To be a good internationalist, you first have to be a good nationalist.
When this blog was in its infancy, I penned a personal appreciation of the late Jimmy Reid, whose conversion to the cause of Scottish independence in later life was informed by his lifelong belief in the working people’s struggle the world over. His guiding principles of fairness, equality, justice and indeed, fraternity had eventually led him to reconsider his eschewing of nationalism in favour of internationalism. The concepts were in fact intertwined and not exclusive, as many in the labour movement still contend.
I was reminded of this while trying to rationalise my instinctive recoiling against David Cameron’s manoeuvrings in Europe last week. His action left me feeling bereft and forlorn on so many levels.
Whether or not the UK can be kept from the table of European decision-making, make no mistake, we on these islands will be treated differently. Whenever I want to make a stand on how a country behaves, I often use my personal purchasing power, boycotting certain goods and countries of origin. I’d imagine many of our continental cousins might now think likewise. Why support us when we refuse to stay with them in their hour of need? And before you scoff, remember how the UK was treated in the Eurovision contest in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war. Null points might translate into null purchases resulting in null profits for many exporters.
David Cameron claims to have used the UK veto on a new European treaty in order to protect British interests. Effectively these come down to what is in the interests of the financial services industry, particularly those working out of the City of London, many of whose residents and workers are not even domiciled here for the purposes of tax. It’s nice to know where the rest of us stand in the pecking order.
The Prime Minister has opted out of putting his – and our – shoulder to the wheel to help fix Europe’s problems, despite it being in our best interests to do so given the scale of our export trade with EU and Eurozone members. Protecting the wealth of the tiny number of firms and individuals who helped cause the insolvency of all those European countries in the first place comes first. Consequently, Cameron has dragged all of us to the fringes, marginalising the majority, playing the little islander card to the hilt.
We are, for the foreseeable future, on the outside looking in, even though our ability to effect economic recovery will largely be determined by what happens in the Eurozone and on the continent. It is supremely arrogant and not a little foolish to think we can somehow avoid the domino impact of meltdown if the Euro collapses by simply not participating in future co-operative action. The water around us is just that, it isn’t some kind of invisible forcefield.
Some of the cant trotted out by Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and commentators this weekend supporting Cameron’s move continues to spin a tissue of lies about what being part of – and at the heart of – Europe actually means. On so many pragmatic political levels, being part of Europe is a very good thing.
Last week, MEPs agreed the text of a directive which will allow victims of crime – and particularly violence-related actions – to be protected if they move from one member state to another. The European Protection Order aims to enable victims of crime, who fear repercussions or ongoing threats, even after moving to another country, to apply for continued protection if they have an appropriate legal safeguard at home. It should be formally adopted before Christmas, with member states expected to make provision for it within three years.
These are the kind of measures that point up the unremitting good that can come of being part of a commonality of nations. They are also the sort of moves that cause rabid rightwingers to snarl at the supposed loss of sovereignty and the imposition of European mores on our own way of life. Commentators on and opponents of Scottish independence also like to trot out such vacuous symbols of statehood when it suits them. How does making your own decisions square with being subservient to Brussels? If you don’t like being told what to do by London, why swap that for Europe? Even the more substantive questions – the pound or the euro, Schengen or border controls – are shrouded in a subconscious, contemptuous sneer at the idea of being part of, rather than apart from, the European union.
This (worst) kind of populist patriotism ignores the point of self-determination. Of course, the concept of independence has changed in an interdependent world. Being a country with all the normal levers and powers of nationhood means taking and making decisions in the national interest, but it also involves playing a full role in the common weal of fellow nations. Sometimes the national interest is best served by not playing the national card, something the Conservatives fail and indeed, refuse to understand.
Poverty, hardship and injustice are no respecters of border controls. Consigning the continent to decades of economic and social misery by refusing to get involved in helping to solve the Euro mess, will not protect our economy. With nearly half of all our trade conducted in Europe, our economic prosperity in the short and medium term depends on theirs.
But Cameron has not exactly put all of the national interest first, but only the narrow concern of a very few; he has protected the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Indeed, the ones who caused all the misery continue to escape unscathed. The old world order keeps turning, and it’s why some of us don’t feel particularly British much of the time.
The UK’s continued adherence to the principles of selfishness, greed and individualism, dressed up as the trappings of sovereignty and the baubles of statehood, eschewing in the process the concepts of fairness, respect and equality, are what drive some of us to seek a different future. The UK had a chance this weekend to contribute to a different future for us all. It chose not to.
Yet, the measure of mature government and responsible democracy is to know how to play and play well on the international stageL it is not something the UK has ever quite managed to grasp. Sometimes, it is vital to subjugate narrow national interest to a greater, common purpose. The key is knowing when your country’s best interests are not served by blindly following narrow self-interest.
It means realising that in order to be a good nationalist, you must also be a good internationalist.