This week, Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte has sought to retain his job by mimicking the fascist PVV. In that country these days it’s an orthodox, indeed popular, part of electioneering to call not just for immigration to be reduced, but for actual Dutch citizens to be ‘sent home’ on account of their ethnicity. Conservative Rutte used the enthusiastic pre-Turkish referendum flag-waving amongst the Turkish diaspora to ‘crack down’ on, well, Turks – even where they’re actually Dutch. The message? ‘You wan’t anti-immigrant rhetoric as a proxy for outright racism? Sure, we Conservatives can give you that, so no need to actually vote fascist’. It seems to be working for Rutte, too, with victory at today’s election likely due not to the decline of nasty right-wing thinking, but the ability of conservative parties to capture and reflect it.
The German government supported the Dutch one in its fairly naked racism. Why? Because AfD and the coming elections, obviously. And here’s Austria’s extreme right wing FPO wells out in front. Like choosing your ice cream at Nardini’s, the big question for Austrians seems to be ‘what flavour of Nazi is it you want?’
In France, the fascists remain the most popular party and continue to shape political debate there. And so on it goes. In each country, there’s a true nasty party, and a would-be nasty party which wants its votes. The language of the former is however much outright racism they can get away with. For the latter, it’s the language of immigration.
In England, Labour feels vulnerable to UKIP although in truth it’s the way the Tories use immigration which scares Labour most in the north and across middle-England. So Labour’s been trying to combine it’s liberal instincts with at least a stab at getting a bit of that ‘anti-immigration’ vote. Result? Incoherence.
In Scotland, though, it’s different. No-one says it’s perfect by any stretch, but using immigration as a cheeky proxy for something much worse doesn’t give politicians the same purchase. That’s likely a relief to Scottish politicians of all parties. But it won’t be Scottish politicians who are calling the shots in the unionist campaign. That’s why there’s a great risk that unionism will be tempted to wave the anti-immigration flag. It doesn’t need to wave it too high, mind. Just a bit higher than independence supporters, and since in Scotland paradoxically nationalists don’t wave the anti-immigration flag at all, (which England’s unionist commentariat affects not to notice) the unionists won’t need to put theirs all that high.
But watch for it. Across Europe, immigration is a nasty proxy. There are people and parties of the centre-left combatting it and with a fair wind they’ll defeat it too. Look at Macron in France, for example.
If anyone starts using immigration in the long independence referendum campaign, we have to call it out for what it really is…