Friday, 10 January 2014

Straw men

Over the Christmas period, the Shadow Governor General of Wales, Owen Smith, treated us to his considered views on the subject of the constitutional future of the UK.  There are parts of his analysis with which I can almost agree.
For instance if he’d said “The Labour Party is one of the great uniting institutions of 20th century Britain and our mission at the start was to bring people together and build with them a more equitable society and a just economy” instead of “The Labour Party is one of the great uniting institutions of 20th century Britain and our mission from the start has been to bring people together and build with them a more equitable society and a just economy”, and made it clear that any such commitment was of the past, then I’d find it hard to disagree.  But political parties have a habit of trying to pretend that they’re still about the principles and aims which led to their establishment, even when they’ve moved on to be mere vehicles for ambitious career politicians, so perhaps we can forgive him that one.
However, when he gets to “... nationalism, in Scotland as elsewhere, is all about the selfish gene”, I have to completely part company with him.  It’s a sweeping and unsubstantiated assertion of a sort which enables him to proceed to demolish the straw man which he has created without ever admitting that he created it in the first place.
I don’t doubt that there are some nationalists who take a very narrow and selfish view – what he describes as am I’m alright Jack philosophy.  I’ve seen some dismissing some issues as ‘not our concern’ or ‘that’s England’s problem’.  Asserting the view of a few to be the view of all is too big a jump, however convenient it may be to his argument.
There are not a few unionists who hold what I’d regard as selfish views in that context as well – wasn’t it a Labour Prime Minister who talked about “British jobs for British workers” for instance?  And aren’t all of the UK parties also queuing up to condemn economic migrants – effectively saying that they’re ‘someone else’s problem’.
He also condemns ‘nationalism based on blood and soil’.  That's another straw man which is all too easy to demolish – but it isn’t what most nationalists are arguing for. 
Destroying arguments that no-one is making is easy, but it isn’t really debate.


Anonymous said...

Since when has Owen Smith or other tub-thumping British nationalists ever wanted a debate? They're still pursuing stage 2 of Ghandi's maxim, "then they ridicule you", etc..

Not sure anyone of any substance is really listening to them though... The debate is clearly at stage 3 in the context of Wales.

Anonymous said...

Nationalism in Wales and Scotland (of the mainstream kind) has nothing to do with blood (or ethnicity as Smith also says), being civic, and nothing to do with soil, being usually international and European.

The SNP's nationalism must be one of the least strident ever. They want to keep five out of their six international unions. It suits Owen Smith to pretend that the SNP and similar parties want much more separation than is actually the case.

I also struggle to see his "class" argument- Labour has done nothing on the basis of class politics since Harold Wilson, arguably.

Gwyn Jones said...

Well another true blue socialist who is also a latent limey. No change there then. I always thought that Kymdeithas Kinnock was more influential in the Labour party than CymdeithaS Cledwyn.

Gwyn Jones

Anonymous said...

It's an old conundrum. Can labour (small "l") ends be better achieved in Wales by a UK state or by a Welsh state, or by a combination of the two- and if the latter, where should the balance for.

This discussion edges back and forth in the Labour party, but you can tell where Owen Smith was coming from when he talked about the "ebb and flow" of devolution.

Labour's big strength in the devolved context has been its ability to be two different parties at the same time. I suppose the Conservatives have done the same thing.