There’s a lot of upset on social media today. The usual anti-independence suspects have worked themselves up in a froth of indignation that those vile and nasty cybernats are pointing to the British nationalists who went on the rampage in George Square on Sunday and saying, correctly, that they are one of the reasons why Scotland can only ever enjoy a secure democracy as an independent nation.
They’re even more outraged that some vile nats have the temerity to suggest that those who oppose independence might just be British nationalists themselves. But they’re most outraged of all that anyone might suggest that British nationalists like themselves, who of course are not nationalists at all because they’re British, should be called upon to condemn the violence of their far right extremist associates in British nationalism.
For all the attempts of the media to describe Sunday’s events as ‘clashes’, or being down to ‘Loyalists’, or some other weasel words designed to distance British nationalism from violence and extremism, that’s exactly what today’s rioters were. They were British nationalist fascists, rioting in defence of their British exceptionalism. And we should not hesitate to call them out for being exactly what they are. British nationalists indulging themselves in a violent celebration of their own exceptionalism. And any British nationalist, however mainstream, however peaceable, who indulges themselves in the same exceptionalism is a part of the exact same problem.
Imagine that it hadn’t been a British nationalist mob which was running on a violent rampage in George Square today. Imagine instead that it had been a bunch of independence supporters, violently attacking the police and passers by in a misguided attempt to promote the cause. There would be an outcry from the Scottish media and from those self-same British nationalists on social media who are currently clutching their pearls in outrage that anyone might demand that they acknowledge and reject the violence and intolerance that their own movement harbours. It would dominate the newspaper headlines for weeks. Nicola Sturgeon would be called upon to resign. There would be an hour long special on BBC Scotland about the violence and evil that defines the entire movement for independence. But when it’s British nationalists who do it, the reaction of the British nationalist establishment in Scotland is to shuffle their feet, look away, and to claim that it’s got nothing to do with them.
We have seen paroxysms of outrage from British nationalists for far less. When someone threw an egg at Jim Murphy it was treated as a violent attack that spoke of some dark and devilish malignity that lurked at the very soul of the independence movement.
When that same Jim Murphy deliberately walked into a placard waved by Scottish Resistance members in St Enoch Square, it was described as chaos in Glasgow city centre by BBC Scotland.
When the BBC journalist Andrew Marr claimed, without presenting any evidence, that ‘everyone knew’ that anti-English racism was one of the prime motivators for the desire for independence, we got a special programme on BBC Scotland to examine the dark heart of the indy movement.
When a few people decided it was a good idea to bring a banner saying “Tory scum out” to an All Under One Banner rally, Nicola Sturgeon was called upon to condemn, and newspaper columnists penned anguished inches about the intolerance that defines the independence movement.
When Sean Clerkin and a couple of his pals stood outside the SNP conference with a banner saying “England, get out of Scotland” it was widely condemned by British nationalists on social media as an example of the anti-English racism that they claim defines the yes movement. Again, mainstream Scottish independence supporters were called upon to condemn, reject, and disassociate themselves from him.
What mainstream British nationalists in Scotland insist on is that they are not to be held to the same standards which they demand that mainstream independence supporters are held to. There is a very blatant double standard at play. We’ve seen it time and time again. We see it in how the bad behaviour of online supporters of independence is built up in the media and characterised as a property of the independence movement as a whole. Yet equivalent behaviour by British nationalists is brushed under the carpet and marginalised as the bad behaviour of an unrepresentative minority. By insisting on the benefit of that double standard, mainstream British nationalists in Scotland are guilty of that same British exceptionalism which motivates their right wing extreme to commit acts of violence.
British exceptionalism is not confined to the far right, it’s an ugly cancer that runs all the way through mainstream opposition to independence in Scotland. It’s British exceptionalism which has brought us Brexit. It’s British exceptionalism which has created the chaotic response of the British Government to the coronavirus epidemic. It’s British exceptionalism which allows opponents of independence to traduce all the promises and commitments that they made to the people of Scotland in 2014 in order to persuade them to vote No, and then to deny that they’ve done any such thing.
Still, I am sure that we can look forward to a special programme on BBC Scotland examining the darkness and exceptionalism that courses through the veins of British nationalism in Scotland, whether it’s mainstream British nationalism, or that of the right wing fascist extreme which was committing acts of violence in Glasgow. Oh, wait. Righto.
Instead there will be another attack on the Scottish Government about care homes, or education, or anything, anything, to divert public attention from the ugly truth about British nationalism. That it is defined by its exceptionalism, its unshakeable belief that it must not be judged by the same standards that it insists on using to judge others. In that key and defining respect, there is no difference between the preening sense of superiority of those on social media who insist that their support of the British state is not remotely nationalist at all, and the thugs who claim to be Loyalists, but who are not loyal to the law. Both of them are imbued to their core by their intense sense of exceptionalism and their belief that they must never be judged by the standards that they use to condemn others. British nationalism is the problem. It’s the personality disorder of politics.
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