Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What's in a nation?

Do you feel proud to be English? Or British? Or East Anglian? A Norfolk bor or a Norwich maw?
Does it make much difference to you – I mean a real, deep-in-the-gut, quality-of-life difference – whether Norwich City, or England, or Team GB, win a football match or an Olympic medal?
And if the answer to any of the above is an unreserved “yes”, what’s that all about?
Well, if nothing else it’s a startling piece of evidence that we’re still a tribal species.
And if you doubt that for a moment, just consider the torrent of thinly disguised racism that distorts the currently over-heated national debate about immigration.
And yes, I did say “national”. It’s hard to get away from.
But what, when you get right down to it, is the nation?
If Scotland votes in September to leave the UK, will Andy Murray and Chris Hoy suddenly stop being “us” and become “them”?
If it’s going to change the whole nation of Britain, of Britishness, shouldn’t you and I have a vote too?
Of course, it’s about the Scots’ right to self-determination. Just as the Falkland islanders determined last year that they wanted to remain British – despite being nearly 8,000 miles from these shores.
It’s democracy, innit?
But there’s a problem here. Everything depends on where you draw the boundaries of your electorate.
Take Scotland away and the likelihood of the rump of the UK having a Conservative government rises enormously.
Draw the boundary round just East Anglia and that prospect increases further. But tighten it to include just Norwich (120 times as many people as the Falklands) and you might get Labour rule.
Allow self-determination to my street, or my house, and the political colour changes again.
What’s happening in Ukraine is interesting (even if a little scary).
The recent referendum in the Donetsk region in the east of the country – in which 89 per cent apparently voted for local independence – was declared by the government in Kiev to be “an illegal farce”.
But then Ukraine’s own independence, declared in 1991, was just as illegal under the laws of the old Soviet Union.
Ultimately, the true balance of power lies in whatever agreement can be reached between those who want to rule and those who are prepared to let themselves be ruled.
Back here, the Scottish vote could leave us in an unprecedented and messy situation.
If the nationalists get their way, Scotland will leave the Union in March 2016. At that point, 59 Scottish MPs will depart Westminster.
At present, that’s 41 Labour, 11 Lib Dem, six SNP and one lone Tory. You can see how their departure might alter things in Westminster.
If they were to go right now, David Cameron would have an outright majority and not have to rely on Lib Dem support.
So here is an all-too-plausible scenario.
Scotland votes in September for independence. Labour wins a national majority next May – but only with the support of those north-of-the-border MPs who will have only 10 months to serve before leaving for a different nation.
How will the rump UK feel about those Scots taking long-term decisions for the country they’re leaving behind? And what happens afterwards?
Like I said: messy.


Two days from now we go to the polls – at least some of us will.
As usual at any local or European election the biggest contingent will be the can’t-be-bothered.
Which is one reason why UKIP are sure to do well – far better, one presumes and prays, than they can possibly hope for in next year’s General Election.
It may seem ironic, but in fact it’s inevitable, that those who care most about Europe are those who want it scrapped. (What the future might hold for UKIP’s MEPs should that wish come true, we can only speculate.)
The contending parties have at least been busy trying to remind us there’s a vote to take part in. Well, most of them, anyway.
Last time I counted, we’d had no fewer than five Lib Dem election leaflets through our door, and two each from Labour, UKIP and the Green Party. Nothing from the Tories, which means either
a)      they’re taking this rustic corner of East Anglia for granted, as well they might;
b)      they’re leaving it to the last moment for maximum impact; or
c)      I chucked their best effort straight in the recycling bin without even noticing it, which I admit is entirely possible.
Two others factors are playing into UKIP’s hands.
With an unpopular Government, and an Opposition failing woefully to cash in, there’s bound to be a substantial protest vote. And that’s no longer good news for the Lib Dems, who are now the ones nearly everyone wants to protest against.
And then there’s what we might call the Farage factor.
How the Greens could do with someone like chinless Nigel.
Well, not exactly like him, obviously. But someone who could whip up a similar level of hype in the media.
Someone who could draw that amount of attention to the one party whose policies are actually worth protesting FOR.

No comments: