The pathetic desperation of British nationalism

The claims and assertions of those desperate to avoid Scottish independence are getting frankly pathetic in their desperation now. It’s a sign of how lacking in confidence they are in the strength of their case that they are having to resort to people like Dr Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, who has argued an independence vote next year would be “exactly” what the Russian president would want because it would “weaken” the UK.

Opponents of Scottish independence are currently extremely eager to link Scottish independence to Putin’s aims, it’s a convenient distraction from the Russian money which has flooded into the City of London in recent decades and the oligarchs with links to Putin who have donated large sums to the Conservative party – purely out of the goodness of their hearts you understand. Claims such as that of Jonathan Eyal are only likely to grow in intensity and frequency given that support for independence is often in the lead in opinion polls, as in this week’s poll from IPSOS Mori.

Of course what has really weakened the UK is Brexit, severing the close political and economic ties that bound the UK to Europe. Brexit risked fracturing Europe, and a divided Europe is far more relevant in geopolitical calculations than what happens within the UK.

Eyal’s intervention is particularly risible as it is founded upon the Anglo-British nationalist fantasy that the UK is a world player in its own right and not because of the political and economic ties to other advanced democracies which Brexit has done so much to undermine. It’s almost as though they want us to believe that Putin is only deterred from attacking the UK because of Scotland, as though the Russian army is going to say : “Back lads, they’re using Scottish Bluebell!” Although if that was indeed the case then it would be an argument that Scotland is perfectly capable of standing by itself as an independent nation.

According to David Clark, a former senior advisor to the Foreign Office, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has greatly strengthened the case for an independent Scotland to become a member of both NATO and the EU, thus ensuring that even in the event of Scottish independence, the geopolitically important and strategic North Atlantic sea lanes leading ultimately to Russia’s Arctic ports remain very firmly within the Western orbit. In the uncertain world after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his decision to assault a neighbouring democratic state, it is very much in the interests of both NATO and the EU to grant accession to an independent Scotland if that is the will of the people of Scotland after independence.

A newly independent nation choosing to join NATO and the EU would greatly strengthen both alliances, indeed it would go a long way to restoring the international confidence in the EU which was damaged by Brexit, and a vindication of the democracy, freedom of speech and liberal values which are anathema to the strongman of the Kremlin. It would also be an explicit rejection of a UK which has decided that its role is to provide money laundering services for kleptocrats, corrupt dictators, and authoritarian regimes around the world.

Of course you could just as easily argue the exact opposite to Eyal and claim that Scottish independence would be Putin’s worst nightmare. A Scotland which achieves independence peacefully and democratically through a referendum and subsequent negotiation would provide an example to the various nations within the Russian state, not all of whom have reconciled themselves to Russian rule.

It’s not often realised that even after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of its fifteen constituent republics that Russia still contains over one hundred different ethnic groups, termed nationalities in Soviet parlance, each of whom have their own unique language and culture, and in many cases an autonomous republic of their own. Since Putin came to power he has greatly curtailed the powers of self-government of the autonomous republics and reduced their linguistic and cultural rights, in many of the autonomous republics there is considerable local resentment towards Russian rule.

Not all these nationalities are numerically small or are greatly outnumbered in their traditional lands by Russians, although many are. The traditionally Muslim Volga Tatars, who speak a language related to Turkish, outnumber Russians in Tatarstan, only two million Tatars live in Tatarstan, but there are over five million of them in various parts of Russia, Tatars also make up over a quarter of the population of neighbouring Bashkortostan, whose titular nationality,the Bashkirs, are very closely related to the Tatars in language and culture. Between them the Tatars and Bashkirs comprise a substantial majority over Russians in Bashkortostan.

Russians make up only a tiny percentage of the populations of Chechnya and neighbouring Dagestan, both traditionally Muslim areas which were conquered by Imperial Russia in the 19th century in a genocidal war which saw millions flee to Ottoman Turkey and where resentment about Russian rule remains exceptionally strong.

Both these areas saw uprisings and rebellions against Russia throughout the 19th century and after the collapse of Imperial Russia were only conquered by the Soviets after a three year long and particularly brutal war that lasted until 1921. Attempts by the Chechens to assert their independence after the fall of the Soviet Union were met after Putin rose to power with military intervention and the destruction of the Chechen capital, tactics he seems to be repeating in Ukraine. In both Chechnya and Dagestan, Putin’s rule is only maintained thanks to brutal and violent oppression and the two republics remain simmering cauldrons of discontent where open rebellion against the Kremlin could potentially break out again.

Further east on Russia’s border with Mongolia, native Tyvans, a traditionally Buddhist nation speaking a Turkic language, make up over 82% of the population of the Tyva Republic, which was nominally independent as Tannu-Tuva between the two world wars before being absorbed into the USSR by Stalin during WW2. The republic’s cultural and historic ties to Russia are not deep. Tyva was never a part of Imperial Russia, being a province of Imperial China until 1914 when it briefly became a Russian protectorate. It was occupied by the Red army during the Russian Civil War which broke out after the fall of the Tsar and declared independence as a Soviet satellite state in 1921. In the early 1990s the remote republic was rocked by a wave of violence and rioting directed against the Russians who had settled in the region in Soviet times.

All these nations could potentially look to an independent Scotland as an example of what could be achieved, proof that smaller nations within a multinational state can achieve independence and then be welcomed by the international community and become members in their own right of international organisations. That would only threaten even further Putin’s already precarious grasp over some of the non ethically Russian parts of the vast Russian federation.

Of course the real point here is that it is just as easy, indeed easier, to build an argument claiming that Scottish independence damages Putin’s interests as it is to assert that Scottish independence plays into the Russian dictator’s hands. However only one set of those arguments is going to get any publicity in Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence media, and that is proof of the pathetic desperation of British nationalists in Scotland and the poverty of their case against independence.

I’m doing my best here but I’m afraid this bout of post-stroke fatigue has still not lifted, it can sometimes take weeks.  In the meantime I will keep trying to publish new posts as often as my energy levels permit.

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