Except for Viewers in Scotland
This one is for liberals and lefties in England who would screw-over Scotland to get one over brexiteers. You are supporting the very nationalism you claim to despise.
As a schoolboy the ZX Spectrum computer I had was so out of date its games came on cassette tapes, so I used to go to a friend’s who had an Amiga, which was far more high tech with its white plastic casing and floppy disks. We would play the original SimCity.
We would spend hours patiently creating a city, laying out homes, factories, railways and bridges. Eventually, we would get bored with building and, inevitably, we would click on the ‘disasters’ menu and choose to let loose a giant, rampaging Godzilla-like monster on our carefully planned metropolis. Even though we knew it was undoing everything we had created together, we took a perverse pleasure watching the monster leave a trail of destruction.
Scotland is not your SimCity.
This one is for liberals and progressives in England who would be tempted to say goodbye to Scotland - and all that entails - just to get one over on the Brexiteers. There is no escaping the fact you’d be supporting the very nationalism you claim to despise. And perhaps more importantly you’d be entrenching that kind of politics in both countries for generations to come.
This issue of Notes on Nationalism is for them, but if any Scexit supporters in Scotland also look in the mirror of the videos that follow and see something they don’t like, then that’s good too.
Those arguing for leaving the UK use near-identical arguments and attacks on their opponents as those who led the campaign to leave the EU.
To quote Bruno Mars: Don’t believe me? Just watch.
We should be governed by us, not them.
Scexit and Brexit share a nationalist worldview. They push a narrower, more exclusive view of sovereignty and democracy that excludes others who live on the wrong side of a line on the map. Decisions made with others cannot be democratic because ‘they’ are not ‘us’.
It is telling that when both campaigns to leave a Union are given the opportunity to summarise their core belief, they are word-for-word reflections of each other.
Both Scexit and Brexit are based on the idea of us being in control, not them. But nationalists confuse sovereignty with power. Power is the ability to get what we want, and that depends on a complex web of social and economic interactions with our neighbours as much as it does on the formal political power of the UK or Scottish Governments. More often than not, hoarding sovereignty means less control over our lives, not more.
Such complexity is the enemy of their populism and so they offer banal promises of more control:
But, say the SNP, we want to share sovereignty with the EU!
They argue that the values of, for example, Salvini’s Italy or Orban’s Hungary are aligned with Scotland but the values of the nation we have been in an economic, political, social, and monetary union with for three centuries are so alien that can’t share any institutions with them. That was the SNP’s case for 70 years before Brexit.
While many angry pro-Europeans have joined their cause, the SNP aren’t frustrated internationalists making a case for shared sovereignty.
When, in 2014, the Europan Union went out of their way to say that Scotland would be outside the EU and would have to spend years reapplying, the SNP shrugged their shoulders and threatened the status of EU migrants. When pressed today, they tell us they won’t accept the Euro, the ERM, Shengen, the Common Fisheries Policy, and say they would challenge the rules of the single market. Alex Salmond who gave us soliloquies about Scotland’s thousand-year history as an ancient European nation now supports EFTA over EU membership.
Brexit is just the latest grievance used to argue for leaving a far more significant Union.
We just need to believe harder.
Nationalists of both stripes implore us to believe more in our countries - as if the problems they seek to create can be overcome by an abundance of national pride.
This runs deeper than a populist appeal to patriotism. They really do believe that the stronger the shared identity, the better the society. They also believe that the opposite is true. In their minds, political change depends on more narrowly defining ‘us’ around shared identity rather than looking for shared interests with ‘them’.
Political choices are about blind self-belief, not a close examination of the facts:
Country and cause are one and the same.
If the appeal to voters is to believe in their country, alongside this they define their opponents as lacking national pride. We end up in the perverse position that only those who support harming the people of the nation truly believe in that nation. For them, country and cause are one and the same. To question the cause is to doubt the country. The beauty and diversity of what makes us a nation are reduced to ugly politics.
Any criticism of the project is heretical and met with the same denunciation:
The same soundbite.
Both Brexit and Scexit nationalists face an overwhelming weight of expert opinion that the course of action they support would leave us poorer. The scepticism of voters is rational, they are right to be worried when confronted with the evidence.
Both use the same lazy label to casually dismiss this evidence as part of an establishment conspiracy. You’re scared not because of rational concerns, but because *they* want you to be:
I could go on with examples from nationalists in both camps airily promising that everything will be taken care of in negotiations, pretending that borders can be invisible, arguing that seeking imaginary customers is preferable to keeping real customers, accusing those who oppose them of collaborating with a foreign power, revelling in the history of bloody battles against neighbouring nations…
There are significant differences between Scexit and Brexit, of course. Different enemies are sought. Different grievances are exploited. Different excuses are offered to justify a nationalism that in reality doesn’t exist to serve any purpose other than nationalism itself.
The big difference is that exiting the UK Union would be far more damaging than leaving the European one. Scotland is far more integrated into the UK economy than the UK is/was into the EU. The trade flows between our nations are far higher than between the UK and EU. We share regulators, professional bodies, infrastructure, government agencies, transport networks, telecom and postal services... We share our taxes. We share our cost of borrowing. We share a currency.
Of course, I recognise that Brexit has fed Scexit. The votes of Remainers like me have been appropriated to give the SNP the excuse to re-run a referendum result they never accepted. But for those of us who campaigned against both Brexit and Scexit, the idea that more nationalism will solve the damage done by nationalism makes no sense.
So please remember that the lives of Scots are not a sandbox where angry liberals outside Scotland can seek catharsis by inflicting damage to the UK. Please don’t seek your revenge on Boris Johnson by destroying our public services, jobs and incomes.
Instead of reducing Scotland and the UK to two divisive political ideologies, progressives across the UK should be making the case for what unites us.
When I look south at Mark Drakeford, Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin, Steve Rotheram, or Nik Johnson, I don’t see people whose values are alien, I see allies who want to work with us to reform and renew a United Kingdom.
We have much more in common. We are bigger than the political projects of small politicians.
In case you missed it…
Paul Johnson of The Institute for Fiscal Studies wrote a challenging article in The Times, which you can read here. He makes a prediction of what will happen when the realities of the SNP’s unfunded election promises kick in:
“Scotland can have an even more comprehensive, generous and universal welfare state than it does at present. That’s what the Scottish people voted for. It has the power to raise the tax to pay for it. If the ambitions and promises are real then that is what the Scottish government should do. It will perhaps prove easier, though, to ignore that possibility and blame others when funding proves inadequate. The power is there, but so is the opportunity to abrogate responsibility.”
On a similar theme, Professor James Mitchell from the University of Edinburgh gave a really strong interview to ITV criticising the Scottish Parliament for being a middle-class parliament that has complained about poverty while not using the powers it has to tackle it.
John Ferry penned another well-argued piece where he highlights the absurdity of demanding a referendum without having done any homework on how a separate state would operate:
“releasing details on the impact of secession after a campaign has started would be wholly inadequate; a disservice to the people of Scotland – you could even call it a democratic outrage. If Sturgeon has confidence in her case then she will have no concerns about giving the people the time and space to consider it properly.”
Making a similar argument that the terms of leaving the UK should be set out before talk of any referendum, William Hague’s column in The Times offers a reality check to many in his own party:
“ministers are giving more visibility to the largesse of the British state, with UK-badged infrastructure and better transport links. Yet they know better than most that having EU flags plastered over building sites did nothing to lessen demands for Brexit…
….change the terms of the debate from “the right to choose” to the right to make an informed choice. The position of pro-Union parties should be that no referendum can be held unless the people of Scotland are allowed to see what independence is intended to mean.”
Chris Deerin has a thoughtful analysis of Anas Sarwar’s strategy going forward.
After the scandal around the treatment of young people sitting exams last year, The Ferret reports that we’re heading for another car crash. Nicola Sturgeon was asked about this at her press conference and answered with characteristic clarity: