Why do so many liberals not like foreigners?

I’m not intending this blog to be too driven by politics but no longer venting my spleen on Twitter or Facebook means I occasionally have to write an opinion piece.

During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaigns people on the unionist side of the debate would occasionally let slip that independence would be a bad thing because it would turn their relations into foreigners. The most famous example is probably Alistair Darling (now Labour peer Lord Darling) claiming the SNP want to “turn family into foreigners”. Now as a racist trope you can’t get better. Lord Darling clearly doesn’t like foreigners and he was expressing a xenophobic point of view, something that rarely gets in the way of becoming a member of the House of Lords.

You would not hear this sentiment expressed by any but the most naive unionist politician North of the border these days but you do hear it from liberals South of the border. It is indicative of the parochialism that is the London based media.

I suggest you listen to this podcast where Nick Cohen helps James Hawes plug his book “The Shortest History of England“. It is actually pretty entertaining and makes many good points although perpetuates some myths. Hawes, with agreement from Cohen, restates the myth that Labour couldn’t win the UK without Scotland. This is numerically simply untrue as has been demonstrated by all but one Labour government since the war. The point that politically, even spiritually, they can’t do it is probably true though. England is fundamentally a right of centre country, hence New Labour was needed for Blair’s success.

They also make the assumption that the act of union of 1707 wasn’t a hostile take over and that the British Empire was therefore not an English empire – or even a London empire. There is no doubt that Scotland was an active participant and beneficiary of empire and all that entails including slavery but if you actually look at the history of the period, notably the Alien Act of 1705, it is pretty obvious that it was a takeover against the will of the majority of Scots – not that either country was a democracy at the time. History from an independent Scottish perspective might paint a different picture to the one presented here. Just as we can consider Ireland a kind of former colony today only because it left the union in 1921.

The real reason you should listen is to hear Nick Cohen, arguably one of England/UKs leading political and cultural commentators, demonstrate a total lack of self awareness as regards his own ardent British nationalism.

I’m British, I see myself as British, partly because my mother is Scottish, my mother’s family is Scottish, I find the idea of a border on the Tweed just horrific and, you know, my mother being a foreigner in England and me being a foreigner in Scotland.

Nick Cohen, 26 mins into podcast.

Now if someone at work said they would be horrified to think that their mother was a foreigner you might think they were a nationalist xenophobe who needed a diversity training course but this is a commonly expressed view among people who simultaneously express a hatred of nationalism.

I really don’t like nationalists but …

Nick Cohen, 27 mins into podcast

Just as a reminder the current Wikipedia definition of nationalism is:

“Nationalism is an idea and movement that promotes the interests of a particular nation (as in a group of people), especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation’s sovereignty (self-governance) over its homeland.” Wikipedia (my emphasis)

And the definition of xenophobia

“Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It is an expression of perceived conflict between an ingroup and an outgroup and may manifest in suspicion by the one of the other’s activities, a desire to eliminate their presence, and fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity.” Wikipedia (my emphasis)

Nick Cohen was clearly expressing nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments. Does he know he is doing this or is he naive about his own views and where they come from? I’m sure if he was challenged he would say he has no issue with foreigners (he has a Jewish background!) but still he just doesn’t want his mother to be a foreigner. Foreign is good just don’t let it get too close.

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