Friday 19 January 2024

If he's not a nationalist, is he a fake?


There is a curious phenomenon in Scotland of people pretending to be something that they are not and pretending not to be something that they are. We have had this before from Nicola Sturgeon wishing that that the SNP did not include the N word and we have had it again from Humza Yousaf. He has

Never really been comfortable with the fact we have national in our party’s name. Not because the founding members of the SNP had any far-right inclination, they certainly didn’t, or any nationalist inclination the way you expressed there but because it can be misinterpreted.

So, what would happen if we removed “National” from the name. Well, we would get “The Scottish Party”, but if anything, that would be even more nationalistic than “The Scottish National Party” as it would imply a still further identification of Party and Scotland that is already a tendency with the SNP and  still more so with Alba.

But the mistake of both Yousaf and Sturgeon is a failure to understand that the word “Nationalist” precisely describes what they are. The Oxford English dictionary defines Nationalist as

An adherent or advocate of nationalism (nationalism n. 1a); an advocate of national independence or self-determination. With capital initial: a member of a particular nationalist political party (see sense B.1).

There are other definitions of nationalist, but any reasonable understanding of the word means that it certainly applies to the SNP. That is if it is still pursuing national independence for Scotland. If it is not, then it might care to be honest and open about this.

But the root of Scottish nationalism in a pretence that is peculiar to the United Kingdom. If you look at European history, you will find typically that sometime in the Middle Ages various kingdoms were either conquered or formed unions with other kingdoms. These involved acts of union.

Sometimes this was because a king married a queen, sometimes because someone won a war. This process continued right up to 1860s and 1870s with the unification of Italy and Germany. Arguably it is continuing now with the beginnings of federalism in the EU.

But no one in Europe thinks that their country is made up of countries even though the parts of France and Germany have at least as good a claim on being countries as England and Scotland.

This is where our whole language is problematic.

1 We talk of north of the border, when there is no border.

2 We talk of the Auld enemy, when our fellow citizens are not enemies, and we last fought against England in 1547.

3 We talk of four nations, when there is only one.

4 We talk as if the union of 1707 still exists, when in fact the kingdoms of Scotland and England merged to form the kingdom of Great Britain.

5 We talk of countries where everyone else in Europe accepts the equivalents of Scotland and England are no longer countries.

6 We think that it matters that Scotland has its own laws, when every state in the USA also has its own laws.

7 We base our argument for independence on the anomaly that Scotland plays international football because the game was invented in the UK.

8 People claim that the UK is not a country, because it has the word United in it, which would mean the Unite States was not a country either.

It’s all pretence and self-deception, but it is ludicrously carried on by both sides of the argument.

Theresa May thought she was helping by calling herself a unionist, not realising that it concedes the argument to the SNP. If the UK is a union like the EU as Scottish nationalists think, then it must be a sort of confederation made up of sovereign nations. But in that case Scotland would already be independent.

The UK government talks of a four-nation approach, or the UK being a union of equals, which again concedes the argument. If the UK is really made up of four sovereign nation states, then each clearly has the right to depart not merely after a referendum, but whenever it wants.

You cannot have a nation state made up of nation states and to pretend that you can is a delusion. You have to accept either that the UK is not a nation state in which case what on earth is this historical entity that has been acting as a nation state for the past centuries (running an empire, fighting in world wars etc), or you have to accept that the parts of the UK are not nation states, in which case it would be better to call them something else for the sake of clarity.

But we mustn’t upset the Scots, let’s go along with their pretence that they are still a nation it will stop them actually becoming one. This is the pretence at the heart of UK government, but it is also the pretence at the heart of Scottish politics.

If you ask Scottish voters if they want independence around half will say that they do.  They say this for a variety of reasons. One is that they support Scotland at international football and feel patriotic when they wear rather atypical clothing when meeting other football fans from abroad. The second reason is that they hate Tories and rather associate being Tory with being English. The third reason is that they enjoy pretending not to like England and feeling the grievance of a small place in relation to a large neighbour.

Meanwhile they are happy to live in England and marry English people. So, it is a pretend enmity.

But none of these are serious reasons for seeking independence, not when we are fortunate enough to live in one of the more prosperous nation states in the world. It rapidly becomes like California seeking to leave the USA or Bavaria trying to leave Germany. It’s joke politics. But here we have to pretend that it’s serious.

So Scottish nationalists pretend that they want independence. They dress up in the same sort of clothes as the Tartan army, which no one wears in ordinary life and go on marches and then they vote No when they have a referendum and then they vote Labour rather than the SNP.

Now you can respond to this as has been suggested by giving Scotland even more powers otherwise these Scottish nationalists will go back to voting for the SNP. But all you are doing in that case is emphasising the pretence.

It was only on the basis that Scotland was a nation state within a nation state that it was concluded that it was unjust that Scotland voted Labour and got a Tory government and so needed a parliament of its own.

Naturally enough a nationalist argument from Labour and the Lib Dems began to fuel Scottish nationalism and led to power for the SNP.

The threat to the UK is more from devolution than from independence, because Scotland keeps getting ever more powers paid for in the main by English taxpayers while England has no devolved power at all. Eventually the English rebel against this and English nationalism which did not exist thirty years ago begins to grow.

It is more likely that England leaves the UK than Scotland, for which reason it will never be given a vote.

So, Humza Yousaf pretends that he is not a nationalist because he doesn’t understand, perhaps because he is so Scottish that he failed to properly learn English. Other Scottish nationalists pretend to support independence while their goal actually is to defeat Tories, in which case voting Labour is more rational than voting for the SNP. There is no need to appease them with more powers. They are as uninterested in the Scottish parliament as the rest of us. They are happy with the pretence of a parliament so long as it exists.

But all of this pretending unfortunately has serious consequences. Scotland has lost a decade thinking only about independence and we are falling behind in health and education standards.

Worse than that we have ended up with an authoritarian and corrupt SNP and with a UK government that was unwilling to have a national policy during the pandemic because of the folly of treating the other parts of the UK as nations. This led not merely to attempts to treat the border between England and Scotland as an international border that could be closed, it led to the absurdity of UK money paying Scots to stay at home while the SNP took the credit for things it did not do like develop vaccines.

It was bad enough having Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell running the SNP like a family business in which they had absolute power and patronage. But it is worse now.

If Humza Yousaf is not a nationalist, what is he? What motivates him and how did he reach the top? It’s not just a matter of cruelly playing with his name, the past year has shown that he is shockingly talentless as a politician. It’s one disaster after another as if he became leader only after making a pact like Faust and has ended up being cursed.

Like Sturgeon too it looks rather as if Humza Yousaf is running a family business and it means now that voting for the SNP turns out to involve Scotland more than it might like in Gaza, Turkey and the worst parts of Dundee.

Pretendy Scottish nationalists who only ever wanted independence if they thought life would go on just like it does in the UK but, they’d all get gold bars for voting SNP are as disgusted with Humza Yousaf as the rest of us. They are not going to get independence, nor gold bars, nor £10,000 and they don’t much like the SNP being associated with the dregs of society.

Expect support for the SNP to fall still further. It matters very little indeed what you call it. What matters is what it is.

If Humza Yousaf is not a nationalist it’s because he’s something worse. He's just pretending to be one. 

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