What is the difference between Nationalism and Tribalism? What did the last election reveal about the regional differences in the ‘United Kingdom’.
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.
A fine example of parochial tribalism is Wales, especially South Wales, the current Welsh government that 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 and against other groups particularly the English who are seen still 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 consequent woeful response to facilitate change, reinforced that view.
Perhaps on the back of this traumatic period 14.6% of the electorate were persuaded to vote for devolution, and thus was born the most parochial Government; The Welsh Assembly. It should have been a driver of the Welsh region, an encourager of growth and innovation. Alas, it has turned out a talking shop for petty tribal issues, attitudes have become more inward looking, and less enterprising.
In the Eastern Valleys of Wales the most populous sub-tribe have little cultural affinity with the West or North, they vote almost exclusively for socialism still smarting from 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, with little opportunity and that has little choice other than to depend on the welfare state, and the enemy for ever of the Tories and Shire England.
In the North where Airbus is the biggest employer, where the English border is close at hand and open for business, where Liverpool and Cheshire are good neighbours, enough of welfare dependence, a change is afoot. A key thing in this formerly socialist area is its less cultural affinity with the Welsh culture, here we have Liverpool soccer and not a blind allegiance to the Welsh warriors of the National Stadium in Cardiff. So here the socialist agenda has been at least temporarily been diluted, perhaps 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 take on the classic tribal parochialism, we have Nationalism.
I think Scotland qualifies as a Nationalist state. Interestingly, they see their future not as part of the UK (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 the national tribal group.
Both Scotland and Wales have humungous fiscal deficits to England in the UK order, nationalism and parochialism never ever consider that. Universally they want their cake and want to eat it too. If Nationalism is a sort of confident tribalism, then the fading importance of oil should be a severe warning of things to come for an independent Scotland.
Wales on the other hand is mired in an inward parochialism, a Government content to moan about Westminster, begging bowl in hand. A government content to close its borders, to keep the English at bay, to progress and promote its culture as an end in itself. Wales sees itself as a country exploited during the industrial revolution, and now cast aside as unimportant to Westminster. Left to perish with the slag heaps of the valleys and the dead mines of old. It is this history that still drive a naturally liberal people into the arms of the defensive inward-looking nanny state.
The plague of corona virus has in some ways levelled the playing field, at the same time allowing the devolved Governments to flex their muscles. Sadly, the UK is poorly and indecisively led which only wins points for the independence movement in Scotland and the begging bowl moaners of Cardiff.
Nature has shown us very clearly that her plagues are no match for Governments or petty politicians. We can excuse their chaotic responses, who could do better? Surely, it’s time to put away these petty tribal quarrels and pull together for the greater good.