What is the point?
This week has been a reminder that nationalism only ever serves one purpose: keeping nationalists in power.
1. To Keep People Divided
Yesterday, one group of nationalists gathered in London to tell us that their nationalism wasn’t like other nationalisms.
In perhaps the worst-ever articulation of that argument, that we have heard so often in Scotland, author Douglas Murray told the National Conservatism conference that there was no problem with British nationalism and that:
"I see no reason why every other country in the world should be prevented from feeling pride in itself because the Germans mucked up twice in a century.”
If you can only make an argument for nationalism by casually brushing over the horrors of the Third Reich as ‘mucking up’ then maybe it isn’t worth arguing for as a political philosophy.
Murray of course misses the point. Critics of nationalism don’t argue that all nationalisms are identical - to argue that would be to miss the essential nature of nationalism. Rather we argue that nationalism can never succeed in its promise because the solutions to modern problems cannot be found in imaginary ancient ideas of us and them.
At the same time, in Scotland, nationalists decided to attack Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton for a speech he gave months ago where he made the case against the nationalisms Scotland has suffered under:
“There are two nationalisms that have bedevilled Scottish politics for more than ten years. There is of course the Scottish nationalism of the SNP, but there’s the Brexit nationalism of the UK Conservative Party. We are a people trapped between flags, between politicians who mythologise and pine for ancient nations that can never and should never exist again in the global world in which we find ourselves in.”
One SNP politician, presumably to try to distract from his own arrest by police, ludicrously declared that Cole-Hamilton's remarks are “an attack on Scotland, our democracy, and our culture.” The dog whistles from nationalist politicians and their client newspaper were heard loud and clear by the snarling curs online. The Lib Dem leader, who spent the first seven years of his life in England faced a barrage of anti-English racism thanks to their deliberate disinformation.
The anti-English pile-on isn’t an unfortunate side-effect of the attacks on the Scottish Lib Dem leader. The journalists and politicians amplifying this know exactly what they are doing.
You might rush to label the politicians who engage in such tactics as racists, but that misses the point. Those gathering in London don’t personally hate immigrants or believe in a Semitic global conspiracy of cultural Marxists. Nor are those encouraging the pile-on against Alec Cole-Hamilton anti-English racists themselves. It’s more troubling than that. They don’t hold those views themselves, they just hope enough people do that exploiting such views can maintain their political power. And of course, that’s far worse.
In a week when Nigel Farage acknowledges “Brexit has failed” and the former director of Yes Scotland admits that “we were promoting something we hadn’t worked out” this is all a reminder that nationalism only ever serves one purpose: making nationalists, not nations, powerful.
2. To Save the Jobs of SNP MPs
The other reminder of the lack of real purpose in nationalism was Mhairi Black’s statement that it doesn’t matter if there is another Conservative government. Since the last newsletter, Humza Yousaf decided to double down on this message arguing that there is no difference between Labour and the Conservatives.
It feels like this position is now built into the Scottish general election debate which is a problem for the SNP as the voters don’t agree with them. Scots very much think there is a difference between Labour and the Conservatives: Starmer’s party has a net positive rating of 12%, while Sunak’s has a net negative rating of 38%.
Alex Massie in the Times agrees that the idea that the Conservatives and Labour are identical is lacking basic credibility in the minds of the Scottish voters. He notes that the SNP is leaving themselves without an offer of change at the election:
“For all his huffing and puffing, Yousaf has said independence is off the agenda until such time as there is a clear and obvious and sustained majority demand for it. This is a commitment to which he should be both held and reminded of on a regular basis. But if a vote for the SNP cannot materially advance the independence cause then what, at this particular election, can it do? Not a lot, is the answer. This too is the story at the next election and deep down voters know it.”
In his column in the Herald today Brian Wilson asks a similar question about the point of voting SNP at this time:
“If there is to be a Labour government of the United Kingdom, does it make more sense to have strong Scottish representation within it or to send a protest group to Westminster with the sole aim of undermining it?”
Professor Jim Gallagher senses the central question of Scottish politics might be shifting:
“For a decade the Scottish question has been: When’s the next referendum? For the next decade, with independence a far off possibility, it may be different, more like: How can Scotland now get more of what independence claimed to offer?”
The irony is that it is no longer the SNP who offer the change that independence once offered, however disingenuous that offer might have been. In fact, Kenny Farquharson writes that voting intention and constitutional preference may be decoupling:
“The average SNP voter now has agency denied in recent years. No longer is every single electoral test the final heave to achieve Scotland’s destiny. That notion now feels faintly comical. Independence has been unavoidably delayed and SNP folk now have the freedom to engage in British politics on its own terms. They can vote for who they want as prime minister.”
3. To Distract from the SNP Appalling Record
As the SNP’s decline continues we can expect more ill-judged rhetoric from them. Not least because they, like the nationalists gathering in London, believe that successfully creating rows on cultural and identity issues will distract voters from their record of failure. And man, do the SNP need a distraction right now. Look at the last 24 hours alone:
An SNP Minister admitted that it would be cheaper to scrap the second ferry at Ferguson’s and start again than it will be to finish it - but that they are going to spend the money on the ship anyway.
The outgoing Children and Young People’s Commissioner said that Nicola Sturgeon had failed in her supposed “personal mission” of improving the lives of children.
Prof Lindsay Patterson gave a damning verdict on the SNP’s education policy, including a wasted quarter of a century outside of international education studies (listen from 2hrs 33 mins here).
The Crown Office refused to comment on stories that they deliberately sat on the search warrant for Nicola Sturgeon’s house until after the SNP leadership election was over.
Huge volumes of sewage are being dumped into protected waters in Scotland, despite the SNP pretending it is an English problem.
Nine out of ten A&E nurses surveyed said they worried patients were receiving unsafe treatment in the NHS. A&E waiting times deteriorated with the winter crisis becoming a summer crisis.
And perhaps most shockingly of all that under Yousaf’s time as health minister a patient with colorectal cancer waited 397 days for treatment. Prostate cancer patients waited up to 289 days. There were waits of more than 100 days for breast, cervical, head and neck, lung, lymphoma, melanoma, and ovarian cancer patients.
"The anti-English pile-on isn’t an unfortunate side-effect of the attacks on the Scottish Lib Dem leader."
I'm surprised you didn't mention Sturgeon's complete understandable expression of complete shock and surprise at how divided the political debate in Scotland has become.
Mind you, this notes came out 2 days ago, and things are moving fast, so maybe she said that just after you pressed send :-)