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Letter: Independence has drawbacks

WHAT has happened to the usually incisive Neal Ascherson? His piece on small nationalism ('Nationalism has discovered the global economy and fallen in love with it', 18 September) is full of lacunae and inconsistencies.

It is not surprising that footloose global capital likes small 'independent' nation states rather than large ones or effective political federations. The tactic of divide and rule applies as much in the realm of economics as it does in politics. Would it not be wise to be a tiny bit sceptical of a global banker such as Claude Beland in his enthusiasm for a sovereign Quebec? Such a weak political formation may suit the global strategies of Beland very well, but whether they will benefit the great majority of the people of Quebec is another matter. The case of the Irish Republic, which Ascherson sees as a positive example, is instructive: the Protestant minority has been greatly reduced, millions have been forced to emigrate, the Irish language has been decimated, unemployment is around 20 per cent and the working-class estates of Dublin are rife with drugs and crime. In addition there is a still unresolved territorial dispute with the UK which has cost thousands of lives and tens of billions of pounds to keep under some sort of control.

As the evidence of former Yugoslavia illustrates, the introduction of ethnic nationalism into multinational states poses the most profound political and cultural problems. Granted that Quebec nationalists, unlike many others of the new nationalists, will not 'expel or murder their ethnic minorities', who, in the absence of a federal authority, is going to guarantee the cultural and civic rights of the 20 per cent of English speakers and the indigenous Indians? And what rights will French speakers have in a Canadian federation minus Quebec?

Next time Mr Ascherson comes to reflect on global capital and nationalism could he look some of the harsher realities in the eye?

Simon Partridge

London N2