So there you go, you write a blog article about the double standards of British nationalism, and how violent metaphors and imagery are the norm for opponents of independence, but if supporters of independence were to use equivalent words or imagery, there would be outrage. And then the very next day the zoomers of Scotland in Union go and like a Tweet from a well known British-nationalist-so-he’s-not-a-nationalist-at-all troll displaying a blunderbuss and the caption that he’s ready for the SNP day of action. Because that doesn’t condone violence at all. Oh no. It was just banter.
It ought to be superfluous by now to point out that had a similar image been approved by an independence supporting organisation, there would be demands for the police to investigate hate crimes, which would shortly be followed by acres of anguished commentary about the violent evils that Scottish nationalism have unleashed on a society that was perfectly content to thole bouts of Tory rule until that pesky SNP came along and spoiled everything. Witness the anger and pursed lips that were provoked by the infamous Tory Scum Out banner. But a British nationalist and a photo of a weapon with a threatening caption, it’s just a spot of banter and only a humourless separatist could object to it. Calling opponents Tory Scum is a very bad thing, threatening opponents with a blunderbuss, that’s just fine.
The fact is that British nationalism in Scotland is a violent ideology. Before independence became a mainstream political idea in Scotland, British nationalism in this country most commonly manifested itself in Orange Parades and songs about being up to your knees in Fenian blood. Now independence supporters have taken the place of Catholics as the favourite bogeypersons of British nationalism. We all know that the real reason that opponents of independence don’t organise mass public events, marches, or rallies is because if they were to do so those events would be indistinguishable from an Orange Parade combined with a Britain First rally and would attract a significant number of far right extremists.
British nationalism in Scotland prefers to operate in the dark, because coming out into the light would expose it for the intolerant ideology that it really is. The real reason that the parties and organisations which oppose independence don’t organise large scale public events is because they’re afraid of how ugly so much of their public really is, and they don’t want mainstream Scotland to see it.
The willingness of opponents of independence to use violent imagery is only to be expected after all, and not just because British nationalism is an ideology which glorifies warfare and the military. The whole justification given for keeping Scotland within the UK is based on fear, scaremongering, intimidation, and negativity. The favoured arguments of opponents of independence rest upon telling Scotland how poor we’d be, how helpless we’d be, how hopeless we’d be. There is no vision, no poetry, no soul in British nationalism in Scotland. It cannot convincingly paint a portrait of a Scotland that is a better and a happier place for being a part of a UK in which it is systematically ignored and sidelined and its democratic will subordinated to that of a larger neighbour. British nationalism is an ideology of threats. When the basis of your politics is a threat, it’s a very short step to indulge in threats of violence. The essence of British nationalism in Scotland is “You’d be nothing without us.” It’s an abusive relationship as a political principle.
British nationalists reject the label nationalism, and not just because one of the abiding myths of British nationalism is that it’s not nationalist at all. Partly they do so in order to avoid dealing with the mental contradictions and contortions of believing that Scotland and the UK are both nations and that Scotland is simultaneously a nation and a region. Partly they do so because the myth of British exceptionalism tells them that being British means you are above petty nationalism, a curse which only afflicts lesser nations.
How many times have you heard a confirmed opponent of independence say something along the lines of, “But I just don’t think about nations at all. It’s only you nats who do that.” The British state regards itself as a nation state, and British nationalists don’t think about the role of the nation state in the exact same way that heterosexual people don’t think about sexuality, able bodied people don’t think about disability, or men don’t think about sexism. The British state is the political water in which British nationalists swim, and they are the goldfish who are happy to be swimming in circles inside the fishbowl which contains and constrains it. It’s only when you want to swim free that you bang against the glass. When you don’t challenge your boundaries you can live in the comfortable ignorance of telling yourself that the boundaries don’t exist and that you are boundless.
The violent imagery and metaphors from British nationalists are only going to get worse. As it becomes increasingly clear that the British state’s grasp on Scotland is slipping, that Scotland is getting closer to regaining its independence, the fear of the fearmongers will grow ever more strident. They will project their own intolerance and intimidation onto us, because there is no one more quick to claim victimhood than the powerful who fear losing their privileges and power.
The difference between this time and 2014 is that they can no longer pretend to themselves that we represent no real challenge. They know that we are. They also know that they have nothing positive to offer, because no one is going to believe a Vow Mk II. All they have left are threats, scare stories, and the mewlings of imagined victimhood. That’s going to be the British nationalist playbook for the second Scottish independence referendum. But this time we’re not going to let them get away with pretending that the Scottish constitutional debate is a debate between nationalism and non-nationalism. There is no unionism, because there is no union. There is only a unitary British state with the window dressing of devolution.
All that opponents of independence have to offer is the nakedly xenophobic British nationalism of Brexit and swimming in circles in a fishbowl bedecked with flegs. We’re breaking through the glass and swimming in the open ocean.
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