Right now, the next campaign for Scottish independence is in a state of metamorphosis. Staunch Unionists are now Independence Campaigners; people who mocked and were mocked are now on the same page; our common cause – to do what is best for the people of Scotland – is clearer than it was before.
Plenty of “Was No, Now Yes” supporters don’t want to engage in any flag-waving, anthem-singing, saltire-brandishing displays of patriotic pride: I fully welcome that, as there were plenty of people with that mindset in the first referendum campaign. Other “No to Yes” supporters still love the idea of Britain, its history, its culture, and its people: they, too, are just as welcome, just like English Scots for Yes, EU Citizens for Yes, and more. We’ve had plenty of campaigns alongside Yes Scotland and the SNP who have their own ideas of what independence would look like: RIC, Common Weal, Wealthy Nation, Business for Scotland, the whole gamut of political and economic perspectives. I think a group composed of former No voters, campaigners and activists would be welcomed with open arms.
But where, then, does that leave the original Better Together – what is happening with the No Campaign?
The Scottish Parliament passed a motion instructing the Scottish Government to begin negotiating with the European Union. The result – after the SNP and Greens swatted away an incredibly stupid amendment that treats the Scottish electorate with contempt – was that the motion was carried 92-0. The UK Government Party did not even have the guts to vote against it, and quite nakedly and frankly put forward the position that the will of the people of the entire UK must override the will of the people of Scotland. It is clear who the architects of Better Together Mark 2 will be – the same as the first iteration.
They can no longer argue that it is independence which would jeopardise Scotland’s status in the EU, any more than they can argue independence would jeopardise the AAA credit rating, or risk the introduction of border controls. Much as the likes of Cameron love to point out the global oil price fall, it should never be forgotten that this happened under the UK’s watch – and that then, as now, they are doing nothing to help the tens of thousands who have lost their jobs. Currency? With the pound in freefall, any suggestion of independence causing “instability” is laughable.
In truth, there is only one remotely compelling argument Better Together have left: “don’t break up Britain.” In other words, we should sacrifice our membership of the European Union, which we voted for with a greater percentage than London and Northern Ireland, so that we can remain in the UK. We should just accept the severance of our ties with 435 million people across 27 other countries in the European Union, so we can stay with the other 60 million people across the other 3 in the United Kingdom. All to “keep the country together.” To do what’s best for “the country” as a whole. Which “country” are we talking about here?
To me, there is only one description for such an argument – British Nationalism.
All this talk of the SNP sowing “division,” even though every seat they represented voted Remain. All this talk of Britain being “a country divided,” despite every single voting area in Scotland voting Remain. But those two tweets by Andy Burnham are particularly telling, for it shows that British Nationalists do not think British Nationalism exists. I would think that Andy Burnham’s motivations are exactly the same as Nicola Sturgeon’s – to do what is best for your country. The difference is that Andy Burnham’s country is not the same as Nicola Sturgeon’s – because while Burnham’s country is divided, Sturgeon’s country is not. And if you say you want to do what’s best for your country, then what on earth can you call it other than nationalism?
The SNP, like Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Liah Greenfield, Tom Nairn, & Ernest Renan, understand that nationalism is not inherently good, or evil: it is an ideology that has many nuances and elaborations. And when everyone is talking about Scottish Independence in the wake of Brexit as “the breakup of Britain,” it’s clear that we aren’t talking about Unionism vs Nationalism any more, but two different nationalisms. It’s a choice between breaking up Britain, or breaking out of the EU. That doesn’t mean anyone who votes No in a subsequent indyref to retain the UK is a BNP or EDL member, of course not – but it does mean that you think the will of 62% of Scots must come second to the will of 52% of Britons. It does mean that you consider Britain to be your country. It does mean that, even if you consider Scotland to be a country, it is a second-class country. There is nothing wrong with that, if it is what you truly believe – but it is wrong not to be honest with us, and with yourselves.
As far as I’m concerned, Scottish Unionism is not undergoing a metamorphosis – it is Ecdysis, moulting, like that of a crab. The economic, social, democratic, and cultural cases for the union are left behind in the crackling, fracturing, dessicated shell. The soft, quivering, gelatinous creature will soon harden and darken its pale skin into its true red, white and blue colours – for after all the promises, the assertions, and the dreams, all that is left is the Union Flag. If the integrity of the United Kingdom is more important to you than Scotland’s place in the European Union, if it is more important to complete the severance that began on the 23rd of June than defending the Scottish people’s wishes, if being a British Subject is more important than being a European citizen, then at least own your stance. Accept it. Admit it. We supporters of Scottish independence have accepted our nationalism, and shaped it into a civic, liberal kind. You can do the same for Britain – even after everything that’s happened, nothing is impossible.
All through the Scottish referendum, I saw all the great British institutions paraded before me. Afternoon tea, The Archers, the BBC, The Beano, Big Ben, the big red double decker bus, black cabs, Cadburys’, Coronation Street, cricket, Crufts, Dad’s Army, fish and chips, the Full English Breakfast, Glastonbury, the Grand National, Harrods, John Bull, King Arthur, Last Night at the Proms, Marks and Spencer, the Mini, Monty Python, Morecambe and Wise, the National Trust, the NHS, Pimms, Punch and Judy, the Queen, the Red Arrows, red phone boxes, remembrance poppies, Rolls Royce, the Rolling Stones, Royal Ascot, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Royal Family, Trooping the Colour, the Union Flag, Wimbledon. There’s nothing wrong with loving those things, even if I felt that their ubiquity drowned out the constituent nations’ own cultures – not least that of England, whose rich and varied culture was hijacked and replaced with this Westminster-centric Britishness. (Heh, who would’ve thought a Scottish Nationalist would be praising British cultural icons?)
But something’s got to give. British nationalism, be it the benign pride in being British no doubt the vast majority of Leave voters have, or the arrogant chauvinism of the extreme minority which falsely took Thursday’s vote as an endorsement of their hideous beliefs – has taken Britain out of the European Union, and Scotland with it. Scottish nationalism aims to retain Scotland’s links with the people and nations of the European Union as they were in 2014.
The people of Scotland have to decide which country’s mandate they want to support.