After Brexit, nationalism has become the focus of many of the debates about the UK and the EU. Throughout the world, nationalism appears to be on the rise, and its potential to affect the political future of the world echoes some of history’s dark precedents.
Europe seems to show troubling statistics. Statista (May 2016) reported that, in the 2013 German federal election, 4.7% of voters supported the German nationalist party, Alternetive für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) and, in 2016, the state of Saxony-Anhalt in North-East Germany, voted for AfD in a regional election.
The pattern seems to extend to other European countries. In their most recent national elections, France’s nationalist party National Front gained 14% of popular votes, and Marine Le Pen won an unprecedented 33.9% of the vote in the presidential elections. This same trend towards nationalism also appears in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria, where right-wing ‘anti-establishment’ parties are increasing their vote share year on year.
In the UK, almost 52% of voters supported leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. The case for Brexit overwhelmingly relied on sensationalist and emotional arguments rather than political or economic concerns. Despite statistical forecasts projecting potential financial risks and uncertainties in the event of Brexit, the ‘Leave’ campaign successfully appealed to both conservative fears of immigration, and a nationalist desire to regain financial and legislative control from the EU. The referendum showed the ambiguous, but certainly indicative, growth of nationalist sentiment in the UK.
This growth extends roughly to the USA. Only recently, nationalism and American conservatism gained a victory in world history with the election of President Donald Trump. Statistics show 306
Electoral votes for the Republican party, 232 votes for the Democratic party. Sixty percent of states had a majority of Republican electoral college votes (Politico, December 2016). Unlike Europe, the US understands nationalism and conservatism as separate socio-economic ideologies. Regardless, a significant portion of Republican voters, especially pro-Trump voters, were nationalists. With the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, these groups can only grow in power.
However, some may argue that Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, whereas Trump won through a Gerrymandered voting system. An online poll in January 2016, suggests 18% of people were still undecided on whether the UK should leave the EU (with remain and leave votes tied at 41%). In the end, a 1.9% margin determined the result. Nationalism seems to be on the rise but lacks momentum. The UK, the USA, and Europe seem to combat conservatism and nationalism with bouts of anti-racism and pro-democrat marches.
Furthermore, recent news regarding the Scottish independence could argue that nationalism can co-exist with other motives. 55% of Scottish voters elected to remain a part of the UK in 2014, but recent figures show a potential rise after Brexit. The majority of Scottish people wanted to stay in the EU. Thus, Scotland’s proposed breakaway from the UK remains largely an economically motivated decision rather than a nationalist one. Theresa May’s recent decision to block Scotland’s referendum may further alienate Scotland from the UK.
Nationalism is on the rise, but its future is unclear. Across the globe, countermovements are mobilising, but whether they achieve a successful balance between conservative and liberal values remains to be seen.