The Perception of Nationalism as an alternative unifying force or as dangerous or harmful: 20th century case studies in Scotland and France
This essay takes a look at perceptions of nationalism as both an alternative unifying force, or as something that is dangerous or harmful in some way, with some case studies being presented from the twentieth century in Scotland and France to illustrate such perceptions. Thus, some key factors that allowed nationalism to expand in these countries will be outlined. As an example of nationalism as a dangerous force, the Front National will be looked at in France, which was founded in 1972 by Jean le Pen, while the Scottish National Party (SNP) shall be looked at in Scotland, which was founded in 1934, which will be considered as a unifying force.
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To begin with then, the Front National was formed as a political party in France in 1972, and it is noted by Stockemer (2017) that: “The party strove to present itself as a populist, xenophobic movement that transcended traditional conceptions of left and right” (p.11). However, for years, the party remained a marginal and controversial one, with there being little space or sympathy for radical right-wing ideas in France so soon after the Second World War (Stockemer, 2017, p.7). At the time the party was a far-right group with an anti-Semitic leader, which was built on the support of colonialism and anti-taxation laws.
Jean le Pen was later replaced by his daughter Merie Le Pen in 2011, She rebranded the party and changed the name to National Rally, consequently, over time, the party has notably softened, and transitioned away from its overt racism towards nativism – which is an approach that favours native inhabitants over new arrivals. As a result of this, the NR has been described as: “one of the most successful of all populist parties in Western Europe” (Rydgren, 2008, p.166), as during the 1980s and 1990s, the party very much became a model for others to follow as a result of its fervent nationalism, its opposition to immigration, and its populist hostility against the political establishment (Rydgren, 2008, p.166). Nevertheless, despite this, there are a number of problems and issues with the party, which might frame it as being dangerous or harmful.
As such, perceptions of nationalism in France as a result of the efforts of the NR could be dangerous or harmful for two reasons: the first is its anti-immigration policies could spill over into overt racist sentiments, discrimination, and violence, and the second is that French nationalism could lead to France leaving the EU, and the eventual dissolution of the European Union, which has protected Europe from War for over seventy years through mutual cooperation and protection. In addition, Smith (2013) says that: “Nationalism is an ideology that places the nation at the centre of its concerns and seeks to promote its well-being” (n.p.). Nevertheless, this is at odds with the new era of globalisation, and in fact it was originally thought of as being anti-imperialistic due to its central concerns with the nation (McNaughton & Kelly, 2017, n.p.).As such,the nationalistic sentiments of the NR could be harmful to the new world order if they were to get in power in France, in addition to fostering potentially dangerous xenophobic views among the population there.
Conversely, although the Scottish National Party (SNP) was founded in 1934, for most of its existence it operated on the fringe of Scottish and UK politics (Mitchell & Hassan, 2016, n.p.). Mitchell & Hassan (2016, n.p.) say that the SNP is in many respects a conventional political party, although it does have a wider, looser relationship to a nationalist movement. The rise of the SNP has been incredible, with Johns (2016, n.p.) detailing how their percentage of the Scottish vote increased in the twentieth century and beyond, growing from just 1.2% in 1945 after the Second World War, to 21.9% in 1997. In fact, the rise of the SNP has been so pronounced, that in 2007, the SNP was elected to govern Scotland, almost eighty years after it was founded (Mitchell, Bennie & Johns, 2012, p.1), with the primary identity among SNP voters being that of national identity (Mitchell, Bennie & Johns, 2012, p.103). Unlike the NR in France, the core concerns and threats identified against the Scottish nation by the SNP are viewed as being a denial of North Sea oil revenues, a lack of self-confidence as a nation, and the London government – with immigration being very low on the agenda.
The fact that immigration has largely been low on the agenda of the SNP demonstrates that this particular brand of nationalism is not so much dangerous or harmful, as it could be viewed in France with the NR, but rather it is more of a unifying force, with the focus being on Scottish independence, and strengthening Scotland as a nation. For members of the SNP, the people are more important than the land, and this is evidenced in the way that the Queen is called the ‘Queen of England’, but in Scotland she is the ‘Queen of Scots’ because of this emphasis on the people. Thus, there is an emphasis on egalitarianism, and the shared history of the Scottish people is highly valued, with such ideologies very much influenced by thinkers such as Davie Hume and Adam Smith.
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The distinction between the NR in France and the SNP in Scotland is therefore clear, with the brand of nationalism espoused by the NR being potentially dangerous, and inciting racist views and attitudes and the erosion of globalisation. While the brand of nationalism by the SNP being more focussed on strengthening Scotland as a nation, and putting it in control of its own destiny, away from the control of the UK government. As such, the latter can be seen as more of a unifying force, while the former can be viewed as divisive and potentially problematic. Nevertheless, a rise in popularity in both of these types of nationalism beyond the twentieth century has meant that more research is needed in this area.
In conclusion, this relatively brief paper has shown that there are different types of nationalism evident in different political parties, with the NR in France being potentially more dangerous and harmful in respect of its xenophobic views, and the SNP in Scotland being more of a unifying force, by emphasising Scottish culture, and placing an emphasis on the people of Scotland, whilst also welcoming in outsiders into this culture. However, a rise in the popularity of such parties in the new millennium means much more research is needed in this area.
- Johns, R. (2016) Takeover: Explaining the Extraordinary Rise of the SNP, E-Book: Biteback Publishing.
McNaughton, N. & Kelly, R. (2017) Political ideas for A Level: Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism, Feminism, Anarchism, E-Book: Hodder Education.
Mitchell, J., Bennie, L. & Johns, R. (2012) The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power, Oxford: OUP.
Mitchell, J. & Hassan, G. (2016) ‘Leadership of the SNP’. In: Mitchell, J. (Ed.) Scottish National Party (SNP) Leaders, E-Book: Biteback Publishing.
- Rydgren, J. (2008) ‘France: The Front National, Ethnonationalism and Populism’. In: Albertazzi D. & McDonnell D. (Eds.) Twenty-First Century Populism, Palgrave Macmillan, London (pp. 166-180).
Smith, A.D. (2013)Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, E-Book: Polity Press.
- Stockemer, D. (2017) The Front National in France, Switzerland: Springer.
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