There was a truly vile front page headline in Sunday’s Express newspaper. “NEW FEARS OF MIGRANT VIOLENCE” screamed the rag in huge lettering. It’s pretty damn close to an incitement to racial hatred. Most people don’t read further than the headline, certainly not in a busy supermarket where all that could be clearly read without buying the paper and giving money to a morally reprehensible Express. All they’re going to see is a headline which screams that migrants are going to get violent.
The story itself was about the recent agreement between Theresa May and the French President Emmanuel Macron about the refugee camp in Calais. The British and French governments have agreed to speed up the processing of migrants who qualify for asylum and to speed up the deportation of those who don’t. It is expected that the number who will qualify for asylum and will be allowed into the UK will be small. The rest are at risk of being sent back to their home countries by the authorities in France, with the complicity of the British authorities.
Despite the usual media depiction of those who seek to come to the UK as economic migrants, most of those who eke out a thoroughly miserable living in the camp are refugees from war-torn and violent parts of the world, fleeing repressive dictatorships, unstable regimes and terrorism, or outright war. They are people living desperate lives, driven to the margins, yet the British government has no sympathy or compassion for their plight, an attitude which is reinforced and validated by the cruel and nasty tone of the right wing British press. The Express screams about supposed migrant violence while ignoring the very real violence that has been done to migrants and to their countries.
This is the very same press which last week howled in outrage at a supposed slight to the British fleg and the British monarchy by the Scottish Government. It is a fact that the Scottish Government didn’t change its policy regarding the flying of the Union flag from government buildings. It is a fact that the great majority of migrants existing in the misery of the Calais camp are fleeing from violent and repressive countries, countries which are all too often violent and repressive because Britain has been selling their governments arms.
So what we have is a right wing British press which glorifies a flag and a monarchy, which demonises vulnerable minority groups, and which is none too concerned about the actual facts as it rushes to blame, to divide, and to foster hatred. We have a British Government and ruling party which colludes with that press, which supports it and feeds it stories, which is strengthened and empowered by its lies and by the division that it foments. All that is straight out of the blood and soil nationalism playbook.
I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s worth repeating. As supporters of Scottish independence we should not unwittingly collude with opponents of independence and allow them to frame the terms of the debate. Opponents of independence want to talk about Unionists and nationalists. Opponents of independence want to pretend that the Scottish constitutional debate is a debate between nationalism and non-nationalism and that to be a Unionist means that they get a free pass from the evils of nationalism. It isn’t and they don’t.
The Tories, with their red white and blue fetish, their obsession with the monarchy, their demonisation of the marginalised and the migrants, their hard Brexit and their nostalgia for an Empire that’s long gone, are nationalists from their core to their fingertips. They are right wing nationalists. They are divisive, inward-looking, reactionary. Their Brexit project is a fundamentally nationalist project. You cannot support or defend Brexit and claim that you’re not a nationalist. That means that the Labour party is every bit as nationalist as the Scottish National Party that Labour affects to be superior to by virtue of Labour’s supposed non-nationalism. Labour claims to believe in the solidarity of working people, but Labour’s solidarity stops at the English Channel and the Irish border.
The debate in Scotland is not a debate between nationalism and non-nationalism, this is a debate between two different visions of the future of Scotland. If one side of this debate must be characterised as Scottish nationalist, then the other side of the debate must be characterised as British nationalist. And it’s British nationalism which is far more likely to indulge itself in divisiveness, in fomenting and fostering the demonisation of minorities and marginalised groups. It’s British nationalism which obsesses about flags. It’s British nationalism which gets angry about perceived slights to the monarchy. It’s British nationalism which is far more prone to preaching a doctrine of exceptionalism. British nationalism sees itself as being such an exceptional nationalism that one of its core myths is that it’s not nationalist at all. I’m sick to the back teeth of opponents of independence who drap themselves in Union flags and then claim that they’re not nationalists.
In Scotland, that doctrine of divisive British nationalist exceptionalism turns especially toxic. Ask yourself. Who in Scotland is obsessed with the Union flag and the monarchy? Who in Scotland has traditionally railed against migrant communities and preached the politics of hatred and exclusion? That’s the gallery that the Scottish Conservatives are playing to. British nationalism in Scotland is Jaffa cake nationalism. It has an orangey bit in the middle. The difference between Scottish nationalism and British nationalism is the difference between apples and oranges. There’s no such thing as an apple bigot.
The Scottish Conservatives know all this too. They seek to defend the UK by pandering to bigotry, by demonising and fostering hatred against migrants and the poor, by winking knowingly at sectarianism, and by accusing their opponents of their own sins. All this comes in the very week that the Tories along with Labour sought to win a cheap point against the SNP by giving a nod to bigoted chants and sectarian singing at football matches.
Calling opponents of independence “Unionists” means that we are agreeing with their myth that Scotland is a partner in a Union, when the reality is that Scotland has been incorporated into a unitary state with exceptionally strong centralising tendencies where Scotland is a permanent minority, marginalised and ignored. Calling British nationalists “Unionists” means that they can continue to hide their nationalism from themselves and from the rest of us, sheltering their nationalism behind weasel words and lies. The only non-nationalist options in the Scottish constitutional debate are not caring whether Scotland is indepenendent or a part of the UK, or to campaign actively for the abolition of all states and to seek one-world government or world communism. If you actively oppose Scottish independence, if you campaign for the British state, you are a British nationalist.
British nationalists might like to pretend that they’re not really nationalists, but those of us who campaign for Scottish independence shouldn’t let them get away with it.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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