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.
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.