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Opposing Populist Chauvinism is not Elitism

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 2:56
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By Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and Rector (i.e. president) of the University of Dundee.

History demonstrates the evils that arise from whipping up popular xenophobic nationalism. After the Tories trumpeted that companies will have to declare how many foreigners they employ, that foreign doctors will be phased out of the NHS, that taxi drivers will have to prove their immigration status, that fewer foreigners will be allowed to study at British universities and that landlords will have to check the papers of their foreign tenants, we will now be told by Theresa May that to oppose this surge of fascism is elitism. I call it fascist after careful consideration; I don’t know what else to call it. Immigrants to Britain are going to be hauled up to produce documents at numerous moments of daily life to prove their right to be here. They will not yet need to be identified by yellow stars, but anybody who does not see the direction of travel is a fool.

The ability of politicians and media to whip up popular racism is well demonstrated historical fact. I am simply appalled by the catalogue I have outlined above. It is astonishing to me that popular opinion, particularly in England, has been conditioned to the point where outright racism has become the accepted everyday level of political discourse. And it is not just the Tories. Blairites are using populist anti-immigrant rhetoric as their most potent attack on Corbyn. Rachel Reeves made a speech last week that channelled Enoch Powell in predicting violent reaction to immigrants, and in some ways was worse than Powell’s classical allusion. But while Powell’s anti-immigrant rant ended his chances of becoming Prime Minister in a more decent age, Reeves is firmly in today’s UK establishment mainstream.

The argument that immigration is impacting the living standards of ordinary working people is a demonstrable falsehood. If mass immigration made a country’s people poorer, then Germany and the USA would have the lowest living standards for ordinary citizens in the world. An economy is not a thing of fixed size with a set number of jobs. If it were not for immigration, there would have been no economic growth in the UK at all since the millennium.

The march of Tory militarism continues apace. Today we will have a further glorying in the creation of weapons of mass destruction, while yesterday scarcely a hair was turned at the announcement of the reintroduction of military cadet forces in our state schools, to instil militarism and xenophobic patriotism into children. The attempt to elide patriotism, militarism, monarchism and the interests of the corporate elite would be laughable were it not successful.

There is no doubt that the racist mood in England is real, and there is no doubt that it is racist. I have never accepted the argument that to oppose immigration is not racist, and consider myself entirely vindicated by current events. The argument that to oppose immigration is not racist is precisely the same as the argument that holocaust denial is not anti-semitic – you can make out a theoretical case that it isn’t, but in practice it works as an extremely good indicator.

It is ironic that May accuses the opponents of popular chauvinism as elitist. The Tory Conference has had two key themes – one is xenophobic nationalism, and the other is educational elitism. The grammar school policy is being driven through, along with the school military cadets – what kind of crazed government is this? But the significance on the attack on the university sector should not be missed. Overseas students are a vital source of revenue and all are already seeing a drop in interest as nobody wants to live in a country where they will be the subject of patent racist hostility, while EU students cannot know where they will stand on fee structures by the end of their course. However the announcement that “new” universities will be treated differently in terms of numbers of overseas students allowed is a major departure that will inevitably spread into other areas; a de facto return to polytechnic status is in the offing.

The new Tory self-confidence was evidenced also in attitudes to Scotland. Theresa May could not have been more explicit that Scotland is but a part of the UK, that the UK voted for Brexit, that Westminster will handle Brexit negotiations and she really does not care what the Scots think. There very plainly is no process, or any intention of any process, that could result in Scotland maintaining a more integrated relationship with the EU while within the United Kingdom. That idea was always fantastical anyway, as it would be an impossibility to accommodate such an arrangement within EU treaties, as I have previously explained. But the gradualists in the SNP have sought to pretend that such a process is happening of which we need to see the outcome before an Independence referendum.

What Theresa May has done this week is publically to rend Nicola Sturgeon’s tabard, and make absolutely plain that Brexit will be organised, negotiated and decided by the UK government and parliament alone. The Scottish parliament will have associated legislative changes, even on devolved matters, imposed on it from above. Scotland’s response to this has so far been alarmingly supine.

I support Scottish Independence passionately because I have an urgent desire to get away from the control of these appalling Tories. I want to live in a society where I can dissent from populist racism without being condemned by the government as a liberal elitist. I also firmly believe that the shock of the break up of the UK is the dislocation required to break the grip of the Tories and UKIP on the psyche of so much of the public in England. It can provide the revolutionary moment for change that Corbyn and those like him can exploit. Scottish independence is the best hope for the rest of the UK too.

Opposing Populist Chauvinism is not Elitism was originally published on Washington's Blog

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