The two issues that dominate Scottish and UK politics both involve a choice of whether to Leave or Remain. There are four variants. Let’s embrace the current apocalyptic metaphors and call them horsemen.
Clearly all of these are possible positions. The SNP officially wants to Remain in the EU, but leave the UK, while many of its supporters would prefer to leave both.
There has been a tendency among some Remain supporters to describe wishing to leave the EU as a form of nationalism. But what do we mean by nationalism?
As I have long argued there are three main senses in which the word nationalism is used in politics.
- Secession nationalism.
- Unification nationalism.
- Far right nationalism.
Secession and unification nationalism are both perfectly legitimate political goals and there are large numbers of examples from history. Ukraine left the USSR in order to form an independent sovereign state. Likewise Italian and German nationalism were the processes which united various Italian and German speaking territories into single sovereign states. These goals are morally neutral and sensible people can disagree about whether they are desirable or not. When I describe an SNP supporter as a nationalist it is simply a descriptive term that usefully distinguishes this sort of political goal from other political goals.
Far right nationalism is different and it would be better if we had a different word for this. It defines the nation in a narrow usually racist fashion and wishes to exclude others on these grounds. Luckily in Britain far right nationalism wins few votes at elections. When this sense of nationalism is used to describe Brexiteers it is used simply as an insult. We truly are in trouble if 17 million British citizens support the far-right. Likewise calling people who support the unity of the UK British nationalists is an equally unpleasant insult. It is equating us with people who support the BNP. For this reason I have had a long standing policy of blocking people who use such terms on Twitter and I have recently extended it to Remain supporters who use nationalism as a term of abuse or who think it funny to conflate the UK wishing to leave the EU with Scotland wishing to leave the UK. When I discover that someone doesn’t wish to discuss but just wants to insult, I become immediately uninterested in anything else they might have to say.
The first two senses of nationalism should in no way be thought of as insulting for the process of historical development very frequently has involved these unifying and seceding processes.
What has the EU been in the process of doing since its foundation? It is obvious that it has gradually been attempting to unify the various member states into what it hopes will eventually be a single united sovereign state. It is doing what in effect Germany did in the nineteenth century. This therefore is a form of unification nationalism.
From this it can be shown that the first option (Leave Leave) whereby Scottish nationalists wish to both leave the UK and the EU is by far the more coherent position for them to take. These people take the view that it is pointless to leave the UK if Scotland is just going to end up being ruled by Brussels. But while this position is coherent it persuades few Scots who are not already fervent believers in Scottish nationalism. After all, the softest form of independence imaginable was rejected in 2014. This is why the SNP rejects Leave Leave as politically untenable. This above all is why Pro UK people should support Brexit, because it makes the SNP’s position untenable. Always do what your opponent least wants.
The mainstream SNP position (Remain Leave) involves Scotland in both the secession form of nationalism and the unification form. This looks rather like saying we don’t mind sharing a sovereign state with Europe we just can’t bear sharing it with England. If the EU really is going to become a united nation state then Scotland would have no more independence than does Texas. Scottish nationalists would therefore be the equivalent of nineteenth century Northern Bavarians trying to secede from Bavaria while the whole of Bavaria was uniting into Germany. What would be the point? “Independence within Europe” therefore is going in opposite directions at the same time leading to complete incoherence.
Those who wish a united UK to remain in the EU (Remain Remain) are clearly in effect subscribing to the unification form of nationalism, though few would admit it. The EU has been on a journey towards “ever closer union” from its beginning, just as various German states were in the process of unifying long before they actually unified. The EU is closer to becoming a United States of Europe now than these German states were in 1848, so anyone who doubts where the EU is going needs to read some relatively straightforward history books.
Remain supporters frequently think of themselves as internationalists, but this is a mistake. The relationship between the parts of Germany is not international. It ceased to be international when the parts ceased to be nation states. In order to be an internationalist you have to believe in the maintenance of the sovereign nation state, but work towards cooperation with other sovereign nation states. Internationalism is not about annulling nation states, which is just another word for the unification form of nationalism, but rather it is about maintaining them.
Remain Remain contradicts itself further because in agreeing with mainstream Scottish nationalism about the EU it makes the goal of Scottish nationalism easier to achieve. The condition for the possibility of sub-nation nationalism in Europe is the EU. It is for this reason that independence supporters whether from Catalonia, Flanders or Scotland see the EU as allowing them to maintain the same rights as they have at present, owing to EU membership, even if they became independent. For this reason Remain Remain in the long run leads both to the breakup of the UK (secession nationalism) and to the UK or its parts subsuming itself into the EU whole (unification nationalism). In no sense therefore does Remain Remain in the long run lead to the maintenance of the UK.
Wanting a united UK to leave the EU isn’t nationalism at all. Apart from the insulting far right sense of the word, nationalism is about becoming rather than being. It is about becoming something that you are not. The UK is already united. Wishing to maintain this unity is not nationalism. Every sovereign state in the world wishes to maintain its territorial integrity. If this is nationalism then the word ceases to have any meaning. So trying to avoid the secession form of nationalism is not nationalism, but likewise and for the same reason wishing to avoid the unification form of nationalism is not nationalism either.
In 1866 at the battle of Königgrätz Saxony fought with the Austrian Empire against Prussia and lost. One result of this was that Saxony had to join the North German Confederation and within a few years too part in the final stages of German unification. Saxony’s fight against unification nationalism was not itself nationalistic. Saxony was not seceding, rather it was saying we don’t want to take part. Now that Saxony is a part of a united Germany, it could only achieve independence again by means of secession. This would be nationalism, but in 1866 it was simply trying be what it was rather than become something that it was not.
Brexit supporters who recognise that the EU makes Scottish nationalism easier, are simply using Brexit to defeat both secession nationalism and unification nationalism. Brexit is not about uniting with anyone else, nor is it about seceding from another nation state. The EU is not a nation state, that is what it is becoming. Brexit is about recognising what is happening to the EU and saying we don’t want to take part.
The debate between Remain and Leave is very peculiar for the simple reason that although many people are passionate Remain supporters, very few of them actually want the UK to be subsumed in a United States of Europe. Support for European federalism is vanishingly small in the UK. Some Remain supporters think the UK can keep a sort of semi-detached relationship with the EU (outside the Euro, outside Schengen) indefinitely and somehow we can avoid “ever closer union”, or else they think that the EU will never quite reach the United States of Europe stage.
But the last two years have shown us that the EU is showing ever more signs of the unification nationalism that Germany displayed in the nineteenth century, whereby it was willing to crush all dissent in the name of getting towards its goal of unity. The attempt to punish Brexit in order to either bring us back into the fold or else at least to discourage any other attempts to leave is a strategy worthy of Moltke and Bismarck.
In the end the choice remains the same as it did in 2016. Either you wish the UK to become a region in the EU, subsumed and in the end with no more sovereignty than Texas, or you wish to leave. There might be some advantages in being a part of the United States of Europe, but let us at least be honest about the long term choice that we face. We are going to have to face up to this choice sooner or later, but later might be too late. The process of unification will soon reach a point where leaving isn’t an option. We are almost at that point now. If we let Remain drag us back into the EU prison we won’t get a second chance to escape.
The fourth Brexit horseman far from being apocalyptic is the only means we have of escaping an eventual fate that few Brits whether Leavers or Remainers actually want. It is the means by which we keep the UK united and a sovereign state rather than submerged in ever closer EU union. Far from being scary the fourth horse is the means by which we avoid something scary. We must let nothing, and certainly not scare stories from sore losers, hinder our journey to freedom. We still have time to jump on the Brexit horse and gallop off into the distance. Only in this way can we evade the EU/Remainer conspiracy to put down a healthy horse on the grounds that “Hell followed with him.”
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/08/the-fourth-horseman.html