Godwin’s Law violations aside, the point is that while it’s perhaps true that not everyone who voted Brexit is a racist (a statement genuinely unworthy of saying), whether they’re racist or not, they voted for something that was:
A) framed and emphasised in an entirely racist manner and with despicably racist imagery, and B) will have concretely racist ramifications.
It is a huge triumph for racism. Only an idiot or a racist or a racist idiot would argue otherwise. People forget that Brexit was born in blood. It’s an acutely dangerous idea to think that the manner in which the UK now ignores the murder of Jo Cox is proof of some innate British manner to remain steely in the face of ‘extremism’, but the narratives of extremism that motivated Tommy Mair to murder the avowedly anti-racist, pro-immigration MP are now more stronger than ever. Only someone wilfully blind won’t have noticed the ‘creep’ of ideas once considered to be far-right into mainstream outlets. Just the other day, the Daily Mail carried a piece that essentially vindicated the fascist, Islamophobic pogromist ‘Tommy Robinson’.
So I’ll swallow my own visceral dislike for those who carry the Union Jack as long as it’s being flown by those who believe, god help them (genuinely), in a liberal form of British nationalism – I’ll even manage to swallow the fact that those protesting against Brexit allegedly fail to comprehend the deeply negative and regressive parts of the European Union with regard to refugees, non-European immigration, or the appeasement and absorbing of the far-right and, of course, its support for fascistic dictators that police its walls. These criticisms aren’t being forgotten, but, within dynamic of Brexit, they might be naturally deflected within the context of the street-to-street realities of a resurgent far-right with the vision of Brexit as their New Jerusalem.
I was and, erm, remain a Reluctant Remainer. A pragmatic Remainer, if you like. I’m not any kind of lover of the EU and feel no affinity with ‘Europe’ in terms of identity. Within the context of the UK, the EU is a symbol for a new anti-racist resistance. The alt-left is too busy either supporting a pro-Brexit Leadership that now resides permanently within the Labour Party, or they’re just plainly supporting Brexit. Those who have illusions in an ‘anti-racism’ that transcends the shortcomings of liberalism might want to consider the fact that the far-left often join the right in attacking liberal status quo. In egalitarianism, they see bourgeois ‘identity politics’, while in support for free movement of people in Europe, they see support for ‘capitalism’ and ‘neoliberalism’.
Leftist media outlets like the despicable Morning Star even use anti-semitic Soros dog-whistles to attack the protesters. Sure, they’d say they envision a world where there were no borders and they’ll screech about ‘Fortress Europe’, but that world does not exist and Fortress UK is what’s really being played for or against here. What exists is a situation where a racist Brexit is triumphing and the left, whether by themselves or by proxy through Corbyn, are supporting this reality. A reality that means the UK’s already racist and illiberal immigration system for non-EU migrants is extended to Europe. The Left function here as a force that uses radical language and wears radical clothes to scramble for the triumph of a gang of racist ultra-capitalists who see Brexit as a chance for, well, racist ultra-capitalism, not to put too fine a point on it.
We live in an era where being a ‘liberal’ simply means understanding that liberalism (the status quo of egalitarianism), for all its shortcomings and for all the areas where it should be extended, is the main mode of resistance politics against forces that want to tear ‘liberalism’, by which they mean egalitarianism, apart. They want to stamp it out. I cannot oppose those who resist this simply because they fly a flag I dislike or don’t believe in everything I believe.
Scottish separatism is internationalist in principle. There is no clearer an example of putting this principle into practice by supporting anti-racists in England and rUK, whatever haphazard form it might take and whatever dishonourable company it might keep.