Language is important. It makes a difference what words we use to describe things. When we accede to the Conservative inspired move to rebrand social security as welfare, we’re acknowledging and giving justification to their ideologically inspired attempts to destroy a universal system which everyone pays into and which everyone benefits from and to replace it with a state funded charity which magnanimously grants alms to those poor the state deems to be deserving. The choice of word welfare implies that it is a form of charity. Social security implies a system of protection that we all pay for and which we all may need at some point. The change in language from social security to welfare makes it easier for the Tories to demonise the poor and punish them for the poverty that Conservative policies create.
It’s time to rethink the language that we use to talk about Scottish independence. For too long we’ve allowed Unionists to portray this campaign as a choice between non-nationalism and nationalism, with all the negative baggage that the term nationalist carries. Things are not helped by the inadequacies of the English language, which conflates two very different phenomena under the umbrella term nationalism. Nationalism can mean a movement which seeks to establish a state for a nation which currently doesn’t have one, and it can also mean an ideology which seeks to aggrandise the power of an existing state, most often at the expense of minority groups or foreigners. When I speak Spanish I never call myself a nacionalista, which in Spanish is most often understood in that second sense. I’m an independentista, that’s the Spanish term for an advocate of nationalism in the first sense. The use of the term nationalist exclusively to describe independence supporters means that independence supporters can be maligned and misrepresented in a way that Unionists are immune to, even though Unionists are those who are most likely to be practitioners of nationalism in the second sense described here.
We can’t do much to avoid the use of the word nationalist to describe independence supporters. Unionists are going to keep using it even if we take a collective decision to call ourselves by some other phrase. Unfortunately when you tell people in English that you’re an independentist they just tend to ask you how much you charge for orthodontic work. We can’t change the English language, but we can change what we call Unionists so that they cannot escape the consequences and implications of their British nationalism, just one typo away from being brutish.
Unionists are not Unionists. Even in their own terms they are not Unionists. A true Unionist would regard the constituent members of the United Kingdom as equals. They would recognise that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were equal parts of a multi-national state, each with an equal right to have its voice heard and its views represented. That’s what a Union implies. But Unionists don’t promote that idea. They are incorporationists.
We live in a state which for the purposes of attacking internal independence movements calls itself a Union, but which for all other purposes is a majoritarian state in which the party which secures a majority of seats in Westminster takes all power even when it enjoys the support of only a small fraction of the population. The United Kingdom is not driven by what Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland want and express at the ballot box. It’s not even primarily driven by what England as a whole wants. It’s not a Union. It’s a unitary state and a deeply flawed democracy.
Britain represents the subordination of Scottish interests to other interests. The British state is fundamentally an expression of British nationalism, which is English nationalism with the radicalism and the humanity bleached out of it. That’s why we’ve got a Tory government. That’s why we’re getting Brexit. If that’s fine with you, and it’s a perfectly consistent political stance for it to be fine with you, then at least have the decency to call it what it is. And if you don’t have that decency, then Scottish and Welsh independence supporters should start doing it for you. You’re not a Unionist. You support the incorporation of Scotland into a Britain that’s driven by nationalism, driven into perdition by the Scottish Conservative and Incorporationist party. You’re a British nationalist.
To be a supporter of this state which has incorporated Scotland makes you a British nationalist. Acceding to the term Unionist means that supporters of the British state and the British nationalism that it espouses are able to cloak their nationalism in a non-nationalist veneer. How many times has a supporter of the British state assured you that they are not a nationalist? A person who promotes and fosters the most narrow minded exclusionary British nationalism, a state which seeks to cut itself off from Europe and to demonise migrants, is able to tell themself and you that they’re not a nationalist. They’re able to affect an air of moral superiority that they’re above petty nationalism while clinging to an exceptionalist nationalism that tells them that they’re not nationalist at all. They’ll do that even when they’re proudly displaying a Union flag in their social media avatar. Yet they’re nationalists, pure and simple. They’re British nationalists. We should not be complicit in allowing them to escape from the reality and the logic of their own politics. Ruth Davidson, Kezia Dugdale, Willie Rennie, they’re all nationalists, British nationalists.
The Tories, Ukip, the Lib Dems, even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, all of them propose and promote projects which are based upon British nationalism. If they really hated nationalism and all that it entailed they would oppose Scottish independence on the grounds that they were in favour of a one world government and the abolition of all nation states. That’s the only way in which you can be “not a nationalist”. The self-described non-nationalists of Unionism don’t come remotely close to that goal. They’re not interested in that goal at all. They’re interested in maintaining and securing the British state and the aggressive nationalism that the British state espouses.
The campaign for Scottish independence is not a campaign which opposes nationalists and non-nationalists. It’s a campaign in which two different nationalisms compete for the future of Scotland. If you are campaigning for the maintenance and continuation of the British state, you are a British nationalist. British nationalism isn’t just for fascists, but it’s not a coincidence that the actual fascists, the out and out racists, the supremacists and the alt-right in this campaign, they’re all on the side of British nationalism.
It is not anti-nationalism to subordinate Scottish nationalism to British nationalism. It’s merely the substitution of Scottish nationalism, a nationalism which is peaceful, civic, and outward looking, for a British nationalism which is increasingly xenophobic, paranoid, and founded in an unshakable exceptionalism, a nationalism which is dominated and defined by a conservativism and a readiness to go to war. Unionists, British nationalists that they are, don’t score themselves extra moral brownie points for that. They don’t get to tell themselves that they’re not really nationalists. They are just deluding themselves. Subordinating Scottish nationalism to British nationalism doesn’t make you a non-nationalist. It makes you a patsy.
Scottish nationalism is a response to British nationalism, an attempt to defuse and weaken nationalism because an independent Scotland could be a place in which democracy counts, in which the people have a voice, in which the elites are held accountable. British nationalists, of whatever hue, have no answer to that. There is a moral choice in this campaign, and it doesn’t lie in choosing British nationalism.
It shouldn’t be the job of Scottish nationalists, Scottish independence supporters, to allow the delusions of British nationalists to continue unchallenged. We should not be colluding in the British nationalist fantasy that somehow they are not nationalists and are immune from nationalism. They include amongst their number proponents of the worst sort of nationalism. In the case of the Conservatives it’s a nationalism which is growing ever more intolerant and nasty. We shouldn’t allow them to hide behind the label of Unionism. Call them what they are, they’re British nationalists.
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.
Wee Ginger Fundraiser
I’m doing a fundraiser this year to keep this blog going for another twelve month and to allow the dug and me to continue visiting local groups all across Scotland. You can donate via my crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo –
Or you can donate by making a payment directly into a special bank account I’ve set up for the purposes of this fundraiser, or by sending a cheque or postal order. If you’d like to donate by one of these methods, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send the necessary information. Please also use this email address if you would like the dug and me to come along to your local group for a talk.