Posts Tagged ‘national identity’

They often say that a week is a long time in politics and that has certainly been the case for the past week. The government has had to apologize for its role in the Windrush Scandal in which hundreds of immigration documentation relating to migrants from the West Indies and beyond was purposefully deleted and additionally the government has to defend itself over its decision to bomb Syria over its “alleged” use of chemical weapons.

In my opinion, both of these events characterize the way in which the British government betray our historical tradition and the citizens that inhabit it.

I’ve just finished reading, “The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution 1640 -1660” which illuminated the foundations for English influence across the world and explained the fluid nature of British identity. I feel as if this book is especially important and relevant to discuss and review, particularly in an environment when the military and civil prerogative of our government is being questioned and challenged with such frequent ferocity.

The English Atlantic is essentially a study that seeks to challenge our notion of transatlantic culture and the various political and social norms that have evolved over time. The author – Carla Gardina Pestana – links the so called “English Revolution” between Charles I and Parliament to the growth and development of the Americas. She purposefully mirrors the demise of monarchy in Britain to the rise of modernity in America. She eloquently explains – through the use of migrant testimonies and official accounts – how new forms of worship and religion were allowed to prosper throughout the continent, Carla neatly juxtaposes this religious freedom with the rise in restrictive trade barriers. The growth in restrictive trade was part of movement towards a centralised system of governance: enforced by Cromwell’s new republic in Britain. Carla actually goes further than many historians and actually asserts that this process of centralisation was the birth of the global network known as the British Empire. Interestingly but not surprisingly, as the republic grew in solidarity it relied upon illiberal labour sources like slavery and indentured servitude to strengthen the connections to its various colonies. Carla importantly explains that this turn towards centralisation affected its foreign policy, as the British republic sought to eradicate their European competitors (militarily and politically) to ensure they had unfettered access and influence over the regions they dominated.

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This study underlines the importance of the “English Revolution” to the the evolution of the British Empire.

The essential element from The English Atlantic is that it outlines a transatlantic world whose liberty is transformed by the rise of an centralized power, this provides some interesting parallels and precedents for today’s political and social climate.

If we first explore the Ongoing Windrush Scandal there are some interesting comparisons. The Windrush Generation have consistently stated their wish to self-identify as British Citizens. James Green who was born in the West Indies but migrated to the UK in 1958 when he was 15 months says “Sixty years, it’s a long time. I’m an Englishman” and Nick Broderick who also arrived in the Uk as baby in 1962 “always thought [himself] as being English.” and indeed another member of the windrush generation has spoken in astonishment: “It was a shock because I have always thought I was legal, I was British. I have been here from when I was eight. I didn’t give it another thought.” There appears to be a consistent and accurate theme where these citizens do not perceive themselves as solely West Indian but as British Citizens first and foremost: they could have easily used the term ‘Commonwealth citizens’, but their self-identification as British is an expression of their allegiance and of their informal citizenship to Britain.

Like the Windrush Generation, English migrants to America in the seventeenth century envisioned themselves as British citizens first, however the central authorities in England did not interpret this identity in the same way. Although the Windrush generation arguably faced greater injustice – seeing as the British government are responsible for eroding their British status in the first place – , the seventeenth century migrants to America were also treated as subordinate members of this new British Empire even though they considered themselves to be English. As The English Atlantic notes “Given the unprecedented intrusiveness of the state…it might seem that the colonists who envisioned a more egalitarian Empire based on shared Englishness lost their battle…..“, this was despite the fact that colonists believed that their political and social sovereignty had been inherited upon their English citizenship, one Barbadian colonist often “considered it the liberty and privilege if the free-born English-Men to have an assembly election”. This denial of basic civil rights to seventeenth century colonists has similarities to the Windrush Generation and their inability to access subsidized healthcare and employment opportunities, it also demonstrates a historical trait for the British government to neglect the rights and liberties of their citizens regardless of their ethnic origin. There is also an element of irony in this situation if one considers the fact that when Cromwell created the idea of a Commonwealth in 1653, it was designed with vision of improving the “wealth” of the “commons” (people) across the Transatlantic Empire, and today we are witnessing citizens who are facing unjustified discrimination and deportation despite being born in a commonwealth nation. Furthermore, I believe this could also undermine the constitutional changes regarding immigration and the European Union. If EU migrants can see a history of injustice relating to the British State’s treatment of citizenship, why should they trust British government to give EU nationals the rights and liberties that they deserve post Brexit?

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In the wake of the missile strikes by America, France and Britain on Syria, there has been lots of debate regarding the legitimacy and the legality of the decision to attack the Syrian state for their alleged use of chemical weapons. Jeremy Corbyn argued for something similar to a ‘War Powers Act’ that could possibly hold future governments to account when they perform a military action that might jeopardize the credibility and safety of the nation, however MP Jacob Rees Mogg responded by stating that any sort of policy to change Parliament’s influence over military affairs will require either an appeal or an amendment of the Armed Forces Act. The act does actually state that the power rests with the Prime Minister to put the armed forces in to combat and it doesn’t actually provide a mechanism for Parliament to intervene in military action. However, Corbyn should take Mogg on this suggestion and encourage the Labour Party to amend the Armed Forces Act as I believe there is historical precedent for Parliament to have a greater say in foreign policy. If we stick with Britain in the seventeenth century, there was was great turning point in 1653, when Parliament declared their sovereignty over the Monarchy when it came to dealing with military and foreign affairs. When Charles I was eventually defeated and executed in the Civil wars, Parliament legislated a new constitution which included one important clause:

When Parliament was sitting, the ordering of armed forces by sea and by land, for the peace and good of the three nations’ must be by the consent of Parliament”

 

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When Cromwell (Main) defeated the King in 1648, he established Parliamentary sovereignty over Britain. How much power does today’s parliament really have?

Even though Oliver Cromwell was the defacto leader of this new parliamentarian regime, there was an essence of democracy which reflected the importance of wide-ranging consent and approval from the nation’s “representatives”. Unfortunately, this Instrument of Government was eventually repealed when the Monarchy was reinstated in 1660 and the King resumed his position as head of State. However the seventeenth century rhetoric surrounding the armed forces, parliament and domestic affairs is very relevant for the decision making process in present day British politics. In 1654, Cromwell desperately tried to fund his military campaign against the Spanish in the West Indies with parliamentary approval. He failed to get consent based on the weak economic condition of the country, it was stated “whence shall the means of it come? Our nation is overwhelmed with debts”. This has a striking resemblance to the argument that many present day MPs make about our government which seems to find the funds for military campaigns but is simultaneously refusing to invest in to vital public services because of “austerity”.

Labour MP Ed Poole stated

“Notice how everyone wants to know how Labour will fund free buses for under-25s but no one asks Theresa may how we are going to fund bombing Syria”

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Why do we so often prioritize our military affairs over our domestic ones?

This demonstrates that Parliament should have a much more considerable influence not simply on whether it is legitimate to punish a foreign state for their alleged war crimes, but based on whether those resources could be better invested in the British public services that are known to be underfunded and under supported. Parliament has a historic record of challenging sovereign political authority for the benefit of the nation, this was proven in 2013 when Cameron lost a crucial parliamentary vote to send missile strikes on Syrian soil. That result came about because of the suspicion surrounding the rebel forces in Syria and their ambiguous legitimacy to overthrow the Assad government. Currently, we have encountered the same stumbling block as there is apparently lack of official evidence from the OPCW regarding the Chemical Attacks in Douma. It may be time for Parliament to increase its ability to scrutinize the government over the military decisions that they adopt.  Obviously the intelligence that the Prime Minster and the cabinet holds is vital to the decision making process but the government must also take in to consideration the mood of the nation and whether engaging in military conflict is in the population’s best interests. And here it must be noted that Parliament – in its entirety –  is the only institution that has the capability to represent the population’s best interests.

 

 

 

 

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The Origins of St Patrick’s Day

National holidays have been occurring for centuries, they’re not unusual to the general public but to me they’ve often seemed like a strange phenomenon. The mystery lies often with the connotations that are ignored, forgotten or lost within the distractions of the celebratory glitz and glamour. Take St Patrick’s day for example, the day is often used to commemorate Irish solidarity, heritage and culture; but what I have always wondered, is which elements of Irish heritage are being celebrated? Are we here to remember all the divisive parts of Irish culture as well as its solidarity? St Patrick is supposed to celebrate the achievements of the Christian Priest himself and his life as a missionary to missionary to Ireland as well. This therefore illustrates Ireland’s christian history and withdraws the Irish people from their mythological roots. But this distinction is often ignored during the celebrations, with the fantastical Leprechauns paraded around Christian symbols and buildings like the Irish churches and the cross. One could argue that the introduction of the leprechaun and other fairies from Irish folklore is simply about commemorating the universality and the depth of Irish nationalism, and this is understandable given the divisive nature of the Irish past. But surely this only seeks to detach St Patrick’s day from its true religious origins? If we want to understand and enjoy the entirety of Irish history, then perhaps there is a need to reinvent our demonstration of Irish pride. I have often spoken about the fluid nature of national identity, but when it comes to the commemoration of historical figures we should attempt to be as accurate as possible so that we do not blur legacy of our forefathers.

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Is this really what St Patrick’s day is about?

Brexit Troubles

With St Georges day also approaching, the British national identity maybe on its own path of reinvention. With discussions around the Irish Border heating up, there is a growing talk of a border being formed in the Irish Sea essentially allowing Northern Ireland to retain its access to the single and customs market in conjunction with the Irish Republic. Some Brexiteers and Remainers see this as a path to the eventual break up of United Kingdom which I think would be a radical shake up of our national unity.

The Tory MP and prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, has criticised the warning that creating a Hard Irish border to separate South and Northern Ireland could reignite the Troubles. He claims that simply making that historical link is an encouragement of violence. Whilst I agree that it is premature to believe that Ireland would simply revert back to its violent and chaotic past, I do believe there needs to be some acknowledgement that creating such split on the Irish land has psychological consequences for the Irish people. It reinforces the image of Ireland being in constant civil strife and it could undermines the relatively healthy relationship that both regions of Ireland have shared recently. Many young adults in Southern and Northern Ireland have little to no recollection of the Troubles and influences it has had on Irish development, this has enabled them to live a harmonious live with their Irish neighbours. But history has often demonstrated how quickly peace and cooperation can descend in to division and conflict, thus we should never underestimate mankind’s ability to be regressive and self-destructive.

On the other hand, a border in the Irish Sea could seriously challenge the framework of the United Kingdom, given how attractive Northern Ireland may be to those seeking to maintain their link with the European Union. Furthermore with the growing regional disunity within the United Kingdom – as seen by the EU referendum – the creation of a hard border may persuade other British regions to secede themselves from the central government. Either way, some sort of border needs to be erected in or around the United Kingdom, the economical operations of our nation requires it. Whether this will transform our national identity remains to be seen, but this radical step towards greater independence has raised questions of allegiance and sovereignty, which must be addressed.

sovereigntyWith the decision of the Scottish Parliament to approve another independence referendum, the formal decision of Theresa May to official invoke article 50 and the nationalist tone of the general election; Questions surrounding sovereignty and the ‘recovery of power’ are fully in play. The rise of populism throughout the world and the increase around nationalist feeling has made Scotland particularly interesting in their growing interest towards leaving the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s recent change in political mood has been born out of a supposed fear that Scotland will be “dragged” out of the EU despite the country wishing to remain inside the European Union (as was evident in last year’s referendum).  But what I find intriguing is how Scotland wishes to leave an union based on the principles of sovereignty but at the same time wishes to remain inside a European Institution that requires member states to pool their sovereignty.

I have seen instances of this in other regions of the world, where a country has ceded from its host nation, only to join another a larger union that requires some pooling of sovereignty. Western Sahara or Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) became an unofficial independent region since 1975 when Spain retired its administrative power over the region following an uprising by the native West Saharan People (Polisario Front/ Sahrawi people). In 1979, the UN granted SADR the right to self determination and independence. There has been an ongoing conflict between Morocco and the West Saharan people for control within the region, with several protests and demonstrations resulting in fatalities. With this struggle for independence and sovereignty, it may be seen as a surprise as to why the Western Sahara are happy to join the African Union(African Union), an institution that advocates African states giving away their sovereignty. It may be said, that this was done for diplomatic reasons since the AU has historically recognised SADR. But recently, several countries are considering withdrawing their recognition of SADR, and over half of the member states within the AU may call for the expulsion of SADR from the Union. Why would Western Sahara want to join a Union that seeks to undermine the status and the integrity of its government?

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Who has legitimate sovereignty over Western Sahara?

I believe that some comparisons can be made here with Scotland. EU law has specifically outlined the difficulty with which Scotland will face if it attempts to rejoin the EU after leaving the United Kingdom The conditions of admission……..shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State…….This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements’. This agreement will not be easy to conduct if the negotiations between Theresa May and European Union are anything to go by. The rhetoric from some senior European/Scottish officials have expressed the struggle that Scotland may face in attempting to rejoin the EU, MSP Adam Tomkins said ”

For all its moaning about Brexit, it knows fine well an independent Scotland would not simply step into the European Union. Not only would it join the back of the queue, but we now learn it may have to adopt the euro and tackle an eye-watering deficit.

“It’s time for the nationalists to be honest about Brexit and stop using it as a tool to agitate for separation“.

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What are the true intentions for the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon; surrounding Brexit and Scottish independence?

I find it particularly interesting how Tomkins claims that the Scottish government are using the European Union to further their own nationalist agenda. One could argue that Western Sahara/Polisario are attempting to a similar path, in that their attempt to join the AU is less about supporting African unity and prosperity and more about strengthening their cause for self-determination. Is this a matter of political dishonesty? Or is it just a necessary feature of modern politics? What sort of an impression does this give to the African and European Unions’ idea of continental unity if membership is seen as a political tool to gain independence?

Although Western Sahara are in the midst of a violent conflict with Morocco, Scotland and Western Sahara both harbour criticisms about joining a corrupt institution. African Political Scientists, Okumu and Makinda have remarked on the scale of fraud and misconduct in the African Union “personal greed; the internalization of bad habits; weak government structures.; poor remuneration of civil servants. These facts have generated corruption from the local governance authorities, through the state to the African Union”. Interestingly similar comments have been made about the European Union and its ability to prevent the growth of corruption, political scientist Warner has actually claimed that the European Union has supported the rise of wrongdoing and misconduct. “Across the EU, corruption has been found to have occurred not just in the ‘old economy’ sectors but in new and supposedly competitive sectors such as telecommunications, with politicians getting kickbacks for steering contracts or making favourable arrangements for firms”. Is it a possibility that the prospect of economic growth may be more significant than the idea of sovereignty. Both Scotland and Morocco have expressed an interest in joining smaller regional financial organisations; Scotland are currently considering joining EEA whilst changing their relationship with the WTO. Morocco are following a similar path by joining the (ECOWAS) Economic Community of West African States as well as being a part of  the Arab Maghreb Union. Now both Scotland and Morocco both adopt a strong patriotic tone with their politics, with the idea of national sovereignty being paramount. But does their relationship with these small political regional organisations suggest a changing nature around our idea of sovereignty?

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Are our perceptions of sovereignty changing?

As Political Scientist Dr Nat O’Connor discusses

Part of the explanation for the British vote to exit the EU is a reaction to the uncertainty and fast pace of change brought about by globalisation. The calls to ‘take back control’ and for the UK to be fully sovereign are a rhetorical expression of this malaise.

Yet, how many countries are truly sovereign in this idealistic way?

Once the government of any territory wants to interact—even in a purely transactional way—with other jurisdictions, there must be some level of co-operation, if not compromise, which represents pooled sovereignty. “

From my perspective, this entire argument over sovereignty rests on the notion over a paternalist state versus the right of the individual. It could be argued that a paternalist state is allowed to seek financial agreements if it supports economic growth for its citizens despite the lack of transparency or approval with its subjects. The ‘right of the individual’ argument will often stress however that the citizen has the right to be informed over every decision and that “the people” should be part of the ‘negotiation process’. The complexities surrounding these notions of sovereignty is about the definition of “the people”. Many prominent Brexit Campaigners have cited the 52% of those who voted to leave the European Union as an accurate representation of “the people”. What happens to other 48%? Are their political voices to be ignored because the result of the referendum went against their wishes by 2 percent? These questions have led me to believe that political representation is central to our differing notions of sovereignty. But it also alludes to some conflicting ideas that some British political parties have about sovereignty. Nicola Sturgeon often makes the argument that the SNP are the party to spearhead Scotland towards independence, using her electoral gain of 50 seats from the 2015 general election as a democratic mandate for home rule. However if we take a look at the figures from that election, one could argue that SNP are not wholly representative of the Scottish electorate. They may have claimed 56 of the possible 59 seats in Scotland, but they only claimed 1/2 of the possible votes from Scottish electorate, how can a party promote the values representation and sovereignty for the people when it benefits from a disproportionate and a flawed system such as First Past The Post?

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Can the First Past the Post System claim to accurately reflect the voice of the UK electorate? If it does not, then are the British electorate truly sovereign?

I do wonder however whether it is possible that the SNP could  prosper the idea of an alternative left wing movement that transcends the traditional idea of sovereignty. As we have seen, both Morocco and Scotland believe that their political and economic responsibility reaches beyond their national boundaries. Furthermore, the SNP have claimed that the employment rights of Scottish citizens are so enshrined within the European legislation,  that it actually makes the EU a stronger guarantor of worker rights than the current Conservative government of the UK. Interestingly, whilst there have been criticisms of the Conservative government spending disproportionately on defense at the expense of education, health and welfare departments, a similar sentiment has been echoed in much of North Africa including Morocco. Tunisian politician Riad Ben Fadhel has stated that  “[There has been an] unusual level of expenditure on arms, instead of social budgets, with austerity still being widely implemented across the Arab world…with Moroccan and Saudi Arabian governments receiving military assistance from the US…”, but Fadhel also states that to combat this militarist agenda, north African states should attempt in “building a united left-wing political coalition in the post-Arab spring political environment.” Fadhel speaks in a similar rhetoric to many SNP voters in that he does not wish to ignore the national identities of countries such as Morocco and Tunisia but to remind us about the social responsibility we have to those who are vulnerable regardless of their citizenship.

These principles may not be entirely new as it has been argued that institutions like the EU were founded on a social democratic promise to protect ‘ordinary’ European citizens. But with the rise of left wing politicians such Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders as well as the growing leftist movement DIEM25, there seems to be developing political trend outside of the establishment to unify and transform global politics. I am not sure whether this will have the same impact as the populist right due to the facet seem to espouse and support the governments neo-liberal handling of brexit furthermore the mainstream media outlets tend to offer more coverage to right-wing administrations such as the American Trump presidency over of British left wing movements such Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum.

Of course historically, the SNP have always celebrated their ability to pool sovereignty with the government of England  the union with England and Wales. The Act of Union which was signed in 1707 was in seen as a great opportunity for the Scottish middle classes to rise up the social ladder and enjoy financial benefits of a prosperous British Empire. An English traveller to Scotland by the name of Daniel wrote in 1726 that “the Union opened the door to the Scots in our American colonies and the Glasgow merchants took up the opportunity”. I could be argued that this mentality of Scottish nationalism is still inherent today, with many Scottish citizens claiming they enjoy the benefits of the UK’s economic reach across the world. Would it then be radical political step for Scotland to detach itself from the Union which could thus threaten the national identity of Scotland progressing as a state.

 

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Can a cross border movement based on the idea of democracy beat a populist narrative based on the traditional idea of sovereignty?

 

It is clear then that sovereignty is not a black-and-white issue like it has been portrayed in the national media. Our perception of power and where it resides can often be contradictory and fleeting. But is dominates our political conversation to the extent that certain contextual issues such as military intervention, party politics, austerity can often be forgotten. It thus important that our voices and opinions on these issues are accurately represented by our politicians and the media. We often hear how the support for national sovereignty is reflected in the far-right support for populist parties, but perhaps we should look beyond these claims to the idea that something more powerful can transcend the traditional ideas of sovereignty.