Thursday, May 26, 2011

Try telling the Nordic countries you need to have a single state to retain a multi-national identity

You may recall our old friend Chekov, the self-styled Northern Ireland 'liberal unionist' blogger who curiously chooses to channel his liberalism by being an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Conservative party. Anyway, it suddenly occurred to me that on past form he probably would have had some stern words to say about recent developments on this side of the North Channel, and after a quick search it turned out that I was at least half-right. Referring to David Mitchell's Observer article on a perceived threat to British identity following the SNP's win, he writes -

"It's not an unprecedented state of mind to which Mitchell refers. Many citizens of the former Yugoslavia, for instance, mourn their multi-national state and their multinational identity. Let's hope that there is no opportunity for a similar sense of loss in the United Kingdom. The Scots, Welsh, English and Irish nations can be accommodated within the UK in a way that is simply not possible the other way about."

Well now. It seems the election result has had an impact already - as I've highlighted many times, Chekov has been notably reluctant in the past to concede that Scotland is actually a 'nation' at all. The Scottish Tories got over that particular hang-up years ago, but to Chekov we stubbornly remained a mere 'region', with a 'regional parliament'. If we're now getting the honeyed words treatment even from a liberal unionist, the situation must be grave indeed.

I first read David Mitchell's piece a few days ago, and it was an impressive one - unlike the offerings from so many other scribes in the "UK press", it was clearly written from the heart. But I'm equally convinced he's fretting over nothing in fearing the loss of his British identity. If Chekov is so sure that a multi-national identity can only exist within the straightjacket of a single state, he'll have to explain how, for instance, the shared Nordic identity has proved so resilient following the independence of Norway from Sweden, and of Iceland from Denmark. Indeed, doesn't the close political relationship between all of those countries within the Nordic Council bear a striking resemblance to the post-independence confederal relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK that is now being strongly hinted at by SNP sources?


  1. Interesting that unionists have always sneered at the 'identity' politics of nationalist parties and now, hey presto, not only is identity legitimate, it's a reason to 'save the union'.

  2. I think, too, that the Eurovision Song Contest bears witness to this feeling of cultural similarity. Didn’t Wogan bemoan for years how Cyprus would always give 12 points to Greece, and vice versa; how the former Soviet states tended to vote heavily for one and other, and how the only country that liked the UK was Ireland, rather strangely, I thought, given the troubles.

    Of course, I understand that when it comes to neighbouring nations, there can be a love – hate relationship, but there are natural ties founded on geography, and regional culture, cuisine, etc, based on what nature has given us.

    We, although very different in many ways from the English, have a great deal more in common with them than we do with people of Mediterranean origin, perhaps because we suffer the same weather conditions, eat the same kind of food, are educated in a broadly similar way, listen to the same kind of music as they do. Rather like people from Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, have similar cultural identities, completely different from Nordic people, or the people of South East Asia, who also have broadly similar lives.

    We live on the British Isles; nothing will change that. We share them with the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Man. Whether or not we are part of a political structure, that will surely remain.

  3. And above all else we share a common language - although of course we have two others of our own!