Another day, and another article from a British nationalist whose not a nationalist at all about how to save the Union. You’d almost think that they’ve gazed upon the opinion polls and said to themselves, quietly and between pursed lips, “Oh shit what have we done.” However this would only be the case if your average Scottish Conservative with a social media account bedecked with flegs, references to Dunkirk, and bunting, was actually capable of recognising that the rise in support for independence in Scotland was a function of what the British state and its institutions have been doing. There is as yet no indication that this is the case.
This time it’s the turn of former Scottish Conservative spin doctor Andy Maciver writing in The Herald where he presents an eight point plan to rescue British nationalism in Scotland from that existential crisis that it refuses to recognise that it’s got itself into. Andy’s article is a rare attempt from a Scottish Conservative to acknowledge that if independence is to be averted, it’s the Scottish Conservatives and British nationalists in Scotland who need to start doing things differently. They can’t just sit back and lob brickbats at Thatessempee and hope that the whole unpleasant business of those vile separatists will go away because eventually they might find an SNPbad story that’s big enough and bad enough. That won’t solve the underlying issue, which is that Scotland has been drifting towards independence for a long time now and the demographic factors are very much in its favour.
He doesn’t go so far as to admit that the current difficulties in the longer term survival of the Preciousssss Union are entirely the creation of British nationalism, but hey, baby steps. They say that the first step to healing is to admit you’ve got a problem, and Andy’s difficulty is that – at least judging by the bile that continues to pour from British nationalists online – a large and significant body of British nationalism opnion in Scotland has still not accepted that it’s got a problem. It’s a lot more comforting to blame Thatessempee or vile cybernats, and there is every sign that this will continue to be the dominant trope from opponents to independence for the foreseeable future.
It’s that reflex tendency of British nationalism to seek anything and everything that can be used as a weapon against the SNP that Andy warns about. We saw that just last week when the current holder of the post of Saviour of the Union, Surname Surname, hypocritically called for an investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the Scottish referendum while at the same time backing his colleagues in London who have ruled out any investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the EU referendum – indeed going so far as to tell the security services not to look for any evidence. Yet if there was an investigation and it did uncover evidence of Russian meddling in the Scottish referendum, it would merely call the result of the referendum into doubt, that referendum whose result the Scottish Conservatives have elevated to the status of one of the Commandments personally handed by God to the Saviour of the Union.
The piece also recognises that the UK cannot prevent Scottish independence by refusing to agree to a Section 30 order. For Westminster to continue to refuse to accept that Scotland wants another referendum, even after Scotland has very plainly and clearly voted for it, is a denial of Scottish democracy which will only create the equation in Scottish minds that independence=democracy. That would spell the ultimate demise of the UK as British nationalism in Scotland could no longer pretend that Scotland’s membership of this so-called union was voluntary.
He also warns about the constant refrains of too wee too poor too stupid. British nationalists vehemently deny that they’ve ever claimed that Scotland is too wee or too poor, and that it’s just a nationalist trope. Then in the next breath they go on to share the latest pretty coloured graph which purports to prove that Scotland has the greatest deficit in Europe and would struggle to manage basic public services without the kindness of handouts from Westminster. Certain British nationalist commentators have built an entire career on such graphs. Or they insistently demand to know what currency Scotland is going to use, the implication being that out of all the nations in the world that have ever become independent, Scotland alone would struggle to have a currency. They want us to believe that land that invented the concept of central banks wouldn’t be able to set up a national currency after independence, and then in the very same breath they deny that they’re implying Scotland is too stupid. The problem here is that most British nationalists in Scotland don’t even realise what they’re doing. However the very first step, even before admitting that you’ve got a problem, is to realise that you’re actually engaging in the activity that some term problematic.
What Andy Maciver is calling for here is for the entirety of British nationalism in Scotland to change its entire culture and the whole framework of its argumentation. That’s a pretty big ask, and while his piece in the Herald might be met with nods of agreement from certain quarters, zoomers gonna zoom. It’s a safe bet that the likes of Jackson Carlaw lacks the political imagination required to develop an entirely new framework for his party. Deprived of SNPbaddery, deprived of a kneejerk opposition to another referendum which merely reinforces the association between the UK and an opposition to Scottish democracy, there’s nothing for the Scottish Conservatives to say.
However the fundamental issue here is that in order to wrest the argument away from the too wee too poor too stupid tropes first identified by the late great Margo McDonald, British nationalism in Scotland needs to have a different story to sell to Scotland. That’s precisely where the entire thing falls flat on its face, because any such story needs to be built and constructed by the Conservatives in Westminster if it is to enjoy even a modicum of political credibility. Andy speaks about the need for increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, for greater devolution, for a rebalancing and repositioning of the relative powers of Westminster and Holyrood. He wants, in fact, something close to devo max. Yet this is precisely what the Conservatives in Westminster are hell bent on resisting. This is not a British Government which is in any mood to cede more power to Holyrood, quite the reverse, they seek to use Brexit as an excuse to embark upon a further round of centralisation in the British state.
British nationalism in Scotland is in a quandary because it cannot save itself. It depends upon a fundamental change in the structures of the British state if Scottish independence is to be prevented. Yet the British state has not got the slightest intention of reforming itself, and barely has any awareness that it needs to reform. The panic of British nationalism in Scotland is because they’re starting to realise that they’re caught between an independence movement with the wind in its sails, and a British state that is unwilling to give it the tools they need to sink the ship. There’s only really one step that the British state must take to save the UK, and they’re not willing to take it because it means stripping Westminster of the absolute power which is a fetish amongst British nationalists.
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