Why rise of English nationalism matters to Scots
KENT is as far away from Scotland culturally and geographically as it is possible to get in the UK. Yet what happens there has massive ramifications here. As someone with a Scottish background but who was brought up in Kent, there is a disconnect between the Leavers of the garden of England and the more generally pro-Europe Scots.
In Kent, 59 per cent opted to leave the EU in June. It seems apt, given Brexit was promoted as a protest against the rich, that the only Remainvoting local authority in the county was Tunbridge Wells; a town whose food bank offers a home delivery service because claimants are allegedly too embarrassed to queue in the town’s famously affluent streets.
There were many reasons for the Brexit vote but the tanks rolled towards Westminster across Kentish lawns because what are often abstract conversations about immigration in much of Scotland are real-life, everyday issues, for residents.
In the context of the debate, Kent was different to the rest of Britain. Ukip gathers unique traction in what is its spiritual home. Nigel Farage was born there, proudly posing as “Nigel from Kent” when gate-crashing a Labour leadership debate in 2015. Two of his election campaigns were for South Thanet’s parliamentary seat with another in the Bromley and Chislehurst constituency.
The party briefly held the seat for Rochester and Strood, and won control of Thanet Council in 2015, its first in the UK. Today, Kent County Council has more Ukip councillors than Labour ones.
In a broader sense, English nationalism has deep roots in Kent. Not only does Ukip enjoy a strong voice, but also the headquarters of the far-right group Britain First’s HQ are there. Residents are sandwiched between London and France, noses pressed against European glass, and feel as if they’re on the front line of the debate.
In 2015, Operation Stack (closing large portions of the London-Dover M20 motorway to allow lorries to queue to cross the English Channel when travel by ferry and the Eurotunnel is disrupted) was implemented because of migrant action in Calais.
The operation put enormous strain on local roads with knock-on effects for businesses. There are regular accounts of migrants being rescued off the Kent coast after ill-fated attempts to cross the Channel under their own steam, or migrants emerging from the back of lorries and hot-footing it down the motorway.
These are the coasts and roads that locals use every day. Even as a staunch Remainer, it’s hard for me to deny that this first-hand experience of the migrant crisis combined with Mr Farage and Ukip’s drum-beating make Kent a hot spot for pro-Brexit feeling.
That’s before you discuss the impact of EU fishing quotas on a county with more than 200 miles of coastline, or wading into the debates around the NHS, parliamentary sovereignty, or the single market. One thing is certain, though: the voice of Kent’s 1.5 million people will be heard far more clearly in Westminster than that of Scotland’s 5.3 million.
‘‘ Anglo-nationalism has set deep roots in Kent. Today, Kent County Council has more Ukip councillors than Labour ones