Meet Europe’s left nationalists

Scotland’s parliament has overwhelmingly rejected the UK government’s plan to leave the European Union, with four of its five political parties voting against starting the Brexit process.
In what first minister Nicola Sturgeon called “one of the most significant votes in the history of the Scottish parliament”, the vast majority of MSPs from all parties but the Scottish Conservatives voted against the triggering of Article 50. Tuesday afternoon’s debate saw 90 MSPs vote against triggering Article 50 to 34 in favour. The vote will not stop the UK government from activating Article 50 – which will begin the two-year process of leaving the EU – but the Scottish government’s Brexit minister, Mike Russell, said it will act as a “key test” of whether Scotland is being listened to by Theresa May. Sturgeon has repeatedly threatened to call another referendum on Scottish independence if the UK government doesn’t compromise with Scottish government on Brexit with its plan to remain a member of the European single market. Opening Tuesday’s debate for the Scottish government, Russell said: “The clock is ticking as the time to trigger Article 50 approaches.” Russell went on: “There is still time for the UK government to recognise democracy on these islands, the existence and importance of the devolved settlement, the actual votes of this parliament, and the clear voice of the people of this country.” “But, presiding officer, that time is running out. Consequently, voting today to reject the triggering of Article 50 is a good way, in fact it is now the only way, to remind the prime minister of that fact.” Sixty-two percent of voters in Scotland chose Remain in the EU referendum last June, and 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs in Westminster rejected the UK government’s bill to trigger Article 50 in a House of Commons vote last week. The supreme court ruled in January that the Scottish parliament does not have a veto against the triggering of Article 50, but the SNP – backed by Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens, and the Scottish Lib Dems – rejected it in the hope of influencing the UK government’s position. Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, ordered her MSPs to vote against the triggering of Article 50, which puts her directly at odds with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who told his MPs to vote in favour. However, three Scottish Labour MSPs defied Dugdale and voted in favour on Tuesday afternoon in Holyrood. During the debate, Dugdale said: “Brexit and independence are two sides of the same coin. I believe in working together, in solidarity with our friends and neighbours. I believe that we can achieve more together than we ever could apart. I believe in pooling and sharing resources. “Whether that’s with the EU to tackle climate change, the refugee crisis or international terrorism. Or whether that’s with the rest of the UK to fund our public services, pay pensions or to grow our economy.” The only party to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 was the Scottish Conservatives, and its spokesperson for external affairs, Jackson Carlaw, said the Scottish government was trying to “manufacture a grievance out of nothing”. “We are at a critical point – Article 50 is going to be triggered,” said Carlaw. “I think [Labour MSP] Pauline McNeil in a contribution in an earlier debate said she may not agree with everything the Conservative party are going to do, but it’s now important to influence the actual debate taking place. “That has got to be the challenge for the Scottish government. Not standing there shouting, full of grievance, full of pain, full of false arguments in favour of independence. It’s time for them to stand up and influence the outcome for Scotland and if they won’t it’s up to others to do that for them.”

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In May 2016, at a conference for Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party, Torten für Menschenfeinde (“Pies for Misanthropes”) struck again. Sneaking up the side of the conference hall, a member of the anti-fascist organization threw a piece of cake at Sahra Wagenknecht, a prominent Die Linke member in the Bundestag. It was a direct hit: Wagenknecht’s face was covered in chocolate frosting, a streak of whipped cream extending from ear to ear.

Torten für Menschenfeinde targeted Wagenknecht for her vocal position against an open-border policy for Germany. Earlier that year, she challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept more than 1 million refugees, arguing that Germany should impose limits on entry and deport those who abused German “hospitality.” The cake attack—which followed a cream-pie offensive against a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany—isolated Wagenknecht in her party, which had otherwise pledged support for Merkel’s policy.

Nearly three years later, however, Wagenknecht and her views on migration have gone mainstream, in Germany and across Europe. In September 2018, Wagenknecht and her husband, Oskar Lafontaine, founded Aufstehen (“Rise Up”), a political movement combining left-wing economic policy with exclusionary social protections. The movement has garnered over 170,000 members since its official launch; according to a recent poll, more than a third of German voters “could see themselves” supporting Wagenknecht’s initiative.

“I am tired of surrendering the streets to the [anti-Islam movement] Pegida and the Alternative for Germany,” Wagenknecht said at the launch event. Onstage, she was joined by allies in Germany’s Green Party and the Social Democratic Party. “As many followers of the political left as possible should join,” several Social Democratic politicians wrote in a joint statement.

By founding Aufstehen, Wagenknecht became a member of the new vanguard of left politics in Europe. In France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon leads La France Insoumise, a left-populist movement that has been critical of mass migration. “I’ve never been in favor of freedom of arrival,” Mélenchon has said, claiming that migrants “are stealing the bread” of French workers. He is now the most popular politician on the French left, widely considered the face of the opposition to President Emmanuel Macron and a champion of the Yellow Vest movement.

In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn leads the Labour Party and offers a radical vision of socialist transformation. And yet, although he was a vocal advocate for migrant rights during his tenure at Westminster, Corbyn has expressed deep skepticism about open borders as the party’s leader. “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle,” Corbyn said, committing Labour to a policy of “reasonable management” based on “our economic needs.”

The rise of these left-nationalist leaders marks a momentous turn against free movement in Europe, where it has long been accepted as a basic right of citizenship.

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By David Adler, The Nation

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