The Labour Party may do surprisingly well in the forthcoming general election. Indeed, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) threat may actually benefit Labour south of Tweed by releasing an English nationalist reaction that can only find guilt-free expression if combined with collectivism.
English nationalism differs from the Celtic variety in having no ethnic component – the 'true-born Englishman' has been a joke for several hundred years. Indeed, it is almost entirely cultural, but this makes it a weak binding force; tea and marmite is no match for blut und boden, and cultural nationalism is very easily dissolved by historical criticism which can reveal, for example, that fish and chips are a recent import from Europe. But the longing for nationalism remains, and while this urge has achieved partial expression in UKIP, it is not flourishing, largely because it is in that party combined with an inconsistent and compromised individualism, as you would expect of cultural nationalism, and thus produces deep sensations of selfishness and consequent guilt, all of which results in self-repression. It is no accident that UKIP has had to wrap itself in the bizarre sweet-paper yellow-purple colour code and a currency symbol, of Roman origins, rather than the pigments and structure of the Union flag or the St George’s cross.
Needless to say, English nationalism has for some time been unable to find an outlet in the Labour party because the leadership has presented an increasingly internationalised version of socialism (see the Guardian, passim). This represents a break with the Attlee/Bevin position, which leaned heavily towards the national version (though so camouflaged as to break up its outlines, as was inevitable post 1945), and indeed explains to a degree the increasing gulf, present at the origins of the party of course, between the parliamentary and intellectual element of the party, which is theoretical and abstracted from real populations, and its base membership and support, which is practical and intensely conscious of regional identity.
But if this cultural nationalism finds a cause in resentment of the SNP, and a convenient and guilt-free vehicle by matching and perhaps exceeding Sturgeon’s ‘progressive’ claims, the situation changes. In other words, the electorate can express its nationalism without guilt if covered and propelled by collectivist rhetoric, towards which it has in any case a very strong leaning. Once in combination the effect could be mutually reinforcing and exothermic. I think in many cases an anti-Scottish reaction in England will express itself as a confident vote for Labour. Miliband will not be sympathetic to such feelings, but he will nonetheless benefit from them, and may have to collaborate in order to manage what could become a powerful element in his party's character. In other words, the Labour party, already very far left, may be forced into a much stronger nationalist position by the English anger of its voters. This seems unlikely to last (it is cultural nationalism, after all, and will blow away in a strong wind), but it will have vigour so long as it can define itself in opposition to a Scottish threat, and the SNP is trying to make that fault line permanent.