Tuesday 23 December 2014

Getting Real on Nationalism | Scottish Left Project


The continued rise of the SNP has led to increased metropolitan suspicion and a growing backlash. What is the content of the SNP’s nationalism?

Peter A Bell's insight:

I have been a Scottish nationalist for half a century, and I recognise little or nothing of my nationalism in this analysis.* Identity has little relevance and patriotism even less. The concept of "Constitutional Nationalism" comes a little closer, I suppose. Although the flimsy explanation of it hardly qualifies it as a meaningful concept at all. It seems to amount to little more than a tenuous assertion that the SNP isn't all about nationalism. Which does nothing at to explain what Scottish nationalism is.

What is most surprising, not to say disappointing, about this article is that the author makes absolutely no reference to civic nationalism - despite the fact that this is arguably the most commonly used descriptor for the form of nationalism which has developed in Scotland - mainly over the last couple of decades.

If asked to explain my nationalism - not that I get the impression that David Jamieson would be interested in such first-hand accounts - I would make no mention whatever of patriotism or identity. And I certainly wouldn't look to the ancient history of the SNP for a means of explaining my nationalism. It's just not that complicated.

Firstly, I take as my starting point that Scotland is an nation - a broadly cohesive socio-political unit which the population comfortably identify with - and that independence is the default status of nations. There is no necessity to make any kind of "case" for Scotland being independent. The onus is on those who wish to perpetuate the anomaly of an asymmetric union devised more than three centuries ago to serve the interests of the ruling elites of Scotland and England. A union which, in that regard at least, remains fundamentally unchanged.

Secondly, there is the crucial matter of sovereignty. I am unshakeably persuaded that sovereignty rightfully lies with the people. The concept of parliamentary sovereignty which underpins the British state cannot be reconciled with the principle of popular sovereignty.

Then I would refer to civic nationalism. Or what I sometimes call pragmatic nationalism. At its simplest this is no more than an acceptance of the principle that good democratic government is never further from the governed than is consistent with its function. It is certainly better that the people get the government that they vote for. Something which is very far from guaranteed so long as Scotland remains thirled to the British state. But, in purely practical terms, it makes for more effective government and more engaging participative democracy if democratic institutions and processes are so organised as to reflect as accurately as possible the needs, priorities and aspirations of the governed.

Which brings us to the final point I would make in explaining my Scottish nationalism - that is to say, real Scottish nationalism, rather than some airy-fairy theorising. David Jamieson's account of the rise of the SNP and the independence movement as a function of the context of social, political and economic developments in the UK is somewhat shallow and certainly incomplete. I would contend that the most important factor has been the fact that a distinctive political culture has evolved in Scotland because the democratic processes and institutions referred to earlier have been more effective in translating the attitudes of the electorate into public policy.

This is NOT to say that people in Scotland have different attitudes to people elsewhere in these islands. It most certainly is NOT to claim that these attitudes are in some sense "better". It is only to say that the way in which politics works in Scotland - the electoral system, political parties, parliament etc - is better at giving effect to these attitudes. Marginally so, perhaps, but still enough to allow a distinctive political culture to develop over time.

Without independence, this distinctive political culture must be subordinated to the dominant political culture of the British state. A culture which is increasingly divergent from and inimical to the political culture in Scotland. The subordinate culture must be denied and, at some point systematically, suppressed.

The desire to avoid the inevitable conflict that must arise between such a clash of political cultures is as good a reason as any for seeking to restore Scotland's rightful constitutional status. Who needs the trappings of national identity or the trinkets of patriotism?

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