The ethnic vote: the enemy in our midst? Lessons from the Quebec referendum

kiltsAs a Canadian I well remember Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau’s bitter remarks to his followers on October 30th, 1995, on the night of Quebec’s independence referendum, when the province lost its bid to become an independent nation by the thinnest of margins. Parizeau stormed to his heartbroken supporters that Quebec’s national aspirations had been sacrificed on the altar of ‘money and the ethnic vote’.

Are there lessons in the Quebec experience for Scotland’s ‘Yes’ campaign? Aye, there are.

The role of London-based Tory bagmen and banksters at bankrolling ‘Better Together’ has been amply covered elsewhere. I will confine my remarks to the possible role of Scotland’s ethnic voters in the September 18th referendum, and to some strategies for winning them over.

According to Wikipedia ninety-six per cent of Scotland’s population is Caucasian (‘White’), which leaves a ‘visible minority’ population (Asians, Africans, Caribbeans, Arabs or ‘others’) of four percent. How might Scotland’s visible minorities vote in the independence referendum? More on that later.

But the devil is in the details: of Scotland’s Caucasian population, according to Wikipedia, nearly eight per cent are self-described as ‘white other British’. Might these be the enemies in our midst? As Britons living in Scotland they are entitled to vote, and eight per cent of an electorate can easily swing an election result – or a referendum. So the question then becomes: will it?

Consider me as an example: I am a new resident of Scotland, and a newly registered voter. I am a Canadian citizen and a long time Canadian resident, but with parents hailing from Gravesend and Durham respectively, I am legally British, with a UK passport to prove it; and as a matter of accurate ethnic classification, I am therefore ‘white other British’. That is how I personally fit into the Scottish ‘ethnicity’ landscape: and yes, I am the enemy in your midst.

I am the enemy of ‘Better Together’. I have children, and so I am the enemy of a nuclear armed world in which our species is poised on the edge of annihilation – let’s send the rUK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’ to the Thames. I am an enemy of the UK’s financialized, greed driven, London-centric economy, in which those who have get more, and more and yet more. I am an enemy of the gutting of my English working class ancestors’ hard won victories, who won (often under Scottish leadership) pensions for all, public housing for all, a National Health Service for all, and a social safety net for all. I am an enemy of the ‘little Englander’ fantasies that may yet take Scotland out of the EU in 2015. And I am an enemy of the unfettered capitalism that puts quarterly profit and loss statements ahead of the rape of our environment; and which loots the planet’s vanishing resources in aid of creating a consumerist hell on earth, in which the price of everything can be calculated to a nicety, but in which the humanistic values which ought to govern our lives and our relations with each other are all but forgotten.

Luckily for Scotland’s national aspirations, our vision is quite different to Quebec’s in 1995. Quebec nationalism then (I can’t speak to it now) had an exclusionist, slightly xenophobic quality captured in the expression pur laine (‘pure wool’), which was used to describe ‘old Quebecers’ of the proper French ethnicity. Parizeau was probably right: the reaction of the ethnic vote against this wisp of a soupçon of nativist superiority likely did swing the Quebec referendum over to a ‘no’ outcome (the ‘no’ side in Quebec won by less than one percent of the vote).

So what lessons has Quebec’s referendum experience to offer us today, in the run up to September 18th? And how will the ethnic vote figure in the referendum?

Our Scottishness, as I understand it, is neither an ethnicity nor even mainly a nationality; but rather, it is a shared vision of a better future for ourselves and our children, built upon ideals of cooperation, compassion for others and genuine social cohesion. All for one, and one for all.

If the Yes campaign continues to build and express such a vision as this, of an independent Scotland which is also a new northern ‘commonwealth’ in the fullest sense of that word: a nation with full honours and a place at the table for each and every Scot (whether Scottish, ‘white other British’, or from a ‘visible minority’), then I expect it will win the referendum handily, with a majority of ethnic voters on side. I am myself a living example of the universal appeal of ‘Scottishness’ as more than merely a revivified nationality, but rather, as a radical new vision for the future.

I will be voting ‘aye’ on September 18th for the sake of my newly adopted country and my new compatriots. But here is the kicker: I will also be voting ‘aye’ for the sake of the long-suffering people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We in Scotland have a historic opportunity to break the mold of British politics, for ourselves, and as a service to all of the peoples of these islands. It may be that rUK will have to endure yet for a while in the howling Tory wilderness that has been consuming us all. But with the good example that we set before them, I am confident they won’t stay there for long. I have faith in the innate good sense of the British people; and as a ‘white other British’ person, I should know.

We Scots have cultivated a habit of showing our insular neighbors, and often the world, the way forward to a better future. Our time has come to do it again.

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  1. The idea of YES has great momentum; I canvassed the Polish, German and Americans I know over Christmas and they all of them, to the last, said they were in FAVOUR. Although they are all ‘caucausian’, despite expressing ‘ethnic’ differences.

    I must disagree with sending the nukes to The Thames; nuclear disarmament means NO NUKES at all, not dumping them on them on someone else. I am sure there is strong CND support in The Thames area too, but once the lethal missiles are gone from Scotland I guess it will be up to what is left of the UK to deal with them. When I have campaigned at Faslane it has been to have the nukes removed from the planet, not from Scotland.

    1. Kevin Brown says:

      The ‘nukes to the Thames’ point is in a sense rhetorical. I don’t think the lords of creation in London would allow them their (Oops! ‘there’). And also, a major point in the article was the one about ‘breaking the UK political mold’; and should an independent Scotland request the repatriation of rUK’s nukes, that will certainly help the process along. Right now the UK Labour party seems to have concluded that it needs to be about a millimetre to the left of the Tories to be positioned to win elections. The net result for all of us in the UK is that we have a hopeless politics. The London based lords of creation are gutting the welfare state and stripping the assets from everyone else in the country. And when there is no difference between the parties, we have no hope of redress. I know people in the English labour party who cling to hope largely based on having the Scottish vote sewn up. So while the Labour rank and file hope for better days in part through salvation by the Scottish electorate, the process of destruction continues.

      When (not if) the referendum is won, and the home of the rUK nuclear deterrent is under debate; and there is clearly no longer any hope for salvation at the ballot box by Scottish voters, rUK politics will reconfigure in a hurry. That is my hope and my expectation.

      Let’s break the political mold on September 18th.

  2. anon says:

    I keep thinking that if we do get our independence this year, in about ten years or so, the north of England may want to join us. (I’m actually suprised they haven’t been hollering about joining us already, Hollyrood’s policies would be an advantage for them)

    I keep thinkiing that this is one of the “silent” reasons for the No vote, Westminster may be worried not just about the break up of the UK, but of the break up of *England* in a similar way to how Westminster broke up Ireland.

    I fully intend to laugh, as the islands of the North Sea have some of the most peaceful political changes in the world (Iceland got the most peaceful revolution, Scotland is on track to get the most peaceful independance (India had violence from the British Empire), and, in a few decades, I’m hopeful that we’ll have the most peaceful land conquest 😉

    1. Richard says:

      I’ve thought for a while about Northern England seceding and joining us.

      The only problem is that this would make a Southerner of a Yorkshireman – would he stand for that?

  3. setondene says:

    I must disagree with Kevin on one of his points. He says ‘As I understand it Scottishness is not an ethnicity nor even mainly a nationality’. We are most certainly a nationality and also an ethnos. However, those of us who studied Scottish history at school were taught that our nation, our ethnos, is an amalgam, that is, made up of a number of founding ethnic groups (Angles, Picts, Scots and Britons). We are also aware of how important other incoming ethnic groups were to creating the modern Scottish ethnos; think Flemings, Norman French, Italians and Scandinavians. Where we have bad form has been our attitude to the Irish. This has harmed an otherwise inclusive national identity. Otherwise I totally endorse the points Kevin is making in his article.

    I do think that we will need to give a bit more effort to Scottish culture, beyond the current kilts and bagpipes variety, when we become independent. Although we haven’t been oppressed we most certainly have been suppressed and our culture inferiorised during the years of British rule. This needs to be sorted though not in a narrow or exclusive way.

    Over the years I have learned that the most cut-glass RP or even cockney accents here can disguise passionate supporters of Scottish independence. One of the most fanatical I ever came across was a scouser. These people may or may not consider themselves to be Scots. Whatever, it would be cutting our own noses off to insult or reject them. In my case I have a very Scottish appearance, all four of my grandparents had Scottish surnames, and I’m a church-going presbyterian. However, a family legend was confirmed by DNA testing that found middle-eastern genes in my bloodline from a marriage in 19th century Dublin. To a Jew for all you Rangers and Celtic supporters out there. We’re a Jock Tamson’s bairns whether we know it or not.

    1. jfjoubert says:

      Agree 100%
      There is nothing wrong with being a nation.

    2. tccokey3 says:

      You do go on,but I think your heart may be in the right place.

  4. I can relate to that article.
    I really do not have a feel for Scottish history I cannot relate to stories of Bannockburn the 1745 uprising etc.. It seems to me to be a history of an elite . People fighting for Kings or those who wish to be Kings.Perhaps owing to my own ignorance apart from the 1820 rebellion I have very little about the history of ordinary Scots. I want to read about the Highland clearances ,how ordinary people were forced from their lands, their language and culture was oppressed and forced to the fringes of Scottish society. Surely their are more heroes to read about than Baird Hardie and Wilson who fought and struggled for the rights of ordinary Scots.
    Why are so many Scots unaware of this history? why is it not easily accessible ?. why do many Scots actual cringe when these topics are raised? . Why has the British state got away with suppressing this history with out a much of a fightback ?

    The thing I take issue at the article is that their is no recognition of Scotland s biggest ethnic minority the Irish . This is the elephant in the room. My mothers family were from Fife . My father side were Irish. My grandfather from Lurgan my granny from Monaghan . I remember as a child my granny singing songs such as “Wearing of the Green” and ” Bold Fenian men”. I was brought up with a deep distrust or dislike for the British state.which I still hold these attitudes are common in Irish communities all around the world . Boston New York Sydney wherever the Irish have settled. It appears only in Scotland where this is perceived to be a problem

    To those people who will say your Sectarian , another thing that annoys me is .that I do not see Catholicism as a part of my identity . It is not important for me . The catholic church views are outdated reactionary.
    Secondly I am a Scot foremost . I chose to live here work here raise my family here. I believed I have contributed in my own wee way to Scotland.
    Scotland’s railways mines were built in part by the blood and sweat of the Irish . No getting away from it no matter how much of progressive Scottish wishes to ignore it 500k to perhaps 1 million Irish settled in Scotland as a result of the Irish famine . Irish immigration still occurs . The Irish are a part of Scottish society and we have contributed .Despite the abhorrent nonsense that is spread that we are dole scroungers or have control of Glasgow City Council we have helped make Scotland the place it is

    I wish to make it clear . I will be voting Yes because a Yes vote will I hope lead to a caring socially just society
    It will also lead to the break of the British state and an end to all the triumphalism and racism that British national identity encourages.
    Ps and hopefully those nuclear weapons based in Scotland will GTF too

    1. alharron says:

      The Wars of Independence were most certainly was not just “history for the elite” nor “fighting for a king,” as the Declaration of Arbroath made apparent:

      “From these countless evils, with His help who afterwards soothes and heals wounds, we are freed by our tireless leader, king, and master, Lord Robert, who like another Maccabaeus or Joshua, underwent toil and tiredness, hunger and danger with a light spirit in order to free the people and his inheritance from the hands of his enemies. And now, the divine Will, our just laws and customs, which we will defend to the death, the right of succession and the due consent and assent of all of us have made him our leader and our king. To this man, inasmuch as he saved our people, and for upholding our freedom, we are bound by right as much as by his merits, and choose to follow him in all that he does.

      But if he should cease from these beginnings, wishing to give us or our kingdom to the English or the king of the English, we would immediately take steps to drive him out as the enemy and the subverter of his own rights and ours, and install another King who would make good our defence. Because, while a hundred of us remain alive, we will not submit in the slightest measure, to the domination of the English. We do not fight for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.”

      Not exactly a Communist manifesto, but there was definitely something different about the Wars of Independence, no matter how often the “Bannockburn was just a feud between Norman-French barons” brigade bleat.

    2. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Catholicism is part of Scotland’s identity. It was instrumental in forging a sense of independent nationhood. Unionism has striven to exclude its rôle and rewrite the historical script presenting everything prior to 1560 as backward and obscurantist.
      Catholic Church views “outdated and reactionary” ? Quite a sweeping statement, don’t you think? In fact just a bit sectarian.

  5. jfjoubert says:

    Aha… Quebec’s referendum was about racism but Scotland’s independence movement is free of all that? That the author is Canadian just makes me feel sad… of all people he should know better. We had record numbers of YES votes in 1995 among ethnic groups and Parizeau shocked everyone with his comments. A trauma we are only beginning to come to grips with almost 20 years later.

    That being said… there is racism/xenophobia in Quebec as elsewhere. There is also the lingering effects of the British Empire splitting the population into 1. Those who want to retain their own identity 2. Those who want to become English in every sense of the word. And there are xenophobic in both camps.

    Lessons to be learned from the 1995 referendum? OK. We didn’t lose because of “ethnic votes.” We lost because it Quebec’s second largest city… the influence of the Trash Radio Stations was so great that they swung the vote towards the NO. All the votes needed to win were in the City of Québec if they had votes like the rest of the Province.

    “Winning over the ethnic vote” as is suggested in this article in less than a year’s time is just silly and disrespectful of many newcomers real fears about changes. Taking them seriously and listening to their, often familiar concerns is better!

    1. Julian Goss says:

      As a Scot living in Canada for the past decade and change, I can confidently say that comparing the Quebec separatist movement to the desire for Scottish independence is like comparing apples to squid. I’m not qualified to speak for the case for Quebec independence, but I can tell you that there definitively has been, whether you like it or not, a rather racist undertone to the current Parti Quebecois position, particularly evinced by Madam Marois’ proposed ‘charter of secular values’ which sought to ban the wearing of any overt religious clothing or symbolism, including the kippa, hijab, and turban, in any position in public service. This meant that if you were an observant Muslim, Jew or Sikh (doctor, nurse, social worker, teacher, etc) you WOULD NOT hold a job in the public sector in Quebec. Interestingly, in the recent Quebec elections the PQ and M Marois were thoroughly and comprehensively rejected by the Quebec voter. What is on the line for Scotland here is a completely different kettle of fish. This is a desire for the people (all of them) in a country to be able to determine the affairs of the country. Ethnicity is not the issue. Period. As Abulhaq states elegantly in these comments, it’s an idea, whose time has come.

      1. jfjoubert says:

        Thank you for the comment. I ‘ll answer this way. First, the PQ does not represent the whole of the independence movement in Quebec. There are three independent parties in Quebec now, and the only one that defended the charter, and proposed it in fact were the PQ. The least independent Parti of the three is the PQ. During the campaign they repeated this many times: there will not be any referendum, this election is not about referendums ect.
        I left the PQ roughly three years ago, before the charter proposals and out of frustration that the PQ had little to do with independence anymore. I will say this however, that 50% of canadians, that is outside Québec supported the charter, that means that one out of two people around you right now both have their own country and are “Ukip” ish. Oo
        And to defend Marois, now that she has left politics, although I never supported the charter, she did propose it out of a very strongly held belief of equality between men and women. She is the one responsible partly or wholly for subsidized daycare, equal pay measures, and much more.

      2. Morgan says:

        The charter affects Christians (90% of the population of Quebec) too – they can’t wear anything explicitly religious. Laïcté is about the neutrality of the State before all religious groups, not just non-Christian ones.

  6. Michael says:

    Scotland’s largest minority is the English. Many are passionate supporters of Scotland’s cause, at least in my experience.

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      And some of us don’t even live in Scotland, yet. The energy being generated by by the desire for a more humane state is captivating. It is also sorely lacking here in England: the build-up of support for UKIP is real and frightening.

      1. FlimFlamMan says:

        Just to add: when I say support I don’t just mean an attitude of “the main parties are all the same; lets give UKIP a go”, although there is that too. In talking politics with people I know or bump into I see a growing conviction that immigration, EU ‘interference’ and so on really are the sources of our troubles, and that UKIP are the answer.

        The plural of anecdote is not data and all that, but there it is, for what its worth.

  7. Abulhaq says:

    No racism please. Scotland is an idea, a cultural aspiration, a sense of place, a particular destiny to be fulfilled. The realisation of our nationhood awaits our attention. 300 years ago we gave up on it to pursue a meaner cause. It, however, did not give up on us. The renewal of our land concerns all who live in it , regardless of origin. The Québecois exposed as they are to relentless predations of anglo culture deserve our support. We have grown so used to it we hardly notice the damage it has wrought over the centuries. With independence the scales must fall from our eyes.

    1. ‘Scotland is an idea, a cultural aspiration, a sense of place, a particular destiny to be fulfilled. The realisation of our nationhood awaits our attention. 300 years ago we gave up on it to pursue a meaner cause. It, however, did not give up on us’.

      How lovely!

      Thank you for expressing one of the central ideas in my article far better than I was able to do. If we are to win Scottish independence, it must become a shared state of mind, a dream of the future we embrace; a beacon of hope within a UK of declining everything — living standards, educational standards, culture, social cohesion… a central feature of this other, darker world of the UK is ‘the politics of no’, which, fortunately for us, the Better Together campaign has fully embraced.

      The UK in its present form is in the grip of a politics of ‘hopelessness’. I believe that the ‘Yes’ campaign really will prevail if it offers hope for the future by countering the dark and dreary Labour/Lib Dem/Tory narratives which pass for politics in Britain.

      ‘Scotland is an idea, a cultural aspiration, a sense of place, a particular destiny to be fulfilled.’… truly, these are winning words, and reflect an idea that can triumph in September, if we adopt it — if.

      1. Abulhaq says:

        Thank you for your comment. I believe that small, hopefully resurgent, countries like Scotland (Catalonia, Québec..) potentially offer a new perspective on the concept of “the nation” free of the hackneyed stereotypes. Europe in particular, squeezed between the aggressive but superannuated anglo-american model and the hyper-capitalist copycat economies of India and China needs revitalization. The future of our continent does not lie with the old brigade, the imperialist remnants of 1914 or with the current sclerotic EU establishment, it lies with the creative genius of the sovereign peoples of Europe. We Scots coming out of our long “slumber” can, rather more than most, appreciate that those swaggering old kings do indeed have no clothes.

  8. Fay Kennedy says:

    I appreciate all the commentary in these articles for I learn something I never knew before which surely is the spark of life. Nationality has such negative connotations and yet as an expatriate living in Australia I always identify as a Scot but specifically a Glaswegian Scot with all the complexities that entails. I am sometimes devastated about my own ignorance of the richness of Scottish culture far and beyond the bagpipes though there’s nothing wrong with bagpipes other than their dominant feature in all things military. I am also enraged at an education system that deprived me and so many others of their heritage. I hope that Yes is the outcome in September and it is the beginning of a new age of enlightenment for Scotland.

  9. Clydebuilt says:

    “I will also be voting ‘aye’ for the sake of the long-suffering people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

    Many years ago (late 90’s) in a sky scraper far far away (Manchester) an English colleague asked if the North of England could join up with an independent Scotland. Well it would be great, unfortunately we cant take a pair of scissors and cut round the parts of England that want to join us. BUT I believe an independent Scotland will be a beacon of hope for the “long-suffering people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland” Before we get there there’s a campaign to win against the world champions in dirty tricks. So far The Omens Are Good

  10. My YES group is about a quarter English-born. I wish it was more.

  11. Craig P says:

    Scotland’s biggest ‘ethnic minority’ is no longer Irish, but English. However they have not suffered sectarianism and so have been able to integrate more easily, under the common umbrella of British identity.

    If there is a narrow No vote, I hope that English people are not targeted by disappointed nationalists. Quite a few I have spoken to who intend voting no have it in their heads that Scottish identity is hostile to English identity, and that this would become more pronounced with independence (personally I think the opposite would be the case, as in the Republic of Ireland). Although it is a small sample, none of the English folk I have spoken to with these concerns have personally suffered from such hostility, to the extent that I wonder if it is a media construct, similar to your average Scot’s fear of Romanian immigrants.

    Coinneach mac Raibeart, I should get some of your Yes group Anglos to talk to some of my friends / colleagues!

  12. Morgan says:

    For the record, Parizeau said “l’argent et des votes ethniques” which translates more properly to “money and some ethnic votes.” The Anglophone media has mistranslated this into a statement much more racist-sounding than it was. It is an undisputed fact that certain ethnic votes (British, Italian to name two) voted overwhelmingly “no” and this is what he was calling attention to. He did not say that all non-French groups did so. That Anglophones keep mistranslating this can only be ascribed to either bad faith or a lack of knowledge of French, and neither is flattering.

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