Regular readers of this blog will know that my Friend Fat Mac is completely ‘aff his heid’, as we say in Scotland. For a start, he is stuck in the 1970s. All of his attitudes and his perspectives on things haven’t really changed since those days, even to the extent of which bars he will drink in. He likes old-time bars full of old grumpy men. Nowhere is he more stuck than in his politics – his are to the far left. He’s still waiting for the day the working classes rise up and create some sort of Stalinist miracle. Of course, if the working class still exists at all, it is much reduced nowadays, and I joke with him that many folk are actually ‘previously working class’. Fat Mac hates the ‘effin Tories’ because, under Thatcher, they destroyed his idyllic ‘sivinties’ lifestyle, and while I was never a fan of Thatcher I can’t see what was idyllic about high inflation rates, mass unemployment, power-cuts, the three-day working week and violent political conflict in the seventies. Because of his thirty-five year dislike of the ‘effin Tories’, Fat Mac also supports independence for Scotland, and to put this in context, some time ago Donald Dewar noted: “the only parent of devolution was Margaret Thatcher”. I don’t think Fat Mac actually cares very much about independence per se, but sees it rather as a possible way to get back at the Tories.
I think Fat Mac was overly influenced by the cowboys and indians films he watched when growing up in the 1950s, where there were always goodies and baddies, with the goodies winning in the end, and to him, this black and white situation transferred to politics during his formative years. Now, he can’t seem to realise that many things have moved on since the seventies and that the political scene has completely changed. I think it is fair to say that the UK Labour Party has recently swung to the left, and this has given Fat Mac new heart, though whether Labour is now electable is another question. I reckon that the next election, when it comes, may see a really low voter turnout, so anything could happen.
Mac should read The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, by David Goodhart. It is a very good analysis of certain features of modern UK politics, and how they have moved on in the last two decades during which Mac has been AWOL. Goodhart, a member of the Labour Party, shows that the old left and right, based largely on class, is long gone. In its place, Goodhart maintains, there are now, to great extent, ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’. I won’t try, in this blog post, to define in detail the Somewheres and Anywheres, because Goodhart writes at length about both groups and stresses, again and again, that they are not uniform, but in essence, the Anywheres welcome change and are not nostalgic about the past, they tend to be individualists and internationalists who are not strongly attached to large group identities, they tend to be better educated and value autonomy and self-realisation rather than community and tradition and see themselves as liberals (with a small ‘l’). Anywheres voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the UK referendum. Somewheres tend not to have gone to university, they tend to be conservative (with a small ‘C’) and often vote Conservative, though many voted UKIP, they tend to earn less, they don’t generally welcome change, are nostalgic for what they see as a lost Britain and have strong group attachments. They voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU in the UK referendum.
It’s much more detailed and complicated than that, as Goodhart is at pains to explain, but the above is the essence, and I think that his definitions work better nowadays than class definitions, although there is obviously some overlap. Goodhart writes that many Anywheres tend to dismiss the concerns of the Somewheres, and this frustrates the Somewheres and makes them even more determined. He tries to address how Anywheres can be more understanding of Somewheres, in the knowledge that there are more Somewheres than Anywheres, rather than just dismissing them as, well, dumb traditionalists and stupid Brexit voters. Somewheres are often populists, but this can confuse things as there is no agreed definition of populism. Populism can be right-wing or left-wing, as has been shown in different parts of Europe in recent elections. Populists are often hostile to elites of many kinds, bankers, politicians, intellectuals and even experts. On top of all of this are changes in the ways that people become involved in politics, with membership of trade unions very much declining over the past 25 years, along with membership of political parties (notwithstanding several recent surges), and more expression via social media. As Goodhart writes “The elite political filter once provided by the conventional party system and traditional media has been broken; the voice of the people, angry or otherwise, spills out everywhere” and this has often benefitted populists.
This is a wide-ranging book. Goodhart covers politics in the UK, Europe, the USA and elsewhere in his attempts to explain many recent changes and the emergence of Anywheres and Somewheres, but always stresses the many differences between the situations in different places, often backed up by statistics.
We know that immigration was a big issue in the Brexit vote, and Goodhart discusses immigration in some detail, and the differences between how Somewheres and Anywheres regard the issue. I want to be careful in what I say about immigration to Britain, because it is an emotive issue. I have twice been an immigrant myself, once in Malawi, where I had no intention of remaining longer than my two-year contract, and once in Botswana, where I did consider staying longer. In neither case did I work for financial gain (my salary in Malawi was a fraction of what I would have been earning in the UK, and while I earned more in Botswana than Malawi, it was still less than my UK salary), but there must be some other similarities with those who come to work in Britain. I’m not, however, pretending that I understand immigration. I would say, though, that we tend to think of immigration only in how it has an effect on British society – it helps in providing qualified, and sometimes unqualified, labour, and it can have a detrimental effect on demand for services and housing, etc. What about the effect on the places immigrants come from? The population of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania decreased as a result of (mostly) well-educated people emigrating to western Europe. The IMF estimatd that 20 million people have left eastern Europe over the last 25 years. Highly, and expensively, trained doctors leave developing countries for the west, causing a brain drain in their countries of origin. Immigration therefore has negatives as well as positives.
What I don’t understand, even after reading The Road to Somewhere is the supposedly inviolable connection between freedom of movement and the European single market. Freedom of movement is based on EU citizenship legislation, and not on the requirements of the single market, as far as I can see. Somewheres see immigration, but more specifically freedom of movement within the EU, as a threat to themselves, their livelihoods and their ways of living. Few people in Britain ever bought into the concept of being European, rather than their original nationality. Whether right or wrong, this needs to be recognised. It is also an important issue for the SNP to address in Scotland, though the SNP currently seem more interested in making gains out of a poor Brexit agreement (or non-agreement).
Fat Mac really should read this book, and in doing so will hopefully be able to move forward from the seventies.