Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Caught in four minds

Last week someone mistook me for a Lib Dem, which, in my head, is the biggest political insult anyone can pay me.  I acted offended - and I was, to a degree - but then I started thinking about why they'd thought that.  And then they challenged me:  if you're not a Lib Dem, what are you?  Simple I thought.

I'm a liberal, conservative, environmental nationalist.

Erm... right.  Which is, I guess, where the confusion arises.  Anyone with such a varied notion of politics ultimately belongs in the Lib Dems.  They are the party with wide enough principles (read: wishy-washy) to encompass the lot, right?  Well, my politics are such that I wouldn't fit in Nick Clegg's merry band.  And I guess my political beliefs are why I'm struggling to find a candidate to vote for in the next election (and, ironically, was leaning towards the one party not really represented below!).  But that was another post.  Let me explain.

I'm a liberal.  I'm with John Stuart Mill on his 'Harm Principle', the primacy (and positive view) of the individual, freedom with responsibility, people as rational actors and toleration of things that you might not approve of (assuming they comply with the 'Harm Principle').  And with Hobbes & Locke on the need for a state, I'm a social contractist, providing legitimacy for the state from below - but not as far as their "strong government" model.  I also part company with social liberals on the extension of welfare state beyond what is required, preferring the laissez-faire market politics of Adam Smith to intervening hand of John Maynard Keynes.

I'm a (small c) conservative.  I think tradition is important, and Edmund Burke's society comprising "those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born" rings true - it is intergenerational justice (and, I guess, environmentalism) and the idea of society as an organic thing.  While my view of the individual veers towards the positive liberal view, I think there is merit in the conservative view of people as security-seeking, seeing comfort in what we know.  And in fiscal matters, the virtue of investing and cautious money-management has a certain draw.

I'm an environmentalist.  I'm sold on climate change being an issue which will should dominate international politics for the next few years.  I also don't think it is too difficult to make a difference - a bit of recycling here, the use of public transport there, cutting the number of flights taken and we're well on the way to reducing emissions.  If only it were that easy.

I'm a nationalist.  I have an attachment to my wider community but also recognise that subsidiarity is a concept which is required for political institutions to function well.  I think that, in the liberal tradition, the positive view of people leads directly to the notion of self-determination, of control over your own future.  Not in a racial sense - I don't think there is any rational way of arguing that one nation is "better" than another - but again, from the liberal social contract, the political allegiance that arises from that fosters in me a civic view of the nation.  It stems from a patriotism which has developed in me over my lifetime.

So there you go.  A clearer picture of my politics.  And I wonder why people are confused about me!  I guess there is something to clear up, and that is what takes priority in this rag-tag of political ideology.  And I don't know how to answer that - I guess it depends on the context of the debate.  It's why when someone asks, I never say directly what my political affiliation is.  Some view me as a "die-hard nationalist" while others see me getting "gradually Greener".  Others (and I can't find the link right now) cast be out as a conservative during my US election coverage.  So there - maybe I'm just confused.  Or maybe no one adequately represents me.

Either way - let me make one thing clear - I'm not a Lib Dem!


eric 17 February 2010 at 08:24  

Enjoyed your wee blog there. Not much for me to disagree with, actually. The subsidiarity's the thing, though, as far as I can see. That assumes the existence of something larger for decisions in a wider common interest and that's where Scottish nationalism puzzles me. Why reject the UK? If the answer is the EU, then why is that?

Jeff 17 February 2010 at 08:39  

Great Blog! I'm sure many people (me included) have the same 'cross party' views. I think times have changed when you were an exclusive policy supporter of any party. I'm sure there's plenty who still are, and at the end of the day you can only vote for one party, not individual policies. Its all bollotics to me mate!

Malc 17 February 2010 at 08:39  


Thanks for the question. I guess it does raise that issue. I assume other Scottish Nationalists are rather more slavish about this than me, but I'd suggest that "a wider common interest" has not benefited Scotland overly in the past x years as part of the UK.

The point for me, isn't really about subsidiarity up rather down - I think that decisions should be taken closest to the people. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the EU, and I'd rather more decisions were taken on a national (that is, Scottish) level and lower (if our local authorities were a little better at what they do!).

The rejection of the UK stems from many other reasons that I don't think subsidiarity is part of it - even if it is cited from time to time.

Malc 17 February 2010 at 08:42  


Indeed. The trick is trying to work out which of your political views comes through as a priority and choose a party based upon that. It's why parties put so much stock in polling questions like "which of the following issues are you particularly concerned about - economy, crime, education etc" and then tailor their message accordingly.

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble working out which of my political consciences has primacy.

Lallands Peat Worrier 17 February 2010 at 09:27  

I suggested a while back that the way blogs often begin and end in medias res can be rather problematic. If locating labels are eschewed - it is perhaps unsurprising, faced with fractured opinion, the selective emphasis of particular posts and readers' selective reading that a lack of clarity about political orientations are the consequence.

On one level, this is a cautionary essay on those very labels which are comforting to exchange, but conceal a multitude of conceptual sins (and political virtues) when one's opinions deviate from a fictionally simplistic, central and unambivalent party canon.

I think there are positive dimensions to fostering that contingency and upholding the individual blogger's individual response to political issues, despite affiliations (unless you are Yousuf, in which case, you probably haven't been granted an individual response by John Smith House). That said, in terms of being understood, it helps to have some anticipatory presentiment about the sorts of premises a writer is operating with. Without that awareness, it is all too easy to read one thing for 'justice', based on your own conception - and miss your radical deviation with the author, who bases his or her work on an alternative (or even incompatible) conception.

subrosa 18 February 2010 at 03:14  

I hold my hand up and confess I called Malc a libdem but I did apologise!

Now having read his excellent post he's no more a libdem than I am a member of the SNP, that's clear.

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