New Discourses of Populism & Nationalism

An International Conversation

Robin McAlpine of Common Weal

Sharing Views on Nationalism & Populism: Robin McAlpine


“I really think the term ‘populism’ is used incredibly loosely. I always point out that people think it is something to do with popularity or playing to popular sentiment. But that’s just not right – the linguistic root is populace not popular. It is about defining part of a society as an opposition to another part of the same society rather than nationalism in which a society is defined in relation (in part) to another, separate society.
So (very loosely), nationalism is ‘us, not them’ while populism is ‘you and me, not him’. There is no need whatsoever for nationalism to be unpleasant or exclusionary or hostile to outsiders. The ‘us, not them’ might simply mean ‘we get to vote and have to pay taxes and you don’t, but you’re more than welcome here’. It’s a way or defining a populace in relation to ‘what is not’ your populace.
Populism is about dividing individual populaces into bits and to seek control through setting one group of people up against another – but another group whom they will regularly encounter (the ‘them’ in nationalism is generally an abstract – we don’t go to war with neighbours that much any more…).

– Robin McAlpine, Director of Common Weal Scotland



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