The British Labour Party seems to have scored two spectacular own goals in Scotland over the weekend, by despatching both its leader and the Mayor of London up to Perth
to put the SNP in its place to address the Scottish branch conference. As is often the case when British (or English
– they’re much the same in this context) nationalists try to put down Scottish
(or Welsh) independentistas, their
remarks tell us more about them and their attitudes than about the subject
matter of their words.
Corbyn merely managed to undermine completely his branch manager’s pitch for a rethink over the nature of the union between Scotland and England, and in the process probably destroy the only slim chance his party had of salvaging something in Scotland. But that as almost as nothing compared to Khan’s success in equating Scottish nationalism with racism and hate, a comparison which all his subsequent ‘clarifications’ did nothing but confirm. Between them, it was quite an achievement.
It isn’t only Saddiq Khan who sees Scottish nationalism as being about hatred and division, of course. The idea that the whole idea is based first and foremost of a hatred of England and all things English is the standard assumption of most metropolitan commentators (and, when they can be bothered to think about Wales at all, they make the same lazy assumption). I don’t think that it’s true (but then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?), and I don’t see any good evidential basis for it. That’s not to deny that there are some people who do display such an irrational hatred; of course there are – just as there are some people in England who display a similar irrational hatred of the Scots and Welsh. But extrapolating from a few examples to the axiomatic assertion that the SNP’s whole rationale is based on such hatred is equally irrational.
Some of the people making this assumption are far from stupid – so why do they do it? Clearly one reason is the very cynical one that painting people as racists and haters is a lot easier than engaging in adult debate about options and alternative futures. And there’s quite a lot of evidence that playing to prejudices works as a political strategy, more’s the pity. But I think that there are other factors as well, and I’ll touch on two.
The first is that very English sense of superiority and exceptionalism. When you “know”, with no scintilla of doubt, that the “British” way of doing things is the very best and most successful in the whole wide world, it can be very difficult to understand why anyone would ever want to do anything different. Clearly, anyone who does cannot be motivated by logic or reason, and must therefore be driven by emotion. And the only emotion that can cause anyone to reject the ultimate perfection of Britishness must be hatred. From a certain perspective, that is blindingly obvious.
The second is that their own nationalism (you know, the one that they always deny possessing, even when Corbyn is making his appeals to British patriotism) is inherently driven by a sense of superiority and difference. As often as not, they subconsciously define themselves by what they are not, rather than by what they are. And if their own variety of nationalism is driven by such factors, it is entirely reasonable for them to assume that any nationalism in Scotland is driven by the same factors.And once they “know” that Scottish nationalism is driven by hatred of the English and an innate feeling of Scottish superiority, it’s easy to explain why they talk as they do. The result, of course, is that the scope for debate with people who already know that anything you say is so motivated is so limited as to be worthless. The only thing left to do is to ignore them and get on with the task of building the case from within. There is, though, one other thing that independentistas could usefully do – and that’s stop referring to these people as possible allies in some sort of ‘progressive alliance’. All that does is hinder the exposure of their real beliefs.