Generally viewed as being on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, Nigel Farage and George Galloway are unlikely bedfellows. However, over the past few days, they have found themselves united by their brash and uninformed entrance into the debate over Scottish independence.
To begin with, Farage’s attempt to re-launch UKIP in Scotland was challenged by protesters from the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) who told him that his extreme anti-immigrant politics were not welcome in Scotland. This subsequently led to Farage calling the protest “Anti-English and decrying the “Ugly face of Scottish nationalism”. 1
Meanwhile, speaking to the Sunday Herald yesterday, George Galloway has chucked his oar in by warning Irish Catholics in Scotland of the recriminations for them in an independent Scotland. According to the Respect MP, “there’s an historic crossover between Scottish nationalism and anti-Irish-Roman Catholicism” and has urged Scotland’s Catholics to be “careful what they wish for”. 2
These are either evidence of the total ignorance of Farage and Galloway or they are deliberate misrepresentations of the current political dynamic in Scotland.
Those who protested the UKIP leader did so, not because of where Mr Farage was born, but because UKIP are a party with a well-documented agenda of racism, homophobia, and sexism. Indeed, their far-Right politics are largely alien in Scotland where there is a broad consensus around the need for more progressive policies on immigration. The scapegoating of immigrants for society’s problems, a line peddled by not only UKIP but all the Westminster parties, is challenged with a different narrative in Scotland. This was what we saw happen on the streets of Edinburgh last week.
Now, there is no doubt that anti-Irish racism is alive and well in Scotland, as I can personally testify to. In the wake of the Farage protest, after conducting several interviews for the broadcast and print media, I have received a barrage of abuse from online bigots. Most of the stick has centred upon the fact my name implies an obvious Irish heritage. Tweets along the along the lines of “Liam O’Hare started this protest in Edinburgh apparently. The name speaks volumes” and “Liam O’Hare. Wonder what his religious and political beliefs are #Scots/Irish bigot” have been numerous.
However, Galloway is frankly out of touch if he thinks it is Scottish nationalism which fuels this.
This anti-Irish sentiment on display is not the face of Scottish nationalism but of British nationalism – which is a damn sight uglier. It is British nationalism which has been used to drum up support for illegal wars and the expansionist, aggressive foreign policy of Britain. It is British nationalism which screams “British jobs for British workers” and says we need to leave the EU and shut the borders. Indeed, it is British nationalism which provided the basis for the long oppression of the Irish by the British state. And, dare I say it, it is British nationalism which is on display at Ibrox Park every week when Rangers supporters wave the Union Jack and chant various diatribes about Roman Catholics.
It is the inherent racism of British nationalism, which has wreaked havoc across the world, which needs to be consigned to history if we want to rid Scotland of discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds. Bigotry may once have laced the SNP’s bloodstream but, despite the wholly ill-judged Offensive Behaviour Bill3, it has must be acknowledged that it has moved on leaps and bounds since then.
Furthermore, what Farage and Galloway, and indeed much of the mainstream media, fail to recognise is that an alternative case for Scottish independence has emerged. This is a case for a Yes vote in September 2014 that is not rested upon the Saltire, the kilt and old adages of Scottish nationalism. Instead, what Radical Independence is articulating is a vision for an internationalist, multicultural Scotland that seeks to eradicate inequality and become a force for progress in the world. A Scotland that welcomes immigrants, but does not welcome the deeply nasty and reactionary politics of Nigel Farage.
The distinctiveness of the political climate in Scotland is becoming more apparent with every passing day. Indeed, politics in Westminster could almost be being conducted in an entirely different orbit. From austerity to trident and the European Union to immigration, the consensus in Scotland is for something altogether different than what the British Government has planned. The alarming rise of UKIP is merely indicative of this.
And the deeper this wedge is driven, the more likely it is that we will witness this political divide turning into a constitutional one. A Panelbase poll released today in the Sunday Times said that if the UK looked likely to withdraw from the EU, then support for independence would be equal with those opposed, at 44%.4 In amongst all the commotion of his visit to Scotland, perhaps what Nigel Farage did not realise is that it is an aversion to his type of politics that might tip the balance in the referendum next year.
It has always been clear that people will only vote for independence in 2014 if they think it will make a positive and fundamental difference to their lives. The rightward turn of politics in England, combined with the growing momentum of the RIC is making this outcome seem more and more likely.
A new generation is emerging, arguing for Scottish independence on a radical, inclusive basis. Not only are we leaving the dogmas of Farage and Galloway behind but, with any luck, we could soon be leaving the corrupt British system behind too.