The Second BrExit Referendum and the Utility of Scottish Nationalism

uk battle map

Plan B: Operation Celtic Revenge

I have been meaning to do a post on Scottish nationalism for about a year now. Other more topical issues kept displacing it in the order to writing though. But I suppose the 2019 UK elections finally have made it the topical issue of the time that can no longer be avoided. Therefore, this is going to be a two for one special both on the just completed UK elections and the future of Scottish nationalism.

First its time to preempt the incoming SensibleSerious™ hot takes that will be bombarding us from both sides of the Atlantic in no time. No, Labour did not lose because it had gone too far left. It lost because of its inability to run with BrExit as a settled policy. The wishy-washy ‘we want both sides’ position was the last thing anyone wanted. In particular the working class base of the party whose interests are very divergent from the middle class Blairites who still control so much of the upper echelon of the organization. People clearly wanted this three and a half year nightmare to be over-one way or the other. And the way things are going (especially in regards to long held Labour seats suddenly defecting despite generally being anti-Tory bastions) meant that Labour would have been better off embracing BrExit than running against it…or running in a way that sidelined the issue altogether, which is what they did. That second referendum the Remainers asked for? We just got it. It was this election.

Bold claims perhaps, but I have evidence to back them up. Its quite simple really. The Liberal Democrats were the hard Remain party. True neoliberal centrists, they basically come across as if American Democrats were grafted onto the UK political system. If Labour voters were dissatisfied with the more left wing direction of the party under Corbyn (who, by the way, delivered unexpected and impressive gains two years ago in the last election when BrExit was less of an issue) they would have defected to the Lib Dems. But the Lib Dems, under Immortan Jo, got their clocks cleaned in this most recent election too. Jo Swinson herself, the leader of the party, lost her seat to the Scottish National Party. Outside of the two major parties there was generally a telling result: the Lib Dems bombed and the SNP gained.

immortan jo

Big Shocker

So now we come to the bridge between this election and my other point about Scottish nationalism. And that is that class and regional differences are now so strong that the very integrity of the United Kingdom is fatally compromised. The working and ruling class alike’s turn against the EU in England is very different from the situation in Scotland, where remaining part of the EU was a major motivating factor in handing the pro-union forces a victory in 2014. After all, the Union campaign said ‘if Scotland goes rogue it will be outside the EU and will have to re-apply.’ Less than two years later BrExit happens and…whoops. The Independence referendum was held under false pretenses.

I lived in the UK for over half a decade. One year in London and the rest in Scotland. I began my time as a temporary immigrant (I refuse the smug neoliberal term ‘expat’) and had little knowledge to start with about UK politics. At that time I found (then still Blairite) Labour and the Tories equally gross and largely just watched things happen as bemused observer. I was pro-union in the building Scottish Independence question, but only mildly so. I encouraged pro and anti sides to debate in front of me and always had a great deal of respect for independence leaning people. The degree to which I was pro-Union gradually eroded to only just barely, which is what I was left with when the vote came and ‘my side’ won.

But despite starting out on the other side, I came to realize that Scottish nationalism was a much different creature than pretty much any other contemporary nationalism I had ever experienced. While I have never been a fan of nationalism on a personal level, I recognize its utility and generally find it an often necessary, if distasteful, thing to appeal to in order to mobilize the coalitions needed to get policies done. But Scottish nationalism was different.

At first I thought it was just the affinity I had developed for my home-away-from-home, something I never felt when I was living in England and even arguably something I never quite felt growing up in the United States either. Scotland fit me really well and if it was up to me I probably never would have moved out (thanks for the new visa restrictions then Home Secretary Theresa May…well, at least she ended up getting her just desserts in the end). Naturally, I thought I was just being more forgiving to a place I had come to enjoy living in. But that wasn’t it. Unlike most nationalist groups, the SNP was always ethically and culturally diverse. Its concept of Scottish civic responsibility stems directly from a geographic rather than ethnic self of what makes Scotland unique. Scottish nationalism is, in effect, parallel to a lot of what I have come to advocate as a geopolitical strategist for a sustainable society: The situational and ecological tie to a specific place’s interest and its resulting unique political identity as a physical thing, rather than a romantic nature of ethnicity. Speculative realism meets the political world. For instance, in the 2014 vote on independence the rules were that UK citizens living in Scotland could vote in it, no matter where they were from originally, but Scots living elsewhere in the UK could not. It was all about what was best for the country from the people who lived there, no matter who they were. The important and unifying point is that it is (or should be) a distinct civic entity from its giant and increasingly reactionary southern neighbor.

But the feeling of fondness and respect for these trends only intensified once I moved out. And with its intensification my views on independence changed. David Cameron continued to gut the country and oversee the most incompetent government since Atlee. He also maybe fucked a dead pig. He promised a referendum on the EU that he didn’t need to make, and then, contrary to all expectations including his own, lost it. Cue the BrExit shitstorm, the trainwreck of Theresa May’s government, and the eventual saddling of the world with Boris Johnson, a truly Trumpian clown who isn’t even as funny or memeable as his American counterpart. Ever since all of Britain has been David Cameron’s Pig being fucked by London elites and Tory politicians and my views on Scottish independence went from mildly pro Union to massively pro-Independence. This also came in tandem with a former neutrality on Northern Ireland tilting strongly towards full Irish reunification.

There were many reasons to be opposed to the EU, some good and some bad. But surely the unraveling of the Good Friday Accords in Northern Ireland was an inevitable part of BrExit. Scotland itself, a small country with interests throughout Europe, needs connections to larger entities to survive. But its political culture is diverging rapidly from that of England as BrExit and the rise of the SNP clearly show. And it seems to me that England is holding the non-Anglo parts of the British Union back. Perhaps even dragging them down with it. While England sinks further and further into the morass of petty bitter nativism, the country where I once lived and had impromptu street parties I joined when Thatcher died is clearly turning away from both Tories and Labour and for the SNP, presaging a re-invigoration of the Independence debate. I would not be surprised if I, as an individual, end up outliving the United Kingdom.

My only hope is that, going forward, more countries could take cues from Scottish nationalism in general: a type of green-civic-geographic program of tying together people based on place rather than ethnicity. I believe it offers a far better future than either the tired neoliberal status quo being rejected around the world right now or the nativistic rise of the chuds that seems the only force yet striving to take its place.

Or you could just take the black pill and keep on voting for a country where someone like Greg Knight just sits in Parliament taking up oxygen and making the worst campaign videos ever seen by man. A slow death by mediocrity and Little Englandism.

Adrift with the Tweeders?

We may have just witnessed the largest geopolitical earthquake (outside of Syria) since the invasion of Iraq. Some international relations focused thoughts are in order.


In my last post I argued against Brexit, but without really making a pro-EU case. It was a choice of the lesser of evils in many ways, two factions of the ruling class arguing about how best to propagate themselves. Most people will end up screwed in or out of the EU. But all politics is in some sense lesser evils, and this is inevitable. There are some countries that might be better out of the EU, Britain, I do not think, is one of them. After all, I have long believed the EU is more prone to ignorance and crisis than the United States, and wrote an entire previous article on how the complacent assumptions of cosmopolitanism would be its doom. After all, the smug tweed jacket red trouser wearing Little Englanders (who we in St Andrews disparaged as ‘Tweeders’) were always going to support whatever gets daddy a bigger dealership.

Postmodern identity politics began this rampant assertion of identity uber alles, and like all postmodern ideas, they were poison to the left that spawned them, leading to acute and even terminal cases of Tumblritis and anti-intellectualism. But even more importantly, all postmodern ideas eventually migrate to where their true Heideggerian home inevitably belongs-on the right. Where they manage, somehow, to become even worse. The pathology of victimhood, standing out due to accidents of birth and parentage, and other factors, merge perfectly with the conservative idealization of the past and the dominant ethnic group. The language of persecution gives people who are targets of comedians and writers the platform of martyrdom for…well…being in power and getting the criticism one gets for that.

And as that process unfolds, its the identity-obsessed right which holds all the cards in today’s developed world, as it dovetails perfectly with nationalism. A Brexit could lead to a vote on a Frexit. Not one likely to succeed, but even a vote in France could really bring out a new future for European nationalism beyond what is now inevitable. Even if not, the EU will work to save itself by reversing many of its current policies, becoming an awkward hybrid of preexisting unsustainable neoliberal sensible-serious-centrism with various populist movements. It is always amusing how migrants get the blame for the very obvious economic policies of the higher ups. Such tendencies could either save the union or break it up further depending on the strength of backlash. History is not a progressive story. It comes and goes, periods of integration conflict and merge with periods of division. It is clear we are entering such a more divided period now. In some ways it was the inevitable result of just how many gains the United States made from World War II onwards. Fueling world globalization was also destined to fuel backlash eventually. There has never been a narrative of history which goes only one way, save technology, and even that level of success is still dependent on a variety of factors in the humanities that wax and wane.

Not to mention the suddenly interesting issues that might come up with British military bases on Cyprus, the Falklands, and above all Gibraltar. Also overlooked is how Russia, once the backer of leftist European groups to sow dissension in western alliances, is now the tacit backer of rightist movements. Putin admires and is admired in turn by all kinds of figures from Trump, Le Pen, to Farage. The geopolitical ramifications, even without the economic issues, are large.

My personal concern, I will admit, is about the future of Scotland. A country which was my home far longer than England was, and was my home for almost as long in my adult life as America has been. As someone who once reluctantly backed the Union cause in the Scottish referendum, changing circumstances, as they always should, require one to change with them. I now support Scottish independence. For if we are to enter a world of resurgent nationalism, we can at least foster the right kind of nationalism.

Scotland has the right kind of nationalism, as far as these things go. The Scottish referendum was open to all citizens who lived in Scotland and closed to Scots abroad or in other parts of the UK. This is because Scotland has a geographic rather than strictly ethnic sense of solidarity. As a Edinburgh taxi driver once told a friend of mine, ‘Being born in Scotland doesn’t make you Scottish, dying in Scotland makes you Scottish.’ It was meant in jest, but shows some aspect of the attitude. Most UKIPers are the people you would expect, whereas the SNP has people from all over the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum. Considering also that Scotland has made a proportionally stronger push to tackle issues of environmental sustainability than the rest of the UK, it further bolsters a growing idea of mine-that the constructive form of nationalism of the future will be environmental and geographic.

Granted, this will not be most forms of nationalism, which will remain atavistic and self-destructive as usual. But if one country gets it off the ground a new example that could attract different coalitions could come into being.

Countries I thought were wise to stay out of the EU for specific reasons of the challenges they face are Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. Perhaps they should consider forming a league of their own based around arctic and sub-arctic issues in order to be better at dealing with resource and biodiversity crisis not likely to be we will understood by eurocrats. If such a thing occurred, Scotland could always break out of the UK and join such a group using Shetland and Orkney as its ins. Perhaps even carve a niche by joining both it and the EU and act as the vital bridge nation between them. It is speculative to be sure, but in crisis there is usually opportunity for those of strategic vision.

But it would be my personal hope that increasing division and nationalism, should it come to pass, could at least have a strain focused on the future rather than an idealized past. A future of being environmental stewards custom tailoring policy to biome, land, and sea. One thing is for sure, with ecological catastrophe already upon us, some civic dedication to keeping where we live livable is an inevitability. I can only hope that Scotland or some other country has the chance one day to pioneer such a turn.