THE BLOG

The Rise of Insular Politics

20/03/2014 11:19 GMT | Updated 19/05/2014 10:59 BST

Does anyone else wonder how on earth UKIP's agenda has so powerfully contaminated mainstream political conversation?

The puzzle can be solved by taking a step back and observing the separatist impulse that has diffused throughout Europe. All over the continent, nationalist and insular agendas are taking centre stage. The economic crisis has affected us as we might expect, people are looking inwards with their politics now, to look after themselves and their own interests. Because, of course, when a storm is coming the most sensible thing to do is draw the curtains and whistle 'Rule Britannia' to yourself and your resenting children.

As Venetians vote this week, they become the latest European jurisdiction to broadcast their separatist ambitions. They want an independent 'Republic of Veneto', harking after the glorious, wealthy, warring state that they were before Napoleon invaded. There's something just a little unnerving about that isn't there?

The nationalist impulse is unavoidable in Catalonia and Scotland too. The right to self-determination is being infected by the intoxicating allure of myths and tribalism. There's a legitimate argument to be had over independence but it can't be sheer coincidence that these movements come on the heels of a recession, can it?

When a society feels resources are scarce, the natural inclination is to be insular. Let's get out of Europe! Or the UK! Or Italy, or Spain! It's every man for himself! Stop giving foreign aid, batten down the hatches, it's all gone to s**t!

Opportunists dream of the kind of fear that's been percolating since the crash, would anybody listen to Nigel Farage if they weren't scared?

Only within a politics dominated by fear would a party of hateful, fascistic, anti-Semites like Golden Dawn ascend to prominence in a western democracy like Greece. There is evidently a huge distinction to be made between the Golden Dawn movement and Scottish or Venetian independence, but they are different manifestations of the sectarian, divisive mood in Europe.

It's important to recognise some of the more lugubrious inflections within these nationalist movements. They come with strings attached, and the strings are normally xenophobic or at least marred by some other backwards ideological fantasy.

Why are people talking about immigration or the welfare system as though they are the root cause of this situation in which we find ourselves? It's patently not true, but if you were to open most papers or speak to most people then you might well get that impression. Yes, you heard right, it's the masses of people taking very little that are costing us. It's certainly not the handful of people and corporations in which most wealth is tied up and tax free. The gays, the Muslims and the scroungers, that's right! Pull up the drawbridge, Nigel, the Indians can look after themselves now!

This is what it means to lose your sense of internationalism in times of crisis. Nothing will be gained from an insular reaction to the problems we face. We need to shake off this bizarre, jingoistic and undesirable idea that we can detach ourselves from the international community and just look out for ourselves.