When is nationalism not nationalism? When it’s British of course. Stick a union flag on your nationalist tub thumping and as if by magic – watch, and the nationalism has gone! British nationalism, it’s the Cillit Bang of nationalisms. And that’s one of the many reasons why British nationalism is better than any other kind of nationalism, especially that of the Scottish variety. Try as you might, a saltire will never scrub away the taint of nationalism, not like the glorious red white and blue. That’s why an independence parade with its sea of saltires is a regressive display of divisive nationalism, but a Labour party waving the union flag is a positive display of patriotism which unites us all.
Today it was announced that Keir Starmer is to big up the patriotism in his first conference speech as party leader. That’s patriotism, not nationalism, because it’s British. If you can’t tell the difference it’s probably because you’re an unpatriotic nationalist separatist type who doesn’t swell with pride whenever a Vera Lynn song, our heroes, bunting, or a reference to WWII comes on the telly, as it does on the BBC at least once every fifteen minutes because the BBC is resolutely opposed to nationalism – just not to jingoism. Or possibly you’re a foreigner. Although since this is Labour nationa … sorry … patriotism and not the Tory variety it’s not a bad thing to be a foreigner. It’s just to be kind of condescended to and patronised in the same way you’d look at a cute lickle puppy with a sore paw. Because you didn’t win the war.
Labour has already started to run union flag themed adverts which are pretty much indistinguishable from Conservative party adverts. Or indeed from UKIP adverts, a party which is also opposed to membership of the EU just like Labour is these days. Yes Labour, you’re UKIP now. Over the background of a union flag, we see Keir Starmer’s words “I want this to be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.” Although in the reality of modern Britain, quite a lot of us won’t manage to grow old at all and more and more kids are being brought up in poverty. We always get this sort of thing from British nationalist politicians. Britain always has to be the best in the world. It has to be world beating. Most of us would be quite happy if it could aspire to adequacy but it can’t even manage that.
There is of course no recognition at all in Keir Starmer’s words that the constituent parts of the UK are different countries. Instead we get a unitary British nationalism where we are all to be subsumed into a Greater Englandshire. Forget the message, here’s a flag. And this is from the party whose apparatchiks always pop up on social media after a yes march or rally to sniff contemptuously that no one is persuaded to change their mind because someone waves a flag. Scottish nationalism, bad. English nationalism pretending to be British, good.
The Labour party, having lost a swath of seats in the North of England to the Conservatives, have decided to dress themselves in Tory drag in order to try and win them back again. It’s further evidence of the right wing drift of politics in the UK, and the Torification of the Labour party. It’s a lesson that those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth learned decades ago, after the long dark and bitter experience of Thatcherism. It’s what we saw with the Tombstone Teeth of Tony Blair, Labour can only ever win elections in England by apeing the Conservatives.
Despite the fact that we have the worst prime minister since the last two, and the worst government in living memory, Labour still can’t build a lead over the Tories in opinion polling. Even though we have a Conservative Government which has presided over the one of the highest death tolls from coronavirus in the world, and which has managed to combine that with the greatest damage to the economy. Even though this Conservative Government has ripped up the oven ready deal it claimed to have just a few months ago and which was the centre piece of its election campaign. Even though Johnson has already acted unlawfully and exceeded his powers and is now threatening to break international law. So now in order to try and make some sort of breakthrough in an England which is clearly in thrall to the Conservatives, Labour are turning themselves into the Tory-lite party. This is the progressive politics which they want to sell to Scotland in order to keep us in the UK.
So what does Labour have to offer Scotland? We’re not hearing much about the corpse of that full fat federalism that they keep wanting to resuscitate. That doesn’t play too well with the nationa… sorry patriotic messaging that Labour hopes will win it back the affections of voters in the red wall seats in northern England which are now a deep shade of blue. The federalism fairy is a beast that is only ever let loose in Scotland, which means that it’s just a story told to get the restless Caledonian natives to go back to sleep. But the restless natives had already worked that one out.
Keir Starmer now condescendingly tells us that should the SNP win a majority in the next Scottish elections, the question of a referendum will have to be “looked at”. The subtext here is that it’s not for the people of Scotland to decide for themselves in a democratic vote what it is that they want. The big boys and girls in Westminster will decide that for us, as though we’re children who have asked for more pocket money and to stay up past our bedtime. If the Labour party really did seek to represent the people of Scotland then there can be no question that when the people of Scotland have made their views clear in an election, no politicians who call themselves democrats should stand in their way.
The Labour branch office in Scotland is mired in infighting as its anonymous branch office manager clings on despite the plots and resentment amongst his own party members. Labour has failed to learn the lesson of the Conservatives – a party which denies democracy is a party which loses its right to represent the people. They have become an irrelevance, and the election of Keir Starmer has done nothing to improve their prospects in Scotland. The only route back to influence for the Labour party in Scotland is as a Scottish Labour party in an independent Scotland. Then perhaps the party’s appeal to solidarity might be something more than meaningless cant and a call to Scotland to sacrifice itself on the altar of England’s love for the Conservatives.
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