Sunday, October 18, 2009

Identity Trumps Ideology In Politics.

Apologies in advance if this post is badly written and meandering, but that's because I'm trying to express an idea that is half formed in my head.

One of the things that has always struck me about Scottish and Welsh politics is that despite the respective nationalist parties being firmly on the left of the political spectrum and in the case of Plaid Cymru usually well to the left of Labour, they seem to pick up seats in the rural and suburban constituencies rather than in Labour's core inner city and post industrial heartlands. In other words voting is more tribal than ideological.

This can't simply be party loyalism because minor non-Nationalist parties have done well in Wales in the past, with the Communist party even picking up a couple of seats in the immediate post war era and rebel Labour candidate Peter Law defeating the official Labour choice back in 2005. It is as though voting choice reflects something beyond straightforward political positioning. I'm struggling to articulate precisely what I mean but it is as though the parties have a cultural heartland that no amount of positioning can allow them to transcend.

Maybe it's just the pecularities of Scotalnd & Wales. Karl Rove supposedly viewed the US electoral groups as a series of magnets which either repel or attract other groups, perhaps the Welsh speaking heartlands of Plaid repel the votes of English speaking former mining communities of South Wales. Maybe the sectarian legacy of urban Scotland means that working class protestants identify too strongly with the UK to be attracted to a Nationalist party and working class catholics don't fancy living in a country dominated by a Presbyterian majority.

However it looks to me as though there are always matters of identity that transcend ideology when it comes to political allegiance and therefore parties can only make a certain amount of headway by realigning their policies.


Anonymous said...

The implied question is why have the Nationalist Parties supplanted the Conservatives rather than Labour.

asquith said...

You might be on to something. I am very sceptical towards English nationalism because the language in which it is wrapped up is explicitly right-wing & is often expressed as "without all these lefties in Scotland & Wales, we'll have a permanent Tory majority & no one will be able to stop it".

Now, I don't like Labour & I'm not even very far left but I can't help interpreting that as a desire to fuck over working-class manufacturing & mining areas. As a lifelong Stoke resident, I identify far more with someone in a terraced house in South Wales or on a council estate in Glasgow than with a well-off southerner.

This is just pure instinct, on a deeper level than any official political beliefs I have, but it is probably with me for life.

Most people from backgrounds like me reflexively vote Labour, or maybe BNP. Now there are obvious reasons why I don't do that: the fact that they've proven to be a shite government. But my identity still runs along those lines, so I am with those anti-Plaid & anti-SNP Celts. This is the basic reason why I am a staunch unionist, I haven't even tried to rationalise it.

I can really see how Rove managed to scrape through his victories. But his focus on social issues has really done for Republicans in the long run because they've won over traditionalist working-class voters who are, as well as their views on gays & abortion, not unfriendly to big government.

Which is why Bush couldn't corral all his voters inside the big tent in the end & his policies were unpopular with hardcore cons & in this day & age, chronicled by Larison, the ultra-hawks, paleos, libertarians, religious right etc. can't even rally round mutual hatred of Obama because they're so riven.

Fascinating. I suppose it's only at exceptional times that you find out what your real sticking points are, eh?

Ross said...

Anon- That is a good question, in Scotland it might be because the Tories actively ditched their cultural identity in the '70s when they stopped standing under the banner of "Unionists".

Asquith- I've alway thought that the idea that there would be a permanent Tory majority without the Celtic nations to be preposterous in any case. Parties don't exist independently of the electorate, if the Celts left then the English party system would develop a new party system fairly quickly.

asquith said...

Yes, I think in no country (not even Japan) would there be a permanent party of government, because it would eventually get arrogant & piss people off.

But do you see what I'm really getting at? It's not just the Celtophobia that is on display in some quarters, it's other things that I instinctively bridle at when someone else wouldn't. (& has influenced my positions, even though I can't claim to have any rational reason for thinking so).

I am pointing out how my "identity" influences my instinctive reactions, my nervous system. Others will be the same. I thought it was an interesting bit of speculation!

TDK said...

the Celtophobia that is on display

I've no doubt there is some Celtophobia but that isn't the main current.

If you've been married for many years and your wife keeps calling you a bastard and tells you she wants a divorce, telling her that you agree doesn't imply you hate her.

In England people used to use the words British and English interchangeably. Now many would view that as evidence we see the Scots as no different from ourselves; that we have a lot in common. But apparently it is racist both to say Ashley Cole doesn't share our ethnicity, and racist to suggest the Scots do.

We have had years of Scots telling themselves (and us) that we are responsible for all the ills in their country. That ignoring the prominent role played by Scots in the Empire, it was an English adventure that began by colonising Scotland.

What has happened is that the English have accepted there is no point in forcing some people to be part of Britain against their will. That isn't Celtophobia.

Ross said...

Asquith- Yeah I got that.