To reform the UK state we need a democratic green alliance - a response to Gerry Hassan

Philip Hosking argues that Gerry Hassan doesn't go far enough in attacking Labour for their failure to understand the reality of a devolved UK. He proposes the formation of a plural democratic green alliance in the UK, as exists in different forms in France and in the European Parliament.
Philip Hosking
18 January 2011

In The problem with the British state Gerry Hassan once again berates Labour for their failure to understand the reality of a devolved UK. Labour wish only to pay lip service to the distinct political cultures growing in the devolved nations and completely ignore the English question: 

"Britain is not and never has been a ‘unitary state’. That is to say, it is not one thing. It is a ‘union state’ meaning, while it is not federal, nor is it singular and it must not be assumed that it is. Everything about our politics – Westminster, parliamentary sovereignty – is different from this perspective."

I would question his conviction that the Welsh and Scottish Labour parties have any kind of independent life of their own. They are both parts of the much larger establishment dinosaur that is the UK state-nationalist Labour party. No comparison is possible for example between the different parts of British Labour and the separate entities that are the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party for England and Wales. To one day have both autonomous Labour and Green parties for Kernow – we live in hope.

Labour seems set on overlooking multi-nation UK and continuing as if it existed in an homogenised unitary state, therefore Gerry Hassan's insistence on addressing the English question (and giving a real autonomous life to the UK's Labour parties?) is admirable. That he wants the dog-eared Labour game plan based on centralised-UK rejected in favour of a vision that accepts devolved-UK is clearly a step in the right direction. If only he'd take one little step further though.

Hassan does not look beyond the establishment’s rubber-stamped version of who the 'home-nations' are. He rightly criticises Labour’s refusal to play in a devolved UK only to duck fully addressing the national questions himself. If we need a new, plural and decentralised left – as Hassan argues and with which I agree – then how about a new, plural and decentralised view of who the peoples of these Atlantic isles are? Let’s ditch the establishment’s broken record altogether and sound out the public instead. The centre confirms the existence of four nations inside the UK plus the protectorates and dependencies outside. However if we ask the people about their national identity, and if we delve a little into constitution, a different picture is obtained. Cornwall rises into view and the lie that the Six Counties are a home nation is given. 

Can we expect an empowering bottom-up approach from Labour that respects the identities of the UK's citizens? – a grassroots take on politics that completely turns Labour's current modus operandi on its head? Can we even expect Hassan's more conservative recommendations to be taken into serious consideration?  I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking, fat chance! Labour is so hooked on the power of the Anglo-British centre that it will need an external force to change it.

Already sounded out on Bella Caledonia and Another Green World – what scope is there for unity and collaboration between greens, nationalists, democrats and regionalists to produce such a force?

The French Republic is quite different from the United Kingdom – a quite different electoral system for a start – but perhaps some ideas can cross the Channel. 

To stand in the last European elections, les VertsRégions et Peuples Solidaires (a federation of autonomists) and personalities from various other associations and parties came together to form a remarkable coalition called Europe Écologie. The project met with great success including an electoral score rivaling that of the Parti Socialiste (the principle party on the left) and 14 MEPs’, including one Corsican nationalist. In the 2010 French regional elections Europe Écologie received 12.19% of the national vote – 2,373,922 votes – in the first round. The coalition came third behind the two main French parties- PS and UMP. Next stop the French presidential in 2012. 

Could such a coalition happen in the UK? Perhaps the electorate is more than ready for a progressive ecological and democratic alliance to change the game and offer something different to Lib-Lab-Con. Already in the European Parliament, the Greens and the European Free Alliance (progressive nationalists and autonomists) have a successful partnership. It’s been replicated at state level in France – Europe Écologie – why not in the UK?

So the question is: could the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Mebyon Kernow and the UK's various Green parties work together inside a UK Ecology? Who would represent Northern Ireland? Perhaps English regionalists and progressive English nationalists could be persuaded to join – campaigning together to ensure that the people of England get to decide the response to the English question. As with Europe Écologie, all other democrats, ecologists and progressives tired of no choice at election time would find a place. 

In a way, the Greens have not been able to do it alone: do we need another force on the left exerting a reforming influence over Labour, wrenching them away from UK state-nationalism and obliging them to search for a new radicalism? Perhaps this is just woolly wishful thinking; so much would be demanded of the different partners in the coalition; but how else can the Lib-Lab-Con hegemony be seriously challenged? Campaigning under one flag for solidarity, ecology and a top-to-toe reform of our creaking democracy – surely the time has come for a broad and plural democratic green alliance.

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