Scottish Nationalists recoil from militant Quebec parallel

Quebec has become stuck with a nationalism that has no positive vision for society. Responses to EU supra-nationalism would do well to avoid falling into a similar trap

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The SNP has been remarkably muted in response to PQ's victory
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Tom Gallagher
On 7 September 2012 09:08

The growth of a Muslim population seemed to be acceptable if it replenished French-speaking numbers in Quebec. But Quebec began to experience some of the tensions which have flared up in West European countries where a liberal secular society co-exists uneasily with the pious, male-dominated and rural values of some of the newcomers.

In this election, the PQ opportunistically tried to disassociate itself from its own poorly worked-out immigration policy. In one campaign add, Pauline Marois declared: “Let us not yield to the intimidation of those who want to impose values that are not ours.” In a so-called charter of secularism, she proposes to ban the display of all religious dress or symbols (except the crucifix) by anyone who works for the government.

This is surely a warning of the harm that can be done by a populist party that has no coherent vision for uniting the population of Quebec (who include an “aboriginal” population in mineral rich areas in the far-North).

In Quebec language has become a divisive issue. The PQ has turned its attention away from disappearing English speakers, to immigrants, the majority of whom are not Muslims. They are known as allophones—those whose first language is neither French nor English. The majority have chosen French over English in recent years for practical economic reasons mainly. But Marois and her party refuse to acknowledge these linguistic strides and point to them as an anomaly.

In fact, the PQ now prefers to promote a two-tier citizenship model. Under it, civil and political rights will be distributed according to a person’s grasp of the French language.

The PQ won on September 4th with 31.9  percent of the vote. But it was only narrowly ahead of the Liberals and faced a strong challenge from a rival party, the Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) with 27 percent. It downplays separatism and insists that the time is overdue for Quebec to find solutions for economic and social problems that don’t involve further expansion of the state.

Rene Levesque’s dream is unlikely to be realised under a cultivator of ethnic discontents like Pauline Marois. The French majority are not going to flourish in their own language under the rule of a party manufacturing ethnic tensions and transferring the fanning of resentment against Anglophone Canadians to minorities irrespective of their religion or lack of it.

Unsurprisingly, the PQ is looking to see if de facto self-government, along the model preferred by Alex Salmond – devo-max – could give her cause leverage even as it shuns reform at home. The SNP, if it is wise, will now keep its distance from its North American twin.

The PQ in 2012 has reached the logical end-point arising from a noisy promotion of ethnic and linguistic difference that has largely benefited an elite enjoying well-paid state jobs. English is unlikely to be abolished in Scotland but the SNP’s direction of travel is much the same – towards a situation where contrasts with the rest of the United Kingdom are deliberately underscored and celebrated.

Quebec has become stuck with a nationalism that has no positive vision for society and instead generates low-level conflict to enable the political machine to benefit materially from office. Responses to EU supra-nationalism, seeking to mobilise a sense of patriotism, would do well to avoid falling into a similar trap.

Tom Gallagher is completing a book entitled Euroquake: The Rise and Decline of the European Union 1953-2013

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