I READ with interest at the weekend a long piece in the Financial Times written by the English novelist Louis de Bernieres, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. This latest article is opinion not fiction. It charts how De Bernieres – his surname comes from his Huguenot ancestry – moved from being a liberal Remainer to an English nationalist Leaver and born-again supporter of Boris Johnson.

The importance of this article – on the front page of the FT Weekend section no less – is that it charts the ideological capitulation of English liberalism to a right-wing populism.

Despite never having repeated the success he had with the Captain Corelli book, De Bernieres is a sensitive man – well-travelled, politically knowledgeable, and with a lingering love of European culture. He really does play the mandolin and one of his recurring fantasies is to sit outside a taverna on the Plaka in Athens pretending to be Theodorakis. If the stratum of the English literary intelligentsia of which de Bernieres is a card-carrying member has been seduced by rightist populism, then we are definitely in a new, dangerous political era.

My worry is that in Scotland, there are many in the national movement who don’t yet appreciate the permanent shift in the tectonic plates down south. We are not in some temporary phase until Keir Starmer (or whoever) returns the Labour Party to the centre ground. The world has turned permanently. Among those who do not grasp this earthquake I include the SNP leadership and the First Minister. I don’t mean to be rude or hyperbolic. But the FM is acting as if Boris represents business as usual. He doesn’t. Hence a strategy of simply demanding things from Boris – a Section 30 order, more devolved powers, more Treasury cash, etc – is no longer viable.

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For this reason: the new populist Tory party ensconced in Number 10 represents a wholly different voting strata from the party’s earlier more establishment incarnations. This is now a party of the hedge fund barrow boys, not the City toffs. It represents the enraged small businessfolk of the decaying seaside towns and motorway junction estates that litter the north of England – not the big cities or leafy neighbourhoods. It represents nouveau riche oligarchs and social climbers, not the Oxbridge elite. As a result, the new populist Tory party wants to revolutionise how Britain is governed – in their own interests.

This is where the SNP are a sitting duck. Boris is coming after us. For starters, Chancellor Javid’s March 11 Budget will tear up Treasury austerity rules and hose cash at every pet project Dominic Cummings can think up – everywhere. And that includes Scotland.

For instance, how long before SNP councils are at each another’s throats competing for the new tax-exempt “free port” status Sajid Javid is likely to announce in the Budget? The SNP government can’t go into the 2021 Holyrood election only playing the constitutional card. We have to advance a progressive social and economic programme that counters Tory populism.

Which brings us back to Mr De Bernieres and how English populism is sinking ideological roots. His FT piece begins as a love letter to the EU – how he voted to join the Common Market back in 1975 because he believed a shared sovereignty would buttress both peace and a common European democracy, based on a shared cultural heritage.

The National: Why has Louis de Bernieres has changed his mind on Europe?Why has Louis de Bernieres has changed his mind on Europe?

Indeed, he chides the SNP for having opposed EEC membership back then. What has caused him to change his mind?

On one superficial level, De Bernieres seems to have swallowed every erroneous, illogical, superficial populist lie. That we are “subject to laws not drawn up by our parliament”, which is easier for continental Europeans to accept because “they do not have the advantage of being … an island”. And having “written extensively on the two World Wars” De Bernieres worries “how sacrilegious it would be” to dilute British democracy, especially as a reunited Germany “has become the hegemonic power in Europe”. Ah yes, do mention the Germans.

So far, so Ukip or Brexit Party.

But remember that author De Bernieres is a liberal soul.

He has to justify his absurd fear of a Fourth Reich. He does it by castigating the way the Germans forced his beloved Greece into austerity in order to save the euro – which he equates to the German invasion of Greece in the Second World War. Curiously, De Bernieres forgets that the UK happily supported the imposition of draconian austerity on Greece and Spain in order to safeguard the £100 billion in sovereign debt held by the City of London.

But then, Louis de Bernieres isn’t really concerned about Greece. Rather, he needs an excuse to refight the Second World War in his imagination in order to find a psychological crutch to justify his sudden embracing of Boris-style populism. Listen to his raptures: “Now the Conservative Party has a new start, as does the country, which at last has a leader who exudes energy, good humour and optimism … ” This is not the voice of a concerned liberal. It is the voice of despair seeking solace in populist fantasy.

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What does De Bernieres mean by “the country”? This is soon revealed: England. He argues: “It has become increasingly obvious to me and fellow Leavers … that the English would be better off on their own … England has no good reason for wanting to cling on to Northern Ireland, or to Scotland either.”

Before you cheer, there is more to this than de Bernieres welcoming Scottish independence. He is constructing a dangerous English nationalist populism. He argues: “In Scotland the Saltire flies everywhere. The English should have reclaimed their flag and thought more about what Englishness is …”

Mr de Bernieres is demanding a revival of English cultural identity. In one sense, who could disagree. Indeed, he has a point when he says English nationalism “is the only one routinely denigrated and despised”. But England needs an outgoing, positive sense of its nationhood – not a narrow, anti-European populism with hostile overtones towards Scotland. Yet that is the dish De Bernieres is serving. Instead of re-imagining a new, inclusive and liberal England, he has embraced the very darkest of populist fantasies.

Yet again, he dredges up the Churchillian myths of “our gallant island nation” standing alone and shedding blood in a European war against the Hun – all to justify English insularity, superiority and a veneer of national equality that hides poverty for the many and riches for the few behind a fake patriotism. Truly, Louis de Bernieres has run out of ideas, both literary and political.

We must not scoff. He is correct to say the Scots sometimes display their own superiority over the English. Which is why we need to respond to the new Tory populism with a progressive programme that embraces policies for the entire Atlantic archipelago, including our English neighbours.

Next month’s SNP Budget and the 2021 SNP manifesto can’t just be business as usual. We need a vision of how the whole Atlantic archipelago could co-operate and trade within itself, including necessary infrastructure projects. We need to counter the sad English nostalgia of Louis de Bernieres with a veritable, post-capitalist New Enlightenment. We need to score goals, not play defence.