Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Carey Davies on separatism in New Zealand and Britain

The recent discussions on this blog about South Island separatism caught the attention of Carey Davies, the EP Thompson scholar, political renovator, and anti-traveller who recently repatriated himself to Britain after exploring some of the oddities of this country.

Carey contributed a couple of comments on separatism in New Zealand and in Britain to the discussion thread under this post, but he fired his salvo after the discussion had ended (those Poms have always worked on a different clock to us). Since they may have eluded the attention of most of the readers of this blog, I thought I'd give Carey's very interesting comments a post of their own...

On my way up from the far south of New Zealand I stayed with a semi-retired Merino farmer in bleakest Mackenzie Country who ran a guesthouse on his land. He was nuts. The combination of rural isolation, the self-sufficient agricultural ethic, and a lot of time in which to read conspiratorial right-wing literature had produced a particularly potent individual. He would talk at length about the need to attract more efficient Central Europeans (i.e. Aryans) to run things and displace all the Orientals. Not surprisingly he thought Helen Clark was Satan.

Shortly afterwards I arrived in Wellington. What a different world. From a purely aesthetic/outsider perspective, the North and South Islands always struck me as vastly different. (I must admit to being slightly seduced by Colin McCahon's vision of the land, but maybe that's because I come from windswept Yorkshire and have always found empty hills quite appealing.)

But I suspect the difference between Wellington in the north and the deep south is no different from some of the contrasts in British society. The biggest parallel to the South Island-North Island divide here would probably be the difference between the deprived, white, inner-city areas of northern cities like Oldham and Bradford and the latte-supping cosmopolitanism of London. While there are obvious differences - New Zealand has a rural, pioneer dynamic that we don't really have, and also these neglected urban areas of Britain were traditionally the constituency of the left, whereas most of the South Island strikes me as being overwhelmingly influenced by National/the right - I see a commonality in the language the southern nationalists use and the language of some disaffected people in places like Oldham and Bradford. There is this sense of white aggrievement at a perceived marginalisation by 'liberal' ideology, and a reaction against political correctness. And there is the deep influence of petit bourgeois ideology in both places. I think part of this influence stems from the fact that the left has collectively given up trying to address the concerns of the mass of people in society and thus left the door open for a pernicious right-wing populist ideology that can invert reality. This can have serious consequences, as we're seeing across Europe.

Not that I can imagine the South Island waging some sort of racially-motivated war on the North any time soon. Not with only two ferries, anyway. Someone at Reading the Maps argued that because Yorkshire had voted against the Conservatives it should secede from Britain to avoid their policies. It is interesting to consider that the national aspirations of Scotland and Wales are recognised now, but that Yorkshire has a bigger population than either, and could probably argue that its claims to cultural distinctiveness are no less spurious than those of Scotland. Yet there is no serious demand for greater autonomy in the ridings. I seem to remember that Blair's deputy John Prescott offered an assembly to Yorkshire during the time of the Scotland and Wales devolutions. Support was desultory. I have never sensed any great desire on the part of the Yorkshire people to break away from the yoke of the British state. Perhaps this has to do with the decline of working-class militancy? The phrase 'People's Republic of South Yorkshire' was used derisively by Thatcherites in the 1980s, but it has sounded very dated in recent years.

In any case, I don't think seeking independence will ever be an effective way to overcome conservatism in these Isles, in Scotland or Wales or in Yorkshire. I look forward to the days when a UK-wide movement of working people comes together to launch a full-scale invasion of the Home Counties.

Sidenote: I live in Scotland now, and the election of this Conservative government doesn't seem to have intensified support for the nationalist cause up here quite as much as you might think.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is wrong. Yorkshire nationalism is a growing force.

5:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Island nationalists exist beyond the New Munster Party and other visible pro-independence groups.

They are within the major political parties, they hold office in many Local Government councils and they work in a diverse range of professions.

The major difference is that the latter group tend to keep their nationalist feelings hidden to protect themselves and their reputations.

However, it would be wrong to assume that they do not secretly support many of these more public groups or their objectives.

8:31 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Dont you love 2nd Anon?

"We are everywhere - you just dont know about us."

8:46 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'it would be wrong to assume that they do not secretly support many of these more public groups or their objectives'

What, Presbyterianism as a state religion, whites-only immigration, armed struggle against the north, and a flat tax? Pull the other one! The New Munster offers such an odd and toxic collection of policies that it might as well be a plot by northerners designed to discredit southern regionalism/nationalism.

Good on Dunedin for keeping its neurosurgery unit, btw.

8:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Maps, Do you actually have a REAL job or are you just another wanker like that fat cunt Cameron sitting around all day sipping your latte, talking bullshit and tossing yourself over how great you think Auckland is ???

9:10 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Anonymous said...

Hey Maps, Do you actually have a REAL job or are you just another wanker like that fat cunt Cameron sitting around all day sipping your latte, talking bullshit and tossing yourself over how great you think Auckland is ???


Come on Maps we know it's you!!

9:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

When I read that post comment by the Pommy bloke I was wondering why Londoners were "late suppers" ... my parents are English and my father was from London - he never mentioned latte. (I realise what was meant now..) But he left there about 1924 or there was none then.

Is there anything wrong or evil about supping on latte - even late latte or supping late on latte?

9:23 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Keri - Maps - for crying out loud - apart from you Keri - you we DO need - the South Island can well ... surely we don't need it?!!

I visited it once or twice it is too cold. Come on!!

We have been too soft on the bloordy Commo Poommy Islamic Presbyterian Scoottish bustard SI for far to long - an invasion is needed forthwith - I believe there might be oil or nukes there (whatever) - I order an immediate invasion to snuff out this smelly Munster rebellion for once and all. Shock and awe I say! Cut off the SI's electricity flow! Destroy it! Sink it!! True Aucklandic New Zealanders of East-Southish Auckland Unite!!

9:33 pm  
Blogger maps said...

With my hand on my heart Richard, I swear it wasn't me!

Anon, take a look at this blog's back pages and you won't find any trace of prejudice against the south. Try this paean to Dunedin, for example:

If you actually agree with the New Munster Party that the south is defined by whitness, xenophobia, and theocratic Presbyterianism, then it's actually you who has contempt for the place.

9:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you look beyond this New Munster Party, which clearly is a small group of radicals. There undoubtably is a more general and mainstream group of South Islanders who would welcome greater self-determination.

Perhaps the existance of these New Munsters will allow a sensible and rational solution to the South's grievances prevail.

9:44 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'Perhaps the existance of these New Munsters will allow a sensible and rational solution to the South's grievances prevail.'

Just like a tiny group of Al Qaeda supporters would help New Zealand Muslims to talk rationally about their situation to the rest of the population?

Or how a couple of nutters who went about praising Stalin and Pol Pot would help Kiwi socialists make the case for their politics?

Yeah, right. These New Munster people are an embarrassment to genuine advocates of the south and should be blackballed.

10:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion of whether Yorkshire should have its own parliament here:

10:28 pm  
Blogger AHD said...

I'm a Southerner. I love (some of) the literature and art of the South: Baxter, Hulme (!), Brasch, Angus, McCahon, Woollaston, even Harry Scott. But that doesn't make me a crackpot chomping at the bit to separate from the North Island. A local of sense of place and identification is possible without transforming it into a racist, rejectionist ideology.

10:21 am  
Blogger Carey said...

Looks like I'm late to this party too! I blame the time difference...

If I'd known my comments were going to grace this fine blog I might have tried to be a bit more concrete but if it furthers discussion in some way then that's no bad thing.

With regard to national aspirations, I think there's a tension here on the left that has never been elegantly resolved. The classic approach is to support the national aspirations of people who are seen to be denied their autonomy in some way; Palestine, Ireland, Chechnya etc. But even in the most apparently clear cut cases there are always divisions and tensions - left republicanism vs Sinn Fein, PLO vs the Islamists etc - which reflect the inherently contradictory nature of the concept of a nation. The aspiration to national autonomy can have a progressive component but it's always going to be fundamentally incompatible with the goal of internationalism.

For this reason I think we should be pretty critical of the more spurious claims to separation. Yorkshire is a pretty clear-cut example of something that's not a nation. It's not ethnically or linguistically different from the rest of England; it does't have independent legal or educational traditions; its differences in culture are a question of nuance and regional eccentricity. It has never stood apart politically from England in terms of its configuration within the British state. It might be said legimately to have a separate 'identity' a shared fondness for pie, peas and flat caps maketh a nation not. As such any expression of a claim to independence is likely to be the product of regional pettiness rather than anything else. (And at worse something more sinister.
See, for example, the creators of this blog and their unqualified petitioning of Andrew Brons, BNP MEP: In their view apparently any endorsement is good endorsement, such is the idiocy of their 'nationalism'.)

However, I can see how call for Yorkshire independence, however farcical, can be the expression of legitimate grievance. Yorkshire is a vastly differentiated place, because like all 'nations' there are social divisions and it's impossible to speak of 'one' Yorkshire - you try visiting an upmarket part of Harrogate or Ilkley and tell me that's the same world to inner city Bradford or Barnsley town centre - but it's certainly true that the West and South in particular have been savagely victimised by Westminster and borne the brunt of attacks on the working class - see 1984-5. But articulating a call for 'independence' is a dead end.

12:52 pm  
Blogger Carey said...

This points to the reason why I'm also pretty sceptical of Welsh and Scottish nationalism in their present forms. I don't think there's much doubt that both Scotland and Wales are historically and culturally constituted as separate entities to England (although I do cringe when I see Scottish nationalists fabricating languages and making completely erroneous claims about their validity) but what concerns me is that progressive sentiment in those countries is often channeled to the nationalist cause. Both the Scottish and Welsh - the Welsh more so - are apt to see themselves as in some ways the victims of oppression. Wales strikes me as having a much more palpable claim for this than Scotland - after all, it was only a matter of decades ago that Welsh was banned. Scotland, on the other hand, entered the Union as a formally equal partner and is hence apt to see itself as deprived of its rightful greatness rather than completely downtrodden (and I think it's true that if history had worked out slightly different the poles of power between England and Scotland could be completely reversed.)

All that aside, what concerns me is that because of the progressive tint to both the nationalist parties in those countries, people who feel aggrieved at the injustices and inequalities of capitalism misdirect their ire at Westminster. In fact the victimisation and vindictiveness shown towards Wales and Scotland in times of economic crisis could apply every bit as much to South Yorkshire, Hull, Tyneside, County Durham, Liverpool - even the deprived and ethnically diverse inner city London, as we're seeing now, with the prospect of cuts having the social-engineering effect of pricing poor people out of the city's centre and into the outskirts. Ironically, the strength of Scottish nationalism, for example, has probably meant the government has stopped short of unleashing the full savagery it could have up here - all very well if you're Scottish, but what happened to solidarity?

Scottish nationalists have a habit of tarring all of England with the same crude 'oppressor' brush. And not just the 'official' nationalists; the now-virtually-defunct Scottish Socialist Party actively campaigns for the idea that an independent capitalist Scotland was an inherently progressive goal! Madness and a complete betrayal of basic internationalist principles.

Above all, this sort of thing actually weakens the cause it professes to support. The working class under a lone capitalist Scotland - or Wales - or, fuck it, Yorkshire - will still be getting screwed. The somewhat predictable conclusion I'm working towards is: reject nationalism, reject localism masquerading as nationalism, embrace international working class socialism instead. A little reductionist, perhaps, but there you go.

Maps, we have had some interesting discussions about this in the past. I got the impression from past discussions that you sort of think certain aspects of nationalism can be embraced positively and perhaps even incorporated into the socialist canon, particularly if those are interesting or worthwhile cultural products, i.e. Welsh poetry. If this is an accurate characterisation of your view, don't you think it is a little subjective? How can there be any objective standards for which aspects of nationalism we accept and which ones we disregard?

12:54 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Very interesting comments Carey, which do concretise your earlier remarks. I'd be keen to reply to them when I get the chance. I do't know why this blog has started hosting new posts so frequently lately! Skyler stuck one up this morning without telling me...but maybe you'd like to give us your take on the London student demo and on the state of the anti-cuts campaign in Blighty under the latest post? It sounds like the students might have kicked things into a higher gear...

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Mark said...

"Someone at Reading the Maps argued that because Yorkshire had voted against the Conservatives it should secede from Britain to avoid their policies."

Oops, I think that was me (just my unfortunate - bordering on pathetic - sense of humour).

"...these neglected urban areas of (northern) Britain were traditionally the constituency of the Left, whereas most of the South Island strikes me as being overwhelmingly influenced by National/The Right..."

Urban Yorkshire - indeed, urban areas of both the North in general, the Midlands and Scotland/Wales - surely remain the core constituency of the Left ?

Take a look at cities in southern England and you'll find very, very few Labour seats outside London and Bristol (in fact, so few, I can name them here: Both Southampton seats, Exeter, 1 of the 2 Plymouth seats, 1 of the 2 Oxford seats, and Slough (location of BBC comedy'The Office').

As soon as you head north into the Midlands, you start to see more and more Labour city and small-town seats and it, of course, accelerates once you arrive in the true North. The North/South electoral divide in the UK has been around a long time, but it intensified greatly during the Thatcher years.

And, of course, as you say, Carey, it's also inherently an economic divide. Decades of decline and the urban, working-class, Labour-voting North being "savagely victimised by Westminster..."

Last time I was in the UK (1st half of 2009), I saw an excellent documentary, that suggested there existed a kind of 'wealth/poverty line' across England - from about the Wash to south of Birmingham. From memory, communities within about an hour's travel from London were wealthy, while, just over the other side of the line (only a few miles away), places that were, say, 1 1/4 hours travel away from 'the Big Smoke' were demonstrably poorer.

South Island overwhelmingly influenced by National/the Right ?

Rural, yes, urban, no.

Dunedin remains one of the great Centre-Left strongholds in New Zealand (very high Labour and Green vote). Nelson also votes Centre-Left (Party-Vote), as do a series of small towns - Westport, Oamaru, Temuka, Waimate and so on. Timaru, Blenheim and Invercargill are very marginal. As, interestingly, is Chch now. Used to be as strongly Centre-Left as Wellington (almost like twin cities, electorally), but while Wellington recorded well-below-average swings to the Nats in 2008, Chch swung almost as heavily as Auckland.

But, in general terms, if you look at election results over the last decade in New Zealand, you'll find that the real ideological divide is actually between (1) the upper North Island (much more likely to vote National / Act) and (2) the rest of the Country.

12:55 am  
Anonymous Kitchen Benchtops said...

The independence of New Zealand is a matter of continued academic and social debate. New Zealand has no fixed date of independence, instead independence came about as a result of New Zealand's evolving constitutional status.

11:54 pm  

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