Populism and identity politics

November 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm (anti-fascism, class, Europe, populism, Rosie B)


I had hopes that it would not have been a 55/45 split in the Scotland’s referendum but more of a 35/65 one.  Instead the vote swung from closer towards independence than most had anticipated a year ago and the Scottish National Party has gained thousands of recruits from disappointed Yessers and those on the left who have given up on the Labour Party. They are likely to win most of Scotland’s seats in the next general election.

This, along with the rise of UKIP this swing to nationalistic and populist politics should not be surprising in Britain.  It’s happening all over the continent, with France’s Front National having a good chance of winning the presidency  and the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece and of the Sweden Democrats.

This sort of politics with its whiff of the thirties is very alarming.

Kenan Malik’s piece here is excellent on the rise of right-wing populism within Europe:-

“What are considered populist parties comprise, in fact, very different kinds of organizations, with distinct historical roots, ideological values and networks of social support. Some, such as Golden Dawn, are openly Nazi. Others, such as the Front National are far-right organizations that in recent years have tried to rebrand themselves to become more mainstream. Yet others – UKIP for instance – have reactionary views, play to far-right themes such as race and immigration, but have never been part of the far-right tradition.
What unites this disparate group is that all define themselves through a hostility to the mainstream and to what has come to be regarded as the dominant liberal consensus. Most of the populist parties combine a visceral hatred of immigration with an acerbic loathing of the EU, a virulent nationalism and deeply conservative views on social issues such as gay marriage and women’s rights.

The emergence of such groups reveals far more, however, than merely a widespread disdain for the mainstream. It expresses also the redrawing of Europe’s political map, and the creation of a new faultline on that map. The postwar political system, built around the divide between social democratic and conservative parties, is being dismantled. Not only has this created new space for the populists, but it is also transforming the very character of political space.

The new political faultline in Europe is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the post-ideological, post-political world, and those who feel left out, dispossessed and voiceless. These kinds of divisions have always existed, of course. In the past, however, that sense of dispossession and voicelessness could be expressed politically, particularly through the organizations of the left and of the labour movement. No longer. It is the erosion of such mechanisms that is leading to the remaking of Europe’s political landscape.

as broader political, cultural and national identities have eroded, and as traditional social networks, institutions of authority and moral codes have weakened, so people’s sense of belonging has become more narrow and parochial, moulded less by the possibilities of a transformative future than by an often mythical past. The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity…

we need to establish new social mechanisms through which to link liberal ideas about immigration and individual rights with progressive economic arguments and a belief in the community and the collective. Those who today rightly bemoan the corrosion of collective movements and community organizations often also see the problem as too much immigration. Those who take a liberal view on immigration, and on other social issues, are often happy with a more individualized, atomized society. Until all three elements of a progressive outlook – a defence of immigration, freedom of movement and of individual rights, a challenge to austerity policies and the embrace of collective action – can be stitched together, and stitched into a social movement, then there will be no proper challenge to the populists.”

Read the whole.


  1. violetwisp said,

    I think it’s very odd you’re comparing the SNP with UKIP. Most people who voted Yes in the referendum, especially the swing voters, did so because they wanted a more representative political system. Are you happy with the a two party first past the post political system with an appointed lower house? I personally think it’s a disgrace, and the opportunity to overhaul the whole of the UK political system has been sorely lost. It had nothing to do with nationalism for anyone I knew.

    Most people who vote UKIP have no idea what their policies are, beyond something about ‘getting rid of immigrants’. It is a reactionary, angry vote of ignorance. People here who vote SNP understand the broad policies that they aim to introduce, beyond anything as narrow as immigration. They are poles apart. Really silly post. Are you actually in Scotland?

    • Mick O said,

      You are claiming that people voting Yes in the Scottish referendum had no nationalist leanings. That the way to overhaul the UK political system is fragmentation. Your views confirm my opinion that the author of the post has got this right. What has whether or not the author is in Scotland got to do with anything?

    • Jim Denham said,

      The author is probably unwilling to dignify your question “are you actually in Scotland?” with an answer. I would also add, “what does that matter, anyway, for an internationalist?”

      But, as a matter of fact, she is.

      • violetwisp said,

        That’s fine if the author isn’t open to discussing why she came to such odd conclusions. I tend to think people posting their opinions online might want to discuss them, but I’m often wrong about these things. I asked if she was in Scotland because the opinions stated seem so out of touch with what I’ve seen here over the last few months. I know loads of people who swung to the Yes vote, and not one of them did it for any kind of nationalistic motives, but after careful consideration of what they believed the likely outcomes would be.

        And as a response to the comment about “fragmenting the UK” made above, I’m not clear why anyone would think political boundaries need to be set in stone for all eternity. If it makes sense for the political administration to be in bigger or smaller geographical areas at certain points in history, then what’s the big deal? I don’t see anything internationalist about clinging to the concept of the UK as being some sort of perfect unit for governance – that actually seems like an odd kind of nationalism in itself.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Strange, isn’t it, that some “socialists” who in general are for breaking down borders, want to erect a new one between Scotland and England.

    • Rosie said,

      I do live in Scotland.

      I don’t think the SNP is anything like as noxious as the Front National in France or UKIP. It does have its hardcore element however, and it sings a nationalist song.

      It is both nationalistic and populist and represents a break from traditional politics, which is my main point.

      • violetwisp said,

        Yes, I saw Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed on the BBC this morning and cringed at the narrow nationalist rhetoric. For all I agree with many of their policies, I’d find it difficult to ever vote for them. However, I do still think there is a distinction between what motivated the Yes votes, especially in the majority of swing cases, and any form of nationalism.

  2. Rosie said,

    I agree that a lot of Yes voters came from a left and green place rather than a purely nationalist one. But they have now thrown their lot in with the nationalists. It was unsettling to see Yessers who said over and over that we are not SNPers now flocking to join the SNP. It was creepy to see those who had said it was not about Alex Salmond wailing when he resigned. Both Salmon and Sturgeon are nationalists, and to support them is to support a nationalist party – ie, one whose main policy is to break from the UK, whatever its other policies are. Scotland is going to be dominated by nationalist politics for decades.

  3. finbar said,

    The harsh reality is people the over majority are comforted by not questioning why,just slaved to capitalism debt,and its usury and social control.

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