The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Nationalism

A simple guide for people who want to write about nationalism:

Ethnic Nationalism: is the belief that the nation is based (wholly or in large part) on people from the same ethnic background. For example ‘Serbs out’.

Cultural Nationalism: is the belief that the nation is based (wholly or in large part) on historical and cultural characteristic that make it different from its neighbours. For example, every nation state everywhere in the world.

Civic Nationalism: the belief that the nation is a territorially-defined entity with a democratic right to self-determination. For example: European Union nation states
The first defines citizenship in genetic (or very occasionally religious) terms. The latter two define citizenship in democratic, residential terms. Therefore an ethnic nationalist does not believe that someone from a different ethnic background (Pakistani, English) is a part of the nation. This form of nationalism is closely associated with fascism and apartheid.

If you know that you are clearly and inaccurately writing about your opponents in terms that imply they do not accept the citizenship of those who are not ‘blood Scots’ then you are involved in intentional smears that seem to me to border on defamation. If you don’t know this, you should simply refrain from writing about it.

Reference to dictionary definitions of the component words used in a sociological typology you apparently do not understand does not change the meaning of the term. For reference:

Ethnic – The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition

Cleansing – To make something thoroughly clean

Ethnic cleansing – a process of washing people who share the same traditions

David Torrance has carefully selected language which is understood throughout the world to refer to genocide and horrific human rights abuses and knowingly applied it to artists he disagrees with. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the sociology of nationalism will tell you there is no intellectual defence of his use of this language in analysing the Scottish independence movement.

One assumes he does not believe that either Alasdair Gray or Alan Bissett would define Scotland on anything other than cultural and democratic terms. But when it comes to the defence of the United Kingdom, anything goes.

Comments (61)

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  1. Theuniondivvie says:


  2. TartanZen says:

    Spot on… doubt anyone could put it better!

  3. JBS says:

    Clear. Merci mille fois.

  4. Rachel Holmes says:

    Mr Torrance has either unwittingly used ‘ethnic’ in the debate thinking nobody feels it is linked to, in many contexts, something rather nasty or, he used the word deliberately to support his view that those who believe in a Scottish Parliament having the economic and fiscal powers all other nations have, are somehow driven by a dislike of other nations. Either way using ‘ethnic’ in this debate was either naive or willfully creating a distraction. I wonder what it is he was trying to distract his readers from….

  5. macgilleleabhar says:

    Isn’t it interesting to observe the Unionist genteel veneer peel off as they come under pressure. Over the last few days I have been amused to find senior Guardian people denigrating Scots. One lady stated that no Scottish person should ever again hold high office in the UK whilst another gentleman after a night at the theater in Edinburgh was so bellicose as to suggest that our referendum may end in violence!
    Mr. Bissett must have struck a raw nerve with the press.

  6. Well said, Robin!!!

    Torrance’s pathetic defence is like the homophobe who criticises someone for being gay, and then defends themselves by maintaining that the dictionary definition clearly states that it means ‘light hearted and carefree’…

    1. Dinna_Fash says:

      Good point.

    2. An Duine Gruamach says:

      I was thinking something along those lines, but more like the annoying kid in the playground who runs up and says:
      “Hahaha, you’re gay, you’re gay!”
      “No I’m not.”
      “Hahaha, gay means ‘happy’, aren’t you happy? Hahahaha!

      And then runs away thinking himself ever so clever.

  7. Alex Buchan says:

    David Torrance appeals to Andy Mycock’s definition of ethnic nationalism. Here’s an extract from Mycock:

    My study of SNP policy documents and speeches reveals however that the party’s shift from ethnic-based nationalism during the 1980s and 1990s has not been absolute. The SNP framing of a modern Scottish nationalism draws heavily on a historical legacy and institutional framework which explicitly recognizes the ethicized foundations of the Scottish nation and state. For example, the SNP have sought to ‘embed Scottish history, culture and heritage’ in a range of policy areas. The teaching of Scottish history in schools has sought to prioritize Scottish pre-Union history whilst proponents for the introduction of Scottish Studies into the curriculum suggest it will allow pupils to learn of Scotland’s ‘rich heritage’. The SNP have also promoted the revitalization of ‘indigenous’ languages such as Gaelic and Scots which have been ‘suppressed and oppressed’. This approach draws on an ethnicised view of Scotland’s national past and its relevance to contemporary national culture and identity which lacks balanced recognition of the diversity of historical experiences amongst its citizenry

    1. Angus says:

      So If I read this correctly Mr Mycock is suggesting that teaching Scots history in full and not just from 1707 onwards as part of a balanaced ciriculum in history lessons is racist.

    2. Alex Buchan says:

      Yes, as is supporting the Gaelic language. To do him justice he does say that all forms of nationalism have an ethnic element. But, clearly, he is being sloppy with the terms he uses, and looking for evidence against the SNP. Torrance’s link is to the website British Futures. On this same website Matthew Rhodes, British Futures director of strategy writes:

      “whenever I am asked about what being English means to me – is to think more in terms of what makes me proud to be English. My answers are usually; our history, our culture, our landscapes, our inventions (particularly sport) and even sometimes our food (roast beef and Yorkshire pudding anyone?)!”

      So, this is seen as OK, but not in relation to Scotland. Mycock’s biggest failing is in not acknowledging Scottish nationalism’s record of being “a positive, open, civic and multi-ethnic national identity, with space for others to appropriate it for themselves and integrate into it.” As I say he is looking for evidence against the SNP and setting higher bar for Scottish nationalism to have to jump over.

  8. Malcolm says:

    The invocation of the dictionary definition is uncomfortably redolent of the argument put forth recently by those against gay marriage.

  9. Iain says:

    I wish I was able to express views and ideas as succinctly as this. This encapsulates exactly how I felt on reading David Torrance’s pedantic response to Alan Bissett. I’m very envious!

  10. If Robin can find the time he needs to collect more of his thoughts in

    1. Catherine says:

      Yes please, I keep going to the site hoping to find a new article. They are well written, informative and thought provoking.

  11. markspalding says:

    Why should there only be 3 types of nationalism? Sounds like an academic conceit a.k.a institutionalised intellectual officiousness/laziness. Torrance goes some way to describing the reality of the dominant manifestation of present day Scottish nationalism: an inchoate hauf wey hoose between the ethnic nationalism of the 70s and the attempt at a civic nationalism in the Salmond era. In other words he’s surely close to describing Salmondism as at least lacking in integrity, or at worst a piece of undigested wishful thinking/opportunism. Anyone who is unaware of some degree of virulent anglophobia and ethnic insecurity in the online referendum debate has been living a very sheltered life: the cause of these embarassing tendencies lies in the philosophical inadequacy of the secessionist position.

    1. Eh? And you have the audacity to accuse anyone of “academic conceit”!

      1. markspalding says:

        Indeed: I am in no sense an academic.

    2. tom donald says:

      I have seen NO “virulent anglophobia” online, and I am immersed in the debate there. I would notice it, because I’m a Scot with an English mother, and I’m sensitive to anything like that. I’d like to see markspalding’s evidence for this, otherwise it’s just another pathetic smear, isn’t it. As for “ethnic insecurity”, I have no idea what that means, but I’d caution markspalding to read the article above about the use of the word “ethnic” in this debate. It has NO relevance.

      1. markspalding says:

        I’m happy to describe myself as an ethnic Scot: unlike many Yes men, I have no English ancestry- at least not in the last few centuries. I am British BECAUSE I am Scottish. By “ethnic insecurity” I refer, amongst other things, to the well known corrosive demographic angst in certain nationalist quarters, and to the embarrassingly high levels of male insecurity exhibited by Yes men.

        1. tom donald says:

          There’s no such thing as an “ethnic scot”! Thinking like that has no place in the new Scotland, we are all members of our community whatever our imagined “ethnicity”. If all you’ve got to add to the debate is insults, you really seem to have missed the entire point of the referendum debate. I suppose you have nothing positive to add, as a unionist you are, like all unionists, silent on the issue of home rule, your only currency is fear and insult.
          I hope you don’t mind coming over as a twat!

    3. daibhidhdeux says:

      “[T]he philosophical inadequacy of the secessionist position”: Will that be India, ‘the jewel in [the British Empire’s] crown” you are referring to? Or, what is now, the USA? Or Canada who repatriated their constitution under an Empire Loyalist ‘Frog’? Or New Zealand or Australia with their patchily monarchist governmental residues? Or the countless other “secessionist” entities who seceded from the pink, British bits of the Anglo-centric world map to coalesce in the contemporary Commonwealth? Or could it be partitioned Ireland where the non-secessionist Unionists with non-secessionist British backing shot many secessionist ‘Paddies’? Or, are you referring to the secessionist Mau Mau that the non-secessionist British military massacred? Oops, maybe Aden, perhaps? Nope, probably South Africa where non-secessionist ‘knights’ clad in white armour introduced the proto-Nazi forerunner of the concentration camps for “blecks” and other secessionist dissidents…

      Can you clarify which secessionist tendency you are referring to as it might help the French understand why provincial Albion seceded from France and us peripheral, Celtic abos understand why you seceded from the fundamental precepts of democracy and mutual human respect in favour of a neo Third Reich encapsulated in a psychopathic world view Daily Mailed and Telegraphed as “Britannia” (a Brittonic loanword en passant)?

      1. markspalding says:

        I’m referring to the inadequate philosophy of the 2014 Scottish Yes campaign- the occasion of this discussion.

      2. Muscleguy says:

        I grew up in New Zealand and daibhidhdeux’s point is well made. NZ is a multiracial and multinational society and there is a strong element that if you live there and feel yourself to be a New Zealander then you are one. The attacks in the British media on the All Blacks having ‘stolen’ Polynesian players was not only ignorant it was offensive. Jonah Lomu is a Kiwi, Ma’a Nonu is a Kiwi end of discussion.

        I recognise this civic nationalism in the Yes campaign and the forms of words they use and I like it. So what if the SNP has not always been thus? they have seen the light, Hallelujah! By your lights no political party could ever change it’s policies. Do you think the painful process they went through in Perth to accept NATO membership is something they will go back on? You are asking for a false sort of consistency and when you don’t find it you are labelling it philosophical inadequacy.

        Instead you are coming across as politically naive.

    4. Moray Man says:

      “the well known corrosive demographic angst in certain nationalist quarters, and to the embarrassingly high levels of male insecurity exhibited by Yes men.”

      Is this a joke?

      If it is so well known, perhaps you can provide a few examples for those of us “Yes men” who have read Iron John and feel confident about our masculinity.

      And it’s a distraction from an excellent and succint piece of work by Robin McAlpine that feels to me to be much more honest than the evasive defence by David Torrance.

    5. hektorsmum says:

      Why is it that those who hold a different perspective, one which holds that the only form of nationalism is somehow, British, aka English Nationalism have to turn to nastiness. Because Mark that is the only way I can describe your tiny inconsequential piece.
      I think you need to go away and look at this all over again.
      It is not the Scots who are digesting a daily dose of programmes concerned with war, nor the Scots whose history is never off the box. It is not the Scots who have endless and copious amounts of Union Flags all over the house, as I not that long ago said to someone on the Guardian who described the Scots of wrapping themselves in the flag, Well I said we at least know what our flag is and I can count on one hand the number I have seen in private gardens and there are zilch numbers of cushions dressed as Saltires in homes.
      You and I rather think David Torrance are from the same mould, dislike Alex Salmond, that is your problem but many people put more trust in him than in any other politician in this country.
      I see on reading further down the page that you describe yourself as an ethnic Scot, surely you mean a Proud Ethnic Scot, that must be my problem, I have a smidgen of the Irish in me.

  12. MolliBlum says:

    Thanks. Somebody needed to spell it out.

  13. Mark, I may well agree with you that nationalism is of many more varieties than the basic three types described and there are undoubtedly more Anglophobes around than many, indeed most of us, would like but thereafter our thought processes, thankfully, are miles apart.
    What you term “Salmondism” and the “secessionist position” are simply the only way forward. UKOK, Better Together – I think not!

    1. markspalding says:

      Why does there need to be ANY “way forward”?

      1. Roberto says:

        To rectify the democratic deficit.

        1. daibhidhdeux says:

          Do your nihilist thing.

  14. The “ethnic nationalism of the 70s” which Mark Spalding invokes is a fiction. The campaigns of the 1970s are seared in my memory and the Scottish National Party has always been firmly in the civic nationalist camp.

    1. markspalding says:

      Soil Nan Gaidheal?

      1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

        Siol nan Gàidheal was well on the margins. A product of the national movement’s wilderness years.

  15. John S Warren says:

    The Idiot’s Guide to ‘Rising to the Bait’.

    There is a sad side to support for the ‘No’ campaign that runs like this: make an outrageous, sweeping generalisation about any chosen ‘Yes’ campaigner’s “real” as distinct from claimed beliefs that is couched in terms of hidden, sinister motives, dubious morals, political extremism, blatant racism, implicit sexism or whatever ghastly accusation that may be gratuitously offered. The accuser knows little or nothing about the person accused, or their beliefs – but who cares? Base this accusation on some recondite justification, or no evidence at all (it doesn’t matter; you will almost never see any claim provided with substantive, specific support – ‘source and evidence’, save some daft comment on the Web or a gut-reaction from some meeting perhaps attended) – and then sit back, and watch the fish rise to the bait. At some point, and especially on the Web, someone will be so angry about the nature of the crude insult that they will answer in fury and say something very, very silly. The fish is on the hook; this becomes the “proof” for the wholesale accusation. Then repeat the unpleasant tactic endlessly according to the recipe; and the whole Yes campain is then defined as consisting exclusively of sinister “cybernats”. QED.

    The solution is simple. Do not rise to the bait.

  16. I think, from reading his comments and responses to others, that we can safely deduce that markspalding is trolling and should therefore be treated accordingly and ignored.

  17. daibhidhdeux says:

    Agreed. Let Mark Spalding provide the evidence for the hypothesis he posits.

    He may advance a few fringe examples which are amply and extensively over-matched by his “blood and soil” British Unionist fellow travellers (see the FB page established to monitor the bile regularly being out-poured by these comprador, neo-Fascisti and their “blood” source in social media as well as the comments sections of the MSM. The Scotsman being a classic entrepôt of unreconstructed chauvinism and provocateur comments in defiance of its Home Rule, Liberal heritage pre Andrew Neil’s revanchist, uber-Brit Tory and Unionist infiltrationist “coup d’état” on behalf of the Monday Club and “The Blessed Margaret”).

    Mainstream republican, socialist, communist, communalist, anarchist, Auld Tory, or Home Rule Liberal philosophy and political practice has never sought to match the fascistic tendencies of the Beaverbrooks and their peers in the British-ista polity and tame press unless British-ista (and then an infiltrationist, Black Ops minority).

    For Mr Spalding, a request, provide a single chauvinist statement, quoted in full and in context, by, for example, John MacLean, Matthew Lygate, RB Cunningham Graham, the 1822 Martyrs, and countless others in the 300 year old movement to repatriate Scottish sovereignty to its sovereign citizens (from wheresoever they may originally hail)?

    For a theoretical one, I more than suspect the Scots Body Politic can provide a mega–humongous-bundle of foul assertions and provocations emanating from the British-istas.

    Dr Robertson’s study has only begun to scratch the surface of the bias evidenced by the media arm(s) of the British state.

    Extensive Discourse Analysis – as well as multi-disciplinary analyses – are needed to cast the full light of scientific enquiry on their “Dark Forces” hypotheses/is.

    Go ahead, please. Let there be light.

    Daibhidh of Scotland agus Japan

    1. markspalding says:

      Well Mr Daibhidh: Let there be Light indeed.

      I’m no expert on the lexicography of Scottish Radicalism: indeed, since we are discussing the campaign of the 2014 referendum, such matters are surely of indirect relevance. However, I’m sue if the Yes campaign was led by men of the calibre you have mentioned, they’d be making a much better job of it than the media obsessed types of today: a criticism which can equally be levelled at UK leaders: Cameron & Clegg are a long way below Disraeli and Gladstone(the latter an ethnic Scot).
      The only Cunningham-Graham I’ve read has been fiction, a volume called “Beattock for Moffat” if I remember rightly: my knowledge of his politics derives from the writings of C.M.Grieve a.k.a Hugh MacDiarmid, a man I am proud to be related to,albeit distantly. In fact, my pleasure in MacDiarmid’s work has inured me to the embarrassment many Scots seem to feel about his political writings in particular: so much so that his post-war reference to the “Herrenvolk” attitudes of the English doesn’t really offend me at all, though I could believe I might be in a minority of one in that case. Indeed i have criticised a No campaigner who categorised MacDiarmid with various dubious SNP characters of the fascist era. MacDiarmid was expelled from the SNP on at least one occasion, and remained a thorn in its side for life.
      I also have before me now a book by MacDiarmid’s friend of the 1920s, Tom MacDonald a.k.a Fionn MacColla called “At the Sign of the Clenched Fist”. A sometime SNP candidate, MacColla was a catholic fundamentalist convert who made James MacMillan look like Martin Luther: the cover of the book depicts Hitler next to John Knox ,Henry VIII and Lenin all of whom he saw as part of some anti-Christian movement. On the last page, he describes “Anglicisation” as having turned Scotland into “the greatest cultural desert in Europe” and that this snuffed out “WHAT MUST OTHERWISE HAVE DEVELOPED INTO THE MOST BRILLIANT NATIONAL CULTURE IN HISTORY”(his capitals). john Herdman’s short book “Poets,Pubs & Pillar Boxes” recounts that MacColla was a regular resident of psychiatric wards, a fact he does not mention in any of his books, even the autobiographical “Mein Bumpf”. Not that this detracts from the high quality of his prose fiction: I enjoy his “Scottish Noel”, a Tolstoyan telling of a mediaeval battle between the Scots and English armies.

      I have no objection to the existence of specifically pro-Scottish parties, indeed the main UK parties are undeniably too anglocentric. The SNP,however,has been in power too long now, and this misconceived referendum is not serving Scotland’s cause. The infamous fact that the SNP allowed the further mangling of Scots Law in the abolition of corroboration is a case in point: it’s time for a change back to the Enlightenment and Presbyterian values that made Scotland great.

      1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

        You are quite entitled to your opinion, however, as a Catholic I hope that fundamentalist change back referred to never occurs. That Scotch Enlightenment and those “Presbyterian values” helped to get us into and sustain us in this miserable mess in the first place. They were the veritable hand-maidens of self-abnegating North Brit Unionism. The referendum “misconceived”? Not at all, it’s the wild cat among the strutting pigeons and amusing to observe the feathers fly.

      2. hektorsmum says:

        Oh dear oh dear, now I have a Catholic Member of Parliament, how do I know this because he spends more time on dealing with matters for the Catholic Church than anything else, He is Labour.
        I am an atheist so therefore a plague on all religion as far as I am concerned.
        You sir are a trolling nasty trouble maker with nothing of value to say and I for one will say nothing more.

      3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

        Mac Colla along with Cunninhame Graham and Mac Diarmaid was a member of the left leaning National Party of Scotland. We ought to be naming streets and mountains after such people for they went where few had the courage to venture. The timrous beestie that our nation was is thankfully a thing of the past. Interestingly Mac Diarmaid was kicked out of the NPS for being communist and the CP for being nationalist. Wasn’t Alex Salmond booted out of the SNP for being too radical and republican? Scottish politics has the potential to be very exciting indeed.

  18. daibhidhdeux says:

    Insightful, sir.


  19. Abulhaq says:

    Essentially this business of nationalisms is a dialogue that the underdog cannot win being conducted using terms that are generally prejudicial. The link to early 20th century fascism is too easily made. Independence movements in Egypt and India for example were linked to alleged associations. Considering that fascism never took root in Scotland, but did rather well in England for a while with the support of elements of the Brit establishment, the racist implications appearing in anti-independence commentaries are fanciful and contemptible. We ought to dismiss this ten cent political theorising as a side-show. We “know” we are a nation and we have the history to prove it. Ukania, however, does have so little to crow about. What is its imperialism but a form of “nationalism” gone viral.

    1. hektorsmum says:

      Well said.

  20. Flower of Scotland says:

    Well written Robin! It sums up my feelings on the matter.

  21. daibhidhdeux says:

    Bang on the nail.


  22. Doug Daniel says:

    Quite right. When you’re having to resort to the “oh but the dictionary says…” gambit, you’re on very shaky ground. Language evolves faster than dictionaries can keep up with anyway.

    We all know what “ethnic nationalism” means. It’s the reason I’m often hesitant to call myself a “nationalist” and instead use terms like “pro-independence”. For Torrance to claim innocence here, he’s either disingenuous or stupid. It’s up to him to tell us which one it is.

    Leave the thinly-veiled accusations of racism/anti-Englishness to the bampots on Twitter with union flags as their avatars. It should have no place in the articles of supposedly serious commentators.

  23. Capella says:

    Excellent clarification of nationalism and timely too. I hope you will expand on the theme in your blog as some people are clearly in need of more light being shed on the issue. I think Labour supporters are particularly nervous about the idea of a national independence campaign as it appears to contradict the mantra that “socialism in one country” is bad. Of course, since Labour can no longer be described as a socialist party (if it ever was) then perhaps there is no obvious reason why they are so afraid of Independence, other than the Westminster MPs and Lords who might find themselves unemployed.

  24. manandboy says:


    As the panic and the pressure increase within the unionist fold

    all rules will be cast aside more and more,

    till all semblance of civility and respect for democracy is gone.

    Then we shall all be reminded just why we need the self-determination

    that comes with independence.

    I’m voting Yes.

  25. SquirrelTowers says:

    Excellent article Robin, Mr Torrance called bang to rights. As an English Yes supporter I, like the many other people born outside Scotland who support Independence, find this attempt by opponents to paint this wonderful, inclusive grassroots campaign as ‘anti-english’ laughable. Its.about.democracy.

  26. Scottish Nationalism is quite different from British Nationalism and English Nationalism which are xenophobic. Sure, we Scots are proud of our particularly Celtic, Northern Anglo-Saxon, Norse cultures. What’s wrong with being proud of Scottish Country Dancing? I taught middle school social studies in South Korea. The kids knew nothing of traditional Korean dance. So I taught them about it, showed videos of it, and took them to performances. I wanted to instil in them a humble pride of Korean Culture. I’m proud of Scottish culture, but In all humility, I don;t think that it’s better than Korean culture or English culture. I’m proud because it’s my culture. I’m proud because we are an open and welcoming culture and are happy to include South Asian, Eastern European cultures, etc. in ours. This welcoming and openness sets us apart from xenophobia, Little Scotlandism, Here’s Tae us wha’s like us -ism (except as a joke).

    Even so, because of the negative associations of the word nationalism, though I’m a member of the SNP, I’m calling myself a Scottish Sovereigntist.

  27. alistairliv says:

    Abulhaq at 8.35 yesterday said ‘fascism did not take root in Scotland’. But it almost did in Galloway and Dumfriesshire. In 1934 the British Union of Fascists had 400 members in their Gallwoay Constitunency branch and 150 in the Dumfriesshire branch. The ‘Blackshirt’ newspaper described the small town of Dalbeattie as ‘the cradle of fascism in Scotland.’ John Mackie,the Conservative and Unionist MP for Galloway from 1931 to 1958 was an admirer of ‘Herr Hitler’ and a member of the pro-Nazi ‘Right Club’ set up by Archibald Ramsay MP for Peebles in 1939. Ramsay was interned during the war for his fascist sympathies

    I have written up the history of this period on the RIC Dumfries and Galloway blog.

    1. hektorsmum says:

      Thank you for that, it reminds us all that we are not so different but we should try to be better. My Mother in Law always said that had Hitler made it to Britain he would have found just as many willing people to help him and she is right. People are people the world over, there are as many nice as nasty ones.
      I call my self a nationalist, simply because it is easier, but my nationalism is that of wishing to see Scotland a nation again and not some benighted county of England. I would like to think that people are welcome here, to learn the history bad and good of it, to know the sort of people they have come to live among without someone calling those who did not have the choice in the matter, names.

    2. Abulhaq says:

      By “not taking root” I meant that the mass popular appeal the fascists generated in London and elsewhere did not occur in Scotland. The usual rag bag of aristocratic Scottish conservatives and unionists were attracted by the unquestioningly pro-German and visceral anti-Jewish trend. The imperialist John Buchan was also a follower. Martin Pugh’s book Hurrah for the Blackshirts mentions the nondescript types such as Ramsay who were attracted by the “cult”. In a pro-fascist article in the Daily Mail Lord Rothermere proclaimed “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, hence the prep school cheery title.

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