Fury, denial and intellectual poverty : the state of British nationalism in Scotland


Possibly it was an outbreak of masochism, or a curiosity verging on the foolish, but the other day, using a burner account, I had a peek at anti-independence social media to get a feel of where the opposition is at. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a huge amount, but I was shocked by the complete lack of anything approaching an analysis of why the political landscape in Scotland lies as it currently does. Such an analysis is vital if opponents of independence seek to remove what they see as the ‘threat’ of independence permanently from mainstream Scottish political discourse.

Instead what I found is that right wing Anglo-British nationalism in Scotland is characterised by fury, denial, and an abiding sense of victimhood. Blame for all these ills is heaped squarely at the door of the SNP, the other pro-independence parties scarcely seem to register with them and the existence of non-party political support for independence is not acknowledged. Any attempt to point out the manifest short comings, never mind the outright lies and corruption of this Conservative Government is airily dismissed as “grievance mongering.”

It is striking that there is absolutely no attempt amongst opponents of independence to discern why support for independence should be at the level it is, given what die-hard British nationalists believe to be the self-evident advantages of Westminster rule. You might imagine that understanding this would be vital to devising a strategy to halt the independence movement in its tracks and to put it into reverse. However all there appears to be is a furious anger at the SNP for “stoking up division” and a supposed anti-English racism, the ‘proof’ for which is deeply contrived and seems to consist of evidence free assertions that references to “Westminster” are in fact code for “the English” with no recognition of the political reality that as part of the UK, Westminster is a parliament with authority over Scotland too.

There is no recognition whatsoever that the actions of the main British political parties following the 2014 independence referendum might have played any part in creating the level of support for independence which currently exists in Scotland. All there is is a burning resentment that the SNP “refuses to accept the outcome of the 2014 referendum,” again there is no apparent awareness of other pro-independence parties or of civic Scotland in pushing for a second independence referendum, insofar as this is acknowledged, it is explained away as being because they are in the pocket of the SNP. No one in Scotland who supports Scottish independence or who believes that it is a democratic imperative that there must be another independence referendum is thought to have any sort of agency of their own. It’s all because of some all powerful SNP pulling the strings of Scottish society like some evil puppet master.

There is outright denial that the failure of the Westminster parties to honour the promises and commitments which they made as part of Better Together have any role to play in creating the current level of support for independence. Indeed there is rarely any acknowledgement of any failure at all on their part. Brexit is waved away because apparently “we all knew” it was a realistic prospect in 2014, and in any case Scotland didn’t vote against Brexit because it was a UK wide vote, so it’s irrelevant to them how people in Scotland voted. Equally there is no recognition that the Conservatives have been assiduous in their unilateral attempt to undermine and subvert the devolution settlement despite the promise that Westminster would not “normally” make any changes to devolution without the express consent of Holyrood.

We are dealing with a peculiar species of alternative reality which is angry and confused about the realities of modern Scotland and which lacks the conceptual framework to engage with it in any meaningful way. It’s a British nationalism which is putting all its eggs in the basket of refusing to accept that there can or will be another vote on independence in Scotland, because even though they would angrily deny it, they have no intellectual ammunition to win that debate.

The denial extends to outright denial of the existence of British nationalism, never mind a recognition of its dominance in the modern Conservative party. The only nationalism in Scotland is Scottish nationalism. Yet just this weekend Liz Truss, the front runner in the Conservative leadership contest denied the existence of the union and even the existence of Scotland as a nation in its own right, casually overturning generations of Scottish Unionist political thinking. Truss announced that she intends to personally take the post of Minister for the Union and said “We are not four separate nations in an agreement of convenience, as some would have us believe. We are one great country which shares a history and institutions, but also family and friends, memories and values.”

That is an explicit declaration of British nationalism and an outright denial that Scotland is a member nation in a union of nations. Truss went on to claim she would ensure that her policies were implemented in “all corners of our country,” adding “For too long, people in parts of our United Kingdom have been let down by their devolved administrations playing political games instead of focusing on their priorities. If elected prime minister, I will deliver for our whole country.”

This is an effective declaration of war on the devolution settlement , note that Truss cannot bring herself to accept that Scotland or Wales are countries in their own right, and certainly cannot acknowledge that they have governments, no, they have “devolved administrations”. This is what the Anglo-British nationalism of the modern Conservative party looks like, as it alienates the entire UK from Europe and identifies the parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff as enemies. If the Conservatives cannot win political power in Scotland or Wales through the ballot box, then the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament must be bludgeoned into submission using the Conservatives’ Commons majority which is of course based upon their English seats. But apparently pointing that out makes you a racist.

Yet British nationalism does not apparently exist when you are a British nationalist, even as British nationalist politicians wrap themselves in the British flag and make explicit denials that Scotland is a nation. One British nationalist social media account I came across expressed itself perplexed by the term British nationalist and asserted no such thing existed. Yet the account used a photo of Winston Churchill in its header and was friends with other accounts which draped themselves in Union flags, although of course, given what Truss has just said, these are not Union flags at all, but rather the flag of “one great country.” That’s not nationalist at all, oh no.

The intellectual poverty and denialism of much of the opposition to independence makes it singularly ill-equipped to fight another referendum campaign. That means that when there is a vote, as there inevitably will be, Better Together 2.0 will have nothing to draw on except anger and fear and the vacuous British bullshit of the Conservatives – with Starmer’s Labour running along in the Tory wake playing catch up. As soon as the vote is called, they will have already lost.


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