Monday, 25 April 2011

Why on earth are the Greens nationalists?

 The British left puzzles me. I've been familiar with left-wing politics and ideas for a while now (I even used to be one, a long time ago) and one of the things that I've always found more appealing than the rest is the internationalism - and the anti-nationalism - of much left-wing rhetoric and action. After all, it didn't matter if your oppressed proletarian was Russian, British or Chinese, the struggle was essentially the same. Later on, the Seventies and Eighties saw white, middle-class people protesting about poor, black people in South Africa. Arguing that all humans were on some fundamental level the same and that we should care about people beyond our borders (even if events beyond those borders were substantially more complicated than those protesting envisioned) showed the left at its best.

  I believe that, viewed from a left-wing perspective, the Union should be a progressive edifice. After all, the basis of the union is that what unites the Welsh, Scots, Irishmen and English is more important than what divides them, and that we're stronger together than we are apart. The nationalist, on the other hand, makes a fetish of division, worshipping lines drawn by medieval warlords and sanctified by nineteenth-century intellectuals. Where a progressive unionist asks "What do we share?" a nationalist asks "What makes us different?", and if they don't find a substantive answer - as in Wales - then strenuous efforts are made to resurrect linguistic and cultural barriers that time and progress have eroded. Surely the very opposite of rational, progressive politics.

Anti-nationalism: the best of the left.

 But if left-wing politics is supposed to be rational, forward-looking, internationalist and inclusive, how did the British version come to be laced with nationalist toxins? I'm not talking about British nationalism of course, that remains the almost exclusive preserve of the BNP and the right. I'm talking about about the various Celtic nationalisms, which all seem to range from social-democratic to outright marxist in character. Now, nationalists being leftwing I've always understood - after all, caring equally about members of a nation makes sense from a nationalist perspective - but always from the position that these people where nationalists first, and that informed their other beliefs. On the other hand, people who claim to have a non-nationalist political preoccupation - in this case the planet, just about the most pan-human cause one can choose to adopt - supporting nationalism astounds me.

 Yet throughout the Troubles the great bulk of the British left supported Irish reunification - outside the Union, of course. Only the British and Irish Communist Organisation - a group whose pro-Union position was still based in nationalist theory - took a different line, a position so unusual that it seems to have become their defining feature. I still know Labour friends who go beyond passive support for reunification and wish the active pursuit of "reunification by consent" was party policy. But these are old, Eighties symptoms. I thought perhaps the new left, no longer attracted to nationalism just because it tried to murder Margaret Thatcher - might be different. Suffice to say, it is not.

 Until recently, I never realised there was ever a pan-UK Green Party. I knew about the Green Party of England and Wales, I knew about the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but I had always imagined those parties had separate geneses. Indeed, the GPNI is now "the Northern Ireland subdivision of the Irish Green Party". Apparently the fact that it maintains connexions with the mainland parties is a symbol of its cross-communal nature, although in my opinion there is nothing border-neutral about voting to become a regional wing of a foreign political party. The Scottish Green Party also supports Scottish independence, need you ask. 
Green Party of England and Wales logo.svg
There are no border lines on their
logo. Does that reflect beliefs, or
just lazy designers?
 Yet according to Wikipedia these groups used to be part of the Green Party (UK), before the Scottish and Northern Irish bodies voted for 'amicable' independence (the Welsh Greens, as seems to be the typical Welsh lot on such occasions, settled for autonomy with the GPEW). I've not been able to find anything definitive about the split, but given the direction of the Scottish and Northern Irish parties one can only assume that nationalism lay at the heart of it. These are people whose primary motivation in politics is the need to save the world and all the people in it and restructure it along their own lines and yet here they are, expressing the vital importance of ethno-cultural divisions to their politics. Its just bizarre.

 I can't for the life of me work out why Greens are nationalists. Maybe its just a sign that the Green parties don't actually represent a new left. After all, the Scottish Socialist Party are also pro-independence and most of the hard-left factions across the UK are still anti-unionist, so perhaps this is just one more way in which the Greens are a twenty-first-century shell wrapped around a deficient nineteenth-century ideology. Its a shame, because green issues are important and it would be a good thing to tackle them. That can only happen, however, once the environment really ceases to become a non-aligned issue without automatic political or cultural assumptions behind it. As long as the Green parties continue to function in the same left-wing ideological space as their socialist predecessors, they're never going to reach out to right-wing or pro-Union voters. Which can't be good for the planet.
A planetary disk of white cloud formations, brown and green land masses, and dark blue oceans against a black background. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disk, while Antarctica is at the bottom.
Think of the planet! Stop supporting


  1. NI Greens aren't nationalist? At least, they don't have any nationalist policies. All they did by splitting was vote themselves more autonomy.

    James Connolly's the guy to read for a good understanding of why Irish socialists are generally also nationalist. The "bourgeoisie" and the English/Protestants/Unionists have such an insane amount of overlap in Northern Ireland that it just makes sense to get behind the anti-Union struggle.

    Well, I say "sense". They are still Socialists, but the socialism-->nationalism step isn't the dumb part.

  2. I think that voting to become an autonomous subdivision of a foreign party is a statement of nationalist intent, Will. ;)

    As for the bourgeoisie point, to me it doesn't make much sense. Greens attract bourgeois support, rather than working class. The only GPNI MLA was elected in North Down of all places.

    Given that all the nationalist parties are parties of the left and the PUP is a terrorist-backed fringe, surely it makes more sense to try to occupy the usual green ground of the middle-class left as there's coincidentally a perfect space for a left-leaning pro-union party.

  3. I've heard the Scottish Green nationalist leaning explained as a manifestation of 'localism'. Not sure whether that hangs together as a theory to be honest.

  4. You can be a localist without being a nationalist, you just need to support strong local government within the UK.