Maybe it’s just me, but over the past few weeks there seems to have been an increasing sense of anger, angst, and desperation amongst British nationalists in Scotland. Their online cohorts scream with fury at the ‘seps’ and the ‘nats’ who they blame for the divisions within Scotland, without the slightest apparent awareness that howling in rage at half the population of the country and insulting them causes and deepens divisions instead of healing them. Perhaps our British nationalist friends ought to look up the definition of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Australia is burning, Trump ignites the Middle East and brings the world teetering to the edge of war, the climate emergency grows ever more serious, and the UK is about to leave the EU and seek to strike trade deals with the rest of a world that’s on fire. Meanwhile Boris Johnson is still off on a private island in the Caribbean sunning himself and getting drunk and this isn’t an issue for all those media hacks who never stop going on about Nicola Sturgeon not doing the day job or Jeremy Corbyn visiting his allotment. All the while the cracks in the edifice of the so-called union grow ever wider, to the obvious alarm of the British nationalists who pen the green ink missives to the Scottish press.
There are several reasons why there is a growing panic amongst British nationalists in Scotland. The Labour party in Scotland was once the greatest bastion of a British nationalism that could hide itself in the drag of a mythical British parliamentary road to socialism and pretend that it wasn’t nationalist at all. Now it’s a fading shadow of its former self, struggling to remain in existence, never mind struggling for relevance. That means that the only political force remaining which can articulate Britishness in Scotland is the Conservative party, a party which cannot convincingly disguise British nationalism as non-nationalism. This strips away the disguise and means that opponents of independence can no longer pretend that opposing Scottish independence means opposing nationalism per se. Opposing Scottish independence means supporting British nationalism. One of the most effective weapons in the armoury of the British state has been destroyed by the British political parties themselves.
Yet there’s another reason, a more immediate one. At the end of this month, the people of Scotland are going to lose their EU citizenship and the right to travel, work, and settle freely throughout the EU. Whatever your views about the EU, the people of Scotland voted heavily in favour of retaining our status as European citizens, yet that status is being stripped from us. If the people of Scotland are to lose our status as European citizens, democracy demands that it should be as a result of a decision made by the people of Scotland. But that’s not what is happening. The people of Scotland are losing their status as European citizens because people in another country voted to make it happen. We’re not leaving the EU, we are being dragging unwillingly out of the door while our protests are ignored. And for what? A blue passport and being trapped on an island with a reactionary right wing government that fetishises the military, past empire, and the delusions of English exceptionalism.
This is not remotely comparable to what would happen after independence to those residents of Scotland who choose to identify as British. They’ll be entitled to retain their British passports, their British citizenship, and their British identities, and at the same time they will be entitled to all the rights that come with the new Scottish citizenship too. One of these changes is a loss, the other an add-on. In terms of identity or passports, no one will be forced to lose anything after Scottish independence. The same cannot be said of Brexit. Brexit imposes a diminished status upon the unwilling at the behest of what in Scotland would be a marginal political culture. Yet because of the UK, it’s happening to us anyway.
This is why the green crayon brigade of Scotland in Chains, sorry, Scotland in Union, have been so active in their anger of late. It’s because they see the storm clouds sweep in from the ocean. It’s because they feel the pressure rising. It’s because they hear the sound of thunder approaching. Change is in the air. They are panicking because they know that the ground is shifting, the great tectonic plates of history are moving, and the red white and blue flag wavers are being left behind. They too hear the stories of friends and family, workmates and acquaintances who voted No in 2014 but who are now thinking again. They see all the old certainties fall apart as the iron grip of British rule turns to rusted dust.
At the end of this month it will no longer be possible to argue that the only way that Scotland can remain in the EU is through being a part of the UK. There will no longer be a remain argument to be had, there will only be arguments about the best way to rejoin. We’ve already seen the early bars of a new mood music coming from EU figures about how they’d welcome an independent Scotland, that will only increase and grow after the end of this month when the UK is no longer a member state. It will be far harder to build a plausible and persuasive case for the UK rejoining the EU than it will be to build a case for an independent Scotland. Realistically it will take many many years, decades most likely, before the UK will be in a political place that makes it ready to rejoin the EU. People in Scotland who support EU membership will be looking at the case for independence with new and sympathetic eyes. This year we can expect to see support for independence continue to rise. No wonder the British nationalists are howling with rage and anger. They know that preventing another independence referendum is all that they’ve got, because they also know that once that referendum takes place – as it most assuredly will – they’ve already lost.
So the next time you feel worn down and exhausted by arguments within the independence movement, remember this. The arguments within the indy movement, arguments about what is the best strategy for the Scottish Government to adopt, arguments about the quickest and most effective route to a binding independence referendum, arguments about whether or not there should be an independence only party to contest list seats in the Holyrood election of 2021, these are debates taking place within a winning side about the best and quickest way to win. They are debates about the best strategies for attaining victory. That’s not the case about the debates taking place within the Conservative or Labour parties, or amongst the swivel eyed end of the British nationalism in Scotland. Those are debates about preventing loss, about avoiding defeat, about stopping the rising tide of support for independence. The debates that are currently taking place within British nationalism in Scotland are debates about how to stop a complete and historic loss.
I know which debates I’d rather be having. The British nationalists are having arguments about avoiding total collapse. Independence arguments are arguments about life and growth. 2020 is the year that the thistle’s bud will flower.
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