Twin Nationalisms? If Only

British separatism has its rival Scottish version on the run

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is labouring under an illusion. He believes that Scotland is cursed by “the muscular unionism of Boris Johnson and the blindfolded nationalism of the SNP”. Senior figures in the Scottish Liberal Democrats – the few surviving ones – are thinking they need a new way to slay these “twin nationalisms”. Their departing leader Willie Rennie is even floating the idea of a Lib-Lab pact to appeal to what he terms “Middle Scotland”. There’s a big weakness in this sort of thinking – only one form of nationalism is presently shoving its weight about north of the Border, and it isn’t Scottish nationalism (blindfolded or otherwise).

The Tories have a monopoly on nationalism because, for all its defiant noise at Westminster and Holyrood, the SNP is not a nationalist party. No one in its upper echelons even tries to disguise that anymore. Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2017, Nicola Sturgeon said she found the word nationalism “difficult”. In fact, such are its negative connotations for her, she wished the founding members of the SNP had omitted the N word from its title in 1934.

If I could turn the clock back, what, 90 years to the establishment of my party and choose its name all over again, I wouldn’t choose the name it’s got just now. I would call it something other than that.

In her public conversation with the Turkish writer Elif Shafak, author of The Bastard of Instanbul, she stated:

What those of us who support Scottish independence are all about could not be further removed from some of what you would recognize as nationalism in other parts of the world.

At that point in the proceedings I imagine at least a couple of her compatriots were muttering under their breath about the bastard of Dreghorn. But no one should have been at all startled by her remarkable statement. In an address she delivered at Strathclyde University in 2012, Ms Sturgeon said she had “never doubted that Scotland is a nation” but – and it was a big but…

The fact of nationhood or Scottish identity is not the motive force for independence. Nor do I believe that independence, however desirable, is essential for the preservation of our distinctive Scottish identity.

For the SNP’s present chieftain, independence is not an end in itself but merely the means to an end, that end being social justice (or so she says). During the recent Holyrood election, the SNP outmanoeuvred Labour by putting child poverty and social exclusion at the heart of the campaign. It pledged to double the Scottish child payment to £10 per week for under-16s in low-income families and to provide free school meals for every child in primaries.

That is the big problem for Labour and the LibDems – Sturgeon has stolen their clothes. She, like Anas Sarwar and Willie Rennie, is an out and out social democrat. Even worse, she’s more woke than the pair of them put together. Consequently, Scottish Labour cannot “get back on the pitch” (as its leader puts it) by cornering the market for multiculturalism and metrosexuality (which Labour down in London has continued to do even as the ‘Red Wall’ across the north of England lies in ruins).

Anas Sarwar or Willie Rennie’s successor (probably Alex Cole-Hamilton) might get a wee bit frustrated about that at times, but it’s a hundred times worse for those in the independence movement who aren’t at all ashamed of being nationalists. Back in 2012 – when Ms Sturgeon was assuring her Strathclyde audience that she was Not a Nat – a survey of the SNP’s membership found that most of them were different from her. In fact, a large majority could be classified as fundamentalists. When asked if “all else should be secondary” to the “primary goal of independence”, 71% agreed or strongly agreed.

Had they not been so trusting and naive, these stalwart Scottish nationalists might have anticipated the great betrayal of their cause that would come soon after Nicola Sturgeon was anointed first minister and party leader. But they didn’t. Mainly because most SNP members didn’t take particular notice of anything wee Nicola said back then. She was only deputy first minister, after all. The FM at that time was, of course, Alex Salmond and he very much dominated the party’s thinking and direction. Asked to define the essence of his political philosophy around then, he responded:

I think the case for independence is a fundamental one. It is about Scotland as a nation and nations have a right to self-determination. A sense of identity, a new confidence in a proud nation with a strong sense of social justice, a good global citizen: these are all attributes which Scotland aspires to through independence. And, of course, the fact that we will flourish economically is also a welcome bonus.

The first half of that statement makes Mr Salmond sound very different to Ms Sturgeon, but he too has defined himself for some time as a social democrat and chiselled the word social democracy into his new party’s crest as well. As noted previously by Jaggy, the Alba leader is intent on attacking the SNP on its left flank by claiming the Scottish Government could and should go further to combat poverty and social exclusion – even though his own record in office of helping the poor was pretty poor.

So, there you have it. Soon we Scots will have four ‘social democratic’ parties to choose from – the SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Alba. The Scottish Greens are probably further to the left on the political spectrum, although it’s becoming increasingly hard to remember their position on most matters because their co-leaders have become more obsessed with the plight of transgenders than even climate change.

So who’s going to provide the muscular nationalism needed to square up to what Anas Sarwar rightly defines as the “muscular unionism of Boris Johnson”? Some folk might have faith in Alba doing so, but it’s far from certain it’s current leaders atresia up to the task. One of this breakaway party’s only two parliamentarians, Kenny MacAskill, showed his ageing political muscles are starting to wither when he came out weakly for Home Rule or what he called “independence in the UK”. This ignited a social media fire, during which Mr Salmond remained silently on the sidelines. Was it that he just didn’t want to throw petrol on the flames? Couldn’t he bring himself to publicly slap down the faithful ally who stood by him throughout his recent ordeal? Did he express his fury in private? Or had he plotted with his friend to float this notion?

We’ll probably never know the answer. But here’s one thing Jaggy would happily wager: were a survey to be conducted today among Alba’s founding members, even more than 71% of them would say “all else should be secondary” to the “primary goal of independence”. Steadfastly committed to keeping their flagship policy firmly to the fore at all times, these are the sort of Scot Nats who could recite the key passage of the Declaration of Arbroath by heart. But where’s the strident, straight-talking Scottish Nationalist leader who can successfully lead their resistance to the Brit Nats?

19 thoughts on “Twin Nationalisms? If Only

  1. As a nationalist «fundamentalist» and a cosmopolitan in late teens I do wonder where the next leaders are going to come from. My post millennial generation has been so steeped in woke by «adults» in the form of politicians, teachers, media hacks and so called influencers that many have lost the life force…and now the militant vaxxers are after us.
    This of course is not a peculiarly Scottish problem. Globalism has poisoned the well.
    Time we dug our own.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had pictured in my mind Ottomanboi, that our young troops had the faculty of criticial thinking aboot them and that only a minority would fall for corrupt politicians peddling image or be taken in by the corporate woke lobby for that matter.

      I take it that is not the case in your opinion?


      1. On that topic.
        My background is different from my peers. I had to «grow up» before the norm, as did my parents, a matter of survival.
        Contemporary western people seem to expect things to be easy. The Covid episode has disturbed the equilibrium and challenged that notion.
        Some of my friends lack even basic curiosity, a very worrying trait, sadly, their parents seem little better

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cheers for the reply. Appreciated. I read the article and I am disappointed to have to consider that. We grew up cynical about authority and distrustful of money and wealth. Thatcher helped with that but it was there in Scotland anyway. I assumed those traits had carried on. Amongst the common folk anyway and if anything would have been hardened by the internet elsewhere in society. That said things can change and we’ll no gie up yet!


  2. To be honest, I would question whether Sturgeon’s SNP is a social democratic party. Economically, they seem to be Neo-Liberal to me.
    The “woke” aspect allows them to dress themselves in progressive clothes even as their policies benefit the wealthy and ignore the poor. Like her heroines in the Democratic Party in the US.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. My name is Nicola Sturgeon, and the basis of my success is that I rarely say what I mean and I never do what I say. How many times can I declare “Indyref2 is just around the next corner!!!” without triggering a tsunami of vomit? There is no limit. I have proved myself Scotland’s greatest politician not by what I have accomplished, but by what I have been able to get away with. And the show goes on. If the common people are no better off than they deserve, at least they have been entertained. My serene and eloquent Pandemonium performances made the actuality of bodies piling up in Care Homes seem somehow remote, and, crucially, not my fault. Nothing is my fault. My chosen pronouns are Wisnaeher and Wisnaethere.
    Under my divine authority the SNP no longer represents anything except representation itself. Social Justice? — the struggle against the common enemies of people everywhere: oppression, poverty, disease, lack of opportunity, a mean and short life lived in miserable circumstances? Let them eat cake. I’m busy protecting the landed gentry from redistribution. And so, my fellow Scots, ask not what the SNP Government can do to make the strong just and the weak secure — ask what you can do for me and my pals.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Excellent post Wilma.
      Very close to reality, why aren’t more people waking up about sturgeon? It absolutely amazes me that anyone has confidence in her to deliver on anything.
      She is the political equivalent of Jimmy Saville. A wrong one hiding in plain sight.
      Hopefully justice will catch up with her soon .

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, David, jgedd, Tom, and lochside. Nicola Sturgeon went right off the scale on my personal B. S. meter (Beyond Scunnered) in early 2015, and I, and the whole country, have been suffering ever since. In Scotland, at least, the wages of sin are large majorities, and dominion over a bunch of fearties. John Rawls suggests that “A just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it in a random place” — creating such a society is hard, that’s understood, but after years of SNP tripe about Social Justice the actual direction of travel is endlessly self-evident. If anyone cares to look. Which, generally speaking, they don’t. We are in the midst of another, older epidemic which usually stays cosily tucked away under a veil of public indifference and puritanism. This has allowed Sturgeon and her circle to exercise power in a manner that can only be described as evil, and the bodies of drug-users pile up year after year. Who cares? The families care. What’s being done about it? Nothing. The Drug Deaths Task Force is like a tv left on in an empty room.

        Whose fault is it?



        Wisnaethere, y’ken.

        Oh, I ken, I ken.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. A good summary of the numb stasis which has descended over Scotland. Seeing Sturgeon in the light of her commitment to ‘social justice’ above everything else goes a long way to explaining her indifference to independence, except as a long term aspiration. It does of course beg the question of what kind of social justice, under a Westminster government which wouldn’t recognise the term. A few headline policies, however well-intentioned, do not a comprehensive strategy make, or tackle endemic issues which are the root cause of injustice, such as poverty, inequality, asset wealth, housing etc. They can always smugly blame Westminster for all that, letting themselves off the hook of any responsibility or strategy. Kind of perfect setup for them, pose as defenders of Scotland while tinkering with social policy to prove their credentials. Thus gender reform becomes the flagship of their wokeness, regardless of the population’s concerns. Like the party down south they have seized on culture wars as a way of defining themselves, conveniently avoiding the difficult conversations about the economy, jobs, housing, education etc.You know, the stuff which governs social justice far more than any slogans and hastily designed campaign promises.
    Kevin McKenna summarises it rather well – pronouns v policies for relieving deprivation – which to prioritse? Tough choice, eh? Guess which the SNP pick.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I think we all know that everything comes first before independence, if its on Sturgeon’s to do list at all which I think it isn’t. We’ve got five wasted years ahead of us, with Sturgeon filling out her own agenda, and some of the Greens for backing them at every turn. Never mind that the majority of the sovereign people of Scotland put her back in office to provide us with independence.

    In May, in the run up to the election we heard a lot from every SNP/MSP about Scottish independence, and Sturgeon knew what buttons to push to dupe the masses into believing that she actually wants to see Scotland independent, it was all a ruse, a ruse that we’ll now pay a heavy price for just as we’re paying a heavy price for her inability or should I say sleekitness, in trying to save England from Brexit instead of saving Scots and Scottish businesses from it.

    Imagine how much Westminster will have further undermined Scotland by the time 2026 comes around, the SNP now only exists to promote its own agenda, and finger point at Westminster to adhere the masses to it.

    Will we ever learn.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Cannot image two individuals less alike than Shifak and Sturgeon.
    Her book the Bastard of Istanbul could have landed her in jail.


  7. Great comment Wilma. Yes, Sturgeon the liar… about Covid,….about Independence, about Brexit, about truth and justice, about two votes SNP, in fact liar every time she opens her tight wee mouth. As Rob points out, she got in under Salmond’s flawed radar, that of his overarching ego. Let’s not forget he engineered out of the political discourse the majority of SNP seats from Scotland as the defining criterion for declaring Independence. But 2015 G.E. wasn’t the worst calamity. His moment of nadir was not being outwitted by Cameron and the British Deep State and his own clever clogs REF strategy, but by his ‘closest’ confederate: wee Nicki fae the Dregs o’ horn stabbing him in the back and consigning him to the political wilderness.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jaggy

    Thanks for an excellent article. I was a member of the SNP and left in late 2015 once I had decided that Sturgeon/Murrell/Hosie/Robertson etc were changing the SNP from a party of independence to something different. There was the power grab by the executive once the new members had joined, there was aws and independence was being pushed further down the agenda, and I just did not trust Sturgeon, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and continued to vote for the party as a means to an end but with a pinched nose as the elections and false promises came and went.

    When the whole Alex Salmond story broke that was the final straw for myself, it was clear early on in my opinion that this was about ruining the man and ensuring he could not return to the SNP or front line politics. The fact that the SNP leaked the story was clear from the start, and then we started to see the real Sturgeon, the Sturgeon that she had been able to hide for such a long time, the MeToo Sturgeon, it was all about her and no one else. The SNP for me at that point were finished as was my vote for them, independence was no longer any priority for Sturgeon, it was about being in Government and not even doing a good job of it at all.

    She has been able to pull the wool over so many peoples eyes it really is frightening and how she has managed to get the media to give her such an easy ride is beyond me, the only thing I can come up with is that they know the Union is safe as long as she is the leader of the SNP. Her handling of Covid, like Johnson, has been shocking, only her communication a little better. The best hope for the SNP is to get rid of her and take her (husband) with her but the party is finished as far as I am concerned anyway. I don’t even know what their point is as a party anymore and just hope that enough people see the light and realise she is a fake.

    Alba are the only real alternative right now, far from perfect but they are all we have and if the members can ensure a degree of control over the direction, policy and message then at the very least there is an alternative and right now that is the best we can hope for.


    Liked by 2 people

  9. Rob, and also Wilma (great comment at 11.59).

    Perhaps the truth is that most Scots already have the ‘independence’ they want. It’s superficially different enough from Westminster, and Nicola from Boris, for that to be enough for now. They know in their hearts that Nicola is no revolutionary, but neither are they. They like all the ‘standing up to Boris and Westminster’ rhetoric, and hear all the promises of future referendums, and that’s all fine, but never getting them is OK for now, and – one day – who knows, maybe a referendum will happen.

    It’s not very well thought through, indeed perhaps not through at all. It’s just a feeling that all this is OK for now. And, yes, Nicola is responsible for dodgy goings-on at the top of the SNP and government, but that’s politics for you (it’s the Mike Small theory of politics; political corruption is inevitable.) Anyway, Alex Salmond is so yesterday’s – man, unjustly treated or not, and politics is a tough business.

    It doesn’t make any sense to me, or I guess to anyone else reading this, but maybe that’s just the way it is. New political leadership could change everything, but how likely is that? Nicola’s Putin-like grip on power seems beyond challenge, both in government and over our senior judiciary, at least as far ahead as anyone can see.

    And, just in case anyone doubts my allegiance, I’m a member of ALBA. It’s our only hope for change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The continuing support for Sturgeon is quite extraordinary and very disheartening. The Scottish electorate used to be flattered by the description of being sophisticated and informed. That claim now looks sad and tattered. A lot of it has to do with the media who have been bought off by funding from the SNP government but also by what seems to be their calculation that she will keep independence at bay and the union is safe with her administration. Her evident transformation of the SNP into a neoliberal, fiscally conservative party is also reassuring to them. Persecuting and prosecuting independence supporters also helps to secure the support of the unionist media.

      I wasn’t very happy either with the assumptions of the SNP campaign in 2014. The breezy assumption that a positive campaign would defeat a negative one seemed very dubious to me from the outset and in fact, proved to be mistaken. Campaigning in my area -Tory voting and ultimately No voting, too – it could be seen to have no effect. Again and again we encountered the attitude that our arguments were weak and that the negativity of Better Together was proving effective in keeping the No vote solid.

      Many of the more assertive opponents of independence we encountered seemed convinced that we had no arguments and were simply carried away with romantic nonsense. (These patronising attitudes were extremely annoying and it was difficult to make headway against those already minded not to listen.) The concerted opposition from the media shored up their certainty that we were misguided sentimentalists. (Later, I was nonplussed to find that Alex Salmond expressed himself surprised at the BBC’s prejudice. Really, Alex? Where had you been all your political life? Remember Orgreave?)

      The virtually negligible support from the official campaign, while frustrating, did free up a genuine grassroots campaign in urban areas such as Glasgow and Dundee which was much more successful. In the 2015 election, I detected a definite sea change in attitude while out leafletting in the same areas I had visited in 2014. As we know, that was reflected in the surge of support for SNP in that election, but that’s a whole other story to be filed under the heading of ‘What Could have Been’.


    2. … also, we should remember that positive polls for Yes (remember these?) don’t just include people with our commitment, but people of Sturgeon’s ‘sometime/never’ persuasion too.


  10. The last time I campaigned for better transport infrastructure in Edinburgh, and climate change I was absolutely consumed with nationalistic self identity, and how I couldn’t determine myself without the former, or even feel happy. I cast my mind back to 1707 and how it was so very, very relevant. Especially after the invention of steam engines and the industrial revolution.


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