Up close, Scottish nationalism looks a lot like other nationalisms

Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all based on a concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’.

Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all based on a concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’

Scottish nationalism, we are always told, is civic, tolerant and open, different to other nationalisms. So welcoming in fact that many signed up to independence will argue that it isn’t really nationalism at all.

From Billy Bragg’s distance it all looks very cuddly. Up close though, finding safety in numbers through a process of division, it looks a lot less pleasant.

Taking just a few examples: demonstrators gather outside the BBC and unfurl banners denouncing people as ‘anti–Scottish’, claiming that only the ‘corrupt media’ stops people supporting Independence.

A writer, Alan Bissett, prominent enough to be invited to perform to the conference of the governing nationalist party, describes current constitutional arrangements as ‘Subjugation; cultural, political and economic’. The acme of liberal independence supporting commentators, Gerry Hassan, expresses satisfaction that the Scots ‘are becoming a people’ and ‘developing voice in its deepest sense’.

It’s easy to recognise tropes here familiar from other, less favourably looked on nationalisms. Principally that only by asserting ourselves as a nation can we throw off alien influences and truly be ourselves. Perhaps then, Scotish nationalism isn’t all that exceptional after all.

Responding to JK Rowling’s endorsement of a No vote, a writer from the ‘National Collective’ declares Scotland is ‘a State of Mind’. Independence is all about ‘the story we choose to believe in’.

How very open, how very welcoming; anyone can be Scottish, provided they share our state of mind.

Except this, naturally, involves embracing independence. The status of those of us unwilling to do this isn’t quite spelled out. Neither is the corollary; if anyone can be Scottish by sharing ‘our’ state of mind. Also, what if, like myself, you don’t? If the ‘story you choose to believe in’ is a multi- or even non-national one, are you somehow less Scottish?

This is as much about exclusion as it is inclusion. And it is this process, more than independence that is developing momentum. Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and one of the gurus of the Radical Independence Campaign, used to describe non Indyfan lefties as ‘fellow travellers‘ for whom they should ‘keep a seat at the table’. He now issues dire warnings that ‘We are not afraid of you, we are going to win and history will remember you for how you behaved’.

Of course, all of the above matter much less than the SNP and the Scottish government. Recently, Nicola Sturgeon drew a distinction between ‘essentialist’ and ‘utilitarian’ nationalists. This isn’t anything to do with fundamental outlook, just a tactical difference about the timing of state formation. The deputy first minister went on to explain, in a phrase redolent of Michael Gove on steroids, that she wanted a new Scottish constitution to ’embody the values of the nation’.

What those values might be were (thankfully) left undefined. Add to this the vaguely sinister sounding intentions of education secretary Mike Russell that the views of scientists on research bodies ‘might be aligned’ with those of the Scottish government.

A more serious indicator of what might be in store was given when Ed Balls and George Osborne, invoking the national interest of the rest of the UK, said they didn’t support a currency union with an independent Scotland. They were immediately decried by the First Minister and his supporters as ‘bullies’ ganging up on Scotland.

In the howls of anguish that followed, it was taken as read that assertions by the UK couldn’t be valid in themselves, they were merely attacks on Scotland. The ‘Scottish’ interest wasn’t just deemed to be the most important or priority viewpoint, but the only legitimately held opinion.

The economics or even politics of the situation (eg If Balls or Osborne were interested in having a supranational banking arrangement deciding governmental borrowing limits, they would have joined the Euro) were abandoned in favour of the financially illiterate spasm of ‘It’s our pound too’.

Stripped to its essence, it was a case of the leader of a nationalist party building support for a policy by saying foreigners were attacking the country. If that looks like it has worked then don’t think it will stop on September 19. Nationalist ends won’t be willed in the referendum without embedding nationalist means to sustain them afterwards.

Clearly the SNP aren’t some sort of Jobbik style proto fascists. But suggesting that ‘Technocratic Administrative Boundary Adjustment’ or ‘Blood and Soil’ are the only two possible settings on the nationalist dial isn’t right either.

Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all predicated on defining and separating, with concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’. Real progressive politics does the opposite. People at home or in the places that will shortly be abroad if there is a yes vote in September would do well to remember that.

Stephen Low is a Labour Party member and part of the Red Paper Collective

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268 Responses to “Up close, Scottish nationalism looks a lot like other nationalisms”

  1. Andy Ellis

    Feel free to believe what you like Jim; self delusion seems to be your forte. Providing evidence is only hectoring to those who steadfastly refuse to actually engage in real debate, then grouch about being called out for their lack of preparation.

    No, I haven’t thought about a career in sales, though it is increasingly evident that you have bought into every ProjectFear scare story and accepted them uncritically. Stun us with another.

  2. Jim O'Rorke

    Nah, I’m done Andy. All the best to you though. 19th of September can’t come quick enough, whatever the result on 18th.

  3. John Mitchell

    I’m primarily labeling the SNP as hypocritical because these other states within NATO are not holding a referendum and then suggesting that you vote one way in order to achieve an objective which will not be achieved by said vote alone. It will only be achieved by negotiation after the vote and the result of which is far from guaranteed.

    Most Scots probably don’t pay much attention to what NATO actually does or indeed may not even care. That doesn’t necessarily indicate support. Two SNP MSPs resigned from the party over the matter which demonstrates how divisive an issue it has been within the party.

  4. Max Bennie

    Yeah, Peter, if all else fails, just call them a nationalist (which you clearly are) and smear them, even if it makes you look bad. You are clearly quite fond of that style.

  5. Peter A Bell

    I note that you are unable to address any of the substantive points in my comment.

  6. Max Bennie

    Well you fail at the first hurdle by claiming that Low is a nationalist without using ANY evidence at all to back up your baseless assertion.

  7. Peter A Bell

    Had you read any of the article and more of my comment than the single word that you obsess about you might realise that Low defines himself as a British nationalist by his promulgating of British nationalist propaganda and the fact that he prioritises the interests of the ruling elites of the British state over the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. And, for that matter, the people of the rest of the UK.

    For Low, it is all about preserving the structures of power and privilege which define the British state and within which British Labour enjoys a mutually supportive relationship with its Tory partners. relationship

    If you imagine British Labour is in alliance with the Tories because they think being part of the UK is in the best interests of the people of Scotland then you are a fool. British Labour has joined forces with the Tories and their LibDem puppets because maintaining the old order and the old ways benefits the British parties, British politicians, and the vested interests these serve.

  8. Max Bennie

    Perhaps you could a) Point out the exact bit of the article that says that, and b) Provide some evidence for your assertions.

  9. Peter A Bell

    The article is the evidence of Low’s fervent British nationalism.

    As to the rest, it is a matter of observation and thinking for yourself.

  10. Frums

    Andy Ellis – I’m unable to trace the poll you mention. Could you post a link?

  11. Dominic Chave-Cox

    If we believe in “the people” rather than “our people”, does that entail that we should abolish all borders in the world (including the borders between the existing UK and its neighbours)? and renounce the very concept of the nation-state? Because, unless you think so, I don’t see how you can argue that Scottish nationalist claims are somehow illegitimate. The UK is not some sort of happy, international commune- it’s just a slightly less small dot on the map than Scotland makes on its own.

  12. Guest

    Silence, silence, you cry Lord Blagger. I don’t accept your separatism, so you need to silence me and deny the Acts of Union, and you don’t want me to talk about your call for vote rigging? Er…

  13. Guest

    *Scotland* would be the one obliged to put up an external Schengen barrier, if they joined the EU.

    It’s called a fact, one which you’re being dishonest about, which I ask people to consider. The precedent here is Ireland, which has registration of as *subjects* (not Citizens), and allows registration as a citizen after five years residence.

    There’s also some other very broad rights, but they are at least in part *based on the CTA*.

  14. Gary Scott

    Schengen is about the REMOVAL of borders. Scotland would not be required to have any barriers. The reason for this is that Scotland does not border with any non-EU country. Scotland has only one border, the one it shares with England. For the rest of your post please refer to my previous answer. If you would like more information you can find it in a document called “Scotland’s Future” on the Scottish Governments website, you may find it of interest.

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    Schengen is about removing barriers WITHIN Schengen.

    Scotland would be required to have external Schengen barriers like any land border with a non-Schengen country. You’re being blatantly dishonest, still – it matters not one whit the UK is an EU country, what would matter is that it’s not in Schengen.

    And I’ve read that dishonest pack of lies, yes, it’s done a lot of damage to your separatist cause.

  16. Gary Scott

    I’ve read your comments elsewhere Leon. You are not misunderstanding or misreading mine or anyone else’s posts. You are trolling. You are an extremist and I don’t want to engage with extremists. Please leave me alone.

  17. Guest

    So…you don’t want to engage with yourself, so you pull out the stops and scream nonsense.

    Thanks for the command, given your lies, to reply to every. single. one. of your posts.

  18. Guest

    LordBlagger, how do you personally stand to profit from erecting the border?

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