It was the day I met Eduardo from Uruguay.
It was another Saturday with Yes Stirling, myself and other activists discussing various topics with members of the public. I was talking to an elderly woman who was curious as to why the Scottish government had not already called a second independence referendum. She was firmly opposed to one, with our debate slowly forming a small crowd. One man who joined the crowd was Eduardo, listening in to our discussion. When it was clear myself and the woman were not making progress she turned to Eduardo and asked “So what do you make of this fine mess?”
From that very moment Eduardo took the spotlight and gave a passionate speech that few could match. He did want a second independence referendum. Why? He spoke of how Brexit had made him feel unwelcome by the Conservative government. He spoke of feeling vulnerable and hurt by the bigotry he had faced from fascist individuals. He spoke of the contributions immigrants had made to the UK and Scotland, and how they were washed away by hatred. He spoke of so much within a minute and made his leave. Most of us were left speechless.
It’s hard to explain the power his voice carried. You could feel the emotional strain in his voice, yet also a passion for wanting a better Scotland. It was a “you had to be there to get it” moment. The woman I debated with quietly left. I couldn’t blame her. I desperately looked for Eduardo and wanted hear from him more. To my luck he returned.
He fully introduced himself. Eduardo from Uruguay told me how originally Scotland made him feel welcome, made him feel like he belonged here. Eduardo was so proud of Scotland and felt he was Scottish. Yet, he was so hurt by Westminster. When he spoke to me again he had tears in his eyes. He told me about how he was fighting for my generation, fighting for young people to come together on the world stage. He wiped away his tears I gave him a hug and asked if I could get a photo with him. The photo would be a reminder that the campaign for independence was not for myself. It was for people like Eduardo. I fight to tackle the very bigotry and fascist views he faces from a rise in ethnic nationalism. While he fights for my generation I’ll fight for him.
Eduardo, I cannot thank you enough. Wherever you are right now, know that myself and others are on your side. You are my inspiration
(Far left is myself, to the left of me is Eduardo.
So why am I talking about this now?
I sadly fear that similar bigotry faced by Eduardo is seeping into the independence movement, with many individuals wishing to normalise it. The bigotry I refer to is from Siol Nan Gaidheal, a ethnic-nationalist group who hold extreme anti-English views and commonly attend All Under One Banner events. I recently wrote an open letter to the organisers of AUOB and asked them to either expel this group from their marches or to challenge the fascist views they carry. You can read it in full here. My letter was endorsed by the independence group English Scots 4 Yes, with many prominent SNP politicians holding a similar view to my own. AUOB have themselves responded that they agree with my points and their banner is not welcome, however they cannot physically expel their banner from rallies.
For those who argue that Siol Nan Gaidheal do not hold fascist views, you only have to read through their weasel worded website until you find out they wish to treat all English born citizens as “suspects“.
The group also sees multiculturalism, the belief of various ethnic/cultural groups sharing society together as equals, as an enemy. Again, look at their carefully worded manifesto redefining nationalism. Also take note the group put quotation marks around multiculturalism, suggesting it is a red flag (something which the far right tend to do).
Of course many people might have caught on to the fascist vibe by just looking at their dark logo.
Despite this a small nutty minority have come out opposed to my suggestion. This is largely lead by blogger Peter A Bell, who quotes anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller in defence of Siol nan Gaidheal marching at Yes events.
Quoting an anti-Nazi theologian to defend fascists marching with the Yes movement does not add up. Most of us can agree this is a new low for Peter, unless anyone can realistically imagine “first they came for the fascists…”
Anyway, Peter’s main argument essentially comes to four points.
1) By excluding Siol Nan Gaidheal from the Yes movement it no longer makes us an inclusive movement.
2) Whoever decides to expel Siol Nan Gaidheal from the movement will abuse their power and start expelling others.
3) Therefore we should welcome everyone under the Yes movement, regardless of their political beliefs.
4) Finally, those wanting to expel fascist groups from future Yes events are more of a threat than the actual fascist group.
You would imagine that Peter makes these points on the basis that SnG are not fascist, yet in his own blog he argues “I know enough about their ideology to be certain that I have no interest in knowing more. As someone who self-identifies politically as a civic nationalist, I find ethno-nationalism totally alien and profoundly objectionable.”
So, let’s break down each argument.
In my original letter I proposed the question “is it inclusive to include activists who wish to exclude fellow citizens for their political beliefs or place of birth?” The answer is quite simply no. This can become somewhat of a paradox, which is touched on by philosopher Karl R. Popper. When one discusses this paradox they usually come across this graphic.
Very few would struggle to argue against Popper’s conclusion. You could possibly argue that this is not really a paradox. Intolerance is ultimately the antithesis of tolerance, thus the rejection of it is to maintain tolerance itself. So really the paradox is but a quirk of language. But either way the rejection of intolerance does not mean the Yes movement can no longer be inclusive. By allowing Siol Nan Gaidheal to march with us without issue gives tacit consent to their beliefs. How can we truly welcome English citizens if we are okay with marching alongside anti-English fascists? We cannot. Which is why expelling this group from future events is important.
Peter is purely focused on the independence movement, but this goes beyond that. The rise of extremism is something that must be tackled everywhere. To cast out fascists and ask them to host their own events by themselves is the least controversial thing the Yes movement can do.
The second point raised is the abuse of power. Who gets to decide who stays or who goes? Where is the line drawn? Will a new Yes dictator rise and destroy our very nation?!
Well the dictator already exists. He goes by the name Peter A Bell, telling individuals and groups if they are true independence supporters or not.
It’s quite telling. Peter does little to nothing to challenge the fascist views of Siol Nan Gaidheal, but will attack anyone who goes out their way to criticise elements that can damage the Yes movement or support other groups who don’t fully back independence. I don’t know about you, but does that not sound a little bit…intolerant?
There is no elite group of people who decide who is and who is not welcome into the mainstream Yes movement. It is ultimately decided by the organic grass-roots movement. My criticisms of SnG are not the final say. I am one of many nationalists who oppose their fascists ideals. Collectively, as a movement, we decide. When it comes to individual events the organisers will decide who are and who are not welcome. With the way All Under One Banner have reacted and from the mood on social media, it is safe to say most Yes supporters oppose their presence at future events. Which is not surprising, since quite obviously most Yes supporters oppose fascism.
The third point Peter raises is utterly ludicrous. Let us put it another way.
Put yourself back at the march in Bannockburn (or just imagine if you weren’t there). The sun is shining, everyone is laughing and getting ready to move. We’re ready to spread out the positive message of independence. It’s all feeling good. Then, out of nowhere, the Klu Klux Klan appear. They stroll in wearing their traditional outfits and carrying large crosses. They quietly join the back of the march. With little public knowledge the group have voted to back Scottish independence.
Everyone turns in shock and horror. The crowd begins to chant for them to leave. The organisers are baffled by their sudden appearance, unsure what to do at first. After minutes of outrage and confusion the organisers decide to confront them. Yet before they can reach them a lone figure from the crowd raises his hand, blocking their way.
“Halt!” says Peter A Bell “You are free to remove these people from the rally, but I warn you! If you take this step you will destroy the inclusive nature of our movement. We will become the real bigots! Are they the real danger, or is it YOU who wishes to pick and choose who is welcome? You have been warned!”
Peter A Bell suddenly rises into the sky. His wisdom has now granted him zen-like powers. He has become our true saviour.
Okay, so quite obviously this would never happen. Not just Peter gaining cosmic powers, but the movement would never accept the KKK. Yet by Peter’s very argument he would accept anyone, including the KKK. If this sounds ludicrous to you then why is it okay for us to accept Siol Nan Gaidheal? It is not. And to argue that they are less of a danger that those who want to fight fascism is beyond ignorant. Let me give one final example. What if Eduardo saw me in the march alongside the very same fascists that had made bigoted comments towards him? How can I explain that to him? If Eduardo were to criticise me for marching with them, can you imagine me telling him he’s more of a threat to independence than the bigots? How do we explain to English Scots that we are okay to march by an anti-English group?
When this is put into context the entire debate sounds ridiculous. Which it is. Even though these fascists are a tiny minority it is our responsibility, not just as independence supporters, but as decent humans to challenge them everywhere. So I shall leave this debate here and move forward with the case for independence. That case includes internationalism, democracy, social justice, rights, tolerance, equality and prosperity. For everyone.