As populism grows, this is the country that has the most progressive, liberal politics in the world

Sean O'Grady
A British Airways airplane takes off from the runway at Heathrow Airport: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Are there any surviving social-democratic paradises with a liberal vibe left on God’s green earth – and ones that might actually consider letting you live there? It’s surely a popular line of thought in many people’s minds today.

Traditionally, those seeking refuge from the UK would look to the Nordics. Indeed, the Swedes and their compatriots could make some claim to having made the welfare state and social security an everyday reality. Historically, they were also more equal societies – with a Gini coefficient (how economists measure disparities in income, at globally modest levels).

Nowadays, there are two things wrong with that picture. First, various far-right and nativist groups have sprouted up, and made the most of their proportional representation systems. They’re not a reassuring presence. Besides, now that the UK is outside the EU and will probably be outside the European Economic Area, all these states are probably ruled out for easy freedom of movement for the British.

Much the same, of course, goes for the rest of the European Union, which means most of the rest of Europe. The remaining states in Eastern Europe and towards Russia are either much poorer, have problematic human rights records, are at risk of civil war, invasion by Russia or fascistic takeover.

Moving across the Middle East and the central Asian republics, and indeed to the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand, there again we find relatively closed and corrupt societies.

Then there’s China, or India – democracies that don’t seem to be functioning properly, with most of their neighbours ruled out on similar grounds. And we needn’t dwell on North Korea.

South Korea and Japan are rich, obviously, but not that keen on inward migration. Australia’s attitude to migrants is notorious, though New Zealand has a more promising record. Of course, ironically, New Zealand has a points-based system of migration, so you might not be able to get in even though it has a lot going for it.

African countries are all too easy to dismiss on the grounds of endemic corruption, instability and abuse of human rights, and that can be a caricature. The more realistic objection in most cases is that the standard of living tends to be much lower than the west. So that rules out anywhere from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Canada has its attractions, as a version of America without the guns, but Justin Trudeau’s idea of light entertainment is pretty offensive. Trump’s America speaks for itself.

Then there is most of central and South America, including the Caribbean states, again historically prone to human rights abuses by the left or the right when in power, as well as some pretty grim economic and environmental mismanagement – Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil would be prime examples of nations underperforming their potential. They also tend to be highly unequal societies in the distribution of wealth (and power).

Which just leaves our winning destination, a small nation on the east coast of South America, with most of its land devoted to agriculture. It’s the first country in the world to fully legalise recreational cannabis, for a start, and has a Mandela-like figure leading this relatively stable, prosperous, and peaceful nation. Former left-wing guerrilla Jose Mujica was the freely-elected president from 2010 to 2015, and has said he bears no malice towards the military dictatorship that ran the country (1973-85), and locked him up.

It enjoys a high reputation among human rights watchdogs and cooperates with its neighbours, particularly on the environment, and on protecting its people’s social security without destroying the economy. Education is secular and free; they even have a health service of sorts. There is full equality.

It is Uruguay that is ranked highly in Latin America for its democracy, peacefulness, low perception of corruption, press freedom, size of the middle class and prosperity. The mild climate is a plus. For its size, it sends a disproportionately large number of troops on UN missions.

The process to become a resident of Uruguay is also surprisingly laid-back. Instead of having to go through a consulate outside of the country, you can make your application and complete the residency process within Uruguay after you arrive.

So if you can’t stand living here, catch the first plane to Montevideo. You’ll be very unlikely to run into the same issues over there.