Archive for the ‘Nationalism in the News’ Category

Many commentators – particularly on the left – are throwing accusations of ‘fascism’ at US President-elect Donald Trump.

In this measured and thoughtful blog Jane Caplan considers whether this is a useful analytical term ..

Trump and Fascism. A View from the Past

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An interesting piece contrasting the ‘dark’ nationalism sweeping the west with more progressive and ‘civic’ nationalisms from one of Scotland’s leading social commentators.

Iain Macwhirter: “The far right is on the rise and its weapon is dark nationalism”


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Academy of Government/Nordic Horizons

Saturday 29 October 2016 – 12-5.30 pm

George Square Theatre, Edinburgh.

Brexit – Lessons that might be learned from the nordics – with six speakers from different Nordic countries.

Chaired by Lesley Riddoch

The Nordics manage to co-exist quite happily with every possible variation of relationship with the EU – in (Finland, Sweden, Denmark) out (Iceland and Norway) and shake it all about (Faroes and Greenland who are out while the “Mother Ship” Denmark is in). These two tiny Nordic players have no formal agreement with the EU, whilst Norway pays quite a bit to retain access to the single market. So quite a bit of variation.

Surely in all of this there are lessons for Scotland to learn – as a devolved government within the UK or possibly a small northern independent state sometime in the future.

So we’ve brought an interesting collection of speakers together for an afternoon conference which will be opened by the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop;

Professor Mary Hilson – author of The Nordic Model, excellent Nordic Horizons speaker and now historian in the Dept of Culture and Society at Aarhus University Denmark will give a contemporary an historical overview of the Nordic nations and the EU.

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson – ex leader of Iceland’s Social Democratic Party and former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs was responsible for their negotiations to join the EEA in the 1990’s. He will reflect on both EFTA in 1970’s and EEA – how Iceland achieved exemptions on fishing/agriculture – the pros/cons of that – and Iceland’s temporary post-crash desire to be in the Euro BUT not the EU.

Tuomas Iso-Markku, Research Fellow, at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Will reflect on why Finland appears to have a different relationship with the EU than many of its Nordic neighbours.

An important point is security – Russia next door — and the dangers to being a vocal small member.

Ulrik Pram Gad is Associate Professor of Arctic Culture and Politics at University of Aalborg, Denmark and recently published a paper on the triangular relation between Greenland, Denmark and the EU (quoted by Nicola Sturgeon). From 1998 to 2002 he worked for the Government of Greenland in Nuuk. Will discuss whether Scotland could do “a reverse Greenland’.

Dr. Duncan Halley, Scots born but now at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research – will discuss the advantages for Norway of controlling its land use, fisheries, and conservation outside the EU and will speculate on similar advantages for Scotland. Duncan gave a brilliant Nordic Horizons talk comparing land use and forestry in the Scottish Highlands and SW Norway in 2015.

Bjort Samuelsen – is a Republican MP in the Faroese Parliament, Member of the West Nordic Council and was Minister for Trade and Industry, Infrastructure and Gender Equality in 2008. She was originally a journalist and worked for Norwegian and Faroe Islands Broadcasting. Bjort will explain why the Faroes decided not to join the EU with Denmark in the 1970s and discuss how easy it has been outside all trade blocs as a nation of just 49k people.

After these speakers we will have a final session asking if anything we’ve heard has relevance for Scotland. Amongst the contributors in that final session will be; the Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Europe & External Affairs Committee Joan McAlpine, Professors Andrew Scott and James Mitchell from University of Edinburgh, the author of A Utopia Like any Other, Dominic Hinde and hopefully Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.

The event has been organized by Nordic Horizons volunteers together with Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government and speakers’ costs have been met by a Scottish Government grant. We are charging for the first time to help pay for tea and coffee on the day and help us cover the cost of meals for speakers. So it’s a mighty £3!


Please book tickets via this Eventbrite link.


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A interesting BBC report on a new (‘Putin-sanctioned’) Russian film extolling the Russian-Kazakh hero/martyrs of Panfilov’s 28 Men. That the story behind the film is largely felt to have been a Communist invention seems neither here nor there.


Of more importance is the national story of a multi-ethnic Soviet Union steadfast against fascism – with clear echoes of the current Russo-Ukrainian crisis and of Russian/Kazakh relations.

You’ll find the BBC report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37595972

The movie trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQq_cnX5eUA

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“…banal forms of nationalism and a sense of national identity are likely to strengthen rather than weaken over the next ten years.” (Malesevic, 2013)

A couple key nationalism theorists provide validation of food’s potential for stirring nationalist sentiments. In his Banal Nationalism (1995), Michael Billig raises the everyday backdrop of our lives, which he sees as being sprinkled with national symbols. He argues that quotidian images, signs, phrases, flags etc. which represent  a nation’s values and identity provide sort of glaze, if you will, over the broader concept of nation. It’s worth blending Malesevic in here — in beginning of his Identity as Ideology (2006), he notes that identity has become an”indispensable ingredient of every human being”and that “nationalism remains the most potent source of state legitimacy.” Thus, food folds its way into nationalism: branding of food, histories of food, specific recipes or versions of recipes, etc. all can flavour how a person sees, represents, and defends their national identity. This post will assess a few recent programmes and notable events soaked in food-related “British identity” and banal nationalism. Bon Appétit.

Supermarket nationalism: ‘British beef’ in England vs. ‘Scottish oatcakes’ in Scotland

A Scottish national identity can be seen in how products in supermarkets are labelled. It is much more likely to find a product labelled ‘Scottish’ in Scotland, than it is to find something labelled ‘English’ in England. South of the border, ‘British’ is often the  word used for the products. This is proved simply by doing a search on Google images. When searching for ‘English’ and ‘Lidl’, only products labelled ‘British’ appear, as ‘British beef’, ‘British potatoes’ and so on. If you do the same with ‘Scottish’ and ‘Lidl’, several products pop up labelled ‘Scottish’ and often have a remarkably sized Scottish flag on them as well.

These findings comply with the differences between the English and the Scots when asked if they identify more as British or Scottish/English. When Brits were asked this question in 2007, 47% of the English felt more English than British, whereas 38% felt more British than English. In Scotland, as many as 77% felt more Scottish than British, and only 14% felt more British than Scottish (Bechhofer & McCrone 2014: 311). Thus, it can seem that, at least until recently, Scots have had a stronger Scottish identity than the English have with English identity. This can be one of the explanations for the differences of product labelling in the two nations.

Lee and Copus have also suggested that the emphasis on ‘Britishness’ in England partly is due to a deliberate policy of suppressing English political identity in favour of being British. (Bechhofer & McCrone 2014: 313). According to them, the British state could not survive such an expression of national identity.Tunnocks-Tea-Cakes.jpg

No matter the reason for the national differences in product labelling policies, the importance of ‘Scottish products’ to Scots was highlighted when famous Scottish cake and biscuits company Tunnock’s decided to remove the Scottish Lion Rampant from their packaging (Alexander 5/1/2016). The company also started calling their cake ‘The Great British Tea Cake’. This angered many Scottish nationalists, who understood this as Tunnock’s were abandoning their Scottish identity. Many even called for a boycott of the company. This incident shows that there is a form of ‘supermarket nationalism’ among Scottish nationalists – labelling of Scottish grocery products as being Scottish with symbols representing ‘Scottishness’ seems to be an important part of their national pride and identity. ‘Britishness’ is, to them, undermining this identity.

Nationalism in BBC Cooking Shows

In his Imagined Communities (1983), Anderson describes national consciousness forming as a result of people across a wide range of physical space being able to consume the same information and stories. The novel and the newspaper aside, societies now have film and television to inform their nation-view. In BBC cooking programmes, such as MasterChef, Jamie’s Great Britain, Great British Bake Off, and James Martin: Home Comforts, one finds all sorts of banal nationalism. “British” recipes and local ingredients are often chosen and chefs will sometimes provide a story about the dish’s roots in British history. Often the kitchen backdrop will be designed to “look British” and will include Union Jacks. Recipes that have existed in the UK for over 50 years, but have origins in another nation generally keep their “not-British” identity, while their flavours can inform “new British” cuisine. Watch any episode of a food programme on the BBC and one could compile a list of instances of banal nationalism. Moving beyond, however, this topic illuminates questions about who is British if one is using food to define identity.

In the last couple of years there has been discussion in various news articles and online blogs about the “contemporary  multicultural Britishness” portrayed in Great British Bake bake_2332965b.jpgOff. Last year, a Muslim woman was crowned best baker. Some were pleased with this, stating that it forced viewers to reconsider Britishness. Others have been less amused, accusing  Great British Bake Off of trying to push a “multicultural agenda” onto viewers by intentionally choosing diverse contestants who do not represent the average Brit. Those once, and sometime still, considered “not British” are now on the Great British Bake Off stage, making sponges, puddings, and fairy cakes in aim of being awarded best baker. In being able to allow “non-British” people to show their Britishness by baking perfect scones, food plays a divisive role in defining national identity and challenges people to think about what it means to be British.

One final tidbit to think about is that many other countries have adapted their own versions of Great British Bake Off, tweaking the recipes, kitchen sets, etc. to fit their nation’s identity, whatever that may look like or mean. See more here and here.

Anglo-Indian Cuisine: A Multicultural Victory?

In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook asserted that Chicken Tikka Masala had become “a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British customers” (Buettner 2008). This statement identified the South Asian dining industry as such a massive force that it had seemingly earned inclusion into British national identity.

Indeed, one can likely walk down most streets in Edinburgh and stumble upon an Indian-styled restaurant within a few minutes. As an industry that employs close to 70,000 people and reports an annual turnover of approximately £2 billion, South Asian specialities have eclipsed other ethnic cuisines in the UK. As of 2015, there are estimated to be 9500 “Indian” restaurants in the UK, whereas there are merely 4700 Italian establishments (Federation of Specialist Restaurants). Balti curry, first developed in Birmingham, is another example of an Anglo-Indian dish that is now considered “British” cuisine.

While many Britons enjoy “going for an Indian,” the vast majority of curry restaurants are actually staffed by Pakistani and Bangladeshi people, and though the British capacity to absorb and adapt external influences has extended to South Asian food, it may not have extended entirely to South Asian people. In a series of surveys conducted in 2009, Vadher and Barrett found that many second generation British Indians and Pakistanis considered themselves British mostly in a legal context, with their white British cohabitants constantly reminding them of their true ethnic identity through discrimination, racism, and jokes (Vadher & Barrett 2009: 444). As Cook celebrated multiculturalism in Britain with his speech about Chicken Tikka Masala, he may have assumed too much about the nature of ethnicity.

— Jordan, Simen, and Taylor


Do you usually choose products produced in the country you are buying it in when shopping at the supermarket? Why do you choose this way? Would you have a different pattern in your own country?

Do British cooking programmes make you feel more connected to Britishness?

Can food enable a people to breach the boundaries of ethnicity?

Are scones more British than Chicken Tikka Masala? / Why might people think scones are more British than Chicken Tikka Masala?

Can a food be a synecdoche for a nation?

Is national identity undermined when a nation’s “national foods” are not consumed by its citizens?


Alexander, S. 5/1/2016. ‘Cybernats Call for Boycott of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes for Ditching Scottish Lion’, The Telegraph [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/cybernats-call-for-boycott-of-tunnocks-tea-cakes-for-ditching-sc/

Anderson, Benedict. 2006 [1983]. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Bechhofer, F. & D. McCrone. 2014. ‘The End of Being British?’ Scottish Affairs 23.3: 309-322

Billig, M. (1995). Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

Buettner, E. (2008). “Going for an Indian”: South Asian Restaurants and the Limits of Multiculturalism in Britain*. The Journal of Modern History, 80(4), 865-901. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

Federation of Specialist Restaurants. “Statistics & Data.” (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://www.fedrest.com/marketresearch.htm

Malesevic, S. (2006)  Identity as Ideology: Understanding Ethnicity and Nationalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Malesevic, S. (2013). Future Identities: Changing identities in the UK – the next 10 years

Smith, A. D. (2001). Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Vadher, K., & Barrett, M. (2009). Boundaries of Britishness in British Indian and Pakistani young adults. J. Community. Appl. Soc. Psychol. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 19(6), 442-458. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

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It has been ruled by the International Criminal Court today that neither Serbia nor Croatia committed genocide during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. ‘Peter Tomka, president of the international court of justice, said crimes had been committed by both countries’ forces during the conflict, but that the intent to commit genocide – by “destroying a population in whole or in part” – had not been proven against either country.’


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Through the radical and rapid shifts in how Scotland is governed (and how, indeed, it governs itself), the Scots have barely raised their voices, let alone thrown punches and smashed windows. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the upcoming referendum is how normal it feels. ‘Independence’ was, in the 1970s, something rather exotic. Yet here we are, with a White Paper, and a Red Paper, and the ‘guarantee’ of substantial new powers if we vote ‘No’, and of a new – but unthreatening – dawn if we vote ‘Yes’. Independence is one possible future, one to be discussed, debated, weighed and judged soberly and democratically. It feels less a matter of ‘freedom’, or of the destruction of a hallowed unity, than of how to find the best fitting governing mechanism to meet Scotland’s aspirations.

In making sense of the referendum Scottish Affairs has produced a Special Issue intended to make an accessible contribution to the debate. The Issue has two main parts. In the first part, John Curtice – key contributor to What Scotland Thinks – describes the difficult tasks of polling companies in predicting public opinion whilst satisfying the ‘relentless’ demands ‘from an impoverished media for polls to be conducted as cheaply as possible’. Lindsay Paterson then unpacks a broad historical view of Scottish political culture and its paradoxical foundation upon an insistence on a universal humanity. ‘Perhaps more than any other small nation,’ Paterson avers, Scotland has ‘the inclination to universalism inescapably at the heart of its identity’. Frank Bechhofer and David McCrone then provide a welcome antidote to casual assumptions about national identity and constitutional politics. Unionism and nationalism, they remind us, ‘are intertwined and not polar opposites’ and ‘one cannot read off constitutional aspirations from how people construe [national] identities’.

The following four articles then address specific aspects of the referendum: Meryl Kenny explores how the ‘engendering’ of the new Scotland after 1999 has proved, in many ways, a disappointment. She warns that ‘Women’s issues are constitutional issues’ and that ‘gender reforms can easily slip off the political agenda’. Michael Rosie then tackles some ‘tall tales’ about religion, not least against a deeply secularised background. Evidence suggests that religious belonging plays little, if any, role in shaping constitutional opinion. Jan Eichhorn presents results from the first comprehensive and representative survey of those Scots, aged 14–17 in 2013 and who will be eligible to vote in the Referendum. The survey punctures several myths, not least about voting intention, attitude formation and interest in politics. Eichhorn also cautions that, regardless of the result in September, Scotland must ‘think about how to better harness the interest of young people in politics’. Here the essay by Ellen Stewart, Iain Wilson, Peter Donnelly and Scott Greer makes an important contribution since it focuses upon the experience of young (potential) voters in the pilot Scottish health board elections of 2010.

The first section is rounded off by Daniel Kenealy’s discussion of the vexed ‘European Question’. Kenealy concludes that a ‘Yes’ vote would put ‘tremendous pressure on all EU Member States to avoid a sudden and sharp dislocation to the single market’. That pressure will lead to negotiation: statements which call into question Scotland’s post-independence membership of the EU ‘have utterly failed to engage with the deeply impractical scenario’ of a Scotland even temporarily out of that Union.

The second part of the Special Issue consists of four essays on the theme of Scotland seen from (near or) afar. Euan Hague and Alan Mackie note how little discussion the Referendum has excited in US media, but also describe how different viewpoints mould the ‘meaning’ of the Referendum to their own purposes. Within the
Diaspora there seems to be a significant disjuncture between the ‘historical narrative’ preferred by some ancestral Scots (a narrative that parallels America’s own founding myths) and the social democratic claims of the SNP. Ilenia Ruggiu reports a broadly similar reshaping of the Referendum in several Italian regions. Here, in places such as Sud-Tirol, Sardinia or Veneto it is the fact of Scotland’s referendum, rather than its detail, that provides inspiration for groups seeking greater autonomy within, or outright secession from, the Italian state. Keith Dixon describes the lack of a clear French understanding of what the United Kingdom actually is and, therefore, on the politics of territory within it. That, more recently, has shifted and Dixon describes a ‘relatively well-informed and even-handed presentation of the referendum debate in the French press’. Closer to home, Keith Shaw, outlines different reactions to the prospect of a more autonomous Scotland of whatever form) in the North East of England and in Cumbria. These reactions span anxiety, envy, regret and hope – all reflective of the common bonds shared in the Borderlands on both sides of the Tweed-Solway.

In the first ever editorial of Scottish Affairs, back in 1992, Lindsay Paterson insisted that, should Scotland’s movement for self-government prove successful, ‘then the form of that autonomy, and the strategy needed to reach it, must be subject to much stricter scrutiny than has been available hitherto’. Scottish Affairs has contributed to that scrutiny both during the campaign for self-government, and across the subsequent life of the Scottish Parliament. Whatever the result in September, there will be continued – indeed in many ways more pressing – need for scrutiny of policy and politics through well evidenced and accessible research. Scottish Affairs relishes that challenge.

The full table of contents for the Special Issue (and access for subscribers) can be found at the Edinburgh University Press website.

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