What’s the difference between Nationalism and Tribalism? What did the last election reveal about the regional differences in the UK.
A tribe is merely a group of people who have developed a collective identity, usually by virtue of common culture, in-group marriage, and cohabitation in a defined area. Classic tribes are generally parochial. They don’t know much about the external world, they have strong prejudices in favour of their group (and sometimes, though not necessarily, prejudices against other groups), and they often resist cultural change.
An example of parochial tribalism is Wales, where the current Welsh Government sees its future in terms of Wales and the Welsh, it takes no discernible view of the wider world and the role of Wales in that context. Indeed there is a strong prejudice in favour of their own tribe, it is defensive in nature and against other groups particularly the English who are seen as the colonial power. Hence the strong moves in favour of their own language and indifference to opening up the country by road or rail links. They are reinforcing the tribal difference. This parochial tribalism is reinforced by what is believed to be poverty imposed by the colonial power. The loss of industry seen as a personal slight, nothing to do with value in the outside competitive world. I.e. Mrs Thatcher deindustrialised Wales as an act of colonial angst. Certainly Westminster’s woeful response to facilitate change did not help. The Welsh certainly have a point and the tribe will hang on to it.
Perhaps on the back of this traumatic period, 20 years ago 14.6% of the electorate were persuaded to vote for devolution, and thus was born out of collective electoral apathy the most parochial government ever seen.
In the Eastern Valleys of Wales the most populous sub-tribe have little cultural affinity with the West or North, they vote almost exclusively on the grounds of deprivation, the sudden and traumatic change in world economic affairs of the mid and late 20th century. The market and competition crept unseen into the likes of the Rhondda valleys, now many generations of underprivileged and poorly educated unemployed are mired in a parochial tribe that looks no further than the welfare state, and the enemy for ever the Tories of Shire England.
In the North where Airbus is a very big (New age technology) employer, where the English border is close at hand and open for business, where Liverpool and Cheshire are good neighbours, enough of dependence, a change is afoot. A key thing in this formerly socialist area is its less emphasis on cultural affinity, here we have Liverpool soccer supporters and not a blind allegiance to the Welsh warriors of the National Stadium in Cardiff. This is where the socialist agenda has been, at least temporarily, abandoned.
Nationalism is a free-floating ideological version of tribalism.
All that being said, the pragmatic elements of culture, breeding, and cohabitation are not universally necessary. Collective identities can form, based entirely on mental qualities: ideas or ideals that one takes to heart and identifies with. When these mental qualities transcend the classic tribal parochialism, we have Nationalism.
Scotland qualifies as a Nationalist state. Interestingly, they see their future not as part of the UK (where it is large and influential) but as part of Europe (tiny member with little influence) even if this means breaking free from the Union. The Scots too, have a rump of belief that the English were uncaring and vanquishing colonisers. The difference between the Scots and the Welsh is that the scots are wealthier, largely due to North Sea oil. The wealth has given them confidence. They are looking to the wider world and see the EU as the best route, and part of their belief is conditioned by their collective view that the English are uncaring about Scottish Nation.
There sub groups even among the nationalists. There are unionists and independents. There seems a push for the independence predominantly in the metropolitan areas where the Labour Party is out of touch and London-centric.
In Northern Ireland, the two tribes have long been clearly defined, Catholic and nationalist, versus Protestant and Unionist. The exit of the UK from the EU has muddied the waters sorely, so confusion rains. Stormont remains shut but the problems of the EU exit may well turn out to be the catalyst for Irish unity. Maybe a resolution to their tribal enmity is afoot!
Lastly the English who make up 85% of the wealth and population of the United Kingdom. They have several tribes defined this time by what we call ‘the class system’
The Labour Party has long been the standard bearer for the ‘working class’. The snag, at least for the labour Party, is that the working class does not really exist, at least in its traditional form of workers oppressed by the capitalist class. Sure, there are many who claim working class roots, but the vast majority are aspirational and feel that they need a chance to break the chains of history and move toward the more classless society where a man/woman is judged not on his roots but on his achievements. The Labour party made a huge mistake in appealing to yesterday’s working class, they have moved on.
The new UK Government under Boris ‘The Buffoon’ Johnson, may not be so buffoonish after all. This election and the simple idea of Britain leaving Europe and starting ‘again’ tearing up the old tribal differences, maybe the way to go for change and prosperity. The rebirth of British nationalism, by creating unity in these islands, and perhaps change our place in the world. It is yet to be resolved if those smaller nationalist and tribal groups will look to join the march for change. I fancy the Scots will not go on to independence, the Welsh will remain in their introverted misery and Ireland will go to who knows where!
In short, Tribalism is inward looking, Nationalism more confident, Unity is another thing altogether.