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.