Substate Nationalism and Nationalist Parties

Most neo-nationalist populist parties across Western Europe are right wing. But among substate nationalist parties we witness both left-wing and right-wing varieties. In the Basque country, Quebec, Scotland and

Wales, such nationalist parties, both in rhetoric and support, are commonly viewed as left wing on economic policies and progressive on social and cultural values. This was not always the case. According to Erk (2010), in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, substate nationalisms were:

...resolutely right wing...from Brittany to Flanders, from Quebec to the

Basque country, it was the voice of tradition—and not modernity—that

gave minority nations a justification for resisting homogenisation. (2010:

425)

Some nationalisms in the industrial West can be viewed as having shifted from right to left on the political spectrum. It is the influence of their association with the broader rise of post-colonial and Third World liberation movements in the post-Second World War period that provided substate nationalism with its progressive thrust. Thus, Quebec nationalism, in the context of the so-called Quiet Revolution of 1960, shifted from a conservative right-wing nationalism towards a secular, progressive, left-wing nationalism (Erk 2010: 424). Since then, the substate nationalist Parti Quebecois has retained an ideologically left-leaning outlook. Similarly, Basque nationalism became radicalised after Francoist repression and began to adopt the language of post-colonial independence. Equally, however, some substate nationalisms remain distinctively on the political right. Flemish nationalists, for example, have tended to occupy positions on the right within Belgian politics, and the Italian Liga Norde similarly represents a regionalist and right-wing populist form of nationalism.

In several cases the electoral fortunes of substate nationalist parties rests on their ability to harness class alliances and muster cross-class support. This is particularly so given that these parties’ efforts to mobilise support rests on appeals to substate national identities which may themselves be cross-class or even ‘classless’. Commenting on the case of the SNP, Paterson (2015) notes how a discourse of Scottish social democracy can disguise the presence of conflicting classes with different interests in Scotland. Alongside the party’s overt left-of-centre rhetoric of social justice and radical social and economic change we also find within the SNP, as the party of the Scottish government, an economic policy agenda which is committed to maintaining neoliberal capitalism (2015: 503).

Thus, what we find in the case of the SNP is a party which attempts to appeal to both labour and business interests (Keating 2014). In other substate nations we can observe quite different class-party alliances. In Catalonia, cross-class support for independence has been achieved through alliances between the two ‘separatist’ parties, the left-wing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and the centre-right Convergencia i Unio (Convergence and Union) (Keating 2014: 325).

 
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