Category Archives: SNP

The great Unionist conspiracy theory

Mut & solidarität statt blut & boden
Mut & solidarität statt blut & boden by Fabio Panico, on Flickr.
A large number of Unionist politicians, activists and voters seem to strongly believe that Alex Salmond is a liar (“lying bastard” is the way it’s normally expressed), that the SNP is at heart a fascist party and that Scotland will be turned into a totalitarian one-party state after independence.

This is rather odd, because this flies in the face of all evidence. In my experience Salmond might try to avoid answering a question — like all experienced politicians — but I’d say he’s less mendacious than most. The SNP is a left-of-centre party that is welcoming to foreigners, and the first elections in an independent Scotland have already been planned for 2016.

The disconnect between reality and Unionist beliefs is so great that it’s starting to look like a conspiracy theory (defined by Wikipedia as an “explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation”).

In my experience conspiracies appear when people for some reason don’t feel that the obvious explanation makes any sense. For instance, lots of theories have appeared about the fate of MH370 because it sounds so unlikely that a Boeing 777 can go missing in the 21st century.

However, to me the facts about the SNP and the wider Yes movement are easy to find and make perfect sense. So what is it that make some people invent ludicrous theories about us?

Perhaps it all begins with the Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid attitude. Lots of Unionists seem to take this proposition for granted (even if they don’t like to admit it out loud).

If Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent, then logically the Yes campaign must be either be misguided or lying when they claim Scotland will be a rich and successful country after independence.

Whereas many Yes campaigners can be excused as being misguided (or useful idiots, if you will), this cannot be said about Alex Salmond, who is intelligent and well-informed, as well as having hundreds of civil servants at his disposal. He must therefore be lying.

But why would he be lying? What’s his interest in claiming that Scotland can be a successful independent country? He must either be doing it out of personal ambition, or he must believe in an evil ideology (such as fascism) that blinds him to the human cost of this endeavour.

As soon as you start seeing Salmond as a budding fascist dictator, it suddenly makes sense that the entire SNP party must be full of blood and soil (Blut und Boden) Nazis. Also, fascists are known to be very regimented, so it cannot possibly be the case that the cybernats are acting independently — they must be controlled centrally, preferably by Alex Salmond himself.

And there you go — it all makes perfect sense. Except that it is completely and utterly wrong! It flies in the face of all available evidence, as anybody who has attended an SNP or Yes Scotland meeting will tell you.

It is a conspiracy theory and should be treated as such.

Darling, I am NOT an ethnic nationalist!

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling by Downing Street, on Flickr.
Like many other people I feel offended by the infamous Alistair Darling interview:

NS: Salmond has successfully redefined the SNP as [representing] a civic nationalism . . .

Darling: Which it isn’t . . .

NS: But that’s what he says it is. Why do you say it isn’t? What is it? Blood and soil nationalism?

Darling: At heart . . . [inaudible mumble] If you ask any nationalist, ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no. It is about how people define themselves through their national identity.

It’s clear the inaudible mumble wasn’t a clear No, so he clearly agreed with the interviewer’s Blut und Boden provocation.

This is outrageous! I’ve been fighting ethnic nationalism all my life, I’m an internationalist. I’m even an Esperantist, for crying out loud!

I’m also a proud member of the Scottish National Party. The party that calls itself “National”, not “Nationalist”. As I’ve argued before, we independence campaigners should really have been called sovereigntists (or independentistas as suggested by Wee Ginger Dug), not nationalists, but that’s just a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare wrote.

In Scotland the word “nationalist” has come to mean “a member of the SNP” or even “a Yes campaigner”. I don’t have a problem with this, and I’m happy to call myself a nationalist in a Scottish context. However, outwith Scotland the word has the wrong connotations. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world — because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

I agree with Angus Robertson. In some contexts it’s useful to talk about civic nationalism (which Wikipedia defines as “a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights”), and I’m very happy to identify myself as a civic nationalist. However, if you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t really know about civic nationalism and assumes nationalism means ethnic nationalism, it’s better to say you’re not a nationalist.

Finally, I feel I should answer Darling’s question (‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’). Yes, generally speaking — I think there are countries that would benefit from forming a union with a neighbouring country. However, the United Kingdom has so many flaws that I find it hard to think of anything the No campaign could say that would make me vote against independence. The union might have served a purpose during the age of imperialism, but these days it’s better to be an independent country. Even if there was no oil left and Scotland couldn’t remain the EU, I believe an independent Scotland would be much better at responding to the needs of its citizens than a corrupt and remote government in Westminster.

My national identity is complex. I guess you could try to define me as Scottish-Danish-German-Esperantist-European with a few sprinkles of Georgian and Basque, but it’s really a bit complicated. It’s not how I define myself, and it’s not the reason I’m voting Yes.

Alistair Darling should feel ashamed of himself. There are plenty of neo-fascist movements appearing all over Europe at moment that he could spend his time fighting. Ethnic nationalism is a horrible ideology, and applying that term to an anti-xenophobic party that welcomes foreigners like me with open arms is insulting, demeaning, harmful and evil. We are not amused.

Today’s European Parliament election from an indyref perspective

Backside of the European Parliament
Backside of the European Parliament by Protesilaos Stavrou, on Flickr.

We aren’t voting for or against independence in the European Parliament elections today. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant from an indyref perspective.

First of all, and most obviously, the media will look at the strength of the Yes parties and try to conclude that this says something about the strength of the Yes campaign. In other words, if the SNP and the Green party together win three (or more) of the six seats available, everything is fine. On the other hand, if they only get two, it will be seen as a blow to the Yes campaign.

Secondly, UKIP must not win a seat here. They have been trying extremely hard to present themselves as a UK-wide party, but they have never saved a deposit in Scotland, and it’s important for the distinctiveness of Scottish politics that the status quo in this area is maintained, apart from the obvious fact that UKIP is an abhorrent party.

Thirdly, the Scottish MEPs will sit in the European political party groups in the European Parliament. For instance, the SNP and the Green Party will both form part of Greens/EFA, Labour will sit in S&D, the Tories in ECR (not in the EPP!), and the LibDems (if they get in) in ALDE. The MEPs normally vote the same within each group, so it’s really important to look into this rather than simply assuming the MEPs will be toeing the national party line. The European political parties are not equally keen on Scottish independence, as became clear when the Spitzenkandidats were questioned about this on TV:

It’s clear that the Greens/EFA group is the only one that strongly supports Scottish independence.

Fourthly, it’s likely that when the Scottish number of MEPs is increased from 6 to 13 after independence, the additional parliamentarians will be found using the results from this election, rather than holding a by-election. This makes it even more important to elect candidates who will do their utmost to represent an independent Scotland well on the European stage.

To summarise, the best way to support a Yes vote and to further Scottish independence in the European Parliament is to vote for either the SNP or the Green Party. These two parties sit in the same political group in Brussels and Strasbourg, so in practice the difference between the two is minor in this context. It’s probably more important to weigh up whether it’s more likely that the SNP will win three seats or that the Greens will win one. This has been explored with great clarity by Lallands Peat Worrier.

Not nationalists, separatists or secessionists, but sovereigntists

québec libre
québec libre, a photo by faustineclavert on Flickr.
Members of the SNP are routinely called nationalists, and the same word is often applied to everybody in the wider pro-independence movement, although Westminster Unionists also like to call us separatists, and international (mainly American) observers occasionally describe us as secessionists.

Of course we’re nationalists, but civic ones, which isn’t really the primary meaning of “nationalist” in most other countries. This sometimes confuses No campaigners, who at times say things like “I can’t vote Yes because I’m an internationalist”, although most Yes people have a very international outlook. (In fact I’m often surprised by the number of people in the SNP and in Yes Scotland who have either got family abroad or have lived outwith Scotland for a long time).

Of course we’re separatists, insomuch as we want to be ruled by a parliament that is separate from Westminster rather than subordinate to it, but we’re very happy to share a lot of laws and institutions with the rUK, with Europe and with the wider world.

Of course we’re secessionists to a certain extent, given that it’s to be expected the rUK will be more similar to the UK than Scotland will, simply because Scotland is so small in comparison, and because most of the shared institutions are located in London. However, we tend to think of Scottish independence as putting an end to the 1707 Act of Union, which was a treaty uniting two sovereign countries, so we believe we’re dissolving a union rather than seceding from it.

Sometimes I just wish people on both sides would agree to call the Yes side sovereigntists, which seems to be the preferred term in Quebec, because that’s exactly what we are. The Yes side is united by the belief that Scotland should be a sovereign nation again.

Addendum (11/04/14): Wee Ginger Dug wrote this today: “By the way, it’s far easier to express some political concepts in Spanish than in English. In Spanish you don’t constantly have to have annoying arguments about all independence supporters being nationalists and just the same as Hitler. Spanish has the useful word independentista – which means a person who supports the right to self determination, and nationalism doesn’t come into it. English just has the word “nationalist”. Unfortunately the English version, independentist, makes you sound like a tooth puller for independence, or someone who does freelance fillings.”

What will happen to the Scottish political parties after independence?

Everyone leads a party
Everyone leads a party, a photo by WordShore on Flickr.
The Scottish political scene is rather odd when compared to the political spectrum one tends to find in independent democratic countries.

Firstly, independence rather than any other political question is the biggest political shibboleth, separating the SNP, the Greens and the SSP from Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Secondly, the fact that the Scottish Parliament has almost no tax-raising powers means that the parties don’t divide into higher-tax-and-higher-spending parties on the left and lower-tax-and-lower-spending parties on the right. I guess the Tories are trying at times, but their message clearly doesn’t appeal because they can’t promise to lower any taxes.

After independence, independence will cease to be a dividing line — I’d be very surprised if any mainstream party advocated reunification with the rUK after independence.

Furthermore, in an independent Scotland it will again be possible for a party to get votes by promising to lower taxes — all Scandinavian countries have powerful centre-right parties, so even in a Scotland committed to the Common Weal project there will be people wanting to reduce the size of the state.

The consequence of all this is that the Scottish political landscape will most likely undergo a period of rapid change after independence.

The exact changes cannot be predicted. It’s likely the SNP and Labour will continue to be the two largest parties, but it’s impossible to say whether Labour will continue to be more right-wing than the SNP, or whether they’ll quickly become a left-wing party again once the ties to London have been cut. Also, although I’m certain there will be a centre-right party, I’m not sure whether it will be a descendant of the Conservatives, Labour or the SNP.

This doesn’t mean that Holyrood will suddenly look like Westminster. For instance, the centre-right party in an independent Scotland is likely to be a decent mildly Conservative/Liberal party more like the ones found in continental Europe rather than being dominated by lunatic Thatcherites, and left-wing parties will probably be in power more frequently than has been the case in the UK till now.

I’m definitely looking forward to Scotland becoming a normal country in this respect, too.

Want rid of Salmond? Vote Yes!

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond, a photo by Saül Gordillo on Flickr.
You often hear people say that they’re going to vote No because they can’t stand Alex Salmond.

Although I personally think he’s a great politician, I do understand he’s not really everyone’s cup of tea.

However, it’s possibly the worst possible reason for voting No.

Firstly, choosing between independence and being part of the UK is a decision that will potentially last hundreds of years. The last time this was being discussed, the outcome lasted for more than 300 years (from 1707 until at least 2014). Very few people today remember who were the leading politicians of Scotland and England back then, but their decision still stands.

Secondly, I’d be very surprised if Alex Salmond stayed in power for many years after a Yes vote in 2014. He will already have earned his place in the history books, so why should he go on and on? I’m not saying he’ll necessarily resign the day after the referendum — he might quite possibly stay in power until Scotland has become independent once again in March 2016 — but my guess is he’d step down around the time of the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016.

On the other hand, if Scotland votes No to independence, I think there’s a fair chance Salmond will feel he needs to stay in power for longer to make sure that Westminster doesn’t start rolling back devolution.

All Danes are nationalists in the Scottish sense of the word

Dannebrog 120/365
Originally uploaded by Blue Square Thing

When I lived in Denmark, I was a Social-Liberal Party activist. This party is very internationalist in its outlook, and I’m sure many members would define themselves as anti-nationalists.

These days I’m a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and I’m sure some of my Danish friends might feel slightly surprised by my personal political journey.

However, I don’t think I’ve changed very much politically in the past decade — I’ve moved slightly towards the left, but I definitely haven’t given up on my internationalist outlook. However, in Danish terms the SNP isn’t a nationalistic party at all.

The SNP’s strand of nationalism is what is called civic nationalism, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Liberal nationalism, also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, is a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.[…] Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly. Liberal nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry (see popular sovereignty), from the degree to which it represents the “general will”. It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Liberal nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism.

A good example of this was Ruth Wishart’s speech to the independence march and rally in Edinburgh last year:

A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.

This sentiment is completely alien to the xenophobic far-right nationalistic parties that are unfortunately common in Denmark and many other European countries.

Arguably almost all Danes and all Danish political parties are nationalistic in the Scottish sense of the word, in the sense that they all consider Denmark to be the best basis for Danish democracy.

In the SNP, we certainly do not wish to exclude anybody from Scotland. We just want Scotland to become a small boring Northern European democracy, enshrined in the EU, like Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, instead of being a very small part of the United Kingdom, which in many ways is very different from Scotland.

It is probably unfortunate that the SNP chose to use the word national in its name because of the connotations this word often has. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world — because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

(This article is a modified translation of this one that I wrote in Danish a few months ago.)