Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done

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Photo by Sam | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Sam | CC BY 2.0


Brexit
is English nationalism made flesh, but the English underrate its destructive potential as a form of communal identity. Concepts like “nationalism” and “self-determination” have traditionally been seen as something that happens to foreigners. An English failing today is an inability to recognise the egocentricity implicit in such nationalism and the extent to which it alienates and invites confrontation with other nations in the British Isles and beyond.

A classic example of this blindness to the consequences of this new type of nationalism came this week when Theresa May denounced Nicola Sturgeon for “playing politics with the future of our country” in demanding a second referendum on Scottish independence. This immediately begs the question about the nature and location of this “country” to which such uncritical loyalty is due. If the state in question is the UK, then why do the advocates of Brexit ignore the opposition – and take for granted the compliance – of Scotland and Northern Ireland in leaving the EU?

It is worth recalling the degree to which British politics was divided and poisoned by fierce disputes over Irish independence for the whole of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, right up to the moment that Ireland achieved self-determination in 1921. What used to be called “the Irish Question” has now been reborn as an all-consuming issue by “the Scottish Question” and, whatever the…

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