One of the most persistent and pernicious claims of opponents of independence is that the desire to see a restoration of Scottish statehood is motivated by nothing more than anti-English racism and a hatred of Scotland’s southern neighbour. It’s a claim which serves a number of purposes, which is why it keeps being made despite a lack of substantive evidence to back it up.
It is noticeable that those who cling most fervently to the belief that the Scottish independence movement is a toxic xenophobic anti-English force which wallows in an unjustified belief in Scottish exceptionalism and a romanticisation of the past are those who themselves adhere to a right wing Brexit supporting Anglo-British nationalism which is characterised by British exceptionalism, an abiding dislike of Europe, immigrants and asylum seekers, nostalgia for empire, worship of the monarchy and the armed service, and the unshakeable belief that their British nationalism is beyond the criticisms levelled at the nationalism of lesser nations because British nationalism is “patriotism” and is not nationalist at all.
This is of course delusional, but a refusal to acknowledge the nationalist character of the right wing Anglo-British nationalism which dominates the Conservative party is a defining characteristic of Anglo-British nationalism. This is why the likes of Douglas Ross was able to deliver a speech to the Scottish Conservative conference bemoaning that “Scotland has been “gripped by the dead hand of nationalism.”
That would be the same Douglas Ross who heads a party which is the leading proponent of an Anglo-British nationalism which has ripped Scotland out of the EU against the will of the majority in Scotland, and which is unilaterally ripping up a treaty with the EU in order to placate the British nationalist sectarian bigots of the DUP. It’s a Conservative Anglo-British nationalism which is imposing vile and despicable laws on Scotland,laws which will see asylum seekers deported to a Central African dictatorship with an appalling human rights record. Yet with an entirely straight face, and without a shred of self-awareness, Ross complained about the “dead hand of nationalism” gripping Scotland. That’s because Ross, like all Anglo-British nationalists, is blind to the nationalist character of his own politics.
In order to maintain this delusion they project all their own sins onto their political opponents. It’s a projection which is so enormous in extent that it would not be surprising if iMax sued them for breach of copyright.
Anglo-British nationalism is so all pervasive in the modern British state that its proponents no longer see the wood for the Platinum jubilee trees. It is regarded as – to use a term beloved of Michael Gove – “common-sensical”, although it is neither common nor sensible. However British nationalism has in modern Britain become the standard by which all other political viewpoints are judged, and being the standard it itself becomes placed beyond question or serious critique. It is simply “normal”. This is why the BBC is deeply critical of Scottish nationalism while it feeds us a diet of nauseatingly sycophantic royalist brain-candy and yet it insists that it is an unbiased and neutral reporter on Scotland’s constitutional debate and not what people who are not Anglo-British nationalists perceive it as being, which is an active participant on the anti-independence side in Scotland’s constitutional debate.
One of the great uses for Anglo-British nationalists of the assertion that Scottish nationalism is a racist campaign motivated by hatred of the English is to dissuade people from engaging with the arguments around Scotland’s constitutional debate. If members of the public can be put off from even looking at the arguments for independence, then opponents of independence don’t have to bother framing counter arguments of their own.
The English-hating slur also means that Anglo-British nationalists do not need to examine the structures and institutions of the British state and how these are failing. It means that they can continue to pretend to themselves that everything in the Anglo-British rose garden is just wonderful and that there is no underlying reason or motivation for Scottish independence that is rooted in a desire to tackle the democratic deficit and lack of political accountability at the heart of the Westminster system because they use the assertion of anti-English racism as a means of denying that any such democratic deficit or lack of political accountability exists.
The claim also serves the invaluable political purpose of allowing Anglo-British nationalist to pose as the victims even as the British government embarks upon an assault on the devolution settlement, an assault for which it does not even have the pretence of a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland.
The reality however, is that modern mainstream Scottish nationalism is strongly civic in character. According to Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at St Andrews University, the idea that all types of nationalism carry “the seeds of hatred” is wrong. Professor Reicher believes that it is Anglo-British nationalism which is far more problematic, speaking to The National newspaper he said, “I think there is little doubt there are toxic nationalisms in the UK, but it is more English nationalism than Scottish nationalism that is the problem.”
He added : “I think one needs to give credit – while being cautious, while being very alert to the more negative sides – one has to give credit to the fact that what Scotland has pioneered in the UK is an inclusive, civic nationalism which on the whole is not based in grievance.”
This is in marked contrast to the Anglo-British nationalism of the Conservatives which is founded in the imaginary victimisation of the UK by the EU, and within Scotland by the imaginary victimisation of the English by supporters of Scottish independence.
There are of course anti-English zoomers and bigots in Scotland, but they are a small minority who are scorned and disowned by most supporters of Scottish independence. They have no influence on mainstream Scottish nationalism, no matter how much Conservative MSPs say they do – the same Conservative politicians who deny the racist and sectarian elements who are a far more prominent feature of Anglo-British nationalism in Scotland and whose party panders to the DUP and the worst elements of English exceptionalism. A British nationalist double standard is very much at play here. The Conservatives and their allies react with fury at being associated with the minority of violent bigots, racists, and xenophobes who are a far more prominent feature of right wing British nationalism, but they are quick to tar all independence supporters with the same brush as a tiny minority of idiots on the pro-independence side.
It is worth pointing out that independence supporters have never gone on a violent rampage on the streets of Scotland’s towns and cities, but right wing British nationalists have done so on more than one occasion.
Professor Reicher went on : “On the whole, I think it is fair to say over the past 20 years Scotland has forged a more inclusive notion of nationalism – what is sometimes called civic nationalism, which says you are Scottish, whatever your background, if you live in Scotland and are committed to Scotland.”
It is not anti-English, or indeed anti-anyone ,simply to want the people of Scotland as defined above to be able to determine Scotland’s fate and the path that this country takes. At base, a belief in Scottish independence is nothing more than the belief that decisions about a country are best taken by those who care enough about it to live in it and choose to make their lives in it.
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