Anti-Englishness and the SNP

Over the course of the last few months, a number of high profile figures in Scottish and British public life have accused the SNP of ethnic chauvinism. First of all, in January, composer James MacMillan claimed the party drew on a “reservoir of anti-Englishness to power (its) secessionist agenda”. Then, a few weeks later in an interview with the New Statesman, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont suggested Alex Salmond had a “problem” with David Cameron because he was English. And finally, the Sunday before last veteran Tory Eurosceptic John Redwood said he viewed nationalism in Scotland as an “anti-English movement (rather) than an independence movement”.

The suspicion that Scottish nationalism harbours an ethnocentric tendency – or is in some sense fuelled by resentment of the English – has been a feature of mainstream British politics for a long time. This is largely due to the efforts of the Labour Party, which for years has enthusiastically promoted the idea that separatism is a form of extremism. For instance, in the mid-1990s, against a backdrop of ethnic conflict in the Balkans, George Robertson charged the SNP leadership with fomenting a “dangerous, crazy nationalist fringe” and warned against “the dark side of nationalism”. More recently, following the election of the first nationalist government at Holyrood, a slew of senior Scottish Labour politicians, including Ian Davidson, Jim McGovern and Anne Moffat, have tried to link the SNP, directly and indirectly, to “neo-fascism”, anti-English “hatred” and Nazism.

However, according to Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University, these attacks are odds with the reality of contemporary nationalism. In his recent study, The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power, Mitchell argues that the party’s understanding of national identity is perfectly consistent with the standards of 21st Century liberalism. He writes, the SNP is civic in the sense that its policies are among the most liberal of any party in the United Kingdom on citizenship, emigration and multiculturalism. Additionally, very few of its members would define Scottishness in exclusive ethnic terms. The SNP membership accep! ts a plurality of ways (being Scottish).” In other words, for the majority of SNP members, Scottishness is something an individual chooses, rather than something he or she has foisted on them by birth or through the bloodline.

So why do so many unionists persist in trying to tie the SNP to chauvinism? One explanation is that the concentration of the UK’s media in the south-east of England means that many political journalists assume that any rejection of London is, as a matter of course, an expression of parochialism and insularity. This attitude is particularly prevalent among commentators associated with the Labour Party (see David Aaronovitch of the Times and John Lloyd of the Financial Times).

Read the full original article at the New Statesman HERE.

Comments (15)

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  1. Welsh Sion (the other one) says:

    Could it be that these characters are the *real* separatists and indeed imperialistic nationalists – and they will say there’s nothing wrong in that… I am Welsh not British and also a member of the SNP as well as PC. I do not consider myself parochial in any sense – being an internationalist, I have friends from all over the world, and not just Facebook ones. I have also professional, academic contacts in all manner of institutions worldwide – it helps that I’m a specialist in my minority, first language and have a Masters Degree in Celtic and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Law and am trilingual.

    Politically, I have attended SNP Conferences and give the Welsh point of view. Throughout and in my continued ambassadorial roles, I have been welcomed warmly on all occasions, as, also, when I contribute to pro-Scottish Independence fora.

    Celtic Nationalists are welcoming, warm, respectful, open, international in nature and outward looking. It says a lot for the crabbiness, the bitterness, the narrow-mindedness, the jingoism and yes, the parochialism of certain elements of Anglo-British nationalism that they can twist our desire for independence and greater control of our own affairs as being of the same sort of xenophobic spew as their own.

    May Scotland regain her independence soon and may we in Wales follow your example soon after.

    Saor Alba/Cymru am Byth.

  2. David says:

    It should be pointed out that the picture you’ve copied from the English Standard isn’t intended to criticise supposed Scots-nat anglophobia but the anglophobia of the British establishment: suppressing English identity and democracy in favour of their British surrogates. I would say most English nationalists don’t think Scottish nationalists are anglophobic; it’s the – as I would call them [English], i.e. ‘England-denying’ unionists or Anglo-British nationalists that are phobic about Scots nats, as they’re desperate to protect their power and privileges under the Union state.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It was posted as ironic illustration of the fact that there’s a deluge of anti-Scottish material out there and English cultural paranoia, exhibited by the reaction to the Olympics design…the irony of which may escape you.

      1. David says:

        You’ve got a point, up to a point. We may be paranoid – but they’re definitely out to get us!

  3. FrankyBoy says:

    It is not just the Labour Party. It is also the state broadcasting beast called the BBC which happily repeat New Labour’s accusations of racism for day upon day.
    Both New Labour and the BBC are the main reason for these false accusations. If the BBC didn’t just churn out what its political London master tell it to it would still be a world reputable institution. But it’s name is turning to mud in Scotland and probably the world as it looks on.

  4. longshanker says:

    To suggest their isn’t an undercurrent of anti-Englishness running throughout the SNP at varying levels sounds like apologist revisionism.

    I would further argue though, that what there it does exist, it isn’t strong enough, popular enough, or powerful enough, to hamper the current progress of the party.

    Depressingly, the SNPs opponents will grasp at any straw which lets them muck rake and distract rather than deal with the real issues at hand.

    But that’s to be expected, and I’m sure Salmond has some type of contingency strategy to deal with it when the real fight begins in earnest.

    Jim Sillars description of the Scots as ’90 minute patriots’ could be rephrased into ’90 minute bigots’ where the ‘bigotry’ is a reaction to English commentators and their varying delusions of the English national team’s greatness.

    1. longshanker says:

      * I would further argue though, that whereit does exist, it isn’t strong enough, popular enough, or powerful enough, to hamper the current progress of the party. *

      Oops

    2. Gibson says:

      It’s not bigotry when the complaint is legitimate, and your commentators really are awful.

  5. Kilsally says:

    I can personally attest to being called a `sassenach` attending high school in Kirkcudbright, being mistaken as English when in fact I am Northern Irish but due to an `Army brat` upbringing had a rather mid-atlantic neutral accent.

  6. grahamski says:

    The SNP as an organisation has been scrupulous in ensuring that not a scintilla of anti-English bigotry emanates from official SNP sources.

    Their use of ‘London’ Labour and ‘London’ parties may well be a dog whistle to the Anglophobes within their ranks but they’ve certainly allowed enough wriggle room to claim they are being misrepresented when it is suggested such terminology can be construed as anti-English.

    The problem the SNP have is a simple one: there are elements within their membership who are anti-English bigots.

    As long as the SNP deny this the problem will continue.

    1. cynicalHighlander says:

      Nonsense you are just perpetuating a myth masquerading as the truth to try and strengthen the unionist cause of emptiness, shallow I believe is the correct description. Listen to Crudas.

    2. douglas clark says:

      How would you like us to address our overlords in London? Perhaps we should tug our forelocks or summat.

      The problem with the UK has little or nothing to do with the English, except by genuine ignorance. Which is hardly their fault. The problem most thinking people have with the state of the union is the completely London-centric nature of the beast.

      In my experience of the SNP there is no anti-English sentiment visible nor audible only at high frequencies. What is transparent is a sense of disgust with what the Con/Lib/Lab pact are doing to this country. We are to be precluded from criticism of these parties merely because their leaders are all English?

    3. Sunshine on Crieff says:

      As someone who is both Scottish and English, but with an English accent having spent my early years there, I have come across the odd bit of (petty) Anglophobia in my time. This has not come from independence supporters, SNP members or from the party as an institution. What there has been has come from the bitter type of unionist/British nationalist (I know, who would dream such an animal existed!) who question my right, based upon my accent, to have an opinion or say on Scottish self-determination. And, yes, they do quite often seem to be Labour supporters.

      As for the ‘London’ issue, that label merely reflects where the power lies in our current union. Face up to the matter, Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are London-based parties. They take their instructions from headquarters, their policy direction, and the rewards flow from that place: Johann, for example, being allowed to sit in on the Shadow Cabinet.

      And, as it happens, a lot of English people in the part of northern England I spent a large part of my life also use the term ‘London’ when referring to the centres of power. Anti-English sentiment from the English? Hmmm.

      No, I recognise when someone is trying to stir up inter-ethnic trouble based upon one of my identities – and it isn’t the SNP.

  7. David Smillie says:

    James MacMillan seems to have a problem with scottishness.

    1. Sunshine on Crieff says:

      Exactly what I was going to say. Going off his past writings, I would also say that he was a bit of a professional victim

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