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?