Saturday, 4 January 2014

Why not all nationalists are Nationalists.

My first post in 2014, the year Scotland decides. What could I write about? Well maybe I could get everybody into the mood by stirring up a bit of nationalism. How about that? Of course I would be far better discussing the practical benefits of a Yes vote but maybe I should tackle this subject sooner rather than later.

There is nothing wrong with nationalism as such whether that's Scottish nationalism or British nationalism. But it's when it is used emphatically in political discourse that makes it a problem. We're entitled to our own emotions and our own desires for our country. But when you have to make the case for or against a political viewpoint it has to be done so with proper reasoning.

Scottish nationalists on the whole understand this which is why their focus on the Scottish independence debate is about creating a better and more empowered society. Some may express the sentiment "Scottish not British" but it is more a personal thing for them. British nationalists, that is to say those who support the union for emotional reasons (which it's fair to say isn't everyone who supports the union), have on the other hand often gone all-out in trying to put identity at the heart of the debate as though the only way to have any strong bond with your friends and family south of the border is to share a 'nation'.

Alistair Darling will use both 'nationalist' and 'Nationalist' interchangeably to talk about supporters of independence in general. He seems therefore to ignore the fact that actually many people who support independence are not nationalists at all. Their reasons for supporting independence in the first place are much more about Westminster being a failed institution for Scotland. Two prime examples stand out as non-nationalist supporters of independence: Patrick Harvie and Dennis Canavan. Nationalist (with a capital N) is to do with the SNP as a party while nationalist is to do with anyone supporting a desired outcome for reasons of nationhood whether that's pro-independence or pro-union. Alistair Darling is welcome to use Nationalist when talking about the SNP specifically though it's funny how he would just call them 'the SNP' on non-referendum issues. He's not welcome however to use nationalist as he is one himself!

Unionists parading the Union Jack in Belfast. Better Together will have you believe this is not nationalism.

The likes of Alistair Darling, Margaret Curran, Blair McDougall and others in Better Together will frequently talk about a 'false-choice' between being Scottish and British, between being a proud Scot and wanting to be part of the UK. They will allude to supporters of independence wanting to 'divide over identity' while getting offended at just the merest hint that they have less pride in Scottish culture than Scottish nationalists. Yet they completely fail to spot the hypocrisy in all that because it is all self-analysis by projection. It is those same unionists who are, quite expressly, presenting a false choice between being proudly British and wanting Scotland to be independent from the out-dated institution that is Westminster. It is them who are trying to divide over identity by talking about supporters of independence as though they're all Scots-only and unionists as the ones 'proud to embrace multiple national identities' - a statement that couldn't be further from the truth. They will talk about Scotland not needing to be a sovereign state to create a strong sense of Scotland (and of course they're right on that one) yet they claim Britain needs to be a single sovereign state to create any strong sense of Britain when Britain is the name of our very island! And while I don't question their pride in Scottish culture (why would I?) they are prepared to question my pride in British culture! And they do so openly and unapologetically, you only have to remember Alistair Darling's infamous "British culture won't be our culture" speech in November 2012 which was strongly condemned by Scotland's creative community. I mean for fuck sake I'm currently listening to AlunaGeorge on YouTube why should I stop listening to that all because I placed a little graphite saltire next to the word YES?

Of course independence will mean we no longer share a common sovereign state with the England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But in this modern interdependent, cosmopolitan, multicultural and open-borders world does it really make much difference socially? Let me be clear: if anybody who opposes independence and makes the claim that the only way to feel British is to be part of a single British nation, the British state, then that is nothing short of British nationalism. If they don't like me saying that then I suggest they look up British nationalism on Wikipedia. Furthermore it unionists put forward the notion that feelings of affinity and fellowship are restricted to those living in Scotland if you're a Scottish nationalist then this only reveals a deeper problem in that same logic: that feelings of affinity and fellowship end at sovereign borders. That can only be an unhealthy perspective as it implies we feel much less towards the Norwegians, French and even Irish simply because they all belong to different sovereign states. Ironically, the very man expecting to take up the brief of Foreign Secretary if Labour wins the next election is Douglas Alexander MP who has used at least three speeches over the last year or two making the claim that Scottish nationalists care less about people in England simply because they want Scotland to be a sovereign state. That doesn't say much for his sense of diplomacy if he wants the top job in the Foreign Office. He should know full well that not only can strong positive bonds exist between England and Scotland regardless of their constitutional relationship but he should be able to understand that the SNP have the same desire to work closely with neighbours not just in the British-Irish Isles but across Western Europe and beyond.

Douglas Alexander, British nationalist.
I am a Scottish nationalist: I wanted Scottish independence in the first place because Scotland is a nation. But that's only the starting point for what I believe Scotland can achieve with independence. Scotland is a wealthy country and significantly well advanced as a nation in a way Wales and Northern Ireland haven't yet matched. A transition to independence will be a lot easier for Scotland than the other two. The economic and social case for independence that I am keen to state is not merely a cover for the original reason I support independence it simply strengthens my belief that independence is the right path for Scotland. I wouldn't be making the arguments if I didn't believe them deep down.

The unionists are British nationalists so long as their belief in Scotland being part of the UK doesn't change with current circumstances. Now if they said that they would vote for independence if they could see the advantages of it then they'd easily be distancing themselves from fervent British nationalism. But because many of them are making the claim for the emotional need for England and Scotland to 'share a nation' it's hard to see this happening. Did they support independence when there was an oil boom and independence would have given us the chance to build up our own sovereign wealth fund? I doubt it. Indeed even when oil production was well under way in the 1980's Donald Dewar was arguing that Scotland would be poor like Bangladesh! Labour were keen to cover up the truth about the sheer amount of oil that Scotland had because they knew full well that support for devolution would have rocketed enough in 1979 to win more than the necessary 40% in the referendum if the people of Scotland knew how much there was out there. As a result of having no parliament we couldn't stop Thatcher from doing her worst in Scotland. If we had had a parliament in the 1980's and we knew back then what we know now about the oil support for the SNP could have been such to produce a government that would have held an independence referendum during that era. The social and economic case for independence would have been just as strong as the nationalist case especially if the Scottish parliament of then would have lacked the necessary levers to counter the worst of the Tory impact in Scotland.

It occurs to me that many of the 'solidarity' arguments against independence are arguments that ought to have been made against devolution. In my early adolescence for various reasons I sometimes complained that Scotland and England had different education systems. In the summer holiday of 1999 when I was 14 I moved back to Scotland having been in Penrith for the first three years of secondary school. Term times are earlier in Scotland which meant I would have knocked two or three weeks off the summer holiday if it weren't for the summer camp for youngsters from Dumfries and Galloway which occurred during the first week of the Scottish holidays and gave me sufficient leave to finish early in England (by coincidence at the very same time the Scottish Parliament was sitting for the first time in nearly 300 years!). I have though come to appreciate that difference as part of Scotland's distinct education system. And I wouldn't change that even if it meant some pupils had the anomaly of a shorter holiday or a longer one depending which way they go across the border.

The barbed wire is just to stop the silly sheep from spoiling your day-trip 'abroad'.

Likewise with health, what a difference it makes to have the NHS devolved to a Scottish Parliament which is unlikely to ever privatise such an essential service. However, as a matter of principle should MPs representing Scottish constituencies really be allowed to legislate for those health and education matters that only affect England? If they don't affect Scotland then MPs from north of the border should not be involved in voting them through otherwise it will suggest to many English people that they trust themselves, the Scots, to make the right decisions but not the English. If it is the case that we don't trust the English then that's surely a case for independence! But if we're really going to stop a Tory dominated parliament from doing it's worst there's one simple solution that can be found while we're still represented in Westminster - Proportional Representation. If England had PR the balance of power would be much more in favour of the left (or lefter parties). Did Labour do anything to make this possible? Nup. Too interested in their own party's chances of maintaining an outright majority.

But let's now toast to 2014 and the year ahead and let's sing Auld Lang Syne together. Because even though Rabbie was a Scottish nationalist he was also an internationalist and his New Year anthem is one that like the Ode to Joy sings for universal brotherhood across all the boundaries of the World. We maybe passionate about independence for our nation but we also care about our brothers and sisters in other countries near and far. Be positive, be optimistic and spread the message - Scotland can be a better nation as an independent state.

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