Even at its highest and most aspirant, nationalism demands self-interest over mutual interest between nations.
Even at its highest and most aspirant, nationalism demands self-interest over mutual interest between nations
Einstein was a little harsh when he said that “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind”. But given his circumstances, it was understandable.
Nationalism is a particular expression of “we” that can give us safety in a world of nebulous identities, an expression of commonality and it is potent.
Scottish Nationalism is of that brand which is curated not from a dominance challenged, but casts itself as the defender of the oppressed. Like in Catalonia or Quebec it is defined by notions of insurgency against the dominant order to provide dignity to those marginalised by over central states, often governed by aloof politicians.
It is important to understand this, because it’s not of that sort of nationalism which fears the immigrant, nor covets ethno-centric unity. It’s ‘other’ is not a weak phantasm created to bully a fearful, economically shattered class into a connivance of oppressing scapegoats. Pretending otherwise will do Unionists no good.
The argument put to the people of Scotland by the SNP is that they should embrace a civic nationalism imbued with all these qualities, where all are welcome and participation in the national society is to be rooted in qualities of shared humanity; a commitment to social democracy, ethnic inclusion, sexual and gender minority.
This is championed as the best avenue to achieve progressive aims by writers such as Ian McWhirter and Lesley Riddoch, who promote a move towards the Nordic model, embracing a pluralistic localism.
This is a persuasive and aspirational facet of an ideology which speaks easily to the tribal in a nation such as Scotland.
However, that is just what it aspires to be – a ‘tribe’. And I find this such a paltry ambition for the Scottish people.
The problem, even with nationalism so cushy as this, is that the ‘we’ still necessitates a ‘they’. Nationalism must always have an ‘other’ in order to exist. And indeed the entire language of the nationalist project is geared towards this end; ‘Westminster Rule’, ‘London’ ad nauseum.
Of course there are legitimate criticisms of Westminster politics, but what is being said is that there is something Unscottish there.
It simply doesn’t hold to scrutiny.
This Westminster that has had a Scot occupy every major office of State since the 90s? Which created the NHS, implemented a minimum wage and Equal Marriage? Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows clearly that Scots and English are very close on most big political issues. Even our mistakes are together – a majority of Scots supported the Iraq War in 2003.
This debate must in part ask the question ‘what is the purpose of the nation state?’ Most of the arguments put forward so far are about short-term gain, as if this were a general election campaign, but it is not. Nations last for decades and centuries, they outlast this or that Tory Government and the political opinions of populaces change.
Further complicating this question in a world of ever rising globalisation is the extent to which countries can ever be truly ‘sovereign’ in the way quacked on about by euro-sceptics or Scottish nationalists. Big business can flit across borders, for a tax rate here or lower wages there.
In such a situation, how can it make sense to divide and not combine our political powers of regulation in everyone’s interests? It is antithetical to any notion of Solidarity to say to the left voting NE and Wales who were also ravaged by Thatcher’s excessive monetarism that we shall hide behind Hadrian’s, cut tax powers to lure business away from you to us and leave you to probable Tory dominance.
Most of all, however, when a Scottish MP and former chancellor of the exchequer is being heckled live on TV as to whether he has a residency in Scotland, when the first minister’s closest advisers Joan MacAlpine questions the Scottishness of unionists, and when the only substantive economic proposal put forward for an Independent Scotland is to begin a corporation tax war with England, it’s time to be suspicious about how inclusive nationalism can ever be.
Even at its highest and most aspirant, nationalism demands self-interest over mutual interest between nations – it is forever and irrevocably rooted in parochialism.
I hope the Scottish people heed its most successful author when she writes the words for Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided”.
John McKee is an activist for the No campaign and LGBT rightsLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.