“Thanks – you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”

Once again my allergic reaction to nationalism has resulted in my blog coming out in a nasty rash. The nats are swarming, clogging up my comments and while, to tell the truth, they aren’t causing me too much discomfort, they are certainly causing me some embarrassment. So I thought it was time I stopped dabbing on a few bits of creme here and there and try to get to the root of the problem (and if that isn’t a contorted metaphor, I don’t know what is).

So, first of all, a mea culpa (yes, I am capable of them from time to time). I shouldn’t have capitalised the Ens in “Scottish nationalist” and “Cornish nationalist” in my post on nationalism yesterday. It’s clearly caused some confusion, so let’s clear that up straight away. It wasn’t my intention to suggest that the SNP resort to such practices, merely that such practices do exist and are documented. Nor are members of other political parties immune to stupid nationalistic behaviour.

Secondly, the SNP launched their 2005 election campaign in Dundee, not Stirling, and the memorable claymore wielding incident took place beside a rather anonymous actor playing Robert the Bruce, rather than a statue of a famous anti-semite playing William Wallace. Other than that, though, the incident is true. It took place on 6 April, which was both the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and the day in which the SNP launched their campaign. My point that it was a deliberate press stunt designed to send a specific message, along with a specific subtext, remains (frustratingly, I can’t find an online photo of this incident, but there is a lovely one of Salmond gazing adoringly at his mighty weapon available on Empics if you have access, ref EMP.2319661). I will be interesting to see what he does to mark 6 April 2007.

What Scots need to appreciate is that it isn’t Scottish nationalism I have a problem with, it’s nationalism. Various commentators have sought to distinguish between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism, and I assure you I do understand the difference. My position is however that all too often the former strays into the territory of the latter.

Nationalism is a bit like the mogwai in 80s classic Gremlins. It comes in two types: cute and cuddly civic nationalism, and the nasty, violent, murderous ethnic version. To prevent the one from transforming into the other, you have to rigidly obey certain specific rules. There are no grey areas here; you can’t feed Gizmo at 00.01 and expect everything to be fine. Break the rules and, after a gestation period, all hell breaks loose.

That is why I am so intolerant of that claymore incident. It simply isn’t good enough to employ that sort of violent, backward-looking, ethno-centric imagery when launching an election campaign. The fact that so many Scots Nats commenting here simply do not see it as a problem, speaks volumes to me. This is tantamount to watching the mogwai being chucked into a swimming pool with a shrug of the shoulders.

I’ve spent much of the past two years working in SE Europe and with SE Europeans. I’ve seen what happens when people allow their sense of proportion slip when it comes to nationalism and it ain’t pretty.

People here have rightly alluded to incidents by other party politicians. I should disabuse new readers who may be under the impression that I’m some kind of blind party loyalist. I absolutely condemn the Lib Dems in Burnley for flirting with the BNP. Ross Finnie was incredibly foolish to call Digby Jones an ‘English Prat’. I also don’t agree with the Scot Lib Dem line on independence (personally I think they should neutralise the SNP by pledging to introduce a general system of citizens initiative and referendum) or, for example, local income tax (a policy which the SNP foolishly share).

All I’m really looking for is an acknowledgement that when dealing with issues over national identity, you have to be doubly careful about not pandering to racists and ethno-centrists. But all I’ve had over the past 24 hours is, at best, shrill displacement activity.

The bottom line is this: English Nationalists, still small in number, are on the march, and while they too like to call themselves civic nationalists, they’re obsessions are invariably national anthems, flags, immigration, Witangemots and Perfidious Alba. It’s on the rise partly because certain politicians in England are indulging them, while others are resisting the very real need for greater decentralisation and self-determination. The question I would ask the SNP is this: is your sense of civic nationalism so robust that it won’t begin to crack if a nasty strain of English Nationalism starts to cause a stink south of the border? I have my doubts.


  1. “I absolutely condemn the Lib Dems in Burnley for flirting with the BNP.”

    When was this? I wasn’t aware that they had been?

  2. I’m sorry Hywel, but this is one of those absolutes: you do not support BNP candidates for public office under any circumstances, ever, for any reason.

  3. http://www.crossofstgeorge.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7852&start=810

    55 pages of letters to the press and many from people who would not
    consider them selves nationalists. Scottish Nationalism is not civic nationalism no matter how they dress it up. Many English Nationalists up until recently would have considered a federal union, now ,that is changing and they are slipping into seperatism. Unionists will bring about the end of the uk by refusing to recognize England as part of the union. Me, I want rid of Scotland in particular as soon as possible.

  4. And the really amusing thing is that you yourself are a nationalist – a civic British nationalist.

    You mustn’t confuse nationalism with a desire for centralisation – that’s the trap that the Government fell into when they attempted to balkanise England. Regions didn’t answer the West Lothian or English Questions then, and localism and city mayors don’t answer the West Lothian Question or English Question now.

  5. Not the last time I looked. I’d be quite happy with Euro-federalism if it could be made to work. In lieu of that I’m quite content with the UK.

    I do have certain irrational – and contradictory – patriotic impulses – a liking of ‘Jerusalem’ for instance, and a belief that the Union Jack looks quite nice. But I recognise them for what they are, and don’t let them rule my head.

  6. Far from indulging the English nationalists, they (politicians) are doing their best to ignore them all. Its Scottish politicians in Scotland, bragging about their Scottish roots. Not English politicians in England doing the same.

    It’s not a flag or an immigrant neighbour that stirs the passions, either. It’s the Barnett Formula and the whole load of discrimination surrounding the English Question.

    I realise it confuses the soft lefties who dislike anything with the word England in it, but if it helps you to see it in a multicultural view, it also affects those in England who were not born here. That means that your Asian or African neighbours are also refused the same cancer drugs we are because they live in England. Their children also have to pay the top up fees that were foisted upon England by MPs elected in Scotland. If they’d kept their noses out of our business, our students would not now be facing a lifetime of debt.

    Douglas Alexander is about to impose the road tolls on England. He is another MP elected in Scotland, to which transport is devolved. All the different colours living in England will have to pay those tolls, yet you can bet your leftie lib ways that the scots won’t have to pay them! He’ll dress it up as a local tax, so people like you who have their heads in the sand, can say, “Well, its nothing to do with devolution. Its a local tax and its just coincidence that its only England that has to pay it.”

    If only you would spend a little time addressing some of the discrimination affecting the English, instead of using our objections to beat us up as ranting, racist nationalists whenver the opportunity arises.

    It is patently obvious that you are the one with the problem. Like it or not, if this treatment continues, it will end in the complete break up of the Yookay and from the daily conversations and rising support for independence in England, this is looking more and more likely.

    You cry for the Empire if you want to. The rest of us will be celebrating our self-determination. Britain plc is dying. RIP

  7. I’ve been told (verbally) of what I think your referring to – I just wasn’t aware of it

    “I’m sorry Hywel, but this is one of those absolutes: you do not support BNP candidates for public office under any circumstances, ever, for any reason.”

    And I agree! – I just wasn’t sure what you were referring to

  8. So James you admit you are a British Nationalist or nationalist whichever way you look at it? It always amazes me how those who are content with the nation state they perceive to live in, think that any sub-nation state citizen is wrong to call for greater autonomy if not full control of their own affairs. Smacks of arrogance and ignorance all rolled into one.

  9. Well, you could say that I am a pseudo-nationalist because whilst I am looking for a degree of self-determination for England I am not looking to break up the UK.

    I too like Jerusalem and I recognise flags for what they are – political banners, given fresh meaning by a narcissistic prime minister that did constitutional reform on the hoof. Until the nations that comprise the UK are afforded equal constitutional status I renounce my Britishness and I will do everything in my power to destabalise the union and resist the forced regionalisation of England by a British government (the regionalisation of England should be down to England).

    The Brits may have had the stomach to fight for Britishness in Scotland and Wales but there isn’t the money to fight (or bribe) the English as well. The English want constitutional recognition and political equality – that’s how it must be in a union of nations. When that happens organisations like the CEP and EDP will disappear.

  10. So a person can be Scots nationalist = that’s OK
    A person can be Welsh nationalist = OK
    A person can be Irish nationalist = OK
    A person can be British nationalist = OK

    If a person is English nationalist = Bad, Racist, Sour, Ignorant

    You twisters can’t have it all ways.

  11. Hywel – apologies. I assumed you had seen all the comments in my previous post helpfully pointing it out (with links). I should have been more explicit.

  12. I was going to leave this debate alone, but I’m afraid I can’t help myself.

    You’re really clutching at straws with this whole Alex Salmond/sword thing. However, look what I found today on the net:



    Pics 6 & 10 on the BBC site I can particularly recommend, since its not every day you get to see Lib Dem Parliamentarians asserting their distinctiveness by posing with axes and dead animals on their head, so as to glorify the rape, murder and pilliage of the Vikings…

    Come on – either face up to the fact you have no case, or be consistent enough to condemn this electioneering piece of ‘violent, backward-looking, ethno-centric imagery’ too 🙂

  13. Richard, if you can’t tell the difference between taking part in a bit of silly dressing up and deliberately using politically charged imagery to launch an election campaign, there’s no hope for you.

  14. And yes, for the record, if Alastair Carmichael dressed up as a viking at the start of his re-election campaign declaring that a vote for him is a vote to rape and pillage the evil sassanachs, I might concede you have a point.

  15. But didn’t you read the article? They haul down the Union Jack and everything!

    Anyway, you’ve had plenty stick for your views and I’ve had none, which tells its own story really. Can’t wait to see Nicol Stephen break cover on Question Time tonight…

  16. Anyway, you’ve had plenty stick for your views and I’ve had none

    I always know I’m onto a winner when my opponents are so awash with hubris. Clearly you have no problem with this statment then:

    Scottish Nationalism is not civic nationalism no matter how they dress it up.

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