The Scottish independence campaign is frequently accused of being motivated by anti-English racism. It’s possibly the most frequently made accusation against independence supporters. As a campaigner for independence, I’ve been called an anti-English racist myself, despite the fact that my late husband was English and I gave up everything to care for him when he was dying of a terminal illness, despite having close family who are English, people who I love deeply. Naturally, I find such an accusation deeply insulting. Indeed, defamatory.
It is unarguable that there is a long history of antagonism between Scotland and England. It was born out of many long centuries of wars, of attempted conquest, of England’s attempts to secure its northern border and Scotland’s willingness to invade and pillage northern England when it had the chance. It arose from the assimilating tendencies of the Scottish ruling classes who sought to impose English culture on Scotland and the wilful refusal of the majority of Scots to assimilate.
But that’s ancient history. These days the antagonism mostly surfaces in the willingness of Scottish football fans to support anyone but England in international contests, and the occasional bit of name calling. Anti-English racism might have been a factor in the armed rebellions in the 18th century, but this is the 21st century. Scotland isn’t campaigning for the restoration of an absolute monarchy, and its politics are not motivated by the hatred of any ethnic groups. For the most part, Scottish people do not hate the English, or indeed anyone else. English people are our friends, our family, our neighbours, our workmates.
It is also unarguable that there is a strain of anti-Scottish racism in England. This receives far less attention from opponents of independence, for obvious reasons. However the difference is that instances of anti-English racism in Scotland make the newspapers, the Scottish Government is called upon to condemn and to disassociate itself from the perpetrators, and BBC Scotland makes a special programme about how it represents a dark cancer that lurks at the very heart of the Scottish psyche. And in case anyone thinks that last comment was ridiculous hyperbole, that’s exactly what the BBC did during the first independence referendum campaign after its star presenter Andrew Marr made an off the cuff remark at a book event at the Edinburgh Festival about how “everyone knows” that anti-English racism motivates the independence movement.
Meanwhile instances of anti-Scottish racism in England and in the English press are merely banter and we are told that only humourless dour Scots with a chip on both shoulders would dream of complaining about it. I lived in England for many years. I was told on a regular basis that wanting home rule for Scotland meant that I was ungrateful and a racist. Of course, by pointing this out, I am clearly a humourless jock with a chip on both shoulders. During my time in London, I was called a porridge muncher, a sweaty sock, a tight-fisted jock, and could feed myself for months if I actually had a deep fried mars bar for every time I had to listen to comments about deep fried mars bars. Although admittedly I wouldn’t live very long as my arteries seized up with all the cholesterol. Worse than that was the occasion when I was sworn at and spat on by a drunk man on the Tube who heard my accent and took umbrage at newspaper reports of Scotland fans during the World Cup who were wearing Brazil shirts.
Yet English people in general are not defined by a hatred or a disdain for Scotland. The truth is that most people in England don’t know much about Scotland, and that harder truth for opponents of Scottish independence is that they don’t really care. The problem that Scotland has had for many decades is that the important decisions about Scotland have been made by a government in Westminster which is overwhelmingly composed of people who don’t know much about Scotland, and who only care about this country as a place to park the UK’s nukes and as a source of oil and gas. The desire for Scottish independence is motivated by wanting what is best for Scotland, and by the belief that a country is best governed by those who care enough about it to live in it and to understand it. No one can seriously claim that Boris Johnson knows and understands Scotland.
Scottish independence is driven by the democratic deficit. It’s driven by the fact that Scotland in the UK doesn’t get the governments it votes for, and those governments impose policies on Scotland that Scotland doesn’t want and which damage Scotland’s interests. That was bad enough when it was merely a government that Scotland didn’t elect. But Brexit is forever and the damage it causes will last for many decades. None of this has anything to do with hating English people or anyone else.
In 2014, a majority of people born in Scotland voted for independence. According to a major survey carried out by Edinburgh University following the independence vote, 52.7% of native born Scots voted in favour of independence in 2014. However of Scottish residents born elsewhere in the UK, overwhelmingly in England, a massive 72.1% voted against independence. These votes were sufficient to swing the overall result to No. This survey was widely reported in the press when it was published in March 2015. For example, there’s this article in the Daily Record, not exactly a bastion of Scottish nationalism : https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/independence-referendum-figures-revealed-majority-5408163
The proof that the campaign for independence is not motivated by anti-English racism lies in the fact that despite a majority of native born Scots voting in favour of independence in 2014, this is not an issue in the independence campaign. You will not hear any mainstream independence campaigner or mainstream pro-independence party making the fact that native born Scots voted in favour of independence in 2014 a key part of this renewed campaign. However if the Scottish independence movement really was motivated by anti-English racism, then you might think it would be yelling to the rooftops about how we wiz robbed by English people living in Scotland.
Instead, it’s not an issue, and no one in the mainstream of the independence movement believes it should be. In fact, the mainstream independence movement is proud that it’s not an issue, because we don’t want a Scotland that is defined by a narrow ethnic nationalism. We seek a Scotland that is inclusive, welcoming, and tolerant. English people, or people from other countries, choosing to make their lives in Scotland and throwing their lot in with Scotland’s story is something to be proud of.
The Scottish independence movement promotes a civic nationalism. Scottishness is not defined by where you came from. It’s not just defined by who your parents were or where you were born. More importantly it is defined by where you live, where you love, and where you choose to build your life. People who come to live in Scotland, to give Scotland the benefit of their experiences and skills, enrich us all. New Scots are Scottish too, and those of us who are Scottish by accident of birth are proud to welcome them into our family.
This conception of who is Scottish is very different from the prevalent view of Britishness amongst the Brexit supporters who now dominate British politics. Brexit trumps all other considerations. They’d prefer to see Scottish independence rather than make any accommodations to Scotland. That fact alone tells us that the union is dead. Brexit is right wing English nationalism writ large, and Brexit is based upon and fosters a form of nationalism which is suspicious of immigration, is inward looking, and is characterised by a strong streak of xenophobia and exceptionalism. Can you imagine the outcry from Brexit supporters if it had been discovered that the votes of EU residents living in the UK had been sufficient to swing the result of the EU referendum to remain? In fact, EU citizens were not allowed to vote. Absolutely no one in Scotland would think to propose that the franchise for an independence referendum should be restricted solely to people born in Scotland.
That neatly illustrates the difference between a right wing populist movement which campaigns against immigration, and the Scottish independence movement. The stark reality facing Scotland in a Brexit Britain is that the Scottish independence represents our best chance of escape from ethnic nationalism.
The plan for this article and several others dealing with key points in the independence debate is to collate them and publish them in book form when we have a date for the independence vote. Some of these articles have already been published on this blog and others have yet to be written. The idea is that when we know when Scotland will be voting, I will do a crowd-funder specifically for the purpose of raising money to get the book printed, and then it can be distributed to Yes groups and campaigners and given away for free.
There’s already a Wee Blue Book, let’s have a Wee Ginger Book too. This isn’t meant as competition for the Wee Blue Book – which is a fantastic initiative with proven success – but rather it is to be complementary to it. Different writing styles and different books can appeal to different readerships and different demographics. The more information we can get out there, the more people we can persuade to Yes. If you have any suggestions for topics for articles to include in this book, let me know and I will write something up – if I haven’t done so already.
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