With two major referendums in the space of two years, Britain is a country torn between breaking off old ties or preserving existing bonds
Going abroad, many people refer to their country of origin as their ‘home’ nation. A notion is like a home, it is a centre which can unite a group of people and it is a space where we live. We are required to follow rules within the home and in return, the home offers us support. Homes can be run in different ways, with leaders and followers and the weak and the powerful in the balance.
In Great Britain, there are three homes, England, Scotland, and Wales. The people within these homes share a special relationship, their doors are open to one another and they stand together on the world stage. However, as with all homes, they each have slight differences. They have some different laws and cultural variations, including language, traditions and histories.
The union of the three homes is often considered to be beneficial to all, but recently there has been a tendency for the people of the houses to turn away from one another. There has not yet been a locking of doors and total isolationism is highly unlikely. However, there is certainly a tendency to look inwards.
This turning inwards can be seen in the surge of nationalism that has been experienced. Each nation has its own nationalist party and some of these parties have been growing in strength. In Scotland, the current Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is a member of the SNP. In Wales, the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, gained more seats in the 2010 and 2015 elections than in 2005.
Nationalism leads to isolationism, thus, it is accurate to describe it as a turning inwards. These two concepts, although distinct, cannot be considered as completely separate. After all, they go hand in hand. Any fervent nationalism will encourage isolationism. A nationalist believes that their nation can stand firm on its own, that it does not want to be dependent on others and that it wants to be separated from outside influences. Thus, the rise of nationalism, though it unites people within a country, divides them from other nations and pulls them apart, severing any previous links.
An event that highlighted the increased isolationist desires was the Scottish Referendum. Although the Scottish vote called for Scotland to remain a part of Britain, the fact that the issue was put to question is significant. There was clearly a desire by many people for a more isolationist policy. Moreover, this is exemplified by the fact that the win was not easy, there was a strong ‘yes’ campaign. From this it could be assumed that there are still some Scots that resent the continuance of the union.
However, it is not just the nations turning inwards from one another that can be seen in Britain, as Britain also appears to be turning away from the EU. This is highlighted by the fact that there is another referendum that will be put to the public in a few weeks, the EU Referendum, which will decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union. The Brexit campaign is an obvious example of the spirit of isolationism impacting Britain.
Therefore, it is evident that isolationism is rising and having a substantial influence on both internal affairs and international relations for Britain. Where this will lead is uncertain. The result of the Scottish Referendum means that Great Britain will remain united politically, recognising the unity of the central state. However, the separate parliaments maintain their recognition and the separate nations may have stronger feelings of nationalism and patriotism dividing them than before. The relationship of Britain with the EU is still uncertain, this will become clearer following the referendum but until then, it is impossible to say whether isolationism will or will not ensue.
However, a pressing concern is not only the future of this isolationist desire, but its origins. The reasons for this increase in nationalism are not obvious. Often, it is considered that discontent with the outside world and an affirmation of the superiority of one’s own nation are reasons for an increase in nationalism. However, fortunately, there has not been a prevalent discourse on ethnic, cultural or racial superiority. In modern Britain, that is unlikely to happen, due to the encouragement of egalitarianism in the West. Therefore, perhaps a discontent with the outside world is the cause.
This seems a more reasonable explanation. In both referendums, the arguments supporting isolationism have been ones suggesting injustice of the system, with nationalists implying that they give more to the union than they receive. They argue that one’s own nation would be stronger alone, without adding that the other nation is inferior. This nationalism is not overwhelming and vicious, so for now at least, Britain’s isolationist mood doesn’t appear to be poisonous.