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.