Thought for the day: anywheres and somewheres

Recently, listening to Radio Four’s ‘Thought for the Day’, a programme that is intended for a moment of religiously-inspired reflection in the morning news cycle, I heard the Reverend Giles Fraser denouncing “rootless cosmopolitans’.

I was surprised and horrified as this phrase connotes ‘Jews’. It has a history – the ideological separation of non-ethnic Germans from the rest of the population by the Nazi regime.

Fraser went on to discuss a book by David Goodhart which separates a group of elite ‘anywheres’ – people who move around – unfavourably with ‘somewheres’, people who belong, who don’t move away from their birthplaces.

“Listening to Thought for the Day. Jesus!” I tweeted. “Yes, St Paul got about a bit too,” a friend replied. Of course Jesus of Nazareth famously got a somewhat frosty reception in his home town. St Paul, one of the founders of the Christian religion to which Frazer claims to adhere, travelled around the ancient world sending letters back. Presumably he was one of the dubious ‘anywheres’.

There was a large feature article about this same book in the FT, refuted eloquently on the letters page later by Tobias Flessenkemper, writing from the European Institute in Florence. He wrote that the Brexit/Trump backlash was not prompted, as Goodhart claims:

by an excess of equality under the law but rather by the destruction of the very foundations of modern democracy: access to equal life chances and a better distribution of wealth. The risks for democracy were the results of laissez-faire capitalism and uncontrolled market forces rather than of a liberal legal and social order.

The Brexit government in the UK and its supporters are similar to the Trumpists in the US in that they conjure a notion of a dangerous ‘elite’ – of which they claim they are not really part, being rulers who, in contrast,  are of the people: ‘somewheres’. This conjured-up well-heeled elite which travels around the world, availing itself of rights like freedom of movement, is to blame for the ills of globalisation, sipping like bees at nectar belonging to others.

A hatred of intellectuals is common to right-wing governments and their friends. But this anywhere/ somewhere dichotomy goes further. It implies that people who live in one place are in some insidious way better and more deserving of rights than migrants. So British-born citizens should get jobs before Polish residents. British-born citizens’ children are entitled to child benefit, but an Eastern European woman who works in a care home and pays her taxes should not get it if her children are in Warsaw. But an “ex-pat” English person living in Spain should get their pension.

Citizens of the world

The day I heard this poisonous Thought for the Day, I met an old friend. She spoke of her horror at hearing Theresa May announce “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” “I may have lived all my life in Scotland,” my friend said. “But I am a citizen of the world.”

She went on to add that her parents, who fought in the Second World War, would have been appalled to see right-wing Tory MPs going through the lobbies of Westminster humming the Dambusters march as they voted for Brexit. In her view, this London government is intent also on demolishing the post-war social contract. “My parents came back from the Second World War determined to pass on a better world to their children. And they did.”

Winston Churchill said, of course: “I look forward to a United States of Europe”. So he may have been more in tune with Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke – the only Tory MP to vote against the bill to trigger Article 50 – than the current Conservative government.

May’s remarks about training more British doctors so that there will be less need to hire “foreign” ones; the Tory conference talk of “shaming” companies who hire “foreign”workers; the reneging on a commitment to admit unaccompanied child refugees, and more, seem to contain elements of blood and soil nationalism that I find deeply repellant and would describe as post-fascist.

The Scottish National Party has its own history of flirtation with these kinds of ideas, and they are still represented by individuals within the party membership, but under the leadership of Alex Salmond it turned its back on ethnic nationalism many years ago. My father, the journalist Arnold Kemp gave a lecture on Scots adoption of what he called “elective nationalism” in 1990.

The SNP, in their vote on the call for a new independence referendum are also ably supported by the Scottish Greens, whose leader Patrick Harvie spoke eloquently in the debate on this at Holyrood last week.

Scotland, like Ireland, has a history of emigration and there are, I read recently, a million Scots resident abroad, a contrast to the 160,000 or so EU nationals resident in Scotland. Most Scottish families probably have members who have made their lives in other countries.  Scotland is an outward-looking country. And it is one that needs more immigration. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, on the day after the Brexit vote last year, immediately supported the rights of EU residents in Scotland, assuring them that they remain welcome and their contribution is valued. This was in stark contrast with the attitude of May’s government in Westminster.

Of course, there are many people in England who are appalled and dismayed by today’s mood music, who understand its implications and are revolted by them. But there are many too, who are in sympathy with it, people like the Rev. Fraser. Hearing his broadcast reminded me of this. In the modern era it is very easy to live in a Twitter bubble, reading only things that you agree with. Listening to it left me with a feeling that Scotland and England are on increasingly divergent paths.

Holyrood has now voted to trigger Section 30, a call for a new independence referendum. I very much hope that this will be the first step on a path that will allow Scotland to retain its membership of the European Union, to respect and protect the rights and freedoms that we value.

Comments

  1. Joseph MELLON says

    As a Scot who has lived most of his life outside Scotland in Ireland (10 years), Germany (19) and now France (11), and been treated kindly and generously in all three, I couldn’t agree more.

  2. says

    After submitting this to Sceptical Scot, I got this response from Bob Tait, who recalled being called a rootless cosmopolitan by Hugh MacDiarmid.
    Jackie is right to nail this all too poisonous and malign way of distinguishing between “true native people” and the “rootless” others or using other words to that effect. Not having read David Goodhart’s book, but having read other things he’s written, I wonder if this can really be what he meant. Part of the problem is that it is all too easy for people to pick up that takeaway message if their confirmation bias so inclines them and even if the original analysis and intentions were quite different. The best available antidote to this simplistic message, so far as I know, is the three-volume work by Spanish-American sociologist Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. But there are three volumes of it for good reason – the complexities of social and cultural networks, communities and indeed loyalties in our time. And of course the fact that it is in three hefty volumes tells against its effectiveness as an antidote in an information age so dominated by flickers and twitters. Jackie’s blog reminds me of the game “Whack-A-Mole”. However often you whop the mole (or in this case, something much less cuddly and inoffensive) when it pops its head up, up it pops up again somewhere else. No moles were harmed in making this comparison, and the only thing to do is keep on whopping. And hoping.

    Once upon a time I was accused, along with Edwin Morgan, of being a “rootless cosmopolitan”. This was in a pamphlet – a fatwah, in effect – written by Hugh MacDiarmid. Luckily it did neither of us any real harm, we chuckled merrily about it at the time, and reflected that this was rich coming from a proponent of the communist international (whose adherents were, of course, excoriated as rootless cosmopolitans by fascists and others of the far right). The reason for MacDiarmid’s diatribe? Eddie and I took many of our literary-cultural cues from sources furth of the domain of echt Scottish literature: as did MacD, of course, but he disapproved of our sources. I happily treated the accusation as a badge of honour. Still do.

  3. Keith macdonald says

    I agree with what Jackie says about attacking “rootless cosmopolitans”. The offender, Giles Fraser, seems to me to have increasingly intolerant of those who disagree with him and this is one expression of that. The truth is that people vary enormously in their personal sense of national identity and that difference must be respected as a valid personal choice.

    Although it is on the rise at the minute, political nationalism is probably in a long run decline as it clashes with the reality of an interconnected world. This tends to make its adherents more strident in their criticism of those of an internationalist frame of mind.

    One phrase worries me though “Scotland and England are on increasingly divergent paths.” Any such assertion could not be based on the opinions of one London vicar.

    There is of course some evidence for it in the EU referendum vote. However that vote shows massive divergence in England with many parts of that country much more pro-EU than Scotland was. In truth England is now a bitterly divided and unhappy country , probably with a slight majority determined to try to reconstruct the past. That majority, however is based on deliberate falsehoods about that past and the ease of reconstructing it. Reality must bite at some point.

    Jackie does acknowledge this and I think is trying to avoid tarnishing the English as UKIP types to a man or woman. However I think she is too pessimistic about the strength of progressive opinion in England and about the weakness on which the current nationalist wave is based.

    Let me make one more point. Any practical proposal for Scotland to leave the UK will leave many aspects of Scottish life which depend on a good relationship with the rest of the UK, including England. If that country does succumb to right wing nationalism that will make life very difficult for us. It seems to me that Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy of using our representation in the UK Parliament to work with what she called “our friends” to avert this is still the right one. I do not think Jackie takes sufficient account of this point.

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