Solidarity Vs Scottish Nationalism

5th May, 2015 4:02 pm

More and more, I’m being asked to ‘imagine if we’d voted yes to independence’ by Scots that are apparently doing just that. It’s hard to tell in 140 characters, but I gather it’s a specific outcome they’re picturing. So okay, let’s imagine that.


Let’s say that the Nation of Scotland has been everything Nicola Sturgeon promised. A new kind of politics has taken hold, and is working flawlessly. Services are better than they’ve ever been, the economy is booming and traffic is at an all-time low. Meanwhile, across the border, there are more food banks than ever before, the NHS is on the brink of collapse and Katie Hopkins has just been given her own chat show. So far, we’re all in the same daydream. Picture telling the smug English how right you were, imagine the collective I-Told-You-So.

Let’s keep going. Let’s imagine that thousands of ‘hard-working-families’ in the north of England are beginning to begrudge the injustice. They’re ignored by the Westminster Bubble too, they’re also lumbered with a Tory Government they never voted for, and yet they’re stuck with it while people a few miles north are living the highlife. More and more of them contemplate a move. It’s not far, it’s barely foreign, and prescriptions are free.

Now the young and poor of London and Birmingham and Manchester begin to look your way. They’ve already left their hometowns for anonymous cities – why not Scotland, with its promise and hope? In they come, ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand.

Traffic builds up again. Suddenly there is a waiting list for a council house and a queue at the doctors’ surgery. There are rumours of new charges that will have to be introduced.

What do you imagine happens next? Where does that ‘Putting Scotland First’ mentality lead you? Does it start to matter where a person is born? And how do you deal with the people that were born somewhere else?

I don’t like nationalism. Regardless of their policies on everything else, it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a value that only applies to one group of people.

I blame my A Level politics teacher, who taught me a different thought experiment. The first time I heard about the Stag Hunt I was baffled – why, when cooperation lead to the best outcome for both parties, would anyone choose to defect? I’m less naive these days and hence less baffled, but I’m still sure we’d be better working as a team than splitting into groups.

Many of the people voting SNP have more in common with the working classes of Manchester than the millionaires of Edinburgh, but they don’t mind leaving them behind in the pursuit of local prosperity. How can you wash your hands of people just like yourself, and justify it because others were selfish enough to overlook you? If your manifesto promises prosperity and equality, then why don’t you want it as much for Liverpool as for Aberdeen? Because you’re alright, Jack?

There are two possible ways to look at this. Either, you’re separating yourself off because you think you’re fundamentally different from or better than other people based on where you happen to live. If that’s you, then we have very little common ground to debate from – although you may have more than you’d like to think in common with UKIP.

The other way to look at it, is that perhaps it’s a surrender based on practicality. Perhaps you’re thinking that you’d love to bring the SNP manifesto to the masses, but you just can’t. You’d love to let the poor and vulnerable of England into your utopia, but there are just too many. I understand the desire to retreat into smaller groups as things get tough, to define yourself more tightly as the world gets complicated, the impulse to look after yourself and your own.

But what if that isn’t a mass of people to feed, but rather an army of brothers and sisters in arms? What if those aren’t more people we have to fight for, but more people we have to fight with?

There are plenty of groups that managed to make change and take their place in politics against all odds. Had the prospect of creating a nation of women, ethnic minorities or homosexuals not seemed ridiculous (somehow more ridiculous than a loyalty based on place of birth…) it might have been quite tempting. Why bother trying to convince them, when we can create a society of the already convinced? They, like Scots today, could rightly say they’d been overlooked. They had been treated badly by the people they hoped to convince. But those groups proved it was possible to make impossible change, and that society as a whole can benefit when we do.

If we were to focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we’d be a formidable force. If we were to fight for the values we share rather than the people we live near to, the people we live near to would be better off along with everyone else.

I’m not knocking the SNPs policies, its representatives, its priorities or it’s values. I’m just a bit narked off that I’m putting all my energies into a stag hunt over here, and they’ve beggared off after a hare.

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  • This is funny. An argument against improving Scotland regardless of its constitutional status, because it’ll just get swamped by English refugees? Deary me.

    • g978

      You miss the point. Dividing people merely on nationality can be dangerous and arbitrary.

      • gavin

        What’s your immigration policy again ?

      • So, if Scotland becomes richer without independence, somehow magically the wagon trains of poverty stricken English refugees don’t materialise? Only the existence of a border can create the problem. Admit it, this post is mince on stilts.

        • Myles

          The post is about the SNP’s priorities. The immigration part is to illustrate the point that nationalism and progressive politics are not easy bedfellows.

          • gavin

            You mistake the wish for self government as ‘nationalistic’, when it is not. It is more about having a reasonable level of economic growth, and a decent standard of living, something Scotland has not had in the Union.
            As for progressive, Labour,s conduct in its last long period in government, when cleaners paid a higher rate of tax than City speculators, is hardly a bragging matter.

      • And that fairly empty platitude in no way backs up the point of the piece: that economic success in Scotland would inevitably lead to cross-border migration and so isn’t worth having. And that that is somehow an argument against *independence*.

        • Steve Doran

          My point was not that it inevitably would, but to ask how you’d feel if it hypothetically did. It’s about asking where your values take you, as opposed to asking how you feel right now. My argument against an independent Scotland isn’t because I have something against Scotland – I’d say the same of an independent Cornwall.

    • Myles

      That’s a pretty impressive misreading of the article. The point is that nationalism is always a case of an ‘us’ versus some other ‘them’. The SNP and their support fundamentally care more about nationalism than social justice or progressive politics.

      • gavin

        Why is Scottish self government a problem for you? Its a very old fashioned notion that London is the center of all things. We can work at a national level on things that benefit both countries.
        Look at Scotland’s economic and population growth rate over the last century or more. Then you may appreciate why direct control of our economy from London isn’t working for us.

        • Myles

          I’m not saying self government is a problem for me. I’m just saying that a nationalist party can’t wear the clothes of a genuinely progressive party.

          • gavin

            You are confusing a national party with a nationalist party.
            I look at the party of Blair and Mandelson, Brown and Darling and simply don’t see a ‘ Progressive Party’. I would be interested to know their collective worth when entering Westminster, and what they have made since.

        • Steve Doran

          personally, I’d love to work towards a world government, a place where we saw each other as humans and focused on our similarities as opposed to seeing arbitrary lines on a map. I appreciate that it’s not possible (yet) but still an independent Scotland seems a step in the wrong direction. I have no specific problem with Scottish self government – I’d say they same if someone suggested that Manchester or Liverpool govern themselves because they’d been overlooked. Those places couldn’t just decide to throw the towel in and walk away, they had to get stuck in and fix the system for everyone.

          Incidentally, I’ll say the same if Glasgow inevitably fares worse than Edinburgh in an independent Scotland and decides it’d rather bail than make Scotland work. At some point you have to stand together.

          • gavin

            Do you feel the same way about Ireland ? Why not ?
            What about Canada or New Zealand? I throw these last two in, because they were Dominions, and Dominion Status was what Keir Hardie wanted for Scotland.

          • Steve Doran

            Yes, actually. I would greatly prefer a world where the Irish could be involved in the democratic fight to improve life for everyone, be they English or Irish, on the basis of shared values rather than shared postcodes. I would say the same of any nation that had the opportunity to combine forces with another for the benefit of all. Granted, it isn’t practically possible in all cases – yet. But that’s the aim I’m striding towards. I certainly wouldn’t begin by chopping up Unions that are already opperational on the grouds that there are imperfections. Of course there are imperfections, but we should work on fixing them together rather than going our separate ways.

            As for being ruled from the south of England – why do you want Glasgow ruled by Edinburgh? Why do you want Edinburgh ruled by the Centre of Edinburgh? Power has to be centred somewhere – the issue is not where we are ruled from but who we are ruled for. I would cheerfully name Birmingham or Aberdeen the new Capital of the UK – I’d campaign for it, as a matter of fact. As long as the new capital served the whole UK and not one side of an arbitrary line. Same as I would be delighted to hear that we’d sorted all the issues out and were now all citizens of the Nation of Europe. Not possible now, but maybe one day.

          • gavin

            Presumably you would be content with all power being centred in Brussels ? Then Ireland ( and France, Germany etc etc ) could be involved in your “fight”, without having to be ruled from the South of England.
            Or are we back to British nationalism again, where you want to run YOUR own affairs, but don’t want Scots to run theirs.

          • Steve Doran

            No, in an ideal world I would have us all under the nation of Europe. That’s not quite the same thing as saying ALL power should be held in Brussels – not all power is held in London. We have regional assemblies, local councils and Parish authorities that all do their bit, but they all work under the same nation. I would love to have all national governments working in the same way under Europe, and eventually, in a Utopia, the nation of Earth. Granted, we’re into science fiction territory there, but in principle.

            And incidentally, I have no problem with the Scottish Parliament, or the SNP as a voice in westminster. I encourage regional voices in westminster. But they have to be speaking to the same chamber, not off setting up their own.

  • Chilbaldi

    And here lies the rub of the argument. This is what Better Together should have been making more of rather than the economic worries side of independence.

    Nationalism is about dividing people. It’s about pulling up the draw bridge and looking after yourself. It is the very opposite of left wing politics.

    The truth that most fail to say is that UKIP and SNP are essentially two sides of the same coin. One positions itself on the right, the other supposedly on the left. Both are nationalist parties whose main aim is to pull up the draw bridge and screw everyone else. It’s parochial, selfish politics at its very worst.

    • gavin

      The SNP policy is NOT to pull up the drawbridge.
      That must be a Unionist manifesto you are reading from.

  • gavin

    British Nationalism good.
    Scottish self government bad.
    What was Labour’s immigration policy again ?
    Oh, that’s right. The poor and needy from ELSEWHERE.
    Keep them out !

    • David Kelly

      Vote Labour to stop the multicultural boat being rocked as said by Denis
      Macshane and allow 1400 girls to get abused in Rotherham!!

  • Clean & Light

    I see. So it’s Labour policy to allow completely unlimited immigration into the UK? I’m not against the policy if it is, but it’s a bit phoney to argue that limiting immigration into an independent Scotland would be a bad thing but that limiting immigration into the UK is a sensible thing to do.

  • FMcGonigal

    “Let’s imagine that thousands of ‘hard-working-families’ in the north of England are beginning to begrudge the injustice. They’re ignored by the Westminster Bubble too, they’re also lumbered with a Tory Government they never voted for…”

    Then offer devolution to the North of England on the same terms as Scotland.


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