Sunday, 22 April 2012

All Countries are different

One of the attractive things about French Elections is that, thanks to the much derided Scottish Education system, you can follow them a bit.

Unfortunately, that educational advantage does not seem to extend to the journalists charged by the BBC to cover the event who in turn missed the three key things in the speeches, covered live, of the four major candidates: that Melenchon encouraged his supporters to vote for Hollande unconditionally and without any policy concessions in their favour; that Le Pen showed no interest in bestowing her endorsement on either remaining candidate; and that Sarkozy suddenly suggested that there should be three, rather than one, Presidential debates, even proposing the subjects. Suffice to say this last development was unlikely to have been the initiative of someone who believed they had anything other than ground to make up.

Our candidate, with one exception, constrained himself to "Get out the Vote" copperplate, although that exception, an avowed repudiation of the politics of the extreme right was to his significant credit. He may not be as clear as some of us would like about what he supports but there is no doubt what he opposes. On reflection, that was perhaps why Melenchon did not set conditions.

Yet, while there was a glow of common solidarity in Hollande's disavowal of the politics of racial identity, in many ways what was really telling was the extent to which the politics, indeed the wider national culture of France, is different from the politics of both of the Countries in which I live.

The after poll rallies of each of the four major candidates were bedecked in the Tricolour, not just on the platform but spontaneously among the activists. Further, each, as far as I could tell, ended in the singing of the Marseillaise.

Association with "the Flag" is however something that would make any mainstream political party a little uneasy in a British context and, just judging on my own visual impression, is even something, in the context of the Saltire, the SNP are increasingly aware loses more votes than it gains. And the suggestion that it would, as a vote winner, or even a necessary obeisance, be appropriate for any British Party, even the Tories, to raucously sing the National Anthem at the conclusion of an entirely political event, would provoke a slight feeling of disbelief.

Again, while the SNP are undoubtedly a Party immersed in traditional music, indeed at one time that was advanced as evidence that they were not entirely serious, they are inclined, today, to keep the mass choral renditions of "Flower of Scotland" and "Scots wha Hae" well away from the cameras. It's just not a very "British" thing to do.

Now I have always been a huge enthusiast for the European project (another word that does not easily translate from French to English). Rather lachrymose person that I am, I am seldom moved by physical geography but some years ago we holidayed in South West France. Convenience of travel involved a flight from Prestwick to Barcelona's Reus Airport and a drive "up". As you drove on the elevated motorway across a border that was now no more marked than the border between Scotland and England you were given a view over the massed, now redundant, railway marshalling yards and customs posts on both sides. I make no apology for saying that this moved me as a symbol of progressive achievement.

So I don't have any time for those who would seek to create or re-create boundaries that have been happily swept away by the tide of history.

But if three hundred years have failed to create a unanimity of perception of the world, domestically and internationally, between England and Scotland, then it is surely dangerous to try and draw many conclusions for our domestic politics, Scottish or British, from the current elections in France.

Except these.

Elections have to be fought and won in the Countries in which they are fought. There is little, if any, evidence that the extracted endorsement of Angela Merkel, won Sarkozy any votes. But, equally, no matter what one thinks of the FN, it beggars belief that 20% of the French population are racists; rather many simply looked for the candidate who they most believed would best stand up for French identity. And that has a powerful appeal in any country.

Scottish Labour still however still shies away from a much nearer example than France.

Post devolution, far from assisting the cause of Nationalism, Welsh Labour has gone from strength to strength. But we (they?) have done so by assuring their electorate that, first and foremost, Welsh Labour will stand up for Wales, on the merits alone of that commitment, and not simply to keep Wales in play as a pawn in a wider game.

Now Labour here in Scotland is currently fighting a local government campaign premised on the proposition that our candidates will, first and foremost, fight for their local communities while attacking the SNP for only really being interested in a wider agenda. Why then do we remain reluctant to apply a similar logic to the Scottish Parliamentary elections?

That's the end of my blog but, vis a vis the BBC coverage I must just say one more thing. There was not a single person viewing who required Sarkozy's final appeal to be translated into: "Long live the Republic! Long live France!" If we didn't understand that little, at least, of what he was saying then we wouldn't have been watching in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. I'd have preferred Sarko to finish up by giving the camera the finger and screaming "Cassez-vous, pov cons!" at it. That would be the way to lose memorably. But there's still time. And being as how France invented fascism, why the popularity of Mme Le Pen should be a surprise is a bit of a mystery.

    "Vive la France quand même!"