Many on the Left in Scotland voted for independence from the United Kingdom in last year’s referendum; and many of those of the same persuasion in England supported that position. I didn’t, but fully understand why the Scots wanted away from Westminster control. I tend towards a more internationalist, even idealistic/impractical anarchist position – given their history, I am not a great fan of countries, especially when it comes to abstract notions such as pride, which often lead us into wars.
Nationalism tends to have two political faces united by a strong feeling of injustice. In developing countries throughout Africa and Asia, this injustice was real and came from a position of weakness and disenfranchisement. But the other nationalistic face, comes from a position of power, where they feel either under threat, or in the case of the Nazis, was deeply ideological and needed to be perpetuated throughout the world.
My fear for Scottish independence was that it would give rise to this second type of English nationalism, and the bull necked, shaven educated view that comes with it (as well as the possibility of a permanent Tory government in England). That doesn’t forego any discussion about England’s position in the world by the Left. Billy Bragg for example, has been doing this for years, and has even called for an English parliament. Poets have also been part of that conversation, as highlighted in a great review by Peter Riley, of Simon Smith’s Navy and Steve Ely’s Englaland.
It is most often individuals, who have influenced the history of a country; and sometimes ones who have not garnered great attention. Matt Duggan’s two poems, The Wake, concerning the almost mythological Hereward, and I, Agitator about Wat Tyler, nicely illustrate the lives of two men involved in different periods of English history. The Wake, takes the turbulent time of the 11th century during the Norman Conquest and resistance led by the likes of Hereward the Wake. “My country crippled under ember skies/land courted in blood and black bile,/the last king of England has died/a battle paced on my brethren isle.” As Matt explains, “I am drawn to characters from history that we rarely hear about these days, so, I wanted to write a longer piece about Hereward and how he became ‘The Wake’. Even today people know very little about his life, was he just a myth or was Hereward a real man bent on revenge, or maybe, just a story used to scare children?” And Matt takes a similar approach when portraying the life of the infamous Wat Tyler, who led the Peasant’s Revolt against the original Poll Tax of Richard II some three hundred years later. (more…)