Why I say “Ja” to Scottish independence

Flag-Pins-Scotland-GermanyDaniel Mittler grew up hating nothing more than nationalism. But he is cheering for a Yes vote. Scottish independence, he argues, can be a welcome step to a more people-centred Europe

Among the progressive German community that I grew up in, nationalism was the slippery slope to fascism. I was proud to call myself a global citizen or European. Only when I left Germany to study at the internationalist United World College in Canada, did it dawn on me, that there could be nothing more German than my resistance to being German. The way I thought of “global citizenship” and the nation state – all of it was a perfectly rational response to Germany´s genocidal history. But that did not make it any less German.

Listening to new friends from Asia, Africa and Latin America I soon learned of the liberating role their nationalisms had played in the fight for decolonization (and often plays in the fight against neoliberalism to this day). I learned to differentiate and to listen.

When I moved to Scotland in the early 1990s, I encountered communities reeling from Thatcherite destruction, caught between the depressed apathy Fish describes in Internal Exile and a movement to rejuvenate communities. I learned that the people fighting to regain control over their destiny were often driven by a notion of community and belonging – by a deep emotional connection to land. This was alien to me  – Hitler had, after all, made talk of a connection to the “soil” synonymous in my mind with murderous destruction. But I couldn´t be but inspired by the battles to take back the land, from the Eigg Island Trust to the fight against the Harris superquarry. The attempts to rejuvenate a national progressive discourse as the battle for the Scottish parliament intensified also impressed me – not least through the excellent theatre and writing they produced. That wonderful writers from Alasdair Gray to the late Ian M. Banks endorsed independence for reasons I could understand and support – from never wanting to fight illegal wars again to strengthening culture to local control over resources – certainly helped. Meanwhile, the rules being imposed from the Conservatives in London were so obviously not in line with the views of the majority in my adopted home, it felt indeed like an being governed by aliens. That feeling of being disenfranchised as two thirds of Scots said no to neoliberalism at every election and yet remained unheard is one that I will never forget.

And, crucially, it did not end in 1997 as New Labour – at the very least in terms of economic policies – proved yet another alien force.

There were striking parallels to the tales I had heard from my friends from the “South” and those I heard in Scotland´s communities. Any look at who owns Scotland, and for whose benefit the economy was (is?) being run, made me think more of Brazil or South Africa more so than other European countries. And I wasn´t alone in drawing the paralels. George Monbiot founded “This is Our Land” because he saw parallels between the landless struggles he had encountered in his travels and the culture of enclosure in Britain. And the fellow activist I met protesting against the M77 or the proposed new A 701 described the imposition of neoliberalism from London on the social democratic majority in Scotland just like my African friends described how their economies had been distorted to serve the colonialists first. The struggle for environmental justice and community control didn´t seem much different from the Gorbals to the South African townships I was studying for my MA thesis.

Slowly I realized that Scottish self-rule has the potential to be a building block for the “Europe of the regions” that my anti-nationalist German self had been advocating all along (initially to overcome the German nation state). The fact that Scotland is so self-consciously pro-European made this realization easier. Indeed, to me, it´s much easier to imagine Scotland alone thriving in the EU, than for a truly trusting relationship between the “United Kingdom” and the Continent ever to develop.

In the end, though, my reasons for saying YES are not about the past or my personal tale of learning to understand certain forms of nationalism as liberating. I say Ja to an independent Scotland because of the future and the promises it holds. A Yes vote, it seems to me, is simply the best way to ensure that more communities can take control of more of their own destiny.  As Patrick Harvie has argued: A yes vote is needed for Scotland to have a chance to “take responsibility for the challenges of the 21st century” – and to chart a different course than the suicidal, City dependent and fossil-fueled trajectory that the London-dominated UK is on.

A yes vote does not guarantee anything. The struggle to bring back power to the lowest possible level and to deliver the fairer society that polls show Scots want will continue long after a Yes vote has been secured. But the nationalism that is one part behind the Yes vote is not the nationalism I was – quite rightly – taught to hate. David Greig says it best, I think:

I’ve kept my eye on Scottish nationalism, watching and waiting, distrusting it, expecting it to reveal its true dark heart. But it never has. For 25 years, Scottish nationalism has been a civic, social-democratic, multicultural movement. Nationalists have opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they opposed Trident. They have openly campaigned for more immigration. … Nationalists promote and engage with the EU. They advocate sustainable energy, land reform, arts funding… the list goes on.

It´s a list I like. And of this “to do“ list more items will be “ticked“, I believe, if Scotland has the courage to say “Yes“. The rest of Europe may be baffled for a moment if Scotland indeed goes it alone. But then, I hope, we fellow Europeans will be inspired and work where we are to take back our destiny in whatever we can as well.

Daniel Mittler is an environmental activist and graduate of Edinburgh University. He spent most of the 1990s living in Edinburgh and blogs here.

Comments (28)

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  1. Abulhaq says:

    the equation nationalism=fascism does not function in Scotland’s case. except for a brief flirtation in the 30s and early 40s Radio Caledonia etc Scotland has been impervious to its “allure”. this does not stop the likes of the Ukip leader crying “fascist” at those advocating independence or some on the left sticking to the old dog-eared “scotnazi” script. the very unsympathetic treatment the SNP receives from the left liberal intelligentsia and press is revelatory of how “nationalist” they are under the skin.

  2. Bruce Alexander says:

    Excellent, very well-written piece and I’d like to see more from Eu/foreign nationals resident in Scotland.

  3. As a German-Scot I can relate to this very well – and say ‘Ja’ too!

  4. Ron Preedy says:

    As a Scot who has lived in Germany for the last 40 years, your story resonates with me. Many Germans (most?) still instinctively shy away from the word ‘nationalism’ and have difficulty reconciling it with the social democratic, inclusive reality of the SNP.

  5. Douglas says:

    Richtig! Thanks, Daniel.

  6. Germans for Scottish Independence says:

    Hey Daniel, könntest du in wenigen Worten auch auf Deutsch sagen warum du für die schottische Unabhängigkeit bist bitte?!?! Das wäre wirklich etwas für unsere Unterstützer im deutschsprachigen Raum!!

  7. Wullie says:

    Vielen Dank Daniel, re’ your third world land issue. Something very far wrong when a Danish shopkeeper can use his private fortune to snap up estate after estate and end up Scotland’s second biggest private landowner.
    Nothing against the Danes but I believe foreign landowning there is sensibly discouraged.
    Whether this is speculation or the exercise of some eco-whim, it’s complete nonsense.

  8. C says:

    I’ll have to share this article with my mother. She too is German (with familial connections to the anti-Nazi movement in the 1940s), has lived here in Scotland for decades, and is preparing to vote Yes next year 🙂

  9. Cowaldude says:

    Just got in..was going to bed but thought – just check my emails. Opened this article and read it with barely a stop! What a great expression of our hope and feeling for the future from a “new” Scot. Sums up so much of what we want to achieve but clearly written from a position of considerable objectivity. Great piece of writing – must get this or something similar to the doubters and waverers! Thank you Daniel

  10. oighrig says:

    Vielen dank, Daniel, for helping me define my own particular brand of nationalism and understand the negative connotations it seems to carry on this side of the Atlantic. I hope distaste for nationalism doesnt deter voters from voting Yes.

  11. agrippinilla says:

    Thank you Daniel, for a very reasoned view of Scotland’s position in the UK and the Europe. This highlights yet again though, how the word “nationalism” could be a real hindrance to the independence campaign, as its general interpretation doesn’t reflect what we want to achieve.

    I prefer to think of Scotland’s unique brand of this as “nationism” rather than “nationalism”, because the focus is on our country and not the people who populate it. It seems that so long as “nationalism” is used to describe the movement, the more people like UKIP can (wilfully) misuse it and equate the facts of nationism with the more unpleasant nationalism.

  12. Doug Daniel says:

    Das ist toll, Daniel. If only more Scottish voters had such a firm understanding of what Scottish nationalism is truly about, instead of denigrating it as being little more than a fixation with Braveheart or closet racism.

  13. Steve Graham says:

    Interesting and well written….can you help me with my dissertation?

  14. David Myers says:

    This is a very interesting and welcome perspective.

  15. Recently I read a very interesting analysis of patriotism versus nazionalism. Reading this letter I see a tale of patriotism e not nazionalism that justly scares the writer. Farage is a nazionalist, Scots are patriots. Beautiful reading!

  16. Great commentary on the forms of nationalism. From my studies of history I’ve also become convinced that nationalism is typically an evil thing, but the Scottish variety seems quite different.

  17. Trevor says:

    Germans are quite right to mistrust nationalism, as they know only too well where it can lead. Despite the hype, the Scottish nationalists spout the same rhetoric as other political bottom feeders: ” everything would be fine if it wasn’t for that group of people.” The idea that Scotland is oppressed is absurd, and oppression is the only excuse for nationalism. Otherwise it is an entirely negative and divisive political philosophy.

    1. Alba4eva says:

      What about British Nationalism?

      British Nationalism has recently resulted in the endorsement and illegal invasions of two sovereign countries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Comparing it to Germany invading Poland, there are some similarities regarding empire building.

    2. Sovia says:

      What’s absurd about the government of the UK deliberately giving false figures regarding public spending in Scotland, causing at least bad feeling at most hatred from the English public due to the propaganda released leasing them to believe they have been subsiding us and “bleeding England dry” Covering up and falsifying the findings regarding the projected worth of North Sea oil in case we realise our wealth and became Independent??? Oppressed of course not, life under a Westminster government is a bowl of cherries hiw dare we complain

    3. Jet Cruise says:

      Scotland has pretty much been oppressed. When you take a look at the invention the “Television”, invented by a Scotsman. As a person living in Scotland you notice the “Scottish” channels broadcast English programmes most of the time. Then there are the “British” soap awards, the only soaps included in the British soap awards are English soaps produced in England they should rename it,- “The English Soap Awards”. Over the years there have been Irish & Scottish soaps, & they weren’t being broadcast in England. And yet all the English soaps are broadcast in Scotland. I think this shows the British tv ruled by England are pro English. Even the English language was forced on Scotland. Scotland didn’t get a choice to choose if they want to speak English. Over 300 years Westminster has had first say in most of Scotland’s runnings & taking taxes & oil revenue from Scotland, & look at how fast England has grew compared to Scotland.
      Scotland isn’t oppressed ?
      Westminster has held Scotland back for over 300 years. Scotland’s Independence is long over due.

    4. Warren says:

      Oh, Trevor…
      The rhetoric down in England is hardly saintly is it? “everything would be fine if it wasn’t for that group of people” – Blaming Europe and immigrants, ring any bells? Also if oppression is the only excuse for nationalism, then why so many foaming nationalists and faux-libertarian/neo-con ‘freedom lovers’ down in England? Oppressed by foreigners and the EU, right?
      I won’t say (in the Scottish case) it’s not entirely divisive, I think the idea comes with that danger, and of course some people will use it that way. But in general and in terms of the ‘mainstream’ message, I don’t see it that way.

      Re: ‘Bruce Alexander’: English mother, Scottish/South African father, born in South Africa and now living in Germany – I admittedly experiences xenophobia of different kinds in both Scotland and England (studied/lived in both); but the only times I have personally been discriminated against and treated as a foreigner have been in England. Mostly more recently in the last few years, it used to be a remarkably tolerant place compared to South Africa, but now it actually feels quite similar in terms of the internecine rhetoric, xenophobia and heightened level of nastiness.

      1. Trevor Moore says:

        My point isn’t that England is in some way better in this regard (although it hasn’t, to date, elected a Nationalist government) but that Nationalism is to be avoided. The rise of nationalistic sentiments throughout the UK is a concern at present.

  18. Warren says:

    Hi Daniel…nice article. In your point about ‘who owns Scotland’, you compare it to the case of Brazil or South Africa. Do you have references (hopefully succinct enough to read in one or two sittings) to the Brazilian or South African cases? I’d be interested in reading these…thanks! From a South African in Germany with Scottish/British heritage…

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