In a column in The Times today, the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack writes:
“…Scottish nationalists like to claim that theirs is a different kind of nationalism, somehow uniquely benign. I’m sorry but I’m not sure I can spot the difference. Like nationalist movements the world over, it requires an enemy to make it thrive.”
He says he cannot spot the difference. Let me try and help.
In America, nationalists are locking up children, where they can be found fighting over a shared nit comb. In Brazil, a nationalist wants to raze the rain-forest and ban abortion. In Hungary, a nationalist has weakened media freedom, judicial independence, and the rule of law. In Spain, there are nationalists who seek to repeal laws against gender violence. All across Europe, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, nationalists vilify immigrants and want to draw up the bridges and close the doors.
Does this honestly sound like the SNP?
It is, on the whole, a pluralist, liberal and internationalist party. It is committed to the European Union and other international institutions, supportive of the immigration of skilled workers, and with a compassionate outlook on those seeking asylum. Just yesterday, Ben McPherson, the Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development told a public meeting of EU nationals “we want you to stay.” While there are strains of anti-English sentiment within the SNP, it also has elected English members. French, Italian, and Urdu sit alongside English, Gaelic, Doric and Scots in the diverse tongues of the SNP’s wider membership. Of the current leaders of the Conservative Party and the SNP, only one has reported to have been in dialogue with the architect of metastasising nativisism, Steve Bannon — which one was it?
Now the nationalism of the SNP is not uniquely benign. I actually share some of Mr Jack’s concerns about the frequently pernicious ‘othering’ of ‘Westminster,’ to the confected outrage about food packaging. There is, unavoidably, something divisive about the character and purpose of the SNP — and this divisiveness can be poisonous. However, to blithely assert that he when he looks at the world, and then looks at Scotland, he cannot tell the difference is risible. Sajid Javid and Donald Trump are not the same because they both favour lower taxes. This is not how political belief systems actually work. All nationalism is not the same. All nationalists are not the same.
I have friends and family members who are independence supporters and SNP members. I refuse to have them, or my relationships with them equated, to the likes of Donald Trump and Victor Orban. (Particularly not from a Conservative Party that is so comfortable in draping itself in a Union flag when it suits it.)
Scottish nationalists and the SNP don’t deserve a free pass, but they do deserve a fair critique. In a world of ghoulish, illiberal tyrants, who would trample over the types of democratic norms that the British political mainstream seeks to uphold, we must be mindful of debasing words of their value, and pretending that our friends are our enemies.
That might make a difference. Try and spot it, Mr Jack.