Monday, 22 October 2012

I am Not a Nationalist - BUT

Chambers dictionary defines a nationalist as, "one who favours or strives after the unity, independence, interests or domination of a nation; a member of a political party specially so called." It is frequently seen as something unsavoury and chauvinism, imperialism even racism are often used as synonyms. There are different theories of when Nationalism became a potent political force, with some political scientists claiming it is a modern concept, pointing to the unification movements in Europe as evidence of same. It is true that Germany and Italy only became nation states in 1870 under the leadership of Bismarck and Prussia and Cavour and Garibaldi respectively, but Scots had achieved their independence as a nation and had established the nation state, with national territorial boundaries very close to those we have today, with the Treaty of Northampton in 1329. The Czech people lost their independence when their Bohemian state was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, but they had occupied that territory from the 9th century. They regained it in part, when Czechoslovakia was formed in the aftermath of the first World War in 1918 but it was not until 1993 that the country we know as the Czech Republic was formed.

For a great many people in Europe, Scots among them, their Nationalism has been expressed in fighting for their freedom or against the attacks of more powerful neighbours. The Polish people saw their territory increasingly annexed by Prussia, Austria and Russia during the Polish Partitions 1772, 1793 and 1795 when the Polish state disappeared completely. The Duchy of Warsaw, created by Napoleon, saw a part of that territory restored but it was not until 1918 that the Republic of Poland was reestablished, only for the territory to be occupied again by Germany and Russia in 1939. Despite fighting on the side of the Allies during WWII, the Polish people were again betrayed, placed under the control of the Soviet Union and not until the fall of Communism in the 1980s, were they finally independent. Thus English, German and Russian Nationalism has taken a different form from that of Scots, Czechs and Poles and while Scottish nationalism is condemned as narrow isolationism, despite the long history of Scottish involvement with Europe, British Nationalism is lauded and applauded as something noble, to be celebrated in extravaganzas such as the London Olympics. The annexation of almost half the world by Britain during the days of Empire, aided and abetted by Scots, is still seen as a power for good, as if it happened in a fit of absentmindedness.

I have never had any qualms about saying I am a Nationalist and until Scotland retains its independence, I will continue to be a Nationalist. My Nationalism is not expressed in the desire to annex anyone else's territory, it is concerned only to see the nation of Scotland restored as an independent nation state and extends no further than that. I will still be a Nationalist after that because I will continue to want to protect the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people, as we re-establish ourselves on the world stage, participating in those alliances which seek to protect and nurture the interests of other people  and nations throughout the world, at the same time, creating a decent society within our own borders. To my mind therefore, there is nothing to be ashamed of in being a Nationalist, it is simply an expression of the love I have for the country called Scotland and a deep desire to see the best outcome in all things, for the Scottish people. The question I often pose to those who condemn Scottish Nationalism is, "Why is that so wrong, when British Nationalism, with all of its imperialist connotations, is considered to be so right?" I have yet to be given the answer.

Scottish Nationalism has never been based on antipathy to other people and about the only concession that Unionists are prepared to make to the Nationalist movement in Scotland, is that it has never been based on ethnicity or any hint of racism. That is not to say there are no racists in Scotland, of course there are just as there are racists in every society, but racism has never been one of the pillars on which Scottish Nationalism has been built. There is an undoubted antipathy to England, which boils over occasionally to antipathy to English people, but that is a manifestation of the troubled history we share and the years of fighting against English aggression. It is also a reaction to the condescension with which England treats Scotland and the manner in which the case for Unionism is made. Our two peoples may share a history, just as we share a history with our European neighbours, but it is not the same history, any more than our two peoples have the same language, culture or social mores. The history, languages, mores and culture of the Scottish people are what make us Scots and differentiate us from our English neighbours. They are what make the Scottish nation. Much of that culture, including the languages, both Scots and Gaelic, the poetry of Burns, Ferguson and McLean are frequently treated with derision by the English establishment, despite the part played by Scots in the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries. These are the things which Scottish Nationalism seeks to defend and promote, in the face of continuing animosity from England. At no time has the Scottish elite sought to reciprocate and treat English language and attitudes with the same animosity and derision.

The political Left in both Scotland and England have tried for years to argue the case for the Union, in terms of the solidarity of the working classes in both countries. One English commentator recently argued that "A Scottish worker in a supermarket has more in common with an English worker in a supermarket, than with the landed gentry in Scotland." That argument has been made for generations and used to be couched in the following terms, "A Scottish miner/steel worker, has more in common with an English miner/steel worker etc. etc." Unfortunately for the Unionist Left, successive Westminster Governments closed the Scottish pits and steel works, leaving them to scrabble around for a similar comparison. The actions of successive Westminster Governments, in closing Scottish pits and steel works, as well as so many other Scottish companies and institutions, forced many on the Left in Scottish politics to re-examine their previous loyalties and come to the conclusion that Scottish independence offered more by way of opportunities to build the kind of country they preferred, than continuing loyalty to the Union with England.

Thus Dennis Canavan stated twice, at the Yes rally in Edinburgh, "I am not a Nationalist". He repeated it on the Sunday Politics programme the following day. Colin Fox has made the same claim, despite both serving on the Executive Committee of the Yes Campaign, and Tommy Sheridan, a recent convert to Scottish independence, like Jim Sillars, and so many recruits to the SNP over the years, cut his political teeth in the Labour Party in Scotland. I have to wonder if the Labour Party in Scotland had been prepared to accept Dennis Canavan as one of their candidates for the Scottish Parliament instead of de-selecting him, would he now be campaigning for independence? Canavan like others on the Left, claimed he was "an internationalist" as if that and Nationalism are mutually exclusive. It may simply be semantics but how do those who proclaim their internationalism so loudly, think there can be internationalism without nations or the pursuit of national interests? What is it about Scottish Nationalism that they find so unacceptable, given that they will acknowledge it is not based on ethnicity and has no aspirations to annex anyone else's territory?

I, in common with many other traditional Nationalists, want independence for its own sake because I believe Scots are different, are distinctive, have their own culture, are a nation and, that Nationalism is about dignity, self-respect and self-confidence. I see the function of Nationalists as persuading Scots to have a much stronger belief in their own self-worth. The country that may arise from the political deliberations and the referendum in 2014, may not be the kind of country I will want but that will not stop me seeking independence. Nicola Sturgeon has stated that she does not want an independent Scotland for "its own sake" as she has a notion of the kind of country she wants to see. That is slightly different from those who arrived at the point, where Scottish independence is their preference because, having failed to persuade Britain to produce the kind of country they want, they see an independent Scotland as the only alternative. When I sat on the Selection Committee of the SNP - the committee which interviewed prospective candidates for the candidates' list - I always asked the same question of those who proclaimed their Nationalism in terms of economics, "If you could be fairly certain that Scotland would be poorer if it became independent, would you still be a Nationalist. Would you still want independence?" The answers were frequently quite illuminating and several of the current SNP leadership are self-confessed economic Nationalists.

 Does that make economic change more important than independence? For many Scots, that is the case and, if the economic reforms and change they seek could be achieved by some other method or alliance, many of them would sacrifice independence. Those who were present in the SNP during the early debates on the EEC, now the EU, will remember the importance placed on the supposed economic benefits Scotland would accrue by joining the EEC. Sovereignty was not a consideration for the EEC supporters; they dismissed any suggestion that Scotland would lose control over so many areas of its economic and social legislation, concentrating on the assumed economic benefits arguments, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Today, those same people argue that they have changed their stance because the EU has changed and "when the facts change, they change their minds." It is true that the EU has changed over the years, as centralisation has been increased and the Euro launched; but those changes were planned over 50 years ago and the plans have not changed. Those of us who placed more importance on the loss of sovereignty or independence, rather than assumed economic benefits, have unfortunately had to watch our predictions about the EU come true as the whole EU policy of the SNP has unraveled.

People will support the idea of Scottish independence for different reasons, that  much has been made clear by successive polls. Not everyone who claims to support independence just now, can be relied upon to support it if their reason for supporting it can be achieved in other ways or circumstances change. The most recent poll suggests that 52% of Scots would vote for independence if there was a serious prospect of the Con/Lib Coalition being re-elected. How many of them would be left if they thought Labour would be elected? Others have said that as little as £500 per annum would be enough to get them to change their minds. The SNP has just dropped its long-standing opposition to NATO membership because an opinion poll claims that 72% of Scots are in favour of NATO membership. What happens if their opinion changes or NATO becomes involved in another illegal war? Are we seriously being asked to believe that NATO will pack up Trident and vacate the Clyde?

Where the Unionists are absolutely correct is when they say that Independence is not just for Christmas and Nationalists would not be so willing to say "How High?" every time some focus group or opinion poll cries "Jump", if support for independence was based on something much more solid and principled than whether or not the Tories are re-elected in England. The Yes Campaign has much to do in the next few months and arguing from a point of principle might be a good place to start.


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