Reaction, ethnicity and the case for the Union
The young are notoriously difficult when it comes to politics. The establishment goes to great pains to court their often-recalcitrant votes and is happy to wax lyrical about the tragedy of their disengagement.
In return for this attention, when they do get involved, they have an irritating habit of not playing ball. Last week’s “Edinburgh” edition of Question Time was a case in point.
Early in the programme Liam McLaughlan ,committed the cardinal sin of expressing a politics of conviction with his remarks on class and war (two issues that tend to disproportionately impact on the young). Online party hacks were quick to use Liam’s background as evidence of his unsuitability to speak on any matter.
Later another audience member said an even greater unspeakable. He suggested that some Scots face bad treatment in England, akin to that doled out to Farage in Edinburgh. For some strange reason the Huffington Post found this incident newsworthy.
The ever-unscrupulous George Galloway was quick to seize on the young man’s remarks as evidence of the SNP’s secret anti-English agenda. Farage then gleefully recounted a tale of the awful racist, anti-English, “yobbos”, who, despite countless trips by English politicians north of the border before his, unleashed this apparent “fascism” on the United Kingdom Independence Party leader.
On the other hand any Scot, regardless of age or background, who dares to make any remark about the English take on Scotland becomes grist to the unionist mill. They serve to show that the SNP, cunningly disguised as the only social democratic party in the UK, are really out to sow the nasty little seed of anti-Englishness.
Yet it doesn’t cut both ways. Telling Scots that they are unwanted provincials is perfectly mainstream behaviour that doesn’t provoke storms of protest or derision. In fact, it’s often applauded.
Whatever the status of Scots living in England, they surely can’t help but be disconcerted by the apparent acceptability of deriding Scots and Scotland in the strongest possible terms.
When Farage gets distressed by a bunch of protestors telling him where to shove his union jack (a flag which, buy its very nature, has no significance for any particular nationality) a media frenzy is unleashed.
Yet when Scotland is told by a UK national newspaper that it should go “fuck itself” there is scarcely a murmur. As Alan Bisset has pointed out, an equivalent remark on England from Scotland would create unimaginable outcry, regardless of who had uttered it.
Find me a Scot that has accused England of “exporting tramps” or who would suggest that the nation’s good fortune was down to Scottish efforts. As notorious Scotophobe Kelvin MacKenzie said: “The fact that anybody is in work in Scotland is due almost entirely to the wealth created by clever and resourceful people in England.”
For though we are told that we’re lucky to have run the UK through a Labour “tartan mafia” or in Paxman’s words a “Scottish Raj” it is in such remarks that the real grudge and grievance is expressed. Let’s remember that, for arch middle Englander Jeremy Clarkson, Gordon Brown was “a one eyed, Scottish idiot”, presumably one of the few things worse than a one eyed idiot.
It doesn’t stop there though. There is no aspect of Scottish society that is off limits for derision. In 2008 Douglas Murray, the Director of The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) remarked on Radio 4’s Any Questions:
“…the most galling thing about this whole thing, is this pretend horrible charade building in Edinburgh called the Scottish Parliament and the horrible charade politicians who inhabit it, and who occasionally crawl out of the darkness.
He then went onto describe leading Scottish ministers as “grandstanding, mickey mouse politicians”.
Personally, I think last week’s Question Time audience member was wrong to suggest that there is a tangible anti-Scottishness on the streets of England.
The truth is more worrying. The above examples are not the remarks of obscure individuals, in streets or pubs; they are journalists and broadcasters with substantial platforms. The fact that this divisive language hasn’t trickled down to the English people is a great testament to their characteristic tolerance.
We need to remember that some of the most progressive figures in England, such as Billy Bragg, have gone to great lengths to identify the need for independence as a necessary precursor for a better politics south of the border.
For their fixation on ethnicity is based on a poisonous attempt to add a non-existent dimension to it, as Galloway franticly attempted to do last week.
We are witnessing reactionary doublethink writ large from across the British political spectrum. To talk about ethnicity, grudge and grievance, is to wish it into being to stop the otherwise self-evident case for the transfer of power.
The underlying point is to suggest that constitutional change will fundamentally alter the way that English people will feel about Scottish people. The implication is clear: the English will be so pissed off with the idea of an independent Scotland that they will resurrect a tribalism last seen in the middle-ages with the aim of stifling the infant state at birth.
Devolution, we are told by proxy, is the best deal that we’ll get. For there are lurid, reactionary, imaginations throughout the unionist camp and the myth of new ethnic strife in the British Isles is both their darkest and most fantastic product.
This phantom, thinly veiled, also lies behind more placid language from Better Together about being cut off or severing ties. Margaret Curran’s “foreigners” interview showed just how close a mainstream politician was prepared to come to predicting a backlash for Scots in England. Those seeking to bust this myth need simply point to the 500,000 citizens of the Irish Republic living and working in the UK.
Such remarks reached fever pitch early today, with New Labour shock-tweeter Ian Smart stating:
— Ian Smart (@ianssmart) June 21, 2013
There is no connection between seeking self-government and xenophobia. Ian Smart knows this, but like all of his colleagues in Better Together, the aim is simply to tell the lie often enough.
In reality, the Yes campaign is premised on the idea of acknowledging the fact that, after 300 years, the English-Scottish border is still very much in existence. The societies and indeed the governments on either side have taken different paths for some time.
It knows however, that the people on either side are largely the same. It is only proponents of the union and their propaganda that have suggested otherwise.