Niall Ferguson gave me the idea for this. I know, he’s an arrogant, imperialist, hawkish, US suck-up, whose speech is now a pompous pretentious disgrace to his home city, Glasgow, but. Though I strongly disagree with his conclusions about what we should do (military build-up and global bullying), I like his thinking about how we can learn from the past. In particular, I like his analysis of previous periods of populism which we can then use to understand why the current one in the UK need not harm Scotland unduly.
In a 2016 presentation (link below) he identifies 5 pre-requisites for the kind of situation we saw from the end of the 19th Century and into the 20Th Century, which resulted in global wars. I’ve replaced his US examples with UK ones and have added two, at Nos 2 and 3:
- Rising immigration into working-class areas: As with the Irish in the 19th Century, now Eastern Europeans and refugees from Iraq, Syria, Somalia;
- Media reports of ‘Asian paedophile gangs’, ‘Somali’ or ‘Albanian’ armed drug gangs and London stabbings.
- Terrorism – White supremacists, returning Jihadis and the New IRA;
- Increased inequality: Approaching that of the Victorian era as the Conservatives protect the rich and punish the poor;
- A perception of increased corruption: the bankers, MP’s expenses, links with private health-providers and weapons manufacturers;
- A financial crisis: As in 2008 which is still keeping working-class incomes low in real terms;
- A demagogue (a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument) who appears to understand all of the above dissatisfaction from your point of view: From Hitler to Trump but in the UK to merely to Farage or Johnson?
I’m not worried, much. Here’s why:
- Immigration is rising less in Scotland and the dominant media and political narratives are not negative ones – no hostile environment here;
- Crime, especially violent crime, is falling, dramatically;
- England is a parliamentary democracy long hostile to presidential-style leaders and which destroys them if they get delusional: Thatcher, Blair;
- There are no convincing strong charismatic leaders in the UK: look at Farage or Johnson and laugh;
- The EU is a powerful force against such leaders and will destroy them by undermining their economies;
- The EU, especially its strongest members are clear friends of Scotland and will protect it, once independent, as they are doing for Ireland;
- The SNP and Scottish Government remain popular and largely -free of the scandals which have damaged all of the others;
- Scotland is moving inevitably, if frustratingly slowly, toward independence as a model social democracy.
Thanks Niall but don’t come home.
Five ingredients for a populist backlash – Niall Ferguson – Zeitgeist 2016