Let me tell you this – you can’t pay your bills with a Saltire and you can’t eat a flag.
Mr Findlay returned to his glib, patronising “you can’t eat a flag” rhetoric at his party’s conference, one that echoes the “flags don’t build houses” mantra of his re-elected leader, even though it’s not long ago that party was all about nations and flags.
You do not get to attack both sides with impunity when you have aligned with one side. You don’t get to say your message was “starved” when your party made a choice on that constitutional question. You don’t get to complain about “focus on nation and flag rather than class and community” when you chose a nation and flag to align yourself with. And by continuing to hold that stance, you are showing that your party has not moved past the constitutional debate. As long as you have a definitive stance – either Yes or No – on independence, then you are still involving yourself in the conversation.
Your failure at the last two elections is not because your voice was drowned out – it is because you don’t have the guts to account for the choices your party made. This is what happens when your party chooses a side in a binary question without even allowing your membership a debate on the matter.
This is the flag your party chose. This is the nation your party chose. This is the flag that you and your party are serving the people of Scotland for dinner. Want to move beyond flags? Then don’t talk about them. Be neutral. Don’t have an official view on independence. Don’t sign up for Yes or No. Don’t send your champions to UK Government Party Conferences, or have them eagerly repeating UK Government think-tank analyses, or attempting to rationalise UK cuts – or, for that matter, linking to right-wing tabloids. For all your talk of wanting to move beyond the constitutional question that was apparently settled in 2014, you are keeping that conversation going for as long as you stick to either stance.
But I don’t want to spend yet another post on Mr Findlay or his party – flags are much more interesting.
Plenty of folk’s reaction to Mr Findlay’s comments was a refutation of the very framing of the question – that “it’s not about flags.”* Once again, I’m perfectly at ease with the “non-Nationalists” who support Scottish Independence – even if my perspective is that if you have the opinion that Scotland should be an independent country, that in and of itself makes you a Nationalist. That’s just my point of view: if you don’t want to think of yourself as a Nationalist, then that’s nobody’s business but your own.
That isn’t me, though: I’m not just a Scottish Nationalist. I’m a mad, flag-waving, face-painted, freedom-crying Scottish Nationalist. And for me, yes, it absolutely is about flags, and anthems, and nations – and why it is so very different from British Nationalism.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of countries. First, there are the sovereign states – nations which exist, and are recognised, and acknowledged as such. They have their own governments, territories, citizenship, flags, anthems, passports, languages, currencies, top-level domains, ISO 3166 codes, calling codes. They have their own seats on the UN, their own embassies – some even have their own pavilion at Epcot. Since these nations are already sovereign, Nationalism in these countries is not about independence, democracy or self-determination, but chauvinism, jingoism, and patriotism – the notion that your nation is better than others.
Then there are the non-sovereign states. These are nations which may be called countries, but are not treated like others, or recognised as sovereign states – certainly not by the larger nations which claim the territory and people as their own. They may also be called territories, or provinces, or regions, or states. They may have been independent, sovereign nations once in their history, but were conquered, amalgamated, or otherwise absorbed into the new nation. They may have their own languages, cultures, histories, and societies – but only by the gift of the ruling nation. Nationalism in countries which are not sovereign is different from the Nationalism of sovereign states for that simple fact – they are fighting not for their nation’s supremacy over other nations, but for their nation’s equality with the sovereign nations of the world. It isn’t about us being better than anyone else – it’s about no-one being better than us.
It’s easy to be against Nationalism when you have a nation. When your nation is sovereign, when nobody is challenging its very existence, it’s no big deal. It’s easy to groan about marches and flag-waving when nobody’s suggesting your nation was extinguished in 1707, and that your desire to see your democratic sovereignty accepted is “romantic folly.” It’s easy to quote Orwell or Einstein about the “evils” of Nationalism when the Nationalists they were talking about were trying to take other countries’ independence away from them. It’s easy to say you’re an internationalist when your nation has the power to interact with other nations on its own terms; when your national broadcaster talks about another nation’s home affairs as if they were yours; when you don’t feel that slight tug in your heart every time you fill an online form asking for your country… and see that your country isn’t there.
We supporters of Scottish Independence believe in the sovereignty of the Scottish people. Scottish Nationalism is our attempt to ratify that sovereignty, for all the other nations in the world to recognise us not as a region, or territory, or “part” of Britain, but as a nation just like them. And if British Nationalists are adamant that we respect the result of the 2014 referendum, then they too must believe in the sovereignty of the Scottish people – that the United Kingdom is, for the first time in 300 years, a voluntary institution by virtue of the Scottish people’s choice, and theirs alone. It is a choice which can be changed at any time – to deny that, is to deny your own argument that the Sovereign Will of the Scottish People has spoken.
Look at all the nations on that map. They all took independence from the United Kingdom. Every one of the nations became so because they wanted self-determination – and every one of them as a result of Nationalism. They wanted their own governments, anthems, currencies, and yes, flags – not that of an island half a world away. They wanted to decide how the money raised in their lands was spent, for their media to reflect them and not another nation, and how they would face their challenges. This is why people say “it isn’t about Nationalism, it’s about being normal.” Nationalism in the UK usually meant territories the UK owned getting lofty ideas of sovereignty and self-determination and independence: it was something that was suppressed, smothered, demonised.
Would you go back in time to Australia and belittle their desire for autonomy with non-sequiturs about flags and nations? Would you tell Bolivar that a tricolor can’t pay Venezuela’s bills? Would you mock Gandhi, scoffing that the Tiraṅgā can’t feed the starving of “Bombay?” We aren’t asking for anything more than what the millions of people of those nations strived for, and achieved – and what not a single one of those nations is seeking to relinquish.
*As a phrase, “it’s not about flags” really irks me: it’s a bland slogan used to refute another bland slogan.