Saturday 23 May 2015

The positive view of the SNP is only shared by insiders

Every now and again I read an account from one of the nationalist intellectuals that describes the SNP and the other parties that form the “Yes alliance” in the most positive, glowing terms. Naturally, everyone likes to describe their own politics in this way, but the description can appear rather odd to those of us who do not share these political prejudices. Scottish nationalism is portrayed by some of its intellectuals as the most positive, liberal, friendly mix of idealistic young activists hoping to change the world into a better place through the sheer force of their own goodness. Civic nationalism is described in terms that make it appear to be the heir to both Gandhi and Mandela. Nationalist meetings are  depicted as some sort of combination of the Liberals and the Greens all wearing sandals and eating mung beans coming up with ever more creative ways to make the world more virtuous. If only the whole world followed the doctrines of civic nationalism, we’d have world peace, an end to poverty, peace and goodwill among men and, of course, women.

This may well be the experience of civic nationalism from within.  I have no idea, because I am not within. Perhaps, there are these groups of eager young civic nationalist intellectuals trying to bring paradise to Scotland, Britain, Europe and tomorrow, the world. But this insider view is not shared by anyone who is not on the inside.

I have already argued extensively elsewhere that civic nationalism is itself an intellectual sham. That is not to say that civic nationalists are insincere. They are all too sincere, but they are mistaken. Why distinguish between that which is the same? Why distinguish between people in the UK if there is no distinguishing mark by which you can legitimately separate them. Without the sense of nationalism that is far from civic, that I am Scottish and this is the mark that distinguishes me from all the world, civic nationalism could not get off the ground. It is built on the foundation of difference and though it puts a mask on this foundation that enables the intellectuals to eat their mung beans, the mask not infrequently slips.

If the SNP is such a positive, liberal, charming force for good, why is it that so many people fear it? For many people in Scotland, even, perhaps, for half the people of Scotland there is nothing worse than the SNP. They have supplanted the Tories as the party that others vote tactically against. It didn’t work this time. Not enough of us voted in this way, the No vote remains divided apart from at a referendum, but it is obvious that while the SNP has become more popular amongst a part of the Scottish population, it has become much, much less popular amongst another part. A party which opponents are willing to gang up on is not obviously the party described by the nationalist intellectuals. Why vote tactically against such virtue and such goodness?

Scotland has become an extraordinarily divided society. Some people think we have not been this divided since the 17th century. Part of the Scottish population wants independence more than anything else in the world, but an equal or I suspect, still greater part, passionately does not want independence. The only issue in Scottish politics is independence. Only this issue could have destroyed the Labour party. The SNP and Scottish Labour have for the most part similar policies. The SNP may portray itself as somewhat more left wing, but the issue that divided these two parties like a chasm is nothing that what is in the SNP manifesto, rather it’s the SNP’s goal of independence. The biggest problem for the SNP in portraying itself to opponents in a positive way is that for No voters there is nothing remotely positive about breaking up our country. For all the liberal progressive spin, this one policy will always make the SNP appear as extremists to people like me.

We have a set of political problems in the UK like poverty, inequality, living within our means and the attempt to find economic growth. I can think of no more extreme policy to deal with any of these issues than the one of breaking up a 300 year old country. What SNP supporters don’t get is that to those of us who care about both Scotland and the UK, this threat is painful. It is completely horrible to us to imagine that we would no longer live in the UK. No nice sweet words from Nicola Sturgeon can in any way diminish this horror. Don’t fear us, she says, but this is because she wants to create the conditions for independence by stealth. The population of every other country in the world would rightly fear those who threaten the territorial integrity of their country. Yet, we like cattle before slaughter, are supposed not to fear it as soothing words take us along the path.

Many Scots are quietly making plans to leave Scotland if the SNP ever get their dream of independence. This is not merely because we don’t much want to live in a nation dominated by nationalists with policies that are liable to make us poorer. Rather, we would prefer to leave the country of our birth than live in an independent Scotland. The usual nationalist response to this is a form of good riddance. Fair enough, but Scotland is liable to lose some of its best talent if it goes down that route. No voters are disproportionately to be found in many of the jobs that Scotland needs most. Our absence would tend to leave a gap.

This feeling that it might be time to leave is especially felt by English people who have come to live in Scotland. Of course, this feeling is not shared by everyone. Lots of English people love the SNP. It is one way to fit in. It’s also, I suspect, one way to keep harmony in a household where one partner votes SNP. Suddenly, by supporting the SNP everyone is so nice. Wearing a little yellow thistle means no-one any longer makes snide comments about the football or about the poshness of your accent. You’re one of us now. What’s not to like? But still this is a minority experience amongst our largest “immigrant group.”

It is not accidental that the vast majority of English people living in Scotland voted No. They had no desire to be turned into foreigners in their own land. Moreover, as they frequently tell me, they have seen Scotland change in the past 20-30 years. Where once was a land that was at peace with itself, here now is a land that is divided and frequently hostile. Look at the online reaction to English people asking questions in one of the debates. What has it to do with you, you’re English, was the typical response. Again this may not be the impression from inside, but it is the impression from outside. Many English people in Scotland are genuinely afraid of Scottish nationalism. They don’t think they would have any place at all in a country that they think would have been founded on the age old hostility to them.  The fact that the SNP can point to a tiny proportion of English people who have as it were become more Scottish than the Scots does not change this fear. There are littered throughout history examples of self-hatred, and people trying desperately to fit in. These examples are not always as positive as they might at first seem.

There are two prejudices that blight Scotland: Anglophobia and Sectarianism. These are not confined to Yes voters or No voters. To a lesser or greater extent they are a feature of all of us.  Prejudice is not someone else’s problem, it is my problem for which of us is without some prejudice or other? The perception, however, is that Anglophobia and, to a lesser extent, sectarianism underpins some of the support for Scottish nationalism. It is, without doubt, not felt by the intellectuals, but there is more than enough evidence that it is felt by some of the foot soldiers. Scotland defines itself as not being England and low level hostility about our nearest neighbour is something we learn at our mother’s knee. I have felt this, you, too, have felt this, but would we even be thinking about separating ourself from our nearest neighbour if we did not feel it?  Which of us has not said something unkind about England or the English that we would not dream about saying about any other country or people? I have, I confess it. But I wish that this had not been a part of my upbringing, I wish none of us had made jokes about the English, for if 30 and 40 years ago there had been no such banter in Scotland, our place in the UK would now be absolutely secure. It is the seed of difference that has grown into 56 SNP MPs and a significant part of the population that doesn’t think it is from the country stamped on its passport. We are, all of us, both Yes and No voters, equally guilty for what has happened to our country.

The SNP has an image problem. They were so feared in parts of England that they drove huge numbers of people to vote for the Conservatives who otherwise would not have done so. The most disastrous result of all was seen as a Labour government propped up by the SNP. If the SNP were as their intellectuals portray them, why do so many people fear them? #SNPout did not work particularly well in Scotland this time, but it worked a dream in England. They voted to keep the #SNPout.

The SNP have destroyed the Labour party in Scotland. They have pretty much destroyed it in England, too. May I suggest that this is not exactly progressive. The SNP is not really a Left wing party at all. Nationalist politics is rather like Abraham Lincoln’s attitude to slavery. If the SNP could achieve independence by being Left Wing, they would do that, if they could achieve it by being Centrist, they would do that, and if they could achieve it by being Right Wing, they would do that also. Their aim is independence and whatever combination of Left, Right, Centre, plus a dash of populism that gets them to their goal, will be embraced. The SNP have been a right wing party before when it suited them, and no doubt there are still some right wingers in the party willing to accept any amount of socialism if only it gets them independence. Much of what is progressive in the UK came about because of the Labour Party. Those who are responsible for destroying the Labour party in Scotland and replacing it with a nationalist party should be very careful when they describe themselves as progressives. It doesn’t look that way from the outside.

SNP intellectuals may portray the party as progressive, liberal and kindly, but that is not how it appears to those of us who oppose it. We not infrequently are opposed by the mob and by foul mouths that are neither civic, nor civil. If every SNP supporter was as reasonable and sensible as some of those writing in newspapers, then these claims might not appear quite so ludicrous. But Scotland, in fact, is a country where No voters don’t dare put posters in their windows, where we don’t talk about politics with those we don’t know, where friendships and families are lost because of political disagreement and where men suddenly appear out of nowhere to shout abuse in the face of the leader of the Scottish Labour party. I campaign online. I can count on the fingers of one hand the SNP supporters who I trust and who always appear reasonable, liberal and civil, the rest sometimes portray themselves as friendly at first, but in the end, most commonly attack relentlessly and  in the foulest most abusive way possible.  It might be an idea to clean up your own house before pretending how nice it is.  We can see what Scottish nationalism consists of.  No other party, except those on the extremes, has supporters like the SNP. I wouldn’t vote for them even if I supported independence, for fear that I would be tainted by the very act of voting.

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