Remember Pauline Hanson? Well, she's back. I remember how in the mid-1990s the fish and chip shop owner enjoyed international notoriety for her forthright views on immigration and Aboriginal rights in her native Australia. She was a federal MP for just two years, but last year returned to Canberra as a senator, and support for her One Nation party is rising.
Not so much that it stands to threaten Australia's major parties, but perhaps by enough to displace the Greens as the third-largest party at the next federal election. First time round, Hanson fit perfectly with the pejorative British stereotype of Aussies: loud, racist and a little bit common. That, however, shows the danger of taking patronising views of once minor political movements – they tend to make a comeback.
And while Kiwi nationalism struck me on a recent visit as being of the civic, SNP variety, its Australian manifestation is much less banal. A couple of weeks ago I watched prime minister Malcolm Turnbull respond to his disastrous telephone call with the new US president, who reportedly hung up. Looking understandably uncomfortable, he told reporters his job was to 'stand up for Australia', and that's what he would continue to do.
It was a familiar line to anyone familiar with contemporary Scotland, but it reflected mainstream concerns with nationalist undercurrents, not just from Hanson and One Nation, but Cory Bernardi, another former Liberal who has recently established his own right-wing party, complete with quasi-Trump rhetoric. In the state of Western Australia, the governing Liberals will even second-preference the Aussie equivalent of the BNP in order to limit the possible electoral damage.
Australian nationalism has deep roots, the rise of European nationalist movements in the late-19th century having been one catalyst for renewed attempts at confederating the continent's six largely self-governing colonies. Last week I toured the striking royal exhibition building in Melbourne where, in 1901, the marquis of Linlithgow presided over the birth of the Australian nation as its first governor-general. Not only was this nationalism imperialist,
but it came to support a view of Australia as a nation of 'white Britons'; indigenous Australians were not to be included in this vision of a newly-unified nation.
One suspects Ms Hanson would approve more than a century later, for her rhetoric has long privileged the 'right sort' of immigrants over endlessly-caricatured native populations. The large Scots church in Melbourne's central business district stands testament to the sheer numbers once making the voyage from Scotland to New South Wales (Victoria 'separated' in 1851, forming its own state). I arrived in time to hear a sermon – to a congregation of about a dozen – being conducted in a broad Glaswegian accent.
At the back of the church hung the flag of former Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies, together with his regalia as a member of the Order of the Thistle. A new curriculum in Australia is about to focus more on Menzies' premiership, although it seems unlikely that schoolchildren will hear of his advice to the Scottish Conservative party as it searched for a constitutional solution to rising Celtic nationalism in the 1960s.
A staunch British patriot (unlike his modern counterpart, a republican), having spent years trying to make his own federation work, Sir Robert was a sceptic when it came to federalising the motherland. Australia's states, and to a lesser extent its territories, enjoy significant autonomy. The island state of Tasmania, where I visited friends, has its own electoral system (partly devised by a Scot), while Victoria actually makes good on its progressive rhetoric, something of which the SNP would do well to take note. Sure, Western Australia tried to secede in the 1930s, but today state/federal relations are reasonably harmonious.
Australia demonstrates that even a relatively healthy economy is no prophylactic against reactionary politics. Recently a current affairs programme on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) spoke to members of a coal-mining community in industrial Victoria about to face a major closure. Several spoke of their frustration with mainstream politicians and said a 'radical' voice could potentially appeal. 'Someone like Pauline Hanson?' asked the moderator, but actually one lady meant Trump. 'He's speaking his mind...sometimes we have to put ourselves [i.e. Australians] first'.
ABC is also airing a series entitled 'Is Australia Racist?' and, judging by the shocking clips of ordinary Aussies featured in the trailer, the answer to that would have to be 'yes'. Of course it's nothing new; such prejudices have long been there, as have their party political manifestations, only now it's part of a global trend that's taken the UK out of the EU and installed a petulant child in the White House. Pauline Hanson was just well ahead of the political curve.