British nationalists

Dwelling in a land East of Eden

A response to Effie Deans latest missive in her long and increasingly desperate sounding series equating Scottish nationalism with unreasoning cultism:

http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/dwelling-in-land-of-nod.html?showComment=1440847047570

Why are British nationalists so taken with the caricature of Scottish nationalism as an unreasoning cult? As approaches to political debate go it is as intellectually dishonest as it is insulting. It has about as much resonance with Scots as the Tory response to their Scottish electoral decline in the 1980’s and 90’s. The correct interim response is not to accuse electors of false consciousness and insist that if you only shout your message more loudly, they will start to accept the innate “rightness” of your views.

I doubt the majority of Scots, still less SNP supporters or members, actually want or advocate the socialist paradise you insist (on what evidence I wonder?) we are all obsessed with. Calling for a society that is fairer, more equal, which does not get involved in ill-advised and arguably illegal foreign wars isn’t indicative of being a cultist with impossible dreams Effie; it’s the aspiration of many ordinary folk who simply don’t accept that things have to be as they are.

Your claim that nationalist dreams will founder on what you see as the hard realities they avoid may of course be true. Obviously I disagree with both your caricature of the motivation of pro-independence voters and your continual carping that nationalists as a whole are incapable of rational analysis, being hooked on the morphia of idealistic socialism. Such generalisations are neither accurate nor helpful.

Your deeply flawed analysis does however explain a whole lot about why British nationalism in Scotland is facing an existential crisis in the face of the SNP surge. Your failure to understand why the majority of Scots people are disillusioned with all three British nationalist parties, even after rejecting independence barely a year ago, is symptomatic of the mind set which ensured the Scottish Tories haven’t recovered after Thatcherism, and that Scottish Labour won’t recover from Blairite New Labour and the negativity of Better Together.

We may never be able to make Scotland a new Jerusalem, but an increasing number of us are convinced that the only way to make it more like the kind of progressive, liberal, broadly social-democratic society we see in places like Scandinavia is via independence, not by remaining part of the UK. Reducing inequality and poverty whilst increasing general living standards is possible if we have the will to do it. Trying to paint Scottish nationalism as uniquely incapable of delivering better results, whilst simultaneously maintaining that British nationalism is the only way to do so simply demonstrates cognitive dissonance, not debate.

We’re not deluded or hoodwinked cultists or high on the soporific morphine of socialist utopianism Effie. We are pretty convinced however that there is no longer any positive case for unionism, or it would already have been made. Despite the claims of the Vow, that the status-quo wasn’t an option, here we are a year on from the referendum and vanishingly little progress has been made. THAT’s what explains your current situation; the fault doesn’t lie with the Scottish voters being hapless cattle led by the SNP, but with British nationalism for failing to deliver on the panicked promises of the Vow short term, and failing to deliver the kind of society we want long term.

Effie’s dream of Scotlandshire

In her recent blog “We must attack the SNP at its roots” the British nationalist blogger Effie Deans goes to some (sadly considerable) length to try and account for the extraordinary post referendum rise in SNP support, and suggest methods to defeat the forces of Scottish nationalism, the triumph of which would she asserts be a disaster for all of us. The passionate, not to say intemperate, tone of much of Effie’s anti-independence dialogue of course be nothing new to those who are familiar with her work. Read between the lines however, and what becomes clear is that the closer the General Election and the likely increase in SNP representation at Westminster comes, the more strident, desperate and indeed sinister, her proposed solutions appear.

Effie helpfully outlines a four-fold approach to rooting out the vigorous weed of Scottish nationalism:

  1. deny Scotland the status of a country;
  2. rule out further referendums for ever;
  3. refuse to work with the SNP under any circumstances; and
  4. promote a feeling of common UK identity (“as we devolve, so must we unite”).

It’s worth deconstructing these approaches in some detail to expose just how anti-democratic and politically regressive a significant section of the anti-independence movement within Scotland, and in the UK more broadly, has become.

  1. Scotland is not a country.

Effie’s line here is that since Scotland lacks what she identifies as the defining characteristics of “countryness”, sovereignty and independence, we cannot and should not allow that it is a “real” country at all. This argument is desperately ahistorical with respect to centuries of Scottish and wider British history. It is also profoundly at variance with available evidence of how the vast majority of modern Scots feel about the country they primarily identify with. This fundamentally flawed analysis also results in some rather startling conclusions, which may not sit particularly well with some Scottish unionists who could be expected to share Effie’s general outlook.

Since no other nation state allows its parts to have separate money or international football teams, Scotland would perforce have to surrender these attributes of “countryness”. The status of Scotland’s separate legal system, education system and reformed church don’t seem to figure in the list of attributes that Scotland should be stripped of, but the logic of the argument seems pretty clear; Scotland is no more entitled to the trappings of nationhood than is Lancashire. The UK, she airily insists, is one nation, indivisible. As a devotee of Walter Scott, it is hardly surprising that Effie Deans promotes a view of Scotland as simply “North Britain”. Scotlandshire is to be become coeval with Yorkshire or any other county; differentiated by no more than accent and the fact that unlike these other regions it had a history as an independent kingdom.

In Effie’s eyes we err in acting as though Scotland were entitled to even the limited attributes of “real” countries like its own money or international football team. Such pandering after all only encourages those pesky nationalists to want the whole shooting match; today the Tartan Army, tomorrow a Scottish Defence force. The gradual dissolution of a distinct Scottish identity inherent in Effie’s “dream of Scotlandshire” may not prove as big a draw as she hopes. She may speak for a small sub-section of Scottish unionism, but her assertion that Scotland isn’t even a country at all in any meaningful sense will strike the vast majority of Scots, and even many of her comrades in the anti-independence camp, as not just preposterous and deeply insulting, but quite simply historically, socially and politically autistic.

  1. Referendum no more…..

The Scots according to Effie are uniquely incapable of “doing” democracy. The indyref campaign, for all its faults, was widely regarded as an inspiration; a record turnout, huge levels of political engagement and energy, and even according to the Scottish Police remarkably little in the way of violence or trouble. Yet according to British nationalist opponents of independence, the correct interim response to this phenomenon is to concentrate on the negative, to accentuate political division and hint darkly: “Who knows where this would lead?”

In conjuring the ghost of potential chaos, Effie and her supporters in movements such as #SNPout on twitter, feel justified in openly advocating not only that future referendums be delayed but ruled out in perpetuity. This profoundly anti-democratic and authoritarian approach is justified with reference first to the rights of opponents of independence to live without a continual threat to the existence of their country, and secondly with reference to the legalistic argument that states are entitled to protect their territorial integrity and the absence of any right to secession under international law.

It is of course democratically illiterate to prioritise the protection of the rights of anti-independence Scots to remain part of the UK, over the rights of a future majority voting in favour of independence. Natural justice as well as international law demands that a people’s right to self determination be protected. Attempting to justify a perpetual ban on referendums with reference to the perceived instability they cause would be a very dangerous precedent to set. In the Scottish context we already have a precedent for the conditions under which a referendum will be held, and the process to be used. Any attempt to unilaterally change this approach by Westminster would cause outrage in Scotland, and place Holyrood and Westminster on a collision course.

Despite the pious hopes of British nationalists insisting that the ability to hold an independence referendum is contingent upon Westminster’s approval, there is no consensus, either academic or legal, that such approval is necessary. The Section 30 Order granted for the 2014 referendum was a sign of Westminster’s weakness, not an indication of its strength. David Cameron’s government knew quite well that a refusal to grant the order and take an analogous position that of the Spanish government in relation to a Catalan independence referendum would simply have fanned the flames of separatism. A unilateral declaration of independence was never on the cards, nor is it ever likely to be necessary in the UK context; thankfully this isn’t Spain!

Whilst it is true that international law recognises no absolute right to secession, it is equally true that it recognises no prohibition. The reason it is such an imperfect guide with respect to cases like Scotland, Quebec or Catalonia is that the long standing presumption favouring territorial integrity was debated almost exclusively with reference to former colonies of the imperial powers. British unionists (and their Spanish and Canadian counterparts) trust that territorial integrity and appeals to over-arching legalistic or constitutional prohibitions will always trump the right to self determination and the sovereignty of the people. It would however be a brave constitutional theorist or international lawyer who failed to take into account the implied duty of good faith recognised by the Canadian Supreme Court in its review of the Clarity Act. In the absence of good faith, such as the flagrantly anti-democratic steps advocated by Effie Deans, all bets are off. It is of course for that very reason that no sane UK government could ever countenance following Effie’s advice, and were there ever to be an administration unwise enough to do so, it will undoubtedly go down in history as the one which provoked Scots to vote for and take the independence which is theirs as of right, not bestowed by the gracious permission of Westminster.

  1. SNP…BAAAAAAAD; NATZ….BAAAAAAAAD

Since the SNP represents an existential threat to the UK, they must according to the britnat discourse not only be resisted, but cast into the uttermost darkness. The SNP you see is not, in the faintly hysterical weltanschauung of Effie and her ilk, an ordinary fairly left of centre political party so beloved of its burgeoning membership. Rather it is a deeply regressive, repressive movement just like “all” other nationalist movements. There is no room for shades of grey here. Civic nationalism, even if it exists at all according to Effie, is simply a convenient façade for the more common or garden nationalism she experienced first hand in the Ukraine in the 1990’s. There is of course no coherent discussion; simply assertion that any form of nationalism, however benign must virtually inevitably lead to civil-war. The conjuring of the ghost of conflict a la Ireland, or the Ukraine, or the Balkan conflicts is of course nothing new in the Scottish independence debate. It is a convenient and intellectually lazy trope used by British nationalists to scare the undecided horses.

The SNP and other pro-independence supporters are for Effie and her supporters not just wrong, they are bad. As such, it is acceptable to “other” them at every available opportunity. They must perforce be held responsible for EVERY extremist on their side of the debate, and must provide detailed responses to every conceivable risk or economic question on independence, however implausible, whilst not being able to point out that there are risks with the status-quo, and that extremists exist on the anti-independence side too.

  1. Kraft durch freude

I imagine many “moderate” unionists and British nationalists will feel uncomfortable with Effie’s avowedly manichean prognosis. On the one hand she makes an appeal to overcome historical division and advocates a reinvention of a sense of British purpose in much the same way as she thinks Americans had to do post Civil War. On the other hand however, she baldly states that if you don’t feel particularly British, your only recourse is to join the SNP. Similarly, if you are one of those Scots who agree that Scotland is a “real” country, you really should be in the SNP. Note once again that there is no place for nuance or principled disagreement in Effie’s stark “you’re either with us or against us” Scotland; no place for well intentioned devolutionists, or those who want federalism or a continuation of the widely popular Holyrood system more or less as it is. You must either be a fully paid up SNP member, or a true believer in her Brigadoon fantasy-land of Scotlandshire as just another county of the UK with a funnier accent and quaint national dress.

Having marshalled her troops in serried rows of britnat certainty, Effie then opines that it is necessary for unionists to have a more attractive story to tell than the SNP, one which is positive and shows how much they love the UK and how it is a great country. Whether her profoundly undemocratic plans to ban future referendums, abolish Scottish international football teams and withdraw Scottish banknotes will encourage the majority of Scots to rally to he banner remains to be seen. Recent polls and the prospects of an SNP electoral tsunami overwhelming all three unionist parties in Scotland suggest not.

Effie is one of the leading lights of the #SNPout movement on twitter, whose chief purpose is to promote tactical voting by pro-union voters of all parties to stop SNP MPs being elected. Their particular focus is to keep Alex Salmond out of the Gordon seat, although current polling suggests that such is the scale of the SNP lead they will fail there and indeed everywhere else. Their “spinning wheel of tactical voting” certainly seems to represent a “hail Mary pass” attempt to stem an almost inevitable rout of Labour and LibDem MPs in Scotland. Scratch the veneer of reasonableness however, and some truly regressive and unpleasant views are on display amongst #SNPout supporters and activists. Advocating tactical voting is one thing, but calls to ban future referendums even if the Scots people overwhelmingly express a desire to have one are profoundly undemocratic and rather sinister. Effie ends her blog with the warning:

“They think they can use the Scottish Parliament to ferment division in the UK.  Some say they will use the Scottish Parliament to claim UDI. Show them that we are serious and will take all necessary steps to stop them.” 

It’s not clear how far Effie feels the steps necessary to stop Scottish nationalists should extend, but given her publicly expressed view that pro-independence Scottish immigrants were “treacherous”, I can’t be the only one who can see her brand of extreme British nationalism, her “othering” of any criticism however mildly expressed as vile abuse, and her unreasoning, visceral hatred of independence as lying firmly on a dystopian continuum which ends in mass arrests, prosecutions, internment camps and political re-education.

In conclusion, the answer to Effie’s question “Why are so many people voting for the SNP?” is clear enough; in large part it’s due to the hyperbolic anti-democratic hysteria espoused by individual British nationalist extremists and haters like her, ably assisted by the abject failure of the unionist political parties and elites to isolate such people and present a positive alternative vision of a coherent constitutional settlement short of independence acceptable to the majority of Scots.