Reaction, ethnicity and the case for the Union

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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.

We also need to remember that jokes about dumping nuclear waste in Scotland or the grotesque imaginings of Daily Mail columnists have no real significance in the debate.

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:

@KevinJPringle @strathearnrose 23% for xenophobic parties in Salford. 46% in Donside. Shame on Scotland

— 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.

Comments (10)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    Well said.

  2. douglas clark says:

    Indeed, very well said.

    Could I add, just out of possible contraryness, that in a new Scotland, if the people are indeed sovereign, then the right to protest against xenophobic swivel eyed nut cases who, let us never forget, are not only standing as our voices in the parliament but are also embarking on a well paid career? They owe us, not the other way around.

    What is it about politicians that they expect to be treated with respect? In life, respect is usually earned.

    Telling folk this:

    “The Scots are subsidy junkies whingeing like a trampled bagpipe as they wait for their next fix of English taxpayers’ money.”

    is hardly likely to endear the leader of UKIP in Scotland to the electorate. Quite apart from being utterly innaccurate, it treats the electorate with contempt.

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    In the 18th century Scots were lampooned and caricatured in an overtly racist manner; poor, malnourished, libidinous, janus-faced, betartaned and dangerous. Currently, despite the fact that millions of people of Scots ancestry live in England, nothing appears to have changed. Scots are red-headed, loud, drunk, short/lardy, tartan-skirted, poor and scrounging etc. Little positive emerges. We are a “white-man’s burden” stripped of identity beyond the skinny guy on the pavement holding a begging bowl. If that is the way the BritState establishment and its minions the self-loathing BritScots wish to see our nation then tant pis. I couldn’t give a toss. You cannot reason with such crude prejudice, you can only show you don’t care. As a nationalist for whom the concept of “ethnicity” is not a forbidden word, I have no problem with Englishness or the desire of English people to preserve and promote the finest of that cultural identity. What concerns me is the rather narrow perception of our own identity which by default is paraded on the political stage. Much of our self-image is bogus; a manufacture of the turbulent 300 years of struggling to keep our head above the threatening waters of assimilation. The film “Braveheart” was total fakery but it did, like the faux-real often does, catch the imagination of many; Walter Scott’s more sophisticated oeuvres likewise. We have a lot of relearning to do. Much scraping away of cherished notions and ingrained habits. National renewal as well as national sovereignty is fundamental. A broad, exciting field of exploration and self-discovery for Scots of all ages to work in ,without the blinkers and rose-tinted specs of confining preconception. Independence is a wide, far-reaching existential issue, too important to be left to the constraining sectional interests of politicians. It is also about “sophistication”, but that is another cat in a bag.

  4. Alasdair you are correct on most counts which is why a new vision has to be better articulated along with the ‘don’t frighten the horses’ strategy. However I take issue with statements that suggest Braveheart is all myth. It is based on a singular historic fact and obviously could have been done better without doubt but it did a good job for Scotland ? Also tartan and pipes etc are often crudely criticized as being too narrow but let me tell you, as a marketing professional, there isn’t a country on the planet that wouldn’t pay a fortune for such icons!

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Of course behind the Hollywood mythmaking there was substance. William Walas/Wallace was real enough behind the facepaint and confused cultural markers. Someday a more “authentic” account may be made. Though I suspect an independent Scottish film industry would find the “authentic” just as problematic. Nothing against the rather clichéd tourist imagery of kilted betartaned pipers if it gets the punters in but do we have be so militaristic in flogging the brand image. I associate all that with the iconography of the current order and find the likes of the Edinburgh Tattoo toe-curlingly tacky and embarrassing. However € are € and $ are $……

  5. DougtheDug says:

    There is a parallel in the way that the mainstream press and TV in Britain talk about the Welsh. It’s an institutional racism so ingrained that it simply bypasses all the modern anti-racist, multi-cultural and equality mores of our current society.

    I don’t think that those who disparage the Scots or Welsh would even recognise it as racism as to them they’re just taking the piss out of provincials.

    To them Scotland’s not a country but a province which is an integral part of Greater England inhabited by a people who are not quite English and speak with a provincial accent and therefore can be made fun of. The same applies to Wales. For the establishment and media It’s an unfortunate fact that the Northern and Western provinces of mainland England are inhabited by those who are not as English as they should be.

    On the other hand provincials complaining about or making fun of the centre is not only wrong and against the natural order of things but ungrateful too.

    It’s the Scots like Ian Smart whose attitudes I find more interesting as they ape the attitude of the British establishment to a tee.

    For them they’re British and Scotland’s not a country as it’s a province of Britain/Greater England and that’s the natural order of things and always has been. Therefore a call for independence cannot be based on a separate sense of identity which has survived 300 years of union but is an anti-English prejudice so strong that it makes nationalists disloyal to their own true country of Britain.

    If there never really was a country called Scotland or a Scottish culture independent of British culture and if a sense of Scottish identity is directly equivalent to a sense of Yorkshire, or Scouse or Geordie provincial British identity then nationalism can only be based on anti-English prejudice. Hence Ian Smart equating the SNP to UKIP and the BNP.

  6. Doug,
    There was a country called Scotland, long before a country called England, and it might suit some folk to believe otherwise, but I’m afraid there is too much historical evidence which contradicts the ‘There never was a country called Scotland, it’s always just been an area of England’ brigade.
    (that comment was made by Ian Collins on his former talkSPORT phone in one night, and I just had to email him about it.)
    I’m afraid all this slander, and it is slander, in which epithets like the word ‘Fascist’ are hurled at those who want Scottish independence, indicates a certain fear in the hearts of those who do the hurling.
    They must be seriously convinced that their hunting and shooting estate to the north is actually going to break away, and don’t forget, when we do, the land to the South will feel the chill economic winds blowing round their Parliament. They’ve got a lot to be worried about.
    And didn’t Paxman describe Burn’s poetry as ‘doggerel?’

    1. Independence woman,
      Should Scotland vote to leave the UK, I believe the majority of people in England think a complete break between the countries is called for. People here believe that what the SNP want is independence plus. That is independence but with an open border, dual nationality and a currency union. The SNP wants to retain the UK welfare system but only if they can implement separate policies for Scotland from the start. A complete break means full border controls, no dual nationality and no shared currency. You vote to leave the UK, then you leave its institutions . What the SNP says it wants is not solely in its remit and without the will of the rUK will not happen. Scotland would be leaving a union, it cannot dictate terms to the rUK. When southern Ireland left the union 91 years ago, there was no division of the UK’s assets outside Ireland. Nor was Ireland liable for a percentage of the UK’s national debt. In the more recent example of the break up of Czechoslovakian, its citezens had to chose their nationality, Czech or Slovak.
      Their currency union only lasted a matter of weeks.
      An independent Scotland becomes a non EU foreign country in relation to the rUK and Scots entering or living in the rUK should be treated like other non EU foreigners unless agreement can be reached between the two countries. Nationality arrangements between the Irish Republic and the UK were made in a different and
      under different circumstances. Changes have been talked about and it is possible if the UK left the EU a new treaty will have to be negotiated. The SNP have talked about a more liberal immigration
      policy than the UK. This alone would force border controls.
      According to “gro-scotland.gov.uk” 794,577 people born in Scotland
      live in England and 408,948 people born in England live in Scotland
      what happens to the status of these people should Scotland become independent? Surely this depends on the attitudes of the governments and people of the two countries. What the SNP say will happen after a yes vote is not assured and this is not scare mongering. Beware of a backlash, nationalism is a two edged sword. In 2015 there is a general election in the UK. Can you honestly expect any major rUK political party offering generous terms to the SNP in the event of a yes vote?

  7. Alicia Devine says:

    Theodore Fontane, a German writer visited Scotland in 1858; he wanted to see and experience the land of romantic sturm und drang that Walter Scott fabricated and found much more pragmatic truths – on the one hand – the tourist hotels in Edinburgh reeked rancid fat through the floorboards and on the other – that Scotland doesn’t raise monuments to battle hardened heroes as he’d expected but to engineers, scientists and thinkers. He encountered a Scotland already beleaguered by patronising attitudes from their Southern neighbours and a Royal Mile already awash with tartan-clad trinkets for tourists (again thanks to Scott). Doesn’t seem that much has changed.
    If we are to change for the better any of the negative stereotypes promulgated by the pro-union establishment, and seize this historic chance to re-define ourselves at a national and international level, we must harness our personal confidence in our own abilities and apply them to every aspect of our public lives, being fearless with the truth and dogged in our right to self govern.

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